Train travel in China

Question: What is train travel like in China?

Taking the train in China can be a very interesting experience and a good alternative to the airplane.

The train tickets are divided into 5 categories, namely, deluxe-soft-sleeper, soft-sleeper, hard-sleeper, soft-seater, and hard-seater. Each carriage has two washrooms at both of its ends including a Chinese-style toilet (you better bring your own toilet paper).

Deluxe soft sleeper cabin
Deluxe Soft Sleeper = 2 berth per compartment (the deluxe soft sleeper between Beijing & Shanghai equipped with private washroom). Certain trains do not have deluxe soft sleeper, if you wish to have a private compartment on your own, simply book all 4 tickets in the compartment.

Soft sleeper cabin
There are four bunks in a compartment which has a door for privacy. Each bunk will have a blanket and pillow. Toilets are at the end of the carriage and may be a western toilet however they may not always be clean as they are used by people from other carriages. No toilet paper is provided in the bathrooms.

Hard sleeper cabin
There are six narrow bunks to a compartment that has no door so there is no privacy. They are usually very noisy and with a squat toilet at each end of the carriage. The condition of the toilet will get progressively worse as the journey progresses. Food trolleys pass back and forth along the train so it is possible to eat quite cheaply. A blanket and small pillow are supplied with each bunk.

Soft seat cabin
Soft Seat is available for city transfers between 1-4 hours and provides a better level of comfort. Soft Seat is quite comfortable inexpensive method of travel for a journey of a few hours. Many trains depart every 20 minute, and people like to use this convenient public transportation system. Highly recommend you to take a ride to visit small towns near Shanghai.

Hard seat cabin
Hard Seat is used by a large percentage of the population as it is probably the cheapest way to travel in China. Sitting only carriages, they are usually crowded and often more tickets are sold than there are seat available. In weekend and holidays, many people stand for hours on the journey, and it will be terribly crowded for Chinese New Year Holidays.

Important notes:
Always arrive at the station in plenty of time before the departure of your train.

In major cities, especially Beijing, stations can be large and busy, and it may take a while to find your train. In some cases there are security checks (including airline-style luggage checks) to go through before boarding.

Although traveling by train seams to be harder than by airplane, it offers you many chances to make acquaintance with some Chinese people.

Photos of Beijing to Lhasa Express train

Question: I do not book your tour, can I book a train ticet from you?

No. We are sorry that we cannot provide this service for you till now. Because the train suppliers are not enough in China, an online train pre-booking system is not available. We only provide train ticket booking service for guests who have bought our tour package service.

Question: How to buy a train ticket in advance?

If you want to book a Chinese train in advance from outside China, you can do this with several agencies, including Beijing Holidays. Tickets cannot be posted abroad, but can be delivered to your hotel in China to be picked up when you get there. This will cost more than you'd pay at the ticket office, but if you really need to be on a particular train on a particular date, it can be worth booking ahead, especially at peak times, such as around the time of the the Spring Festival, 1st May, or 1st October.

Question: How can we deliver the train tickets to you?

The system for rail reservations in China will only allow Travel Agencies including Beijing Holidays to confirm bookings 10 days prior to departure of the Tibet-Qinghai train. Beijing Holidays will ask our local tour guide to pick up passengers from different destinations when you arrive, transfer to hotel to freshup and have breakfast first, then you continue your tour programs.

Question: Can I buy a train ticket from my hotel?

Your hotel may be able to arrange tickets if you book accommodation with them, and this may be the cheapest way to arrange tickets in advance. Remember that reservations for the best Z-category express trains open 20 days in advance, but for most other trains bookings only open 5-10 days before departure.

In most conditions, even an travel agency cannot positively confirm your booking before reservations open and they buy your ticket. There is also language problem, many hotel staffs have difficulties on comunication, you might need to write a note to clarify what you need.