China Train 7 Things to Know Before Taking a Train in China

7 Things to Know Before Taking a Train in China

You may have heard about how train travel in China can be a delightful adventure. It is really something to look forward to as long as you make sure your travel checklist is completed: the luggage is packed, tickets are booked, and the hotel room is confirmed.

Now there is only one thing left to worry about: you haven’t taken a train in China before. Common concerns might be how to get to the railway station, whether passengers are searched at the security checkpoint, if drinks can be purchased on the train, and what the toilets are like.

1. Check the Stations

Check the departure station carefully. Most cities in China have more than one railway station and they are often far away from each other. It is wise to figure out how to get the station some time before the departure. You can also use our train station instruction guide  for preparation.

For the same reason, it is also important to find out the information for the arrival station. For example, the southbound train from Beijing will first reach Guilin North Railway Station (桂林北站) and then Guilin Railway Station (桂林站). Getting off the train at the wrong destination can cause you to pay a penalty fare if you continue the journey too far, or require a trip across the city if you get off too early.

Get a visual idea of what a Chinese train ticket looks like: How to read train tickets.

2. Leave Home Early

If you are not a fan of taking risks, it is always better to arrive early at the railway station. Nobody likes waiting around, but we suggest arriving two hours early for the following reasons:

  • Some railway stations can be as vast as an airport and situated a long way from the city center. You might spend about half an hour walking around before taking another 30 minutes to walk to the right waiting section. To avoid being late due to traffic , lines, crowds, or misdirection, give yourself enough time. An early arrival of two hours may be necessary for large railway stations (for example in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and other big cities), but the time can be reduced if going to small stations.
  • Getting into the railway station takes time. Firstly, you will have to line up for your ticket (maybe half an hour or more, unless you've used our ticket delivery service or got it in advance), then pass through a ticket and ID check followed by a security check, locate and walk to your waiting area, then wait again in line at the waiting room ticket gate, and walk maybe 10 minutes in order to board the train. And remember, you are not doing this alone; there will be hundreds of people doing the same thing, meaning you might be standing for a long time in waiting lines .
  • No time is wasted, even if you get there early. For first-timers, early arrival at the railway station gives you a good chance to explore the station and observe the locals. You can purchase some food or drinks at the shops so that you won’t go hungry en route. If you are traveling with kids, an early arrival gives you some time to calm them down and prepare for a good trip.

3.  Pack Light, Smart, and Safe

If being organized is not an issue, packing up is part of the fun for train travel. Separate your belongings into large luggage and small carry-on items. Important things, such as travel documents, tickets, money, and valuable items should be kept on you at all times. Having a fanny pack or purse is handy. Remember to put the tickets and passport away safely after the ticket checkpoint. Read our policy for carry-on luggage.

Packing light is the key point. You can find all kinds of tips about packing light; however, if you have not been able to, the train stewards will ask you to put any large luggage onto the luggage shelf at the connection part of the tow coaches, instead of on the overhead shelf at your seat. Therefore, it is important to have the luggage zipped up or closed securely using a combination lock.

Senior travelers or passengers with too much luggage can hire a porter at the station entrance — they are easily spotted as they wear red hats. The price is approximately 10 to 15 yuan. They will help to load the luggage onto the train. 

The limitations for luggage are not as strict as they are for airplanes. Read the regulations here.

When taking an overnight train, you may want to consider taking flip-flops, bathroom supplies (toilet paper and a toothbrush etc.) and perhaps ear plugs and an eye mask. Take a book or an iPod to help pass the time if you get tired of watching the landscape rushing passed the window. Business Class and Superior Class seats on the high-speed trains have plug-in earphone points by the seat, offering a musical journey for you. For more information, please read Taking an Overnight Train in China.

4.  Get to Your Seat from the Waiting Room

The real game begins after you enter the station building when you have passed through the security check. We have this step by step guide for you:

To Find the Waiting Area More and more railway stations tend to have an undivided waiting area, with gates like an airport, while some old stations split the waiting crowds into different waiting rooms based on the train numbers. Nonetheless, the universal rule is that you can follow the instructions on the LED screen to find your waiting area. At each waiting area, there is another LED screen to confirm whether or not you are in the right place.

For high-speed trains, paper tickets list the ticket gate. However, this information is subject to change; therefore pay attention to the LED screen for any changes regarding the place to wait. Please make sure you are at the right waiting area, as the ticket checkpoint opens 15 minutes ahead of the departure time and all passengers have to go through within 10 minutes. You will be refused boarding if late: the ticket checkpoint closes 5 minutes before the train leaves. 

A Useful Sentence To find your waiting area, show this sentence to any train staffer or passer-by, along with your ticket(s):

(1) Chinese: 我乘搭这趟火车, 请问我的候车室在哪里?
Pinyin: wǒ chéng dā zhè tàng huǒ chē , qǐng wèn wǒ de hòu chē shì zài nǎ lǐ ?
English: I am taking this train; would you please tell me where the waiting hall is?

To Find the PlatformAfter the ticket checkpoint, it will take 5 to 10 minutes to walk to the platform; you may need to go through an overpass or an underground tunnel. There will be LED screens directing passengers to the corresponding platforms. Take the elevator or an escalator if you are taking large luggage or travelling with seniors and kids.

There are no gates when looking for boarding platforms in China. When traveling with children, keep an eye on them at all times. If you find there are trains on both sides of the platform, check your paper ticket to find the one that matches the number on your ticket.

To Find Your Car and Seat/Bunk Once again, use your paper ticket to find your car and seat/sleeper numbers. Large suitcases should be put on the shelf at the carriage entrance, and small carry-ons stored on the overhead shelf at your seat. On overnight trains, tuck your suitcase under the bunker if it fits.

You might need these sentences when looking for your seat or if you would like to change seats with others:

(1) Chinese: 请问我的座位在哪里?
Pinyin: qǐng wèn wǒ de zuò wèi zài nǎ lǐ
English: Where is my seat, please? (Show your ticket while asking this question.)

(2)Chinese: 对不起, 我和我的同伴座位不在一起, 请问你是否愿意和我们换一下座位?
Pinyin: duì bú qǐ , wǒ hé wǒ de tóng bàn zuò wèi bú zài yī qǐ , qǐng wèn nǐ shì fǒu yuàn yì hé wǒ men huàn yī xià zuò wèi?
English: Excuse me, my friends and I are in separated seats, would you mind changing seats with us?

5.  Dining on the Train

Superior Class, Business Class, and First Class cabins have complimentary snacks onboard. Normally, seasoned buns, cookies, peanuts, and bottled water or juice boxes are available. Small carts on the train sell snacks, beverages, and plastic tray meals, which are freshly heated and cost from 15 to 45 yuan. Each tray includes three simple dishes and some rice. Most Chinese locals prefer to have instant noodles for a quick snack. There is boiling water available on tap near the rest room areas.

Our suggestion is to purchase some simple food and drinks before boarding, such as a takeaway from KFC or McDonalds. Go to the dining coach, which is usually in the middle of the train, if you want something tastier. They offer made-to-order meals at 20 to 50 yuan per dish.

6.  Travel Safe Safety always comes first

Trains in China are fairly safe, yet some good advice never hurts. When you are traveling with young children, keep an eye on them and don’t allow them to run up and down the train coach. Beware of pinching your fingers in the (automatic) doors. Hold onto the hand knobs and rails while walking inside the coach. The washroom floor can be slippery, so be careful in there.

Don’t leave your valuable belongings out of eyesight. There is a power socket under the seat (on high-speed trains) or on the small table (on non-high-speed overnight trains), which can be used to recharge your devices. Never leave them unattended. When taking an overnight train, keep your carry-on items close to your body. Your passport and ticket should always be kept with you.

7.  When Nature Calls — Toilets on the Trains

To debunk some rumors, the train facilities are not that bad. Here are some basic facts:

  • Toilets are located at both ends of the coach. They can be a bit small for a Western person’s build, so it is better not to take any large luggage inside. There are hanging hooks on the walls inside, hand railings to hold onto, and a small wash basin. The squatting toilets can be flushed by stepping on the paddle. Used toilet paper is sometimes tossed into a trash bin, as there is little water for flushing.
  • All high-speed trains (C, D, and G-trains) have Western-style toilets and Asian squat toilets. Most non-high-speed trains have squat toilets, yet some of them are equipped with Western ones in the soft sleeper and deluxe sleeper coaches. There will be disposable toilet seat covers for the Western-style toilets (although these tend to be used up very quickly). China Highlights does not hold any information about what kind of toilet is on each train.
  • Most toilets do not have toilet paper or hand wash soap (and they will be used up very quickly if they do). Take your own toilet paper and liquid soap if needed. Water only trickles out of the wash basin’s faucet inside the toilet booth and you may want to use the outside washroom to clean up.
  • The toilet booth is entirely enclosed and non-smoking for high-speed trains. If you attempt to smoke inside the toilet booth you will trigger the fire alarm and cause a sudden halt. This leads to potential railroad accidents and a hefty fine between 500 to 2,000RMB for the smoker (with the possibility of a lawsuit to follow). On non-high-speed trains, it is okay to smoke inside, but passengers must not toss cigarette butts or other trash out of the windows.
  • Some long-haul high-speed trains have disabled toilets, which are a bit more spacious than normal ones. They also have a diaper table inside so that moms can change their baby’s diaper there.
  • The toilets do not have any gender distinction. When using the toilet, young children must be accompanied by an adult. Senior and pregnant travelers should hold on tightly to the hand railings. Watch out for slippery floors and pinching fingers in the door. 
  • The old system of directly discharging waste onto the railroad has been replaced with a more eco-friendly liquid sewage container system. The containers will be emptied and maintained at certain train stations. The toilets will be closed for five minutes before the train reaches a station and stay closed during the stopover period.
  • Inevitably, toilets on overnight and long-haul trains tend to get filthy after more than six hours of traveling. Therefore, be mentally prepared and take some liquid sanitizer.

Hopefully you will feel more relaxed after reading this article. If not, contact us and let us know how we can help. Download our app to get our helpful guide anytime and anywhere: China Train Booking.