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8 things you need to know when traveling by train in China

traveling by train in China

Traveling in China isn’t always the easiest. The completely different culture can be a shock, the hygienic standards can be hard to adjust to, let alone the fact that communication can be very difficult at times. When traveling to China you will most likely take a train or two to go from A to B. To make that trip a success, we will give you 8 tips on traveling by train in China to make your train ride smoother.

When you are preparing for your train ride you will realize that’s its not going to be as bad as you might have imagined and that you can actually have a great time when traveling by train in China.

traveling by train in China

8 things you need to know when traveling by train in China

  1. Buy your train ticket as early as possible.
    In China you need to buy your tickets in advance. When you try and buy your ticket a day before your departure date you will most like hear ‘mei you’ (don’t have) at the counter. Train tickets will go on sale up to 2 weeks (sometimes longer) before your planned day of traveling. Sometimes earlier, for example when there’s a national holiday coming up. So, the earlier you’ll try and get your train tickets, the better.
  2. Write down the name of your destination in Chinese or bring along the number of the train ride you want to take.
    The pronunciation of cities is very important when it comes to buying train tickets. It has happened to friends of mine (luckily I’ve been saved from this drama) that they tried to buy a ticket to a specific destination, but that they ended up in a complete different town, only because they had pronounced the name in the wrong way.
    That’s why I recommend having somebody write the Chinese name of the city you want to go to on a piece of paper or bring the number of the train you want to ride. You can find all trains in China on the website Just select 3 to 4 trains you are willing to take, write them down and take them with you to the station.
  3. Pick the kind of train that suits you and your way of traveling.
    There are a lot of different trains in China that can take you to your next destination. There are fast trains, overnight trains and slower trains. Also, there are different kinds of seating from hard seats to soft beds. You can easily take a hard seat when traveling during the day; it will give you a great experience as you’re going to be sitting between the locals.
    When taking a night train on the other hand I would recommend a sleeper though, as that is a lot more convenient (we learned the hard way from experience).
  4. Keep an eye on your valuables.
    Maybe it’s something that you already know, but better safe than sorry, right? Make sure your valuables are in a safe place and that you keep them close to you. China is a very safe place to travel, but it only takes one person to steal your wallet, or worse, your passport. When traveling by train in China, I always put my bag with valuables next to my head when sleeping.
  5. Bring enough food & drinks with you on your train ride.
    When you’re traveling for a long time (over 10 hours), I recommend you bring your own food and snacks. There will be people coming by with meals and drinks, but the quality of the food isn’t always that great.
    When we travel by train we usually bring some tea, water, fruits and snacks, like nuts. We bring dinner that we purchase before departure and ‘take to go’ from a restaurant. If we’re not able to bring our own food, we will bring some instant noodles.
  6. Wear comfortable clothes.
    A skinny jeans or a tight shirt; they won’t be comfortable when you have a 24 hour train ride ahead of you. If you’ve been able to get a bed, you want to be comfortable when trying to sleep, right? At least I want to be comfy. Besides, in a sleeper cabin, you won’t have too much privacy to change into your pajamas.

    traveling by train in China

  7. Be prepared for an adventure!
    Traveling by train in China is going to be an adventure no matter what. You will meet wonderful people, have memorable conversations and …… Even if you prefer flying over traveling by train, I would highly recommend taking a train at least once during your China travels.
  8. Bring toilet paper along!
    Last but not least, backpacking in China requires you to bring toilet paper everywhere you go. Going without it is just not an option.

We hope this gives you an idea of what it is like traveling by train in China. There are many things to consider, like price, time, and comfort; but we think you should take a train ride at least once during your trip to China. The experience alone will be one of your best China stories. What are some of your best stories about traveling by train? Leave a comment and let us know!

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traveling by train in China

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  • Reply
    June 14, 2016 at 9:10 am

    I live in China and your advice is stupid.

    • Reply
      Yvonne Horst
      June 14, 2016 at 9:37 am

      Hi Will,

      First of all; thank you for your comment.
      We live in China too and think this advice could be helpful first time China-travelers. Especially when you don’t speak the language.
      What exactly makes you think the advice is stupid?

  • Reply
    June 14, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    Good advice…I have lived in China for 7 years and have taken over 300 train journeys.

    • Reply
      Miguel Roberg
      June 15, 2016 at 3:29 am

      Thanks for the comment Rob. We have also been in China for 6 years in August and have taken many trips by train. What part of China do you live in?

  • Reply
    June 15, 2016 at 2:21 am

    Expect the unexpected. Have an open mind to enjoy the adventures. Stay calm and cool even in undesirable situations.

    • Reply
      Miguel Roberg
      June 15, 2016 at 3:30 am

      Yes, some of the situations can be undesirable, but at the same time it is an adventures and usually a good story. 🙂 thanks for commenting.

  • Reply
    June 15, 2016 at 10:18 am

    A good topic but a bad article.

    Why? No details on the actual hard part’s of traveling by train. Like:

    Why not explain how to buy a tix, the website options, the city booths, or at the train station. The documentation neesed. How many days in advance tixs become avaiable to buy. how not to be confused by cities having multiple train stations (ie your tix says Shanghai train station, is that west statio, Shanghai hongqiao station, etx). How early one needs to arrive before train departs. How to read the tix. What hard sleeper bed row is best and why. When and whether hard sleeper sheets are clean or not and how to know. Smoking and toilet etiquette. Etc etc.

    Lots of helpful, concrete info this article leaves out while including puff like “it is an adventure!”

  • Reply
    June 15, 2016 at 10:27 am

    I also live in China and think your advice is very sensible for travellers in China; especially if they have never been before.

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