I spent 3.5 weeks backpacking around China on an organised tour with The Dragon Trip. During that time we did a lot of train travel in China to get us from City to City including 3 overnight trains and multiple daytime high-speed trains lasting up to 9 hours!
China is HUGE and these high-speed trains are a lifesaver because if a journey lasts 9 hours on a high-speed train going up to 217 mph you can only imagine how long it would take on a ‘normal train’!
Plus, travelling by high-speed train in China is much cheaper than flying internally and much more environmentally friendly. So let me give you some China travel tips and tips for train travel in China based on my experience, including how to read a train ticket in China as they are quite confusing!
Train Travel in China
High-Speed Trains in China
Japan is so well known for its bullet trains and it’s handy JR Pass to help visitors travel Japan by train so I was surprised when I got to China to realise they too have super-fast bullet trains too!
In fact, according to Omio the high-speed trains in China are actually faster than Japan and they have the fastest high-speed trains in the World which I found really interesting and I love the image below which actually shows how fast high-speed trains are around the world.
Omio is a search and booking platform offering tickets for trains, coaches, and flights. With over 800+ travel companies, Omio offers mobile tickets on selected routes making travel easier by having all your tickets in one app. Available in 35+ countries in Europe, whilst expanding on other routes globally. Available in 18 different languages including customer service 24/7.
1. Train Travel in China is Very Efficient.
Let’s start by saying that the trains in China and the train stations are very very efficient. Backpacking in China surprised me a lot and one of these ways was just how efficient, organised and clean the Country is which also goes for their train travel.
We didn’t experience any delays and I believe, like Japan, trains are not generally delayed in China. This is also another reason I recommend travelling by high-speed train in China over flying to help prevent delays and save time.
2. Get to the Train Station Early.
Getting a train in China is a bit like catching a plane, not only because some of the stations resemble airports (more on the below) but because there is a need to get there early. On my organised tour around China, we were getting to the airport about 2 hours early, whilst I admit that was a bit too early, I’d still recommend getting there at least 1-1.5 hours before your train time because you will not be the only person travelling. Thousands of people will be getting on trains at roughly the same time and there can be queues.
3. Check the Departure Station Name.
A lot of cities in China have more than one train station so be sure to triple check what station your ticket is booked out of so you do not arrive at the wrong one. Cities in China are huge so you don’t want to have to cross the City at the last minute to get to the right one.
4. The Train Stations in China are Huge with Plenty of Amenities.
Some of the train stations I saw in China were crazy! Literally like airports. Hangzhou Train Station which is pictured below, along with Shenzhen Train Station which is on the border of China and Hong Kong, were the two biggest and newest stations we saw. These and many others are completely fitted out with Shops, plenty of Chinese Restaurants and popular Chains like 7/11, Starbucks, Costa Coffee, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut.
Some of the stations didn’t have as many places to eat, for example, I was quite surprised by the lack of places in Beijing East Train Station (although it still had a McDonalds which is pretty standard in all station) but generally, you can buy all of your snacks, coffee and a meal at the station before getting on the train which is super handy when backpacking China like I was.
5. Be Prepared for Security Checks and Have Your Passport & Ticket Out.
As you enter the train station you’ll need to show not only your ticket but also your passport.
Following this, you’ll need to go through security. There are at least one security and bag check at the entrance of every station and sometimes you have to exit via one as well!
They aren’t a major problem, the main purpose is to scan the bags although you need to walk through a scanner too like in an airport. There’s no need to get laptops and devices out like in an airport, and water and food are fine to take.
You may be asked to drink some of your water in front of the guards to show it is water (we found this quite funny). We found taking our backpacks on and off constantly was annoying but apart from that it was fine and this layer of safety was reassuring.
6. How to Read a Train Ticket in China.
The train tickets in China all look the same but they can seem a little bit confusing on first glance. Here is a great diagram by Seat61 on how to read a train ticket in China.
What is also really important, especially for overnight trains is to know the symbol for upper, middle and lower berth as this is not translated into English on the ticket and is just a Mandarin symbol as you can see below.
7. Hot Water is Available on all Trains & in Train Stations.
The Chinese love their tea so hot boiled water is available in all train stations that I saw and on all trains. Train stations will have a sign for ‘Drinking Water’ but it isn’t purified Cold Water, its Boiled Water.
Whilst this water isn’t that great for topping up your bottle of water on journeys, it is good for topping up your tea (everyone in China seems to have a Tea Flask that they carry with them), and for a cheap Pot Noodle Meal whilst on the train.
8. Overnight Train Berths are Small!
There are many different train classes on the trains in China but keep in mind that either way the beds on overnight trains are small!
I did 3 overnight trains in China in what I believe was third class as we had 6 beds in one berth. For me, the beds were ok but getting to the upper bed was quite an acrobatic experience as they are very high up and the ladders are only tiny.
If you have mobility issues definitely try and get a lower bed and if you are larger in body size, in length or in width, be prepared to be snug.
There are a few small seats opposite the berth of beds so if you get on early and don’t want to lie down or sit on someone else lower bed you can sit on these, although generally the walkway is quite small so there isn’t much room!
9. Bedding is provided on Overnight Trains.
The cleanliness of the overnight trains was pretty good I found, one of our trains from Fujian to Macau wasn’t as nice but the other two (one pictured above) were. Bedding is always provided and will already be out on the beds if getting on late.
They offer a pillow with pillowcase, an additional base projector on the bed which is covered in a washable sheet and a duvet with a washable sheet.
As for the temperature, I found on all trains that one minute it was hot and the next it was cold, so be sure to pack layers to sleep in in case it’s extremely hot or chilly.
10. Take Entertainment.
Despite the high-speed trains being so fast, like I said, some of the journeys in China can be really long, often up to 6-9 hours to get from one major city to another. Whilst you can watch China wizz past, I found that the scenery wasn’t always that interesting so be sure to take entertainment.
None of the trains we went on had WiFi but when I had a sim card with data generally the data worked throughout the journey.
On most of the trains, especially the newer high-speed trains there are power sockets to charge your laptop, kindle, phone etc.
- For more of my Posts on China see:
- The Ultimate Backpacking China Experience with The Dragon Trip!
- Applying For a China Visa in Hong Kong Before My Tour Around China!
- Camping on The Great Wall of China – What it’s Like & How You Can Do it!
This post was sponsored by Omio but all thoughts, opinions and tips on China Train Travel are my own. This post may contain affiliate links at no extra cost to you.