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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 know what you're doing.
If you haven't taken a train in China before, read on for things you should know, like how to get to/through the railway station, how passengers are searched at security checkpoints, if drinks can be purchased on the train, and what the toilets are like.
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 recommended that you find out how to get to your station in sufficient time before your departure.
If you accidently go to the wrong station, you will find that the waiting room doesn't show your train's schedule at all. When you realize your mistake, you may then miss your train as it will take more than half an hour to transfer to the right departure station.
If you miss your train, you can make an alteration at the ticket window in the correct departure station for the next train on the same day. The alteration is free of charge, and you will get a refund for the difference if the next train's ticket is less expensive, or you will be asked for an additional payment if the next train's ticket costs more.
It is also important to correctly read 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.
Pay attention to the announcements on the train as they will tell you which station you have arrived at. If you take an overnight train, a member of staff will (wake you up to) exchange your sleeper card for your train ticket about half an hour before arriving at your destination.
Get a visual idea of how to read train tickets.
If being organized is not an issue, packing is part of the fun of 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 your tickets and passport away safely after the ticket checkpoints.
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 over-large luggage onto the luggage shelves at the ends of the coaches, instead of on the overhead shelf at your seat. Therefore, it is important to have your luggage zipped up or closed securely using a combination lock.
When taking an overnight train, you should consider taking flip-flops, bathroom supplies (toilet paper and a toothbrush), and perhaps earplugs and an eye mask. Take a book or an iPod to help pass the time if you get tired of watching the landscape rushing past the window. For more information, please read Taking an Overnight Train in China.
The above limitation is not applicable to wheelchairs, which can be taken on to the train for free.
The limitations for luggage are not as strict as they are for airplanes. Read more about the luggage regulations.
Senior travelers or passengers with too much luggage can hire a porter at the station entrance — they are easily spotted as they wear sleeveless red jackets and red hats. The price is approximately 10 to 15 yuan. They will help to load the luggage onto the train.
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 you leave 2 hours to get to your train for the following reasons.
Some railway stations can be as vast as an airport and situated a long way from the city center. It's a good idea to leave your hotel or last activity in plenty of time in case of traffic, queues, crowds, or misdirection. Give yourself enough time to enjoy a relaxing journey. Usually 2 hours are enough, but the time can be reduced if going a nearby station.
The distances between the ticket office, security check, waiting room, and station platform can be quite long, and it is sometimes necessary to walk from one side of the station to the other.
Remember that you are not doing this alone; there will be hundreds of people doing the same thing, meaning that you might be standing in waiting lines for a long time. You will probably need to be queuing in lines at every bottleneck from the minute that you step into the train station.
Firstly, you will have to line up to pick up 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.
No time needs to be 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 during the journey. If you are traveling with kids, an early arrival gives you some time to calm them down and prepare for a good trip.
Bear in mind that the station will stop the check-in facility 5 minutes before the train departs. So don't lose yourself in the stores at the train station. You are recommended to get to the waiting room at least 30 minutes before the train departs (especially if you want a seat to wait on).
All passengers and luggage are required to pass through a security check at the station entrance. Please prepare your train ticket and passport (or Mainland Travel Permit). You need to line up for the security check, just like at an airport. After the security check keep your passport and train ticket on your person, and don't lock them in your suitcase, because you are going to need them for another ticket check or two when you board the train.
There may already be a long line at the entrance, so you are recommended to arrive at the train station early.
After the security check, you need to find the right waiting room. A train station may have many waiting rooms for different trains. And usually the information on the sreen is Chinese only.
Look up at the large LED screens for your train number, and see which waiting room is allocated to it. Your train number is a letter with numbers displayed on the top middle part of your train ticket, such as G655 or D3201. A large LED screen shows different trains' departure schedules in rotation, so you might have to wait for the screen to change once or twice to see your train information.
Usually the waiting room information shows the floor and room number, such as"2楼1候",meaning '2nd floor 1st waiting room'. You could ask someone near you for help to get to the right waiting room, by pointing at your ticket then the LED screen, then saying, "Wǒqùnǎr?"(我去哪儿/wor chyoo narr/ 'I go where?'), or read the Chinese yourself.
A waiting room may not only have one platform gate (like in an airport). There may be several gates going to different platforms to board different trains,so don't line up at the wrong gate.There are generally rows of seats either side of a gate's lining up aisle.
LED screens for each gate in each waiting room show different trains' numbers, departure times, and platform information. If you know Chinese, you can listen to the broadcasts for boarding information.
Once you get to the right gate, generally, you can check-in with your train ticket15 minutes before departure. Before you walk along the long corridors to the platform, look up at the LED screen for the last time and find your platform number. Look for your platform number showing which stairway to walk down to get to your platform.
Check your train ticket for your car number as you descend to the platform. There will be staff at each train car door. You could show your ticket to a member of staff. He/she will check that you are boarding the right train car. The character 车 denotes your car number.
Once on the right car, find your bunk number (shown by 铺 on your ticket: 上 for top, 中for middle, 下 for bottom), or seat number (shown by 座 on your ticket), usually displayed on the luggage racks around head height.
Chinese Point-To Card for Getting Help
You could carry a card (or an image on your device) listing useful sentences written in Chinese to find your waiting area, platform, coach, and seat, and show these sentences to any staff member or passer-by, along with your ticket(s):
|我搭这趟火车, 请问我的候车室在哪里?||I am taking this train; would you please tell me where the waiting hall is?|
|我搭这趟火车, 请问我在哪个站台上车?||I am taking this train; would you please tell me which platform I should go to?|
|我搭这趟火车, 请问我在哪个车厢?||I am taking this train; would you please tell me which coaches I should board?|
|我搭这趟火车, 请问我的座位是哪个?||I am taking this train; would you please tell me where my seat is?|
Different trains offer different services and facilities. High-speed trains are modern and comfortable, while normal speed trains may not be so convenient for foreign travelers.
When taking high-speed trains, lettered G, D, or C, you can enjoy a more comfortable train journey.
Seating: High-speed trains are fully air-conditioned. The seats are adjustable, just like seats on a plane, for you to sit comfortably. What's more, there is a 220V AC socket under each seat for your devices.
Food: High-speed trains offer different types of set meals (including Muslim food).You can go to the restaurant car to have a meal, where they offer made-to-order meals at 20 to 50 yuan per dish. Or you can buy a set meal from the attendant's trolley. You can also go to the canteen bar to buy some snacks and drinks.
Water: Free boiled/cold water is available between the coaches.
Toilets: Chinese/Western-style toilets and handicapped restrooms are available between the coaches. However, the toilets have usually run out of toilet paper or don't provide toilet paper in the first place.
LED screen: Every coach with an LED screen indicates the speed of the train.
Luggage racks: There are luggage racks over the seats at either side of a coach. You can take a 24-inch suitcase on board and place it on a luggage rack. There are some shelves between the coaches for large baggage. Shelves for large suitcases, suitable for a 70cm (28-inch) suitcase.
Normal speed trains are not as convenient and comfortable as high-speed trains. If you have to take such trains, you are recommended to buy tickets for soft seats or hard/soft sleepers. If you choose hard seats, you'd better prepare for bad conditions in your coach.
Seating: Hard seats are not adjustable. There is no power outlet. Normal speed trains, apart from the oldest number-only ones, are fully air-conditioned.
Food: Some trains don't have a restaurant car, but most T and K trains do, and there is often a staff member who walks through the coaches selling small items, snacks, and drinks from a trolley.
Our suggestion is to purchase some simple food and drinks before boarding, such as a takeout from KFC or McDonald's. You can eat them at your seat.
Water: Free boiled/cold water is available between the coaches.
Toilets: Most trains only have Chinese-style toilets, which are usually in bad condition. Some soft sleepers / deluxe soft sleepers have Western-style toilets in good condition.
Luggage racks: After you board the train, you can place your baggage on the luggage rack above the seats. If you are taking a sleeper carriage, you can place your baggage on the opposite side to the berths, under the lower berth, or under the small desk in your compartment.
Chinese people always buy snacks for short-distance trips and food for long-distance train trips. Generally, the food prices at the train station and on the train are higher than those in the outside restaurants or stores. If possible, you should take your own food or snacks.
There are five places you can buy snacks or food:
Trains in China are fairly safe, yet some good advice never hurts.
When you are traveling with young children, keep them close and an eye on them. Don't allow them to run up and down the train coach/platform, or lose them in the station. 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 unattended. 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.
If you are planning to take a train during your China trip, please see our recommended tours below for inspiration. You can enjoy hassle free train travel with China Highlights. All you have to do is get on the train; we'll arrange everything else.
If you don't want to spend too much time on a train, we can help you book flights for some of the journeys. Our tours can be customized according to your interests and requirements. Just contact us and let us tailor-make a unique China tour for you.