The Champagne Backpacker: Michael's Round the World Trip 2005-2007-- The Adventure of a Lifetime travel blog

My Train Hard Sleeper Compartment

My Bed's The Top Left One

Taking A Rest On The Hard Sleeper

Pulling Into An Empty Train Station

Train travel in China is generally a good, cost effective way to travel the country. There are challenges, however. The first is buying a ticket. Most hotels and hostels offer a ticket buying service, but they usually charge an exhorbitant commission of Y30-Y40 ($4-5). This is excessive when you consider that a typical sleeper ticket might cost between Y200-Y400, putting the commission in the 10 percent range or more for some tickets. If you decide to go to the station yourself, it's best to be armed with all the information you need written down in Chinese (dates, cities, times, ticket type/class, etc.). The hotel staff are usually more than accommodating. Most stations, even those in the major cities, have no English signage except numbers. Hangzhou's train station was an exception, with more English than most. Still, the ticket agent didn't speak English, but I was armed with my piece of paper. Apparently, all the soft sleepers (a/c, 4 to a cabin) were booked out, and only the hard sleepers were available. I decided to give the hard sleeper a go. It was half the price of the soft sleeper at Y185 ($23). Even the train tickets are all in Chinese, making it difficult to confirm whether you bought a ticket to the right destination.

Chinese train stations are a mass of people waiting and queueing for their trains. Many people lug way too much luggage, which creates numerous obstacles thoughout the train station. Usually there is a large waiting room for your respective trains that are designated on big signs in the station. Unlike most other countries, China doesn't let you go to your platform until your train is ready for departure.

Once your train number is called up, it's a mad dash to the platform and train, even though most seats and sleepers are reserved. The hard sleeper I got was almost identical to the hard sleepers in India, except that India piles more people in. The hard sleeper is configured three bunks by three bunks--six people share an open compartment (India puts another three bunks along the aisle). As there are no regular seats, people on the upper bunks must sit on the bottom bunks until people want to sleep. I had the top bunk. It's cramped up there and hot; the upside is it's next to the lone fan and your personal belongings are harder to get to by thieves.

As it was already hot, it was going to be a long 24-hour train ride.

The train left almost exactly on time at about 2:40 pm. I think I may have been the only foreigner on this train. I did not see any Western faces. Everyone was Chinese and none in my area spoke any English. I spent most of my awake time studying my Mandarin phrasebook, eating, drinking, and watching the countryside pass by. Surprisingly, when I went to bed at an early 9 p.m., I slept until 7 a.m. My eyeshades and earplugs definitely have made it easier for me to sleep under most any condition.

What surprised me the most about the Chinese countryside, at least what I could see from the train, was the numerous coal fueled electric plants. We passed so many, I lost count. Each have several smokestacks and corset shaped vents (similar to those used in nuclear power plants). Coal sits in huge piles near the plants. Along with the electric plants are high power electric towers and lines crisscrossing the countryside. The pollution created by the power plants are evident in the haze and smog that prevails throughout China. In between the power plants were mostly towns/cities and farm land (rice, wheat, corn, sunflowers). I didn't see many animals, like I did in India and Africa.

Unlike India and Africa, very few people are seen along the trains, even near the stations. Even at the train stations, there were a lot less vendors than I have seen in India and Africa. In India, at every train stop, numerous vendors would come aboard, most selling food and drink. On Chinese trains, food carts come through every hour or so offering fruit, rice, and mixed meat and vegetables. The prices are reasonable--Y10 for a filling meal.

The Chinese love the hot water taps. There was always a line to get hot water, usually used for instant noodles or tea. I've gotten tired of the instant noodles, although the ones in China are tastier than those found in the States.

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