A Not-So-Hard Day’s Night: Taking the Sleeper Train in China

July 12, 2012

I was more than bit nervous about my first overnight train trip here in China.

I’d like to think you are all to blame for that.

Remember the other month when I wrote that post about my love for Chinese high-speed trains? And how I’ve diligently managed to avoid taking any slow trains since I moved here because I’m impatient and I like to throw my money around if it means I can get somewhere faster? Besides, I like to think of myself as a classy lady (stop laughing!) who likes the finer things in life, and you can’t get much finer than a high-speed train.

Chinese high-speed trains: fast & classy. Just like me! Err, umm, nevermind.

And then some of you decided to share your horrible slow train stories in the comments and tell me how much I’d totally hate the slow train and myself and the entire universe if I ever took one? (You know who you are, Jaime and Daniel.)

Yeah, so thanks, guys. That was really awesome of you.

I can’t say I was feeling any better about my trip when I showed up at the ticket office in Chengdu and was told that they didn’t have any soft sleeper tickets available for the 18-hour ride to Kunming — only hard sleeper ones.

I don’t know about you, but the words “hard” and “sleeper” should really never go together. It’s like saying “good blind date.” Or “low-fat cheese.” (Yes, I know low-fat cheese exists. But it shouldn’t. So there.)

Figuring it had to be better than sitting for eighteen hours, I bought the hard sleeper ticket. And then I made the mistake of announcing that on Twitter and Facebook, and everybody was all like, “Wow! Good luck! You’ll probably totally die. Or at least hate yourself afterwards”

Geez, guys. Thanks, again. Really.

When I entered the Chengdu Train Station on the day of my trip, I noticed there was a special waiting room just for the soft sleeper passengers. 

Where the other half waits.

Making my way to the general waiting room, I glanced longingly at the floral arrangements and impeccably dressed train station attendant who stood ready to greet each soft sleeper passenger — probably with a coupon for a complimentary foot massage. I imagined all of the soft sleeper passengers in there drinking flutes of fine champagne with their pinkies in the air and laughing about the riff-raff over in the general waiting room.

Meanwhile, the only thing greeting me in the general waiting room was a seething mass of humanity. And luggage. It’s possible I saw a few farm animals in there, too. I can’t really be sure.

My fellow riff-raff… err, passengers

Even though I was over an hour early for the train, there were no seats left so I had to squat on the floor next to the only garbage bin in the room — which happened to be overflowing at that point. I suspected all the other garbage bins had snuck over to the soft sleeper lounge. They were probably getting filled up with the kind of trash high-class people throw out — like, Wall Street Journals and Hermes handbags which had been used more than twice.

Not classy trash. Just trashy trash.

The state of the general waiting room wasn’t making me feel particularly hopeful about my eighteen-hour hard sleeper journey. I mean, I could barely survive the hour-long wait in the lobby without wanting to kill someone. Or myself. I sincerely doubted I’d be able to survive eighteen hours trapped on a train with these people. And myself.

But, you know what, guys, the trip really wasn’t that bad.

Even if it did kind of help usher in the Cold of Death, which I suffered for the better half of my time in Kunming, it still wasn’t that bad.

Not as bad as it looks. Really.

My “hard-sleeper” bunk was more like a padded bench – not particularly soft, but also not particularly hard. (China Railway System, maybe you’d like to rethink the name? I’d suggest “Not As Bad As You Think It Might Be Sleeper” or “You May Actually Get Some Sleep Sleeper.”)

The view from the bottom bunk.

As I was on the lower bunk, I had full view of the window and could watch the pretty scenery go by.

Oooo, pretty.

When I wasn’t staring at the scenery, I was snickering to myself while photographing all the funny English signs in the car. Like, this one on the hot water dispenser.

“Care Bear!” Obviously referring to Boiling Hot Water Bear, the lesser-known cousin of Friendship Bear.

Even the bathroom wasn’t that bad.

Okay, admittedly, it probably doesn’t look very nice in this photo, but when you compare it to some of the other bathrooms I’ve been in in this country, it really wasn’t that bad. After all, there was a toilet! And a sink! And a door!

Which is more than I can say for this bathroom that I encountered at a temple in Kunming:

The worst part of the ride, really, was all the smoke.

While smoking is technically not allowed in the cars, there is a “smoking room” at the end of each car. This is basically just the end bit where the two cars come together.

In the hard sleeper there are no doors separating the sleeping bunks from the so-called “smoking room,” so you get to spend the entire ride breathing in everyone’s cigarette smoke. So, sitting on the train for eighteen hours was basically the equivalent of smoking eighteen hundred packs of cigarettes. More or less.

And, while I’d like to think my lungs have toughened up a bit during their time in China, they were no match for all that smoke. Hence, the Cold of Death.

But, other than the little issue of my possibly contracting lung cancer, the ride wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. After all, I can’t say curling up with my iPod and a hot bottle of tea while watching the Chinese countryside go by was a bad way to spend eighteen hours of my life.

As surprisingly decent as my hard sleeper experience was, I decided to splash out on a  soft sleeper ticket on the 24-hour trip from Kunming to Guilin. Because, you know, a classy lady like myself (again, stop it with the laughing) likes her nice things.

And, let me just tell you, those soft-sleeper cars had some nice things.

My soft sleeper cabin. What a difference an adjective makes!

My lower bunk was draped with doilies.

And my pillow was carefully embroidered in blue thread.

I think this says “Fancy Pants” in Chinese

Each car came with a bouquet of flowers, lace curtains and the latest copy of People’s Railway Gazette. You know, should you have forgotten your copy of The Wall Street Journal, and you need a little light reading.

Instead of having to hang your jacket on a hook like, well, the common folk, there were hangers provided — fuzzy hangers! Because wire and plastic hangers are just so pedestrian, don’t you think?

There was even a thermometer in our cabin. You know, so we could make sure the temperature suited our delicate, refined constitutions.

Best of all, there was a door to each cabin. That opened! And closed! And I’m pretty sure it even locked! So while there was still plenty of smoking going on at the end of the car, the cabin itself was not that smoky.

Look, everybody, doors!

The restroom in the soft-sleeper car had a Western toilet, a sink and floral wall decorations.

There was a handy cell phone hammock on the back of the restroom door. Because after all your power conversations with corporate attorneys and stock-brokers, chances are your cell phone could use a little siesta.

The only disappointment was the surprising lack of funny English signs everywhere. Probably because the soft-sleeper car can afford to spell-check.

What? But I totally understand what these mean!

Instead of amusing myself by photographing every single English sign in the car, I had to amuse myself by watching my fellow cabin-mates. Who, in turn, spent their time amusing themselves by watching me.

I was of particular interest to the two children in my cabin, who both stared at me for the first hour non-stop, probably waiting for me to do something exciting. Like sing or dance or explode.

My cabin mates. Temporarily distracted from staring at me.

When they realized how truly boring I was, they used the rest of their twenty-four hours on the train to invent games. And I used my twenty-four hours to write down a list of the games they had invented. Because, hey, we had to entertain ourselves somehow! And I’m pretty sure none of us were interested in reading the People’s Railway Gazette.

Some of the games they invented included:

  1. The Screaming Game (Self-explanatory)
  2. The Screaming and Running Game (Like the screaming game. But now with running!)
  3. The Screaming and Running and Hitting Game (This one, luckily, didn’t last that long as the parents intervened.)
  4. The Yell All the English You Know at the Foreigner Game (This involved them each yelling an English word at me and me yelling it back at them. Unfortunately, they only knew three words, so this got a bit repetitive.)
  5. The Yell All the Chinese You Know at the Foreigner Game (This involved them yelling lots of Chinese words at me. And my staring blankly back at them. Which they found hilarious. Because, you do have to admit, it’s pretty funny that I’m such an idiot.)
  6. The Jump on the Bunks Game (Bonus points if you happen to jump on or land on the foreigner.)
  7. Hide and Seek (Kind of like the Screaming and Running Game. Mostly because there weren’t a lot of places to hide.)
  8. The Bring Other Children From Other Cabins to Your Cabin to Show Them the Foreigner Game (I suspect they were charging admission. I mean, I would have.)

When the train finally reached Guilin, I got off feeling much better than I thought I would after twenty-four hours cooped up on a train.

And, despite what all you guys said, I didn’t hate myself or the universe.

Heck, I didn’t even hate those kids even if they had to have yelled “apple” at me at least twenty-four million times.

I do, oddly, never want to eat apples again, though.

What’s the longest journey you’ve ever taken? How was it?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On July 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm Sid said:

    I had to travel from Cape Town, South Africa to New Orleans. This meant flying from Cape Town, to Johannesburg, to London, to Chicago, and finally New Orleans. And then a shuttle to my hotel. Think it took me 30 hours in totally. I slept, read and tried not to cry!
    Sid recently posted..Crazy/beautiful – Cape Town City Gardens

    • On July 14, 2012 at 2:58 am Sally said:

      I made a similar trip (minus one of those flight legs) when I was going to a friend’s wedding in New Orleans while I was living in Japan. And then I immediately started drinking Hurricanes as soon as I got off my flight. Not the best way to recover from jet lag, that’s for sure!

  2. On July 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm Daniel McBane said:

    You know the best way to help someone? If you can do so without them even realizing it. Thanks to all our stories of terrible train rides, you were pleasantly surprised by yours. You’re welcome.

    Part of it may be the games the kids involved you in. While I never got to enjoy any of the 8 varieties of the “screaming + other incredibly annoying activities” game (dangling the first kid to start one of these games out the window by his feet helps discourage any further participants), I did unwillingly get to play a 60+ hour version of the “take advantage of the butt-less pants my parents bought me by using the floor next to the foreigner’s bag as a toilet every half hour” game, which I’ve mentioned before.

    The most shocking part of your journey to me: the picture of the overflowing trash can. When did they start putting trash in the bins? I was in China as recently as last August and they certainly weren’t using them at that time.
    Daniel McBane recently posted..Singapore Jungle–Exploring the Heart of Darkness

    • On July 14, 2012 at 2:57 am Sally said:

      Well, there was plenty of trash on the floor, too. I was just trying to avoid looking at it. And just, you know, focus on the semi-positive.

  3. On July 12, 2012 at 12:56 pm Heather said:

    I’ve never been on a train ride that last more than 5-6 hours and it was a comfy German one!

    I’m glad you made friends, played games, and slept on the train 😉 It doesn’t get better than that!

    • On July 14, 2012 at 2:56 am Sally said:

      I wouldn’t exactly say that I “made friends.” More like “I didn’t kill anyone.” But, then again, that’s better than I expected!

  4. On July 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm Selly said:

    I think the longest time I was ever stuck on a train was about eight or nine hours going from my hometown in Germany to a tiny little village in the Black Forest. It was an awful trip and the return journey wasn’t any better. I want to try a sleeper train journey, I wonder just how insane I will go scooped up in a little place like that for hours and hours on end. It does seem like fun though but like you I’m spoiled and I would definitely prefer the soft sleeper although after a lot of convincing I may just give the hard sleeper a try…I don’t know. Those high speed trains are amazing, they literally make travelling a breeze…I loved my trip from Shanghai to Beijing.

  5. On July 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm Dyanne@TravelnLass said:

    I rather thought that the primary difference between a “soft” and a “hard” sleeper train was the number of berths (i.e. 4 vs. 38+). Who knew it was the blue embroidered doilies!

    But more importantly – what I want to know is…

    So when are you arriving here in nutso HCMC??? James and I are anxious to play “Blindfold the Blogger and Make Her Skip Across a Death-Wish Saigon Street”.
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..Heading to Chinngis Khaan-Land (a full month in MONGOLIA!)

  6. On July 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm Robyn said:

    I did an overnight train from Prague to Rome a few years back. We had a sleeper car which was nice and we were due to arrive in Rome (our last stop) around 9am. I remember my friend and I woke up at 7am. Knowing that Rome was our last stop, we went back to sleep and figured that we would wake up when we arrived in Rome and everyone disembarked from the train. I woke up at 11am and the train was still moving. I roused my friend and we both completely lost our shit thinking we had missed our stop and were enroute to some unknown destination. Asking the train attendant did nothing to help as he didn’t speak english. After an agonizing and stressful hour, we finally arrived in Rome.

    As it turned out, because George Bush was visiting the city at the time, our train had been delayed by a few hours in the outskirts of the city. It was miserable and a bit scary at the time, but now that it’s done and over with, it’s always an amusing story to tell.

    It was really exciting to explore the city later that day too because we came across several anti-Bush rallies and police swat teams. During dinner we witnessed people running past our restaurant with kerchiefs over their mouths because the police were throwing smoke bombs at them to break up the crowds.
    Robyn recently posted..May Roundup

    • On July 22, 2012 at 10:24 am Sally said:

      Ahh, that sounds crazy. I would have totally been freaking out if I thought I had missed my stop by 2 hours. The good thing about the Chinese train is that the attendant will come by right before your stop to tell you you need to get off (even though they say it in Chinese, it’s pretty easy to get the gist).

  7. On July 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm Jaime said:

    I apologize that my train travel stories scared you…lol! Ahh train travel in 3rd world countries can be so amazing when you are in the 1st class, but when you are not it really is a test of nerves and patience. Looks like your 14 hours on the “You May Actually Get Some Sleep Sleeper.” train ride weren’t that bad. However your 24 hour train ride looked so much nicer… that’s how I wish I could travel all the time. I also love the games the kids played with you. Kids have played #4 & #8 with me so many times… sometimes I love it and sometimes I wish they would realize I am HUMAN like YOU… but they don’t. Glad you survived your train rides to bad you didn’t read 50 Shades along the way…lol!!!

  8. On July 12, 2012 at 4:59 pm Sarah Walker, International Supestar said:

    Probably the longest trip for me was a 24 hour bus ride from Prague to London. That definitely wasn’t a pre-planned decision!! It wasn’t the best time of my life but I made it to London albeit with a stiff neck. And hey, I ended up a ton of Europe’s countryside… so that’s a bonus right?

    Great post, loved seeing the perks between the hard and sleeper class. A western toilet and doilies make all the difference…

    • On July 14, 2012 at 2:52 am Sally said:

      I think overnight bus rides are much worse than train trips. At least on the train you can get up and move around a bit. And, you know, hide from the screaming kids in the bathroom if need be.

  9. On July 12, 2012 at 5:14 pm James said:

    You, madam, are a brave soul. Eons ago, a friend and I thought it would be fun to take a train from Saigon to Hue. Supposed to be some gorgeous coastal scenery along the way. Of course, the sleeper compartments were sold out so we spent almost 20 hours in what looked like lawn chairs, ingeniously designed so the metal frames aligned with your shoulder blades. A woman came down the aisle serving soup out of an old paint bucket. By hour 16, I gave up and laid down on the wet, disgusting floor under my seat. Never again, I promised myself. Now it’s first class all the way, baby… Well, maybe not “first” class. More like “sleeper bus” class. But whatevs.
    James recently posted..Photo of the Week — Keys and Kids

    • On July 14, 2012 at 2:50 am Sally said:

      Yikes. Sleeping on the floor? I wouldn’t even wear flip-flops on the train. I wanted my feet fully clothed (in socks AND sneakers) all the time.

  10. On July 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm Edna said:

    I didn’t catch your announcement after buying the hard sleeper train tickets, otherwise I could have told you that I LOVE the sleeper trains and the hard bunks aren’t that bad! But I’m glad you found that out anyway. I mean a little fear never hurt anyone, right?

    Also, laughed out loud at Boiling Hot Water Bear.
    Edna recently posted..An Expat Confession

  11. On July 12, 2012 at 7:54 pm Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said:

    Ummmm I don’t tend to think of myself as a spoiled princess, but there is just no way in hell that I could handle sleeping on that train. *Maybe* if the train was headed to Antarctica I could summon the courage…
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Hong Kong: Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (Part 2)

    • On July 14, 2012 at 2:49 am Sally said:

      But the soft sleeper car was REALLY nice! Although, frankly, it would have been a bit nicer if I didn’t have to suffer being jumped on every 5 minutes.

  12. On July 12, 2012 at 11:27 pm Ava Apollo said:

    I laughed so many times

    “Hermes handbags which had been used more than twice.” – awesome.

    I love public transportation in Asia. You just never know what you’re going to get!
    Ava Apollo recently posted..Wednesday Getaway: Capture the Color

  13. On July 13, 2012 at 5:11 pm Ceri said:

    Screaming children = My worst nightmare. You have the patience of a saint, lovely.
    Ceri recently posted..Reasons I Love Mexico: Churros

  14. On July 13, 2012 at 11:23 pm Naomi said:

    not my story, but a couple of English lads I was travelling with decided to have a “3rd class train carriage experience” in Egypt. everyone had said it’s a great experience, squeezed in with the sweaty masses, the livestock etc. The usual is to do a short, say one hour, train trip in 3rd class, but for long distance glam it up. I mean, us foreigners can afford it, right? Anyway, these lads rather foolishly took a train from Cairo to Aswan, which I think took about 2 days!! They got sick from the food, then had the worst toilet experience whatsoever. The toilet was just a hole in the floor, filthy and disgusting, and mid expulsion one of the guys got an up draught and all his shit ended up all over him. No water on the train to wash himself, he just had to sit in it. Needless to say, he phoned home when he got to Aswan, borrowed some money from his parents, and flew back to the UK.
    Naomi recently posted..A story from Laos

  15. On July 14, 2012 at 3:35 am Eric Bynum said:

    Love the story. I’ve been looking at trains in China for my trip and its nice to know they aren’t hat bad.

    My longest trip was about 30 hours that included a 5 hour drive, 2 flights, and a 4 hour bus ride when I moved from the USA to Korea.
    Eric Bynum recently posted..Video from the 2012 World’s Fair in Yeosu, South Korea

    • On July 14, 2012 at 4:51 am Sally said:

      I’ve heard horror stories about taking overnight trips on the seated cars, but I think as long as you get a sleeper car, you’ll be fine. But you might want to bring a face mask with you!

  16. On July 14, 2012 at 4:33 am choi kum fook said:

    I had the longest trip was a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Connakry, Guinea, West Africa. This trip made me very excited, astonishing and unforgettable experience one, because it was my first flight on sky in life! It had been taken 30 hours to reach destination. The route, from K.Lumpur to Franfort,Germany, to Armsterdam, Holland, to Freetown, Sierra Leone, then finally to Connakry, Guinea.There only stopped over an hour in Franfort, for changing new batch of air hostesses and replacing new food as well.And had stopped seven hours in VIP lounge in Armsterdam for transiting. This trip could be said quite enjoyable and comfortable because we were business class seated.You could order beer,wine and food whenever you like.The fare for to and fro was 13,000 ringgit in 1996. The nest comparative and challenging trip will be, from KL to Tokyo,Japan, to Los Angeles or Francisco, then last to Buffalo, or the other way round, as be your parent’s farm volunteer! Ha!Ha! So great!The 18 hours train trip in Malaysia,is just from J,barhu to Penang island in north.But the distance is shorter than in between Shangdu-Kunming because our train speed is 70-80 kilo per hour, So you may get more boring in long distance, in train, in Malaysia!Have you tried it before? Miss Sally!

  17. On July 14, 2012 at 6:06 am Don Garabedian said:

    In 1982 I took a coach from Madrid to Bordeaux for 14+ hours. There were hard seats and we supported each other while we slept (no sleeper available). Fortunately no children to keep me awake but the train rocked all the way. Enjoy your blog especially the games children play. Great wine tasting and French farmers market were the reward in Bordeaux. Looking forward to your next trip.

    • On July 15, 2012 at 3:06 pm Sally said:

      Thanks, Don! Glad you enjoyed the post. And your trip sounds great… well, the wine part does at least. The hard seat thing not so much. 🙂

  18. On July 16, 2012 at 4:00 pm Waegook Tom said:

    Boiling Hot Water Bear?! HAHAHAHAHA! But what did that Care Bear sign mean?! I want to know! Or maybe they had Friendship Bear trapped up there.

    The longest journey I ever took was a bus ride in Turkey that lasted 14-15 hours. The whole time they had The Hulk on repeat (the one with Ed Norton) and it was dubbed in Turkish.

    Also, I want apples. But mushed up into a fine, warm paste as my throat is swollen and swallowing even though I didn’t smoke 1800 packs of cigarettes at the weekend. Not sure how that works.
    Waegook Tom recently posted..Going Dutch in Korea

  19. On July 16, 2012 at 7:59 pm Irina said:

    The “hard sleeper” in a Chinese train sure looks more civilized than its counterpart in a Russian train… at least on a picture. Hell, they even have actual English signs in there! I used to do a lot of overnight train traveling between Moscow and Voronezh, my home town, and strongly believe that this is a unique cultural experience that any traveler should try lol

    Your post is hilarious, and it’s just amazing how positive you are in situations that would make anyone really annoyed. Hey, do you also enjoy little kids sitting behind you on a plane?
    Irina recently posted..The Inca Trail: Notes From A Tent

    • On July 17, 2012 at 12:54 am Sally said:

      Errm, let’s just say I tend to be a bit more positive on my blog than I am in real life. Mostly because I want readers to like me & my blog & return. I can’t say I care quite so much about how the strangers on the train feel about me. 🙂

  20. On July 17, 2012 at 12:21 am Jeanie said:

    I took seven overnight hard sleeper trains in China last year. I always wondered what the difference between hard and soft was. I am glad that I didn’t know what I was missing. If I return, it will have to be soft sleeper all the way!

  21. On July 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm Susan said:

    I’m just going to mediate on this part:

    “But, other than the little issue of my possibly contracting lung cancer, the ride wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. ”

    I do okay on trains in Southeast Asia–in fact, I kind of love them–but, China and Mongolia? I’m a bit nervous.
    Susan recently posted..Making Peace with Bangkok

  22. On July 26, 2012 at 3:50 pm AL said:

    I spent 22 hours in a hard-sleeper cabin, on a train from Kunming to Guilin, on the last day of 2011. In the same car was an entire village hell-bent on having a new year’s eve party for the duration of the journey. I lived to tell the tale, and have been back to China twice ever since. Planning my next visit there soon. The Harbin Ice Fest beckons. 🙂

  23. On July 27, 2012 at 2:01 am Taryn said:

    I’ve been thinking about train travel here in China with my 2 year old, kind of wrote it off. But now I see perhaps it’s not so bad- she may even make some friends (you can imagine the attention that a pint-sized, Chinese speaking blondie draws!)

    • On July 27, 2012 at 11:23 am Sally said:

      You should definitely do it — especially the soft sleeper. Probably the biggest trouble you’ll have is beating away the crowds who come to coo over your daughter… but I’m sure you’re used to that by now. 🙂

  24. On July 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm Stephen said:

    I think it was the “hard sleeper” I took from Guilin to Kunming. It was a pretty bad experience overall–very cold, extremely smelly, and quite smoky. Other Chinese train experiences were better than that, but only slightly.
    Stephen recently posted..Why I went to Oak Ridge Tennessee

    • On August 2, 2012 at 1:01 am Sally said:

      Sorry to hear you had such a bad experience. If it’s any consolation, I’ve heard the hard & soft seat train carriages are HORRIBLE especially on long trips. So, yeah, I guess it could have been worse? 🙂

  25. On July 30, 2012 at 8:42 pm Kelly Dennett said:

    This reminds me of my horrific overnighter from Paris to Rome. The train was delayed three hours. When we boarded there were four of us wedged into a sardine tin. The restaurant ran out of food we split gum and pringles for dinner. The air conditioning was broke (it was the middle of summer) and every 10 minutes a child would open our door and peer in at us. Oh, memories !
    Kelly Dennett recently posted..Five times its okay to eat McDonalds on holiday

    • On August 2, 2012 at 12:57 am Sally said:

      Ha ha. It’s always the worst trips that make the best memories, isn’t it? Or at least that’s what I try to tell myself when I’m in the middle of a really miserable travel experience…

  26. On July 31, 2012 at 3:43 pm Montecristo Travels said:

    12 hour non-stop flights … they just suck. No really they do. You can’t get up enough to really stretch … and for a dog in a carrier? yeah you try being cooped up in a carrier for 12 hours plus see how you like it…. ugh. do NOT get me started on the pee break issues! Want a good laugh? you try, just for shits and giggles, to get in an aircraft toilet, close the door (with dog in carrier in your arms) – find room to unwrap the pee pad, place it on the floor, release “the beast” only to have the dog stare at you wondering why you woke it from a nice nap … all the while you are standing on the toilet, trying not to fall into the blue water (’cause trust me – that’s a fashion statement you really want to avoid – way worse than the toilet paper stuck to the shoe statement)- finally the dog goes “Oh GOD’s yes!” and has a pee … and then? refuses to return to a carrier because who in their right mind would want another 6 hours of that?

    Again a wonderful post – the sarcasm gets us laughing every time.

  27. On August 1, 2012 at 4:06 pm Susanna said:

    In February Brandi and I were on an Indian train for 38 hours…AND we were in ‘Sleeper Class’, which basically makes the Chinese ‘Hard Sleeper’ look like a 5-star hotel. Do we win? Do we win?! I think we win!!

    Hope you’re enjoying being back home… I’m off to China in two weeks. Eeek!
    Susanna recently posted..Just so you know…

  28. On January 30, 2013 at 9:42 am Matthew said:

    16 hours in a sleeper? Sounds like heaven. Try 48 hrs in a hard seat.

  29. On November 9, 2013 at 5:30 am The Roaming Coconuts said:

    We were feeling very cheap (ok..and waited until the last minute to book) and ended up on a hard sleeper for 72 hours (Beijing-Kashgar)!!! We will not be skimping again like then where our bums are concerned! Love your blog!
    The Roaming Coconuts recently posted..(Wild) Western China

  30. On April 19, 2014 at 8:29 am Mase said:

    I really enjoyed reading your post about your train journeys, especially I was researching soft sleepers vs hard sleepers as am embarking on a journey soon from Nanjing to Xi’an.

    I thought I’d also mention my travel journey from hell. Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang via the Mekong River. I opted against taking the slow boat and chose the bus instead as it was quicker. It may have been quicker but it was the ride from hell. Hour upon hour of pot-holed roads – it was unrelenting and unbearable!

    • On April 20, 2014 at 9:54 am Sally said:

      I took the bus ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang (and back again), and I believe you. Those bus rides were frightening — especially the hairpin turns that the bus would take while barreling ahead at 100 miles per hour. So scary!

  31. On October 31, 2014 at 10:18 pm Annabell said:

    I found your website AFTER my trip from Chengdu to Yuexi. Only if I read this before. But I want to say, I agree with you 110%. It wasn’t bad minus the smoke. I dreaded my trip back to Chengdu from Yuexi but I lucked out. The train attendants were kind enough to keep my room door locked from Kunming so I was able to go into a clean room PLUS smoking was not as bad as to Yuexi. It was a redeye train ride, maybe that was the reason. But surely, I survived China and the train ride of China too!

    • On November 1, 2014 at 1:28 pm Sally said:

      Glad to hear you had a good experience, Annabell! Did you stay in a soft sleeper? In my experience, the soft sleeper was MUCH better than the hard sleeper as far as smoke goes, probably because there are doors to all the cabins. Sadly, no doors in the hard sleepers. Although my big fear — that the beds would indeed be “hard” — was unfounded. I found them quite comfy… when I wasn’t hacking up smoke, that is.

  32. On June 1, 2016 at 3:53 pm Joeie said:

    Hey there Sally!

    I’m doing a solo travel from Wuhan to Beijing (about 10 hours on an overnight train) and am intending to opt for a soft sleeper.

    Was wondering though, is it strange sleeping in an enclosed cabin next to complete strangers? I really shudder at the thought of having some weird lecherous dude sleep on the adjacent bed :<

    (my alternative is to take the plane)

    Thks loads! xoxo

    • On June 4, 2016 at 11:28 am Sally said:

      Hi Joeie,
      Sorry for my late reply to your comment! I wouldn’t worry to much about lecherous dudes in the soft sleeper. As it’s rather expensive and posh (for China), the majority of the passengers in the soft sleeper compartments were families traveling together and fellow foreign tourists. All the single dudes are in the hard sleeper or seated sections. (Although I also stayed in a hard sleeper and, while all my cabin-mates were male, I never felt creeped out… they were mostly college-aged students and the sort). Mind you, you will have people staring at you the whole time. I was in a soft sleeper with 3 small children who basically spent the entire time staring at me because that’s what small children do in China when confronted with weirdo foreigners. Occasionally their parents would tell them to stop staring at me, but in about 10 minutes they’d be back to staring at me. But I was pretty used to that by then (I had been in China for over a year at that point), and it never felt particularly creepy.
      So I hope that helps and doesn’t completely scare you away from taking the overnight train. I do think taking the overnight train is a must in China if only because it truly is a “real China” experience. For better or for worse, of course. 🙂

  33. On June 29, 2016 at 2:21 pm Clara C Der said:

    You are hilarious. Thank you for a good read while researching travel in china. I am a Chinese immigrant to Canada who will travel with our 4 kids to China this coming fall. They have never been around many Chinese people so it will be interesting what their experience will be. Thanks!


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