To be up front about it from the very beginning, I'm sure train travel isn't for everyone. It takes a bit of the adventurist. A bit of being ok with the unknown.
But for us, traveling by train was just a wonderful experience!
And the perfect way for us to get from point A to point B.
So I'll tell y'all how we did it. The good and the other. And let those of you considering it decide for yourselves. Honestly, I don't know much about the trains in China. I didn't know anything about train travel in China a month ago. But here are a few tidbits to pass on and maybe it will help someone.
Our agency dissuaded us from traveling by train. They implied that it was less reliable than traveling by plane. We researched all we could and couldn't find any evidence of this. We decided this would be the best type of travel for our family.
We purchased our train tickets from Beijing to Nanchang when we were still in the US from an online vendor. If Papa was still here, I'd tell you specifically which one. If I remember correctly, different train's tickets go on sale, different amounts of time before departure. This particular train's tickets went on sale 10 days prior to the trip. So we went through the online ticket company to get them when they went on sale to ensure they wouldn't be sold out. We had to send them copies of our passports, and I think Papa paid by credit card or PayPal. The tickets, assigned cabin and assigned bunks, were waiting for us at our hotel when we arrived in Beijing.
For the second leg of the trip, Nanchang to Guangzhou, we waited till we were in China to buy the tickets, but went through the same online sales site we used the first time as it was pretty easy the first time. Again the tickets were waiting for us at our hotel in Nanchang. Tickets for us were approximately $70 a person, per trip. (Compared to $200ish for a plane ticket per person and the savings of a hotel room(s) for one night.)
|The waiting room for the "soft sleepers." We were told it wasn't particularly busy this evening.|
|Looking down from the top bunks. It was a tight fit. Slippers were in every cabin to use.|
The soft sleeper accommodates 4 people and worked out very well for us since there were 4 of us traveling. If there had only been 3 of us, there would have been a random person assigned to our cabin.
|The little table between the two lower bunks. Complete with a flower vase, pot for hot water, and newspaper.|
Speaking of potties, we used the bathroom in the waiting area before boarding the train. Then on the train there is a squatty potty at the end of each car. It's what you'd expect a squatty potty to be like, but it wasn't too bad. I rolled up my pant legs a bit. I never touched anything. Only saw it one time in the morning. Was totally do-able for me.
|Papa got out his computer to do a little work on the trip.|
The best thing we did to ensure our travel was a success was to hire a guide to pick us up at our hotel, luggage and all, and drive us to the train station. For the first trip in Beijing this was a nice van. The second trip Nanchang trip we just took 2 taxis. Each time we left our hotel about 2 hours before departure. Our guide spent the whole time with us, in the waiting room as we waited for our train, then walked us all the way to our cabin, making sure we went to the correct platforms, train, and cabin. The trains are labeled on the sides with their destination, but having the guide with us was a safe guard that helped us feel confident that we were getting the the right place at the right time. Our guide for the Beijing station was about $75 all in. Our guide in Nanchang was from our agency. When we arrived at our destination, we just took the taxis to our hotel once we arrived at our destination. Taxi stands were easy to find just like airports.
|Patch on his top bunk complete with a rail so he doesn't fall out. |
Notice little fold out shelf and head phones for the little TVs.
Like I said, this type of travel may not be for everyone. The stations were crowded and we were told that they weren't really that busy at all. The Beijing station was well marked in English including the intercoms, where as the Nanchang station was not English friendly. On the second leg of the journey, we had 5 passengers and the sleeper only slept 4. Again, our agency again wasn't encouraging us to travel by train. And seeing as how there were 5 of us on the the second leg of our trip (my father joined us in China in Nanchang.) I took the 90 minute flight from Nanchang to Guangzhou with the baby, while the rest of my family took the overnight train. My 90 minute flight was extremely uncomfortable, and the entire travel time lasted 9 hours. I would have given my right arm to be on that train.
|A view toward the door of the cabin. Coat hung on the hanger, little TV, and silver rectangle below to right of TV is a fold out step to get to top bunks. The window in the door can be covered with a screen.|
I'll answer them here on the comments in case anyone else has the same question.