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Train Travel in China

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China Railways

We have travelled on the Hanoi Nanning International night train. T 87012
This leaves Hanoi Gia Lam at 21:20. we had booked our tickets with https://www.baolau.com and were delighted when their agent arrived at the station (International waiting room) with the tickets as planned and helped us on to the correct train!
Photos show timetables in international waiting room at Gia Lam Hanoi, we suggest you use the time to identify your destination in Chinese, take a photo just in case you need clarification.

This Vietnamese (or was it Chinese) train was a little more comfortable than previous trains but still had the squat toilets which are somewhat of a challenge on a rickety rackety train!

We were sharing the carriage with a young Chinese couple who had visited Halong Bay for New Year. The train leaves the Vietnam border at 12:30, so everyone has to exit the train with their all their luggage to clear The Vietnam border and customs this takes a good hour ( so don't put on your PJs!). You then re- board the train for about 40 mins until reaching the Chinese border, then its off the train again with all your luggage and through Chinese immigration, reboard the train around 3 am and climb into your bunk, we all slept soundly till we were woken in time to arrive at Nanning at 10:10am
In Nanning we met by an English speaker who took us to collect our tickets for Guilin and showed us how to order noodles at one of the station food outlets... a very important skill to be learnt! It was a little tricky finding her as we had completely underestimated the scale of the station. It is huge! We soon began to understand a little more about train travel procedures in China.

By 14:50 we had boarded the D8294 Bullet Train To Guilin arriving at 17:21

This is what we learnt!
Tickets must be pre-booked and you can only travel on an allocated seat. We used https://www.chinahighlights.com/china-trains/ for our booking.
First thing to appreciate is that there are two railway systems. The traditional one that has been around since before WWII and the bullet train system. We experienced the old system on our journey from Hanoi on the sleeper to Nanning. It’s slow, the rolling stock is old but clean and quite adequate. The stations are like the UK rail system with one exception; all the seats are numbered and allocated, you are not let on to the platform until the train is due. Platforms tend to be at a low level, so you must climb up to access the train carriage. Loos are squat type and not to be used in the station, mostly to be avoided.

The bullet train system has its own immaculately clean dedicated stations, rolling stock and tracks.
It is much more like air travel with security scans before you can access the traveller side of the station. Only those travelling can enter, and at the city stations there are separate areas for departure and arrival. These modern stations are akin to airports.
Photos of Xian Bei (north) taken from Macdonalds on the food outlet level (I wasn't buying!):
Queuing for boarding (Steve is waving!) and part of the departure hall
The waiting area is dedicated to the platform number and you access the platform, when called, via a boarding gate system. The writing for your train turns green, look at the time to help you know what train. Most stations have escalators but this porter was easy to find in his red jacket ( cost 20 yuan)

There is a lot of info written in Chinese on your ticket. Destination, time, seat and carriage number etcThis page of man in seat 61 helps https://www.seat61.com/China.htm#How_to_read_a_Chinese_train_ticket

The Chinese are experts at moving huge numbers of people in an orderly and timely manner, although personal space is not regarded in the same way as back home. Its taken a few weeks but I have now nearly broken the habit of apologising every time I brush past someone! Trains and platforms are scrupulously clean and once the train departs the carriage floors are mopped! We are writing this at a steady 295km/hr it is much smoother than a comparable flight, more leg room and bottom room, even in standard class and a lot less hassle. Trains run on time. The only warning is that children under 1.5m don’t need a ticket so they share the seat with an adult, which puts pressure on personal space. Information displays give the train speed, lots of Chinese writing, the next station name and outside temperature 5 minutes before arrival. There is also an “in flight” entertainment system which seems to exhort how great China is.
looks like we were travelling at 305kph!
In general, the UK could learn a lot! Our guide tells us that bullet trains have transformed travel for the Chinese people, journeys which took days can now be completed in hours.

The other trains we have used are:
D8462 Guilin Xian
G88 Xian Beijing (1st class- highly recommended but far more demand for fewer seats)

We have bought train food and it is fine, about £4.50 for chicken, rice , noodle, vegetable meal. We are mastering the chop sticks!

All trains have a hot water dispenser so the other option is to buy pot noodle type food, which many of the Chinese do. We have done this but I can assure you that Pot Noodles have not improved since my student days!

Lastly, all the trains we have used have had power points, so no problem charging your tablets, headphones etc. We have been watching downloaded films and listening to Audio books. I have been listening to the Peter May China Thrillers- great as you travel to the places that are featured! We are just down loading the Last Emperor ready for the next leg of our Journey.

Posted by Valfowles 06:48 Archived in China Tagged travel train

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