Wednesday, April 18, 2007

China: Plane or Train

According to the Rough Guide, the price of a Soft Sleeper on the train (example pictured below) is about the same as a flight. I'm really tempted to fly in order to see more in the 3 weeks we'll be there, perhaps taking the train just once or twice. I have to confess that the main problems with the train is the toilets. From what I've learned, it's a case of 'first up, best dressed' - the soft sleepers don't have their own toilets, and if you want to be more sure of a clean start to the day, you need to get there first. Otherwise, all bets are off.

It wouldn't be a big deal for me if I were traveling on my own, but with wife and kids, the levels to which I'm prepared to descend are limited.

There's also the consideration of time saved. Instead of a 12 hour overnight trip to Xian from Beijing, for example, we're talking about a 2 hour flight. Perhaps a mix would be best - sticking with the train where I'm fairly sure the quality and cleanliness is likely to be high.


David said...

I can't comment on the quality of Chinese train toilets but the chances of meeting people and seeing how the regular people live is much higher on a train. Overland always trumps flying for exposure anyway and that's what you're there for. Take one for the experience.

Anne M. said...

I took the express train softsleeper from Beijing to Shanghai last october: it was great, very very comfortable and clean - also the toilets. If they should not be clean, you can still ask the staff to clean it.

Departing from Beijing Main Station is definitely worth the experience. Try it out at least once.

Brendan Lawlor said...

Thanks Anne. Makes sense. We'll probably do the Beijing to Xi'an leg by train. I'll have to learn the phrase asking for the toilets to be cleaned!

Paul said...

As the person who took the photo above, I can say a bit about the Chinese sleeper trains.

I took the Beijing-Shanghai line both ways, in soft sleeper. I think it was about RMB 400 each way.

Good points:
* It's as cheap as a hotel room.
* It's clean and comfortable - the same as or better than European sleepers I've been on.
* Free boiling water! (Bring some tea and a mug.)
* There's a good social atmosphere and plenty of opportunities for interaction.
* Interesting view from the window.

Bad points:
* Once you get a fair way out of the cities, the track gets very bumpy. Don't expect to sleep soundly.
* Getting to the right platform at the right time is quite tricky if you don't speak or read Chinese.

I really enjoyed my couple of journeys, and, as Anne said, Beijing station is quite an experience!

Brendan Lawlor said...

Thanks Paul,
I hope I haven't broken any rules of blog etiquette by just pointing at your picture like that (sorry if I have).

I can sleep through pretty much anything, as can my kids. My wife may have some issues with the bumpiness, but I'll distract her (and anyone else within 2 carriages) with my snoring.