AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Train journey from Beijing to Kunming.


Our destination was Kunming which is 3000km south of Beijing. To get there we could fly, which is expensive or get the train. Plenty of online companies offer to buy you a ticket for a fee but that’s only five days in advance and we wanted to go in two. We arrived in Beijing at 14.08 on Monday 13th. We navigated to our hostel and after changing and getting that all essential internet fix we once again headed for the subway towards Beijing West Railway Station. Beijing West is not geared towards tourists as the trains there head to Southern China to the less touristy areas. This means the ticket kiosks are in Mandarin. However, between us we figured it out and due to the friendly and helpful nature of the clerk booked 2 tickets on the sleeper in the middle bunk to Kunming. (See other post on Beijing for more).

We arrived at Beijing West on Wednesday 13th an hour before the train. We followed the crowd through the security check and thanks to ‘The Man in Seat 61’ we knew we needed to head for the allocated waiting room, which was numbered on the huge departure board as you came off the escalators. Entering the waiting room is an experience in itself. For a start it is huge. China has the most rail passengers in the world; that was clear as we stood waiting for the train. There were people everywhere, there must have been a few thousand! Thirty minutes before the train departed the display with English subtitles changes from ‘waiting’ to ‘boarding’ alongside a platform number. The best thing about this system is that unlike UK rail stations, Chinese Rail runs like an airport with the waiting area outside the platform.

We booked the hard sleeper car. After looking at photos of the hard seat online we decided to pay more for a bed since we would have 2 nights (a total of 37 hours) on the train. In hard sleeper there are six open bunks and a ladder at the end facing onto the walkway. At the side of the walkway there are some seats, a (very) small table and bin. A carpet runs along the length of the corridor with overhead storage. The squat toilets are at the end of the corridor with three washbasins. It is fairly clean but there is absolutely no privacy unlike soft sleeper which has four beds in an enclosed cabin.

Once you find your bunk and put your stuff away the attendant exchanges your ticket for a plastic card. We think the card had a WiFi password on it but it was in Mandarin and annoying Google keyboard has every other language but Mandarin (it even has Zulu). At the end of your journey you swap the plastic card back for your ticket. Presumably this is to stop people getting on the train for free.

There is always something happening on the train. For the last three hours here have been attendants bringing food and cleaning. The food is pretty good. They have a trolley of fruit as well as a cart that brings mains. The main course appears to be rice, vegetables and spam. Later on a drinks cart with snacks appeared. After an hour people in the hard seats are offered the chance to upgrade to hard sleeper so once again the walkway is awash with people.

Annoyances: there are not enough seats! OK, I have a bunk but I don’t want to be horizontal for thirty-seven hours. The bed does not give you enough head room to sit up unless you are in the bottom bunk. There are only two seats for each set of six bunks. During the day, in theory you can sit on the bottom bunk but that is at the discretion of he occupants of the bunk. Another irritation is that many Chinese barge and are impatient resulting in near misses between people/luggage and your elbow. Another difficulty is the toilet, I have not mastered the art of squatting and it is even more difficult on a train. There also appears to be a problem with flushing…typically prior to when I went.

All in all it is a reasonable way to get around. The train cabins are usually quiet, so far. The train itself runs smoothly on the tracks; this is the quietest and smoothest train we have been on so far. (After spending 20hours on the train it should be said it is quiet until you are nearly thrown from your seat/bed as the carriage appears to ram into the one in front before being bounced back). You receive bed linen for your bunk (but should you get off the train the next occupants also have to sleep in the same linen) and there is hot water on tap should you need it. The price is reasonably. It cost us £50 each and we cover 3000km (but we are at least an hour late after twenty-hours of our thirty-six trip) whilst in theory having 2 nights sleep as well.

Nb./ Ensure ear plugs are accessible and lay off the food and drink so you don’t need to use the toilet.


Posted from Wuhan, Hubei, China.

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