All Posts / China 2013

Who knew train travel could be so much fun??? Our overnight train from Guilin to Shenzhen

If you travel by train in China, you’re probably going to experience some interesting things.  And usually, not every experience is a great one.  But this time was one of the exceptions.

In an effort to save money, time, and to see ever so slightly more of China, the girls and I opted to take a train from Guilin to Shenzhen, spend most of the day in Shenzhen, and then meander our way on over to Hong Kong (where we were told you could literally just walk across the border).

So, in order to optimize our time, we took a night train from Guilin to Shenzhen.  It left Guilin at about 9pm on Tuesday the week of our trip, and was scheduled to get into Shenzhen the next morning around 10 or 11am.  This actually worked out well – not only did we have the entire day still to spend in Guilin finishing up our tour of the city (see previous post), we also didn’t have to pay for a hotel for the night.  And while we were sleeping, we were also traveling!!!  Really, we were killing like two or three birds with one stone.  非常不错!

So even though the train we took was a slow train (aka, not on the super fancy high speed rail that goes between Shanghai and Beijing), we were still able to  optimize our time.  When taking the train, you have a few options: you can get a hard seat (which is just like a regular seat), you can get a hard sleeper (which are smaller and more compact cars that sleep more people), or you can get a soft sleeper (soft sleepers are bigger and wider, and sleep four, as opposed to six people).  We went for the hard sleeper – these were right in our price range and also allowed us to experience some of what one might call “real” China.  入乡随俗。

So we got to the train station plenty early after eating a filling dinner and buying lots of snacks, anticipating to possibly be up the entire night in the case of sharing a car with a bunch of noisy Chinese people.   We also decided it was best to prepare a Chinese mindset when boarding the train.  In other words, we were ready to push, shove, and essentially fight to the death if that meant we got onto the train first!  Because even though we had tickets, who knows if someone might decide they wanted our bunks.  Nope, we weren’t gonna play THAT Chinese game.  So we played the other one that invovled pushing and shoving.

After breaking through the crowds in one piece (and at the front of the crowd, remember that!), we 上火车’ed (got on the train) and were greeted with one long, large car that had about 10 or 15 divisions, each division with 6 beds, 3 on each side of the wall.  DISCLAIMER:  because of really sad circumstances, I lost all of my photos that I took while on the train 😦  see future post on Hong Kong for more.


Looking down the entire car, our own little section with three sets of beds on either wall is just to the right. (taken by Kim)

We settled down into our beds.  I had the middle one.  Just like the top one, the middle one didn’t really allow quite enough headroom to sit up fully with… but that was okay, because I planned on being horizontal the whole time anyways.


All of us stacked up and ready for a long (or short?) night on the train! (Kim’s photo again)

Every bed came equipped with a pillow and a blanket.  And even though we technically had “hard sleepers”, the beds were more cot-like than anything.  Not exactly soft, but definitely far from being hard.  Overall, it was a pretty comfy situation (better than a 15 hour plane ride at least!)


The view from the top bunk looking down (taken by Sarah); on the right side of the picture, you can see a man with a cell phone. He’s sitting in seats on the aisle that were available to all passengers in this car, so if you didn’t want to sit in your bed, you could just fold out a chair that was attached to the wall and sit there for a while. Also, this man must have been someone important. He was up half the night making business calls, from the sounds of it. I don’t know why you need to make a call at 6am, but hey. To each their own.

So, we settled in for a possibly long night – but after only about an hour of being on the train, they ever so  kindly turned of the lights, basically signaling for everyone that it was time to go to bed.  We were pretty close to the bathroom (which was a pretty gross squatter toilet, but eh, we made do), so many people were going to and from the bathroom around that time, but come 11:00, almost the entire train was quiet and settled down, ready for a good night’s rest.  We settled down ourselves, and I was knocked out in a matter of minutes, between being exhausted from our travel in Guilin and the Benadryl tablet Kim so kindly offered me.

I woke up a few times during the night, but aside from that, from about 11:00pm to around 9:00am I had a wonderful night’s sleep.  A little cramped at times, but overall sooo comfy… and when we woke up, we were basically at our destination!  It was great.

So, I’m not going to tell you that absolutely every train travel experience in China is going to be the same as this… but it might.  If you get a chance, definitely go with the hard sleepers (buy EARLY though!), and take an overnight train in China.  It’s comfy, it’s  a new experience, and it’s fun!  And you have an excuse to literally do nothing for a solid 10 hours.  WIN.


One thought on “Who knew train travel could be so much fun??? Our overnight train from Guilin to Shenzhen

  1. I’ve taken a couple of long-distance trains in China. The first was in 2005, and I was in a private cabin with a couple of friends. Not bad, but I knew back then that the food was dicey.

    Then, in 2006, I took one from Beijing to Shenzhen, in a similar carriage to yours. Not bad, really, just the upper bunk bed was extremely close to the ceiling… I think my lunch was stir-fried carrots and napkin.

    The local trains are something else!

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