In the year that I took off from work to travel through Southeast Asia, I managed to hit a whopping total of five countries. And one of those countries was Singapore. So I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.
I guess I’m just one of those people who likes to smell the roses. Or, as the case may be, the dumplings.And while I really enjoy taking my time visiting each place I get to, it’s the getting to the place that makes me impatient — I just want to be there already.
When given the choice between two travel options, I will always choose the faster option. Even if the faster option costs three times as much and includes questionable food choices.This is why I’ve always opted to take the fast train instead of the slow train in China.
Sure, the slow train is usually half the price of the fast train.
And, according to my friends, the slow train is full of all kinds of fun “authentic Chinese experiences.” Like people smoking all the time and squat toilets.
But, frankly, I feel like I get plenty of “authentic Chinese experiences” in my daily life.
I live in an authentic Chinese city — so authentic it’s not listed in any English language guidebooks I’ve seen. Even though we have one of the largest Buddha statues in the world and China’s third largest lake.
I regularly eat in authentic Chinese restaurants. Well, I call them “restaurants” — but they’re usually just tents made out of plastic tarp.
And let’s just say I’ve seen my fair share of squat toilets. Including a few I wouldn’t necessarily classify as “toilets.”While all these “authentic Chinese experiences” are perfectly fine for my daily life, when I travel I like to class things up a bit, you know.
And, well, you can’t get much classier than the high-speed trains in China.
The high-speed trains are always on time and meticulously clean. Like so clean it makes me feel like I’m back in Japan.
But you can pick up some freshly-made baozi and beer, so it’s all good.
Plus, you get a free bottle of water with your ticket before you board, which I don’t remember them having in Japan. I guess Japan Railways wasn’t so concerned about keeping me hydrated.
And lest you need a little entertainment, the high-speed train has its own glossy travel magazine. Even if you can’t read any of the words, the pictures usually provide plenty of entertainment.
And there’s always a hot water dispenser in the train for all your tea and instant noodle making needs. Should you have any tea and instant noodle making needs. I usually don’t, but I like just knowing that it’s there, you know?
Like I said, this train is all class, right?When I was returning home to Wuxi after my trip to Beijing the other week, I opted to take the fast train back to Shanghai instead of flying or taking the slow train.
The trip, which can take almost twenty hours on the overnight train, takes less than five hours by high speed train.
Yep, it’s that fast, people.
In fact, the train, which reaches speeds of over 300 kilometers per hour, is one of the fastest trains in the world. Now, I’m an American, so I don’t really know what a kilometer is. But I do know that’s fast. Like really, really fast.
And, while taking the fast train takes a little bit more time than taking the plane, it’s not a huge time difference once you factor in the hassle of getting to and from the airports.
Plus, taking the train meant I got to avoid any questionable “roast beef” sandwiches. Or whatever the heck these things were.I knew I was in for a totally classy experience, when I showed up at the train station in Beijing.
It looked much more like an airport than a train station — a really fancy airport with sky lights and palm trees.
And a VIP lounge.
There was an assortment of high-end clothing shops. You know, just in case you want to pick yourself up something pretty before your trip.
There were also, of course, plenty of stores to buy some last minute treats and souvenirs. Because, God forbid, you visit Beijing without getting preserved fruit for the folks back home.The train itself was even spiffier than the other fast trains I’ve taken in Japan or China — and I didn’t even know that was possible.
There was a video monitor in each of the cars which played movies for your in-train entertainment. Against my better judgment, I found myself watching the Jackie Chan movie which was playing for the better half of the trip.
I tried not to.
I even tried to distract myself with the train’s magazine, which, thankfully, had a whole five-page fashion spread with this hottie.
But after I’d flipped through that, I went back to watching the Jackie Chan movie. It was quite literally like watching a train wreck – I mean, there I was on the train, and there was this really horrible thing happening on that train, and I couldn’t look away no matter how hard I tried.
There was a really swish dining car complete with table linens, roses on every table and a doily over each seat.
Even the bathroom was fancy.
There was a faucet which I’m pretty sure could read my mind. And soap. Which, in China, may be even more unusual than a mind-reading faucet.
There was a full-length mirror. You know for all those people who actually care what they look like while they travel. I can’t say I’m one of them, but I appreciated the extra touch.
And, yes, in case you’re wondering, there was a toilet — a real toilet. And not just a scary hole in the ground.While this might have been one of the classiest trains I’d ever been on, it also happened to be one of the loudest.
This really had nothing to do with the train itself but the huge group of Chinese tourists sitting in front of me who spent their entire time on board shouting across the aisles to each other, snacking noisily on sunflower seeds and snapping photos. And, while the seats on the train were rather comfortable, I don’t think I saw a single person in their group sit down. At one point someone started to sing. And I’m pretty sure there might have been some dancing involved.
The group trundled off the train at Nanjing, one stop away from Shanghai. This meant I had approximately ten minutes of peace and quiet — punctuated only by the sound of two tiny live turtles scuttling away in a plastic bag that was attached to the luggage handle of the woman who sat behind me.
I settled back into my seat to enjoy the relative silence and watch the landscape race by.
And race by it did.
Very, very quickly.What’s your favorite way to travel?