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Overnight trains are good choices for long-distance train journeys. They are comfortable and safe and can also save you a hotel bill.
Sleeper classes are recommended when traveling on overnight trains. There are three types of sleeper class: hard sleeper, soft sleeper and deluxe soft sleeper. Sleeper classes are available on ordinary trains like Z, T, K trains, and overnight D category trains.
Hard sleepers are only available on ordinary trains. A hard sleeper compartment doesn't have a door and opens straight onto the corridor. This makes a hard sleeper coach quite noisy during the day. It will be quieter after the coach's lights have been turned off by the train staff at 9:30pm or 10pm.
There are some differences among the three bunks:
Lower berth: A lower berth is the most convenient and comfortable one, and there is no difficulty with getting up and down. Of course the price is the highest. Please be aware that a lower berth allows less privacy. Passengers from the upper/middle berths may sit on your lower berth during the daytime.
Middle berth: A middle berth is cheaper than a lower berth and more expensive than an upper berth. It is not difficult to get up and down from a middle berth.
Upper bunk: This is the cheapest berth. You may need to be quite spry to climb onto an upper bunk and there is not much room available as you are close to the low ceiling, meaning that you can't sit up on it.
A soft sleeper berth is larger and more comfortable than a hard sleeper one, and the price is about double that of a hard sleeper. Pillow, blanket and an individual reading light are provided for each berth. Soft sleeper cars on high-speed trains are better and newer than on ordinary trains.
An enclosed compartment provides more security and privacy. However, you might be uncomfortable being in a closed room with people you don't know.
The deluxe soft sleeper is the most expensive and the most comfortable sleeper class. The price is almost double the cost of an ordinary soft sleeper.
A private toilet is the most convenient part for a passenger. Some new deluxe soft sleeper coaches even have LCD TV, closets, showers, disposable slippers, and an electric kettle. There are only two berths in a deluxe sleeper compartment. Therefore, it's perfect for a couple, or two friends.
There are also hard/soft seat classes on ordinary overnight trains. They should not be considered, as sitting all night long is extremely uncomfortable regardless of whether the seat is hard or soft. However, if you are unable to get any tickets for sleepers during the peak season, please be prepared for an uncomfortable night. After an overnight train journey on a hard/soft seat, you may regret having decided to try an overnight train.
There are only soft sleeper and second class seat on an overnight D category high-speed train. Those trains are only available between large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an. Overnight high-speed trains are fast and punctual, more modern and better equipped than ordinary trains.
Facilities in an overnight high-speed train are basically the same as those in an ordinary train. A dining car and moving trolleies provide food. Free boiling water is available at the end of each car. Each car is equipped with a power socket. Both, western-style toilets and squat toilets are available.
China's new soft sleeper cars have made appearance on train D311/D312 between Beijing and Shanghai. Compare to the old-style soft sleeper, the new type of sleeper class is more comfortable and provides more privacy.
What's special about the new type of sleeper class?
There is no luggage racks overhead. Luggage can be put under the lower berth. And there is no seat in the carriage. Passengers who take upper berths can only stand in the hallway if they don’t want to sit on the berth.
Make sure you go to the right train station for your train. Read your train ticket carefully and reach the train station at least 30 minutes before departure.
After you get on the train and find your berth, a staff member will exchange your train ticket for a plastic "bunk card" after departure. About 1 hour before arrival, he/she will exchange your bunk card for your train ticket and remind you to get off at the correct station. Make sure you do not throw the ticket away because sometimes you need it to get out of the station. Make sure you do not throw the ticket away because you will need it to get out of the station.
There is no broadcasting service after 22:00 for arrivals at night. Set an early alarm on your phone according to the arrival time on your ticket. Sometimes trains run (very) late, so confirm you have actually reached your station before getting out.
A cup, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a shaving gear, a comb: for your pre-bed and getting up routines.
Toilet paper: there is no toilet paper provided on Chinese trains.
Wet wipes / hand sanitizer / soap: Hand washing liquid is not available on a train.
Towel and washcloth: There is nothing to wash your face or dry your hands with on a train.
Sandals: sandals can make you overnight train journey more convenient and comfortable.
Food and snacks: food on the train are with limited types and expensive. It is recommended that you buy food and drink before you get on a train, such as vacuum-packed tuna, crackers, pretzels, dried fruit and nuts, chocolate, tea, and instant coffee.
Water: Boiled water is provided on a train. You can use it for making a cup of tea or a quick bowl of noodles. Bottled water is buyable for drinking, so you don't need to wait for the boiled water to cool down. You might want to use bottled water for brushing your teeth too.
Clothing: Sometimes the air-conditioning on the train is too strong. Take a long-sleeved lightweight cardigan in case you feel cold on the train.
Sleeping mask: In a hard sleeper car, the light can only be put out by the staff members after 9:30pm or 10pm. If you want to go to bed before that time, it is nice to have a sleeping mask.
It could be boring on a train if you can't sleep. So take books for reading or fully charge your phone/I Pad to kill time. You might want to take a portable charging pack.