My first time on a train in China was on the overnight trip from Xian to Beijing. China has many different classes of train and this one was the ‘Z’ train. This Z train (the Z20) was no old rattler, it was near new modern, clean and very comfortable train!
Apparently it’s wise to buy train tickets in advance so I did so a couple of days ahead of leaving Xian and had no trouble getting a ticket. There are two places to buy train tickets in Xian, either at the main train station which is just outside the city wall on the north side towards the east or go to a small little booking window which is on the side wall of the ICBC bank in the main center of Xian. At the time the lady at this office also spoke english.
The train trip takes just over 11 hours and leaves Xian just before 7.30PM. You can choose to either have a hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper or soft sleeper, the thought of falling asleep to the sound of a train going along its tracks sounds pretty inviting, so, I went with the soft sleeper.
Xian Train Station
Xian Station is one busy little place, like really busy! The crowds of people sitting around waiting and moving in and out is staggering. At first glance it looks like chaos but like most things in China it turns out to be semi-organised harmonious chaos.
Working out where to go can be a bit of a challenge, with so many people its hard to actually even find any signs let alone find any that have english translation. But simply flashing your ticket at an official looking person and having a stupid look on your face seems to get arms pointing and waiving in the direction you need to be going.
It turns out simply head into the center of the building with the rest of the herd of people and go through the x-ray check then head towards the left hand far corner of the entry floor. There should be a guy standing there to check your ticket on your way into what is the Soft Seat ticket holder waiting lounge. Fortunately it’s not so chaotic in there, and there’s some very comfortable chairs.
A chinese lady sat next to me in the waiting room and she must have seen the confused look on my face as I stared at my train ticket, even though she couldnt speak english with some hand signals and gestures she managed to explain to me what the information on the ticket meant:
Each bed in the cabin has its own individual number which is marked on the cabin door.
Xian to Beijing on the Z20 with Soft Sleeper ticket
In the cabins there are four separate bunk style beds each with fresh blanket and pillow. There is also a small table between the two lower beds with a decanter of hot water and four glasses.
The mattresses are comfortable and I had a top bunk, this seemed to be the best option as the bottom bunks are used as seats until everyone decides that they want to retire.
For the trip to Beijing I shared the cabin with three uni students, I’m not to sure that they where all that comfortable with a foreigner at first, and they didn’t speak english, which was surprising as most young people seem to have at least some. Hmm, this could be fun…
After helping each other stack some of the luggage into the racks at the ends of the top bunks they seemed a little more relaxed. The three students were pretty quite and laid back, but you could easily hear the loud and rambunctious conversation from nearby cabins. Fortunately at around eleven it mostly went quite. But your in China, so you’ve got earplugs anyway right? I don’t go anywhere without them!
There’s also a dining car on the train, but when i looked in there for breakfast it seemed to be a de facto sleeping area, with bodies sprawled across the seats. Maybe they didn’t like their fellow cabin partners! I’ll remember this trick if needed on a later journey!
In the morning a stewardess will knock on the door and alert you to that the trains nearing arrival. At the end of each car is a western style toilet and there is also a hot water dispenser, wash basin and mirror.
Beiing West Train Station
The train arrives at Beijing West station which is pretty easy to navigate with clear instructions and signage with english translations. As you exit the Beijing Station there are Left Luggage rooms and plenty of taxi drivers touting for business, they seem like they are best ignored. Across the road from the station there are plenty of restaurants including western name s like KFC etc etc.