We looked into flying from Shanghai to Guilin, China, and the two fares would have been almost $600. Taking an overnight train seemed romantic and less expensive, with a fare of $224 for two of us in sleeping berths. What a deal since we’d also save one night’s hotel bill!
We arrived at the modern and sleek station in time to do what most train travelers in China do: buy dried ramen noodles to eat on the train, reconstituted with boiling water. To round out the meal, we stocked up on peanuts, Oreos, and drinks.
We boarded the train and easily found our sleeping compartment. The size of the compartment took us aback as it appeared smaller than previous ones we’d traveled in on European trips. Four adults and a child shared a 7’ X 7’ space for 19 hours: 2 berths down and 2 berths up on each side. Joe hoisted the suitcases over his head into a compartment between the 2 upper berths. Minimal space between the berths made it difficult for passengers to sit up so the adults all reclined on their berths for the duration of the trip, using cellphones, tablets, and laptops to pass the time. Our Chinese neighbors in the compartment seemed to have perfect internet connections and phone services the length of the trip.
You might wonder what other features were in the compartment. There was a tiny table – about 1’ X 1’, a thermos for hot water (each car had a “scalding water” source) tucked underneath as well as a little trash can. Each bed had a reading lamp in the wall and little net pockets for storage. By the sliding door, metal plates (steps) folded out to aid climbing into the upper berth. The one “modern” addition was an electrical outlet, presumably for charging everyone’s electronic equipment. Each berth had two pillows and a duvet.
How was the journey? We slept well, had time to catch up on reading and writing, enjoyed watching the scenery. The romance quickly wore off when we saw the bathroom. The toilet and sinks were amongst the worse we remember. They are closed at station stops; they empty onto the tracks when the train is moving. The toilets were hosed-down at each station stop by a cleaning crew. We had a good laugh about it all, AFTER we got off the train.