China is really a continent in itself. Traveling between provinces sometimes takes longer than traveling between European countries. China has changed my perception of distances and numbers. For example, in China, traveling 700 km takes only two hours by Chinese high-speed trains. Trains currently travel at speeds of up to 350km per hour.
Trains in China leave and arrive on time. Flights, on the contrary, are often delayed. So, if you want to arrive on time, take a train. A train trip from Shanghai to Beijing takes 4.5 hours. Usually, flying between these cities takes less than two hours, but I once had a flight that lasted 11 hours! Six hours were spent inside the plane on the airport tarmac. You could have traveled back and forth to Beijing by train…
What do you need to know before taking a Chinese high-speed train?
You can book your tickets on the internet, but you will need to have them with you at the train station, with your passport. You can choose second, first and business class for your travel.
Second class is the cheapest and also the busiest and noisiest. Usually, the seats are for three people in these carriages which are clean and quite comfortable, but first class is better.
In first class the seats are for only two people, so it is less noisy and with fewer people. You get snacks and soft drinks, which are included in the cost of your ticket.
Business class is the best option of course, but is much more expensive. It is very comfortable for longer trips (6 – 8 hours). The seats convert into beds, so you can sleep if you wish. It is very quiet, as there are no irritating boarding announcements, so you need to pay attention to the electronic display above the door of the carriage.
Main tips for taking the Chinese high-speed trains
You need to arrive around one hour before the departure time, pass a security check, and show your ticket. Then you need to find out where to wait for the train. Look at your ticket for the train number to find the departure platform.
If you have heavy luggage, you might want to use the Red Cap Luggage Service. They will assist with your luggage for an additional fee.
You will see an electronic LED screen, which shows the gates where passengers board their train. Look for your carriage number. In most cases you board through different gates for carriages at the beginning or the end of the train.
Usually, you are allowed to board the train 30 minutes before departure. At smaller stations it may be 15 minutes. On the electronic board you will see train numbers listed in three colors. Green is for trains that you can board, yellow means prepare to board, and red means you will need to wait, or the train has just departed.
Line up in front of the electronic gate when your train number turns green on the LED screen. When the gate opens, you can board the train.
When you’re on the platform, carefully check your train number and destination, as there are usually two trains on either side of the platform. If you are waiting to board a train at an intermediate station where it stops for only a few minutes, look for numbers on the floor near the edge of the platform. The first number indicates where your coach will stop. So, if you have a ticket for coach N.5, look for a number 5 on the platform floor. The Chinese high-speed train will stop precisely for you to board coach 5!
On the Chinese high-speed train
You find your seat, put your luggage above it, or if your suitcase is big, leave it at the special luggage compartment at the carriage entrance.
Your ticket will be checked for the third time while you’re on board the train. Keep it, as you will need it again when you leave the station at your destination.
Seats on the train are quite comfortable and clean. You will see a lot of ladies loudly advertising food and drinks for you to purchase… The Chinese person next to you might be shouting while speaking with a friend on a mobile phone. Some of them might be watching a movie without earphones. Strangely enough, it looks as if only Westerners get annoyed by this – the Chinese are used to it. But if you protest, they usually change their behavior – nobody wants to lose face in front of a foreigner.
All in all, the journey by train is fast and comfortable, and you can use your time to read, watch movies or write emails. To my knowledge, WiFi works only in business class. If you have Chinese internet, it works better when the train stops. The high speed of the train might be the cause.
I much prefer these train trips rather than flying, not only because the trains are never late, but also because the railway stations are closer than airports, and you save time getting there. Tickets for flights are sometimes cheaper, but you gain in terms of time.
My additional tip: remember that a city might have several train stations, so carefully check for the correct station on your ticket when getting on and off the train.