Adventures on the Night Train: 5 Truths About Sleeper Trains in China

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Sounds magical, doesn’t it? “The night train”. Almost like the Cadbury-coloured, three-storey beaut Harry Potter frequents.

It was actually one of my bucket list goals to try it, and with sleeper train travel being the most common way to get around in China (inner city stations are literally like airport terminals), it was only a matter of time before I was able to make that little dream of mine – a reality.

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We were travelling as a group from Beijing South to Zhengzhou, to see the Shaolin temple. Full of jittery excitement like a kid before Christmas, I skipped along the platform happily snapping pictures of the carriages.

Everyone else seemed to be reluctantly dragging themselves along… perhaps they knew what was to come.

For the 11.5 hour, single trip, we had paid for ‘soft beds’ which include a thin mattress, duvet and pillow. The scale goes from hard seats (the cheapest) to hard beds, to soft beds, to deluxe cabins (the most expensive) – so we were, by no means, ‘slumming it’.

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Each section has 6 bunks, stacked 3 high and replicated around 20 to 30 times over, per carriage. So you can basically cram a good segment of the population of Manchester (my home city – big up Manchester massiv!) into one train.

I decided to be adventurous and trade my bottom “higher priced” bunk for the very top because if you’re going to do it, you might as well go whole hog, right?!

I was having a whale of a time…
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Here are 5 truths you might not know about a sleeper train:
*disclaimer, some situations may be exaggerated for your entertainment ;)*

1. BUNK BUDDIES:
The bottom bunks might be the more expensive, but personally I’d rather be at the top and out of eyeshot of the curious Chinese country folk, who have blatantly never seen a Westerner before.
Otherwise, you wake up with a new friend gayly grinning at you from the bunk opposite and, what I can only imagine, to be watching you sleep #truestory

2. SHOES ARE YOUR GREATEST ASSET

… As well as nose plugs. Squatty toilets = lots of mess trodden through the train and a strong stench of urine wafting throughout the carriage. It really adds to the ambience.

3. A WARM BED DOES NOT MEAN YOU’VE BEEN UPGRADED WITH AN ELECTRIC BLANKET:

On the way back, we boarded halfway throughout the journey. My bed was warm. Apparently, people who haven’t paid for a “soft bed” ticket seize the opportunity if they spot an empty one. Luckily, mine was fairly clean and I avoided the pleasure of having to vacate an angry occupant.

4. DON’T EXPECT THAT SLEEPING WILL HAPPEN:

I managed to catch a few winks during the longer journey, but the repetitive jerks of the train stopping at never-ending stations and the ever-so-thoughtful ‘wake up’ soundtrack, which FYI starts at 6.00am, is determined to prevent prolonged nap time.

5. AT THE OTHER END, YOU WILL LOOK LIKE DEATH:

Unlike the Chinese, whose silky hair, dewy skin and slender frames (the girls anyway) mean they will wake up looking fresh as a daisy and ready to step into a business meeting. We, on the other hand, with lack of sleep, corsetina limbs and eyeballs which reach our jawbones, literally looked like we had risen from the grave to reap a new hell on China. Which probably wasn’t far from the truth.

Let’s just put it down to being tall, inexperienced and moaning British.

There you have it, the sleeper train in a nutshell. I can say with some certainty that the night train is now FIRMLY ticked off my bucket list.

Everyone has to try it once…

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