Tips for Travelling in China by Rail

Asia  /   /  By Cher

Everyone knows that China is a massive country, so obviously getting around it is going to be challenging, right? Well, yes, but the Chinese have come up with a handy answer to that quandary – rail travel.

Whilst in some countries you can expect trains to be a rather challenging affair to say the least, in China you have one of the most reliable, busiest, and biggest networks in the world, which links almost every town and city inside this huge land sprawl. It makes sense that getting around by train allows you to see more of the passing landscapes, quickly, and in a comfortable setting. Trains are also good places to meet new people, as a side note.

Plan ahead

Long distance rail journeys in China book up quickly, and it’s not unusual for them to sell out completely. Because of this, think ahead, and book your ticket before you need it, at least 3-4 days if possible. You can book online, although always use a reputable agency website, or you can go in person to the train station. You will sometimes find an English speaking window, certainly at Beijing’s main station, and you should remember to take your passport with you in order to book.


We have just talked about booking ahead, and reservations for those long-distance journeys open 60 days before departure for bookings made online, and 58 days before if you book in person.

Check your category and class

The higher the category of your train, the faster and more comfortable it will be; for example, categories C, D, and G are the best, and therefore more expensive. In terms of class, this also dictates how comfortable your experience will be. Soft sleeper compartments are probably the most comfortable in terms of long distance travel, and have everything you need to keep you occupied, including beds, sofa, table, and some even have a TV. Hard sleeper compartments are a little less so, however these are commonplace for backpackers, or those who want to travel on a budget, and offer an open plan compartment of bunk beds, generally in bays of 6. On top of this, you get your general first class, second class, business class etc.

Think about your baggage

Any rail journey doesn’t need to be weighed down with too much luggage, but if you’re crossing large distances you will obviously have some. As a general rule, adults are allowed 20kg, and children are allowed 10kg, although it’s more important that your bag fits within the luggage compartments at the security x-ray machines. Your baggage will be x-rayed before you are allowed to pass through to board your train.

Boarding your train

Chinese train stations are a little like airports, in that you need to show your ticket and passport to be allowed into the departure lounge, and you will have to pass through a security area, where your baggage is scanned, and you will be body checked with an electronic wand. Once you’re through security you need to wait and look at the screens for your train number, which obviously dictates which platform you go to. Make sure you arrive for this whole procedure at least 30-40 minutes beforehand.

Travelling across, through, or within China by rail is a fantastic experience, and a cheap, easy, and reliable way to see everything this amazing country has to offer.

Photo Credit: Michael Jefferies

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