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Train’s the way for language students to explore China

Although more and more people are buying cars in China, the majority of both locals and foreigners still do not own a car. And there are usually enough other modes of transportation, to make owning your own car unnecessary and perhaps more trouble than it is worth. In fact in a big Chinese city like Kunming, Shanghai, Beijing, etc. most daily necessities can be found within walking distance, and public transportation is usually very convenient and cheap to take you where you cannot walk.

Train station, ChinaHowever, taking a long distance trip in China will take more planning, than if you were to just jump in the car and start to drive across America.

One of the most convenient ways to travel long distances in China is to ride the train. Our family travels a lot by train when we learn Chinese in China.

Traveling by train is very affordable. It is often the cheapest way to travel. You will want to figure out ahead of time what kind of ticket to ask for. Hard seat tickets are the cheapest option, and are usually even cheaper than a bus ticket. In my experience the “hard seats” aren’t actually that hard; they are padded and cloth covered, and for a few hour trip this is a very comfortable way to travel. Much of the Chinese countryside is very beautiful too, so if you are traveling by day, you will often have great views out the windows of the seated cars.

If you are traveling for a longer time there are also hard sleeper and soft sleeper tickets. Again the “hard sleeper” is not actually that hard; the bunk is padded and cloth covered. The main difference is that hard sleepers have three bunks stacked on each other, and the car is more open. The soft sleepers have two bunks on top of each other, and each group of four bunks has its own private door that closes and locks. This makes the soft sleepers more private. If you are traveling in a group that can use all four bunks the private room is nice.

Train, ChinaSleeper tickets are of course more expensive than seats, but if you can travel to or from your destination overnight you can save the cost of a hotel room. Additionally if you have limited time to travel, such as a weekend getaway, you don’t waste some of that precious time traveling in the daylight when you could be sightseeing instead.

Trains are a very comfortable way to travel in China. There are no seat belts to worry about. You can get up frequently to stretch your legs. There are bathrooms onboard, so you don’t have to wait for stopping points. Unless you are traveling at peak travel times such as Spring Festival, train are usually less crowded than buses.

There is food and drink available to purchase onboard the trains. The prices are very reasonable. In fact they are not much more than you would pay at any convenience store in China. Usually, instant noodles, snacks, water, and soft drinks are available on one type of cart, fresh fruit on another, and hot meals on yet other carts. It is very nice to be able to buy fresh fruit aboard trains, something that would be very rare in America. There is usually a dining car onboard as well.

At this time, there not restrictions against bringing your own food or drinks either, which is nice if you have special dietary considerations or just want to be sure to have your favorite traveling food along.

Train travel, ChinaTrain stations are usually more conveniently located than airports, and they have less baggage restrictions. They are usually much easier and quicker to navigate and board as well. This can make trains a less stressful option than flying.

Of course trains cannot go to as many destinations as buses, but traveling by train is usually quicker for long distances. Trains usually make fewer stops and can usually travel at faster speed through the mountains. The train ride is usually very smooth, making it a good option even for those who suffer from motion sickness. Train cars usually have large windows so you can view the beautiful scenery. I have been on a few trips where some of the best views I had were on the train.

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