Birmingham, United Kingdom
I'm travelling in China for 3 weeks this summer and will be catching a few trains. I'm organising the tickets in advance but in general what things should I watch out for in regards to trains in China (and what should I particularly enjoy)?
I agree with that Gina Gao said about choosing the high speed trains if available. The distances in China are huge and if you can take a few hours off the journey, I advise you do so.
As for food, you can buy noodles and snack-type foods in the stations. Inside the train, there's always hot water (if you want to bring along cup of noodles - I can recommend it, it's easy!) and there's also carts with meals and drinks going by. The meals aren't super cheap, but definitely more than affordable for western travellers and fairly decent.
Make sure to bring toilet paper on the trains, as there never is any! I can also recommend wet wipes to wash your hands with.
Since you are travelling in Summer, you should book tickets at least a few days ahead of time. I'm in China at the moment (June) and tickets to popular destinations are definitely booking out a few days in advance. You can book tickets easily at any train station, ticket agents and often even at your hotel/hostel. You don't really have to book them way in advance and online, it's enough to do it about 3 days before your journey.
If you travel with a lot of luggage, make sure to get in line at the gate early (about 20-30mins before departure), as luggage space can run out, especially if you travel on hard seats.
There are four categories of seats: hard seats, soft seats, hard sleepers and soft sleepers. Hard seats are fairly uncomfortable and usually absolutely crowded, only choose those on short journeys. Soft seats are comfortable and often have plugins for your electronics. There isn't much difference between hard and soft sleepers, apart from the soft sleeper compartments having a door and having 4 beds instead of 6. I actually liked the more open layout with more luggage room in the hard sleeper compartments though. The door on the soft sleepers is actually more of a disadvantage as it feels stuffy and crowded and is only marginally quieter.
One thing you really need to be prepared in advance is food. Cause the food provided on the train is expensive and definately not tasty.
I have traveled a lot by train in China. Make sure to bring food, such as noodles, nuts, fruit and candy! Make sure that you book "hard sleep" or "soft sleep" tickets! NOT seats if it's a long trip. I did that once and just beacuse you book a seat ticket doesn't mean that you actually have a seat, I sat on the floor for 32h...... It was very cold and the chinese people are not very clean so they spit and the kids pee on the floor....
Another important thing is to bring earplugs and an eye mask! Especially earplugs, all train rides I have gone on, there has been someone who snores very loudly, super annoying.... Plus, those who sell snack (they sell mostly wierd chinese gross things) sells even at night which is very annoying because they scream, so EARPLUGS is the key to a nice trip in China if you do it over night and want to sleep. And if you are able to, bring a pillow :) And ofcourse make sure that you bring books, deck of cards or something else entertaining.
Actually you can download a mobile app like ctrip to check the train schedule in advance, normally you can book the ticket on app directly and then you need to get the ticket from train station.
As a local I would classify the trains into 2 main kinds: 1) High-speed train with train code starts with "G" or "D"; 2) Normal trains with various spead depending on the route and available trains.
If there are available high-speed trains going to places you planned, I would strongly recommend because they are fast, on time, clean and modern with reasonable price (more expensive than normal ones but not that much).
There is an official website for booking train tickets on-line http://www.12306.cn/. However, they are in Chinese and I would suggest to have a Chinese friend to help you to book and pay online.
If you are traveling during summer, I wouldn't expect the tickets would run out (the busy season is Spring Festival and that's in winter). Therefore, it should be ok if you buy them a few days ahead or even on the spot, in case there's any plan change once you arrive.
Have a marvelous vacation and enjoy your stay!
We are also a member of Airbnb, if you are planning to stay at Beijing, please check it out. We would love to host you or/and your friends and help with the tickets as well. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2909529
You can now buy at a ticket counter or through the internet, it is simple
There's nothing to worry about. People in Beijing are always very hospitable to foreigners.welcome！