Top tips for train travel in China
The Chinese railway system is vast and really good, trains and stations are clean, well run and there are lots of options of trains and coach classes to travel in to suit most budgets.
The best way to book flights or train travel is with the Ctrip app.
Make sure the right names and passport numbers are logged on the tickets as we had to experience the hard way that any mistakes of passport numbers and names made on the booking form not matching your passports makes your ticket invalid for travel.
If you have any problems with your booking or need help, the phone support for Ctrip is very good. We got a phone with a local Chinese sim card that we used for this purpose.
On some tickets both the childens passport number and names have to be added while on some you only need their names and you use a parents pass port number instead.
You can pick up the tickets at the train station you depart from by showing your booking confirmation on your phone and your passports. We found that the right queue for this is generally the shorter one.
Always bring enough money to pay for the tickets in cash.
Plan to be at the train station 1 hr in advance to pass through security checks and luggage scans.
Trains are boarded in a similar way to most airports, after initial luggage scan and ticket checks you wait by the departure gate and then tickets are checked again when you go through to the train. Its good to be at the gate 30-15 min before the official departure time to allow time to find your coach and to ensure you get onboard ok.
Bring fruit, drinks and snacks onto the train as there is very little, if anything at all to buy on the train.
Do what the locals do and bring a pot noodle bowl for your lunch. There are always hot water dispensers on the trains for this purpose.
Sleeper trains in China
The Chinese sleeper trains is a must do when in China, especially if you are travelling with children.
We traveled by sleeper train 2 times during our 4wk stay here. Its a good and relatively cheap way to cover a long distance overland. Our first train was from 2120–0645 from Kunming to Lijiang and our 2nd one 16 hrs from Chengdu to Xian.
There is a small offering of pot noodles and drinks on board but again, its best to bring your own.
The sleeper train has vip, soft sleeper, hard sleeper, or seats. We travelled in a soft sleeper carriage which has 2 bunk beds with pillows and covers, 50cm gap in the middle with a little table with a kettle. Bags go on the floor in the middle or under the bottom bunks. There is a room at the end of the carriage with sinks for brushing teeth etc as well as 1 western and 1 squat toilet in each coach. Due to the vast number of people on these trains the toilets quickly get very smelly and dirty. They get cleaned a couple of times throughout the night but prepare to hold you breath.
Ingrid and Scott were soo exited about sleeping in the top bunks on this train that it was really hard getting them to sleep. They loved climbing about like monkeys between the bunks and play about. Once they were finally asleep, we discovered that the sleeper trains are some of the noisiest, bumpiest trains in the world, so its good that you can have a lie down but done expect waking up feeling refreshed.
1 hr before the end destination, gentle music is played to wake you up, then the train ladies comes around to knock on your door 1hr to 30min before your stop.
9 hours in manageable and a bit of fun while 16hrs feel like being looked up in a prison cell for way too long.