By Andrea Scarlatelli, eChinacities.com Repost |
If you've never taken an overnight train ride in China, you may be tempted to envision a grand affair, full of dining carts, cocktails, and sharply dressed train attendants – an Orient Express, if you will. The truth is a bit more, well, Chinese. Just imagine camping. Now imagine camping in a narrow room crammed full of four to six other people, with a dozen or so more sitting right outside your doorway. I say doorway because there's not actually a door separating you from the hallway if you choose a hard-sleeper ticket. Now let me say right off that I truly enjoyed my train experience – it was an adventure I'll never forget. I just wish I had been a bit more prepared, both mentally and physically, for my 15 1/2 hour train ride from Shanghai to Xi'an. And so I pass onto you the things I wish I had known, in the hope that it makes your overnight train trip that much smoother.
1) Bring food (lots of it)2) Keep your valuables to a minimum
Despite the (surprising) announcement of a dining car, my eager dash to "train car #9" yielded disappointing results – when the train attendants saw me roaming around and I asked them where this mysterious car was, they laughed and said there was no car #9. Humph. Luckily, I was told by someone much more experienced than I that I should bring snacks. Crackers, nuts, and veggies are all good portable meals – just stay away from the (soon-to-get-melty) cheese.
I had luckily figured this out beforehand, so what little valuables I had (aka my wallet and passport), I kept in my purse which I then hugged like a teddy bear all night. With no doors and, obviously, no locks, you're pretty much open to whoever feels like sauntering into your bedroom. And while I was able to sleep fairly well despite this, you can be sure I never took my hands off the important stuff.
3) Bring alcohol (but not too much)
Let's face it – alcohol (almost always) makes things more fun. The same goes with an overnight train ride. It's important though, not to get too much – there's nothing worse than getting woken up at 2:00am by a rowdy foreigner wandering the halls with a glass of wine in hand, yelling for her friend who she apparently lost within the fifty foot span of the train car. So while I heavily encourage you to bring some liquid sustenance, aim for slightly buzzed, not sloshed.
4) Be flexible (a.k.a. don't expect to arrive at your destination on time)
After our 9:00am arrival time came and went, I started getting a bit antsy. Three hours later, we finally pulled up to the station and I almost burst out of my seat. I mean, I don't expect everything to work like clockwork (I've ridden a plane once or twice in my lifetime, after all), but three hours late? Really? It was only later that I learned (from the train ticket office) that trains are regularly up to five hours late. Guess I should consider myself lucky…
5) Bring mouthwash (because you're not going to want to brush...)
Actually, you're just going to want to avoid the bathrooms at all costs. While I don't blink at squat toilets anymore, the fact of a squat toilet, used by an entire train car, while in motion, doesn't result in a pleasant teeth-brushing environment. Better to just swish in your car and be done with it. Though many trains have separate rooms for washing, some don't. Best to do like the Boy Scouts do and be prepared.
Keep these five tips in mind, and your trip is pretty much guaranteed to go smoother than mine did! Feel free to post other overnight train tips – your fellow travellers will appreciate it!