When it comes to public transport in China, you have so many options! But for those of you who want to travel long distances in comfort and for a budget, the Hard Sleeper Train offers you the best of both.
You can buy tickets for these trains two ways: firstly going to any train station (not tube station) and buying them over the counter. If you are a foreigner in China you will need to bring your passport along with you, and find the ticket office. If your Chinese isn’t too great though, I would suggest booking your tickets through CTrip, allowing you to pre book tickets for trains, flights and even hotels! CTrip is perfect for foreigners buying train tickets in China, as it makes both booking and picking up tickets super easy! Once you have paid for your tickets, CTrip will email you both a booking reference and a ticket pick up number. You can give the ticket pick up number to the pick up desk in the train station, along with your passport, no need to speak any Chinese atfor those of you who want to practice your Chinese, simply say 我要取票 (Wo Yao Qu Piao).
Depending on which train station you go to, you will want to arrive about 1 hour early, to ensure you can find the ticket office and platform waiting area. Some train stations will be massive and have very long queues, so allowing yourself this extra time is essential to avoid missing your train. However, if you have bought your tickets in advance (and collected them) then about half an hour should be enough time.
Remember: Tickets for traiens come out two months before they leave, so if you are planning a long journey, or including several people you will want to book in advance in order to ensure there are enough tickets.
Once you’ve picked up your tickets you will need to find your boarding gate. Chinese train stations work more like airports than western stations, so you will not be able to wait on the platform for your train. On your ticket will be a few letters and numbers, for example K564. Throughout the train station you will see electronic notice boards which give all train information. You must match up your train number to the Boarding Gate, last time mine was A1/2, B1/2, and there you can wait until it is time for your train to board.
After this, you will know when your train is boarding because everyone will get up and crowd around the platform entrance- you must use your ticket to get through these gates. On your ticket, both your carriage number and seat number/position will be printed. The first number will be for your carriage and look similar to this: 7车, with your seat number and position as follows: 3下 (Bottom bed, no.3) 3中 (Middle bed, no.3) and 3上 (Top bed no.3).
Each carriage consists of about 10 compartments, each including 6 beds. Passengers can also sit on small seats with tables at the end of each compartment, if you are not ready to climb into bed yet. By far the Bottom beds are the most desirable, giving both extra head room, and the use of a table. For both Middle and Top beds, there will be a ladder at the end of each set of beds which you can use to climb up. The Middle bed is the second best option, as it is less effort to reach than the Top bed, provides slightly more head room and allows you to look out of the window.
Once you have boarded the train, an attendant will come around and check your tickets, making sure you are in the right bed. They will swap your ticket for a boarding pass, and then swap it back at the end. This process both adds security to your journey and ensures you will be awake for your stop, as attendants will swap your ticket back to you about half an hour before your train arrives.
The beds themselves are small, but large enough to fit an average person inside them comfortably, for all the tall people out there, you may not be able to fit your feet on the bed. Each bed comes with a pillow, bag hook and duvet. Each mattress is no comfier than your standard Chinese mattress, but for one journey is perfectly acceptable. All carriages are air conned.
- air con
- ‘smoking area’ -actually just a small ash tray stuck on the wall in between carriages
- toilets- no toilet roll
- hot water facilities
- food/drink cart- including noodle pots, and soft drinks then a variety of strange Chinese snacks
- no wifi
- plugs- there are about 4 plugs in each carriage, which passengers are free to use as they wish, most of these are very poor quality though and my adaptor didn’t work in them (i tried all 4)
- music- each train has a train attendant which will play random music through a loudspeaker on the train, although this is not played at a loud volume it will continue throughout the night
The toilets on the train are all traditional squatter ones, which would be fine if they were cleaned regularly. As they aren’t cleaned at all, you will notice the smell gradually grows and starts to spread throughout the carriages.
On one of our trains, at about 9/10 o’clock a man came round trying to sell overly expensive sweats to passengers, he continued to shout about his product for about half an hour.
There is no toilet roll on the train, and i didn’t see anywhere to buy it once i was one, so make sure you’re prepared.
Unlike normal trains in China, these ones didn’t sell coffee pots.
Overall i would say the Hard Sleeper Train is about a 6/10, whilst it is not the most comfortable journey of your life, for the average traveller trying to not spend too much it is the perfect way to get around.