So my 3 days in Beijing had ended and I was to prepare myself to travel from Beijing railway station to Xi’an via a soft sleeper train. I wouldn’t have known the way from my hotel to Beijing railway station so thank goodness I was taken there by the tour.If you are in need of finding a way to the railway station, other sources such as Lonely Planet and Travel China Guide can be really helpful. You’ve also got the option of taking the cab as cab fares are quite affordable, unless you can’t speak Chinese or look foreign to them then yes they may be impulsed to not use the meter- but demand them to use one so you’re not being ripped off.
As you get to the entrance, you’ll see the front door with the words ‘Automatic Ticket Hall (Platform Ticket)’ right there. This is where you purchase your tickets. Make sure you have your ID with you- a passport preferably so they can book the ticket in your name and clearly have it displayed on the face of the ticket.
So because my travel from Beijing to Xi’an was covered by the tour, I didn’t have to pay for it nor did I buy it at the ticket booth. However, make sure you prepare yourself if you don’t speak Mandarin because the people at the ticket booth may not be fluent in English. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t know English at all.
I think the only thing I really needed to prepare for was the long ride I was about to take from Beijing to Xi’an. It was leaving Beijing at 20:43 (8.43pm) on the 2nd of May and was going to arrive in Xi’an the next morning at about 8.30am. Yes, a 12 hour train ride. I was a little worried but was pretty excited because I was going to experience this for the first time alone. A long train ride in China- just perfect right? Not really, but it truly is an experience a solo traveller should encounter.
So if you’re buying the ticket, it will generally cost you 415.50 rmb (approx $80-90 AUD) from Beijing to Xi’an on a soft sleeper train which means you have a cabin for 4 people with bunk beds to sleep in. Don’t think this is the worst train. They have the normal trains with just seats that travel for 12 hours too which would be ridiculous. As well as these, they also have the faster trains which would get there in about 5-6 hours but this one was heaps cheaper so the tour obviously booked this.
To prepare for the trip, make sure you bring some snacks and food to have while on the train. If you forget you can buy at the terminal as they have a lot of convenience stores around here as well as Mc Donalds but it’s very limited in food offerings. I bought quite a bit of snacks to prepare myself but thankfully because this was a night ride, all I was doing was sleep. So when I woke up, our train was close to Xi’an which was perfect!
The funny thing I noticed in Beijing, at railway stations was that cup noodles were so popular! Everyone was buying cup noodles and somehow managed to have access to boiling water. I was feeling really curious so I started observing where people were heading to to retrieve this. No there is no hot water station. Everyone was exiting from the bathrooms/toilets with their cup noodles with boiling water cooking it! Very odd indeed. I was actually pretty shock when I found out. I mean first thing, I was always raised to not bring food and drinks into the bathroom so this was indeed really strange. But then I guess it did make me accept that not everyone can afford a proper meal at restaurants and so forth, so we can’t really judge or question why people do certain things.
As I was walking down the escalators carrying all my luggage and backpack, I tried to capture a picture of what the terminal looked like. Didn’t work out well but here’s one with a bit of a blur effect to it.
So with the soft sleeper train, you have cabins which has 2 bunk beds and is actually really small. I was struggling to find my cabin which didn’t help because if you miss yours, you’ll be continuing down to the end of the carriage or else if you stop to go back and find your cabin again, you’ll stop everyone from boarding.
The cabin is extremely small so you won’t have space to move around. If you’re sick, definitely need to use the mask! One regret I had was not using the mask because I didn’t think it would matter much. Luckily I’m back home and safe now so all good.
If you plan to take these trains, make sure to take them during the night so you can sleep for the entire train ride and then arrive in the morning when you’ve woken up.
This was definitely not something I’d imagine doing but I have no regrets. It was a really interesting experience traveling on a train for 12 hours and sleeping in a room with 3 other people who you don’t know.
As majority of the toilets in China are squat toilets, just be mindful that those on the trains are really smelly and very dirty. I had to avoid using it because I just couldn’t do it. You honestly would not want to be stepping into a restroom where the entire floor is wet – it’s horrible.
After 12 hours, I arrived at Xi’an railway station where I then caught the taxi from the station to my volunteer house in the city of Xi’an. As everyone arrives at the same time, it’s difficult to get a taxi. If people approach you to take theirs, it’s usually not an official taxi but a private taxi which charges more. I paid 100 rmb for mine (approx $25 aud) which is relatively cheap if compared to Australian taxis so I just went with it. But my Coordinator told me it usually just cost 30 rmb from the railway station to the house so I obviously got ripped off.
If you’re not in a hurry to get from one city to another, take a long train ride once in your life and experience what it’s like- cause for sure you won’t be the only one doing this. Others travel this way too!