April 10, 2010
China is the most populous country in the world. Expect huge crowds in popular areas like the train station. Also, it is common practice to buy train tickets in advance especially during peak season (ie. Spring Festival) but you may still buy one on the spot. Getting one from travel agencies there is also one way to make it a lot more convenient.
It was crowded when we got there. There were long lines to get inside the train station itself. This was the chaotic part as some people would push and shove to get to the front first. Everyone had lots of baggage so that adds to the feeling of being swallowed up by a crowd. ;) Once inside, you’ll have to look for your platform (if you can board already, there’s a huge screen showing these details) and respective coach number. People were running and I was tempted to run alongside them (excited much? ^_^) but my companion reminded me that we’re on time and that there was no need for us to run.
After we found our train, a conductor ushered us to our compartment after checking our ticket. There were 6 bunks in a compartment (ours was near the entrance of the coach) but when we rode the train, it was just us there. It was a different story on the coach’s other end. It seemed crowded or probably, they were just loud and were loitering by the aisle. My friend was admittedly disappointed with this as he was keen for me to mingle with the locals. He probably would have dragged me there if I’d let him. hehe
It took us 12 hours to get from Guangzhou to Guilin. Our tickets (for a hard sleeper) cost 215 rmb each (1rmb=7php). The train left at 6pm.
There are four common type of train tickets available:
These are private compartments which are fitted out to a higher standard. Each compartment has four bunks and a double action door allowing separate access to the two upper and two lower bunks. Comfortable bedding and good quality pillows are provided. Each bunk is equipped with a small reading lamp. Temperature controls are installed alongside the door. Generally speaking, the facilities include a clothes rack, slippers, clothes brush, stainless steel thermos, fine porcelain teacup, a trash can and wall socket. Some of the trains may have a squat-style toilet together with a supply of toilet paper. The price is a little higher than the other kinds of seats.
The so-called hard sleeper is generally less comfortable than the soft sleeper. The compartments are open and comprise six fixed bunks, arranged as an upper, middle and lower on either side. Basic bedding such as sheets, pillow slips, blankets and pillows are provided. The space tends to be cramped and inclined to be noisy at times. However, if you are obliged to take an overnight train trip, the hard berth is highly cost effective.
There are no bunks for sleeping, just a nice, comfortable cushioned seat. The carriages are clean and roomy.
This is the basic way to take a train trip, and has the lowest price. As the name implies it can be something of an ordeal, especially for a long or an overnight journey. The seat is less soft, roomy and comfortable than a soft seat. The carriages are always noisy and crowded with people, especially during peak times or the high travel season on the most popular railway routes. Usually, people holding standing-room-only tickets are arranged to stand along the aisles of hard-seat carriages. The toilets are usually unclean and cramped (only 1.2 square yards) and no toilet paper is supplied. For the adventurous or maybe just a short daytime journey this is acceptable as it is a wonderful way to experience something of the timelessness of the real China and its people.
During the trip, food laden carts would regularly make their rounds. You can buy noodles, drinks, fruits, etc from there. It is better though to buy your snacks before you get on the train so that you’ll save some money (a big bowl of instant noodles is around 4rmb outside, it can easily cost twice that inside the train). Also, don’t be misled by its name, hard sleepers in my opinion are a comfortable way to travel (I wasn’t cramped on my bed, the sheets were clean, lots of space!). ;)