Where do I begin? Taking the sleeper train was one of the best experiences of my life. I met genuine nice people like you and me who weren’t trying to rip me off or con me. Even though absolutely no one spoke English, not even a word, they gave up the seat next to the bed that had a table when it was dinner time so I could eat my noodles and just showed me how everything works.
Some didn’t seem to grasp the concept that I didn’t speak Chinese and so just kept talking to me. I would sit there politely nodding my head and smiled even though I had told them in Chinese that I couldn’t speak it.
As I looked out the window while the train was driving through “the real China” I saw people washing in the river and the small villages with houses falling apart. So far I have only been in large cities and so it reminded me that most of the country was living in poverty. I am happy with the places I’ve chosen as it has given me a real insight and stepping stone into China, however, I’ve only seen our side of this magnificent country and so maybe sometime in the future I will come back and visit “The Real China”.
I took a hard sleeper from Xi’an to Chengdu with a travel time of 17 hours. I arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare and went through ticket control and security. After wondering round the station for ages trying to find my gate, since you can only get onto the platform once the train has arrived, I finally realised there was an upstairs and with much relief found my gate. Train stations are run very much like airports. 20 minutes before the train was due to depart they opened the gate and I made my way to the platform begging that everything would work out.
I worked that the numbers on right side of the ticket corresponded to the carriage and bed section number. Then the Chinese character next to it disginuished whether you were top, middle or bottom. I was top and I actually really enjoyed my place since the bottom bunk was used as a seat by everyone and the middle bunk was used to climb to the top.
The grief I had with the train was the air quality. Passengers could smoke on the train in between carriages, however, the door was always open and so the smoke came into the main compartment. Also the A/C pumped in some strange smokey air which tickled the back of my throat giving me a cough for the whole journey. I didn’t hear anyone else having had this problem, and so I’m guessing that it was a one-off.
The toilet! All I can advise is go before you get on. It was a squat toilet and you have to hold your breath when you go in. The smell was vile.
Apart from those 2 things I really enjoyed the ride and would definitely do it at any available opportunity, but 17 hours is long enough.
The beds were actually fairly comfortable. Each so called section had 6 beds, 3 bunks on either side. To get onto the next one up you had to stand on the one below. I would suggest that if you are not so mobile to take a bottom bunk. Getting down from the top was rather tricky.