During my time in China it has become evident that a lot of people put off seeing more of the country, because train travel worries them. Which is understandable! Train stations are big, crowded and most of the time don’t translate information into English. On the flip side, trains are affordable, fun and reliable. Especially if you are living in a big city such as Beijing or Shanghai, you can access pretty much every corner by train travel in China.

Make new friends over a game of Uno!

Buying and collecting tickets

As we all know, China has a huge population. So it shouldn’t be too much of a shock to hear that tickets sell out, and fast. Be aware that most train tickets go on sale 60 days in advance, so be prepared. It does mean that forward-planning is essential, but it is worth it to grab that soft bed over a standing ticket.
There is an English app called Ctrip – connect your bank card and away you go! Once booked, they will send you a collection number which can be used at the station. Just show this number along with the passport you used to book and hey presto.
DON’T FORGET YOUR PASSPORT: in some cases they may still let you on the train, but it is not worth the risk.

A typical 6 berth hard sleeper

A typical hard seater – always something interesting to see

Which ticket to choose

Generally it looks like this;

  • Standing ticket
  • Hard seat
  • Hard sleeper
  • Soft sleeperThere are four types of train: G (bullet), Z (direct express), T (Express) and K (Fast).

Depending on your journey length, will depend on prices for each ticket, and of course which one you are willing to endure! For a rough idea, an overnight soft sleeper ticket (11hrs) from Beijing to Shanghai is 693RMB (less than £70).

Train tickets explained


At the station

Be prepared! Keep your passport and ticket handy, they won’t let you in without checking this first.
Check the big departure board, find your train number and then find your way to the gate number. If you get a little confused, show anyone nearby and they will be happy to point you in the right direction.
Most stations resemble an airport, but on a smaller scale. Generally they will keep you in the main station until around 10 minutes before the train leaves, so don’t be alarmed, you won’t miss it!

Why travel by train?

I stand by that train travel is by far the most exciting. Chinese people are super friendly and love to share food and ask about you. Trains provide free hot water so you can join in the instant-noodle craze, and you needn’t worry about comfort as each bed provides a duvet and pillow.

FYI: If you are on an overnight journey, a conductor will come round and swap your paper ticket for a plastic one. Keep this close and expect to be woken up about 1hr before arrival to swap it back – no alarm needed.
Tip: Take plenty of tasty treats. There is usually a canteen and a trolley that comes round, but of course prices rise accordingly.

Be prepared and take tasty snacks on long journeys by train


Thanks to @jorienzuurendonk for the wonderful photos – she is currently travelling around China, check out her Instagram!