Adventure Train Ride in China: Guangzhou to Shanghai!
Have you ever felt this urgent need to just hop on an airplane and see something completely different?
I definitely have! That’s probably one of the main reasons why I joined the teach and travel program here in China.
For the first month, I got to explore and see so many different things.
No matter if it was the two exciting weeks in Beijing, the new job as a teacher or just getting to know my new hometown, I had excitement and new impressions every single day.
But after a while a certain routine sets in. Of course, everyday life in China is still a lot different to the one I’m used to in Germany or Canada. It starts with simple things such as food and everyday customs that make life interesting.
Having an everyday routine though, sometimes made me dream about traveling again. Fortunately, I learned that there are several holidays during the internship which you can use to travel throughout China.
I had so many ideas and places that I wanted to see during my time here.
Since we’ve already spent two weeks in Beijing, I could cross that off my bucket list. In the end, I narrowed it down to Shanghai, Avatar Mountains, Hainan (the so-called Hawaii of China) and Hong Kong (at the end though because otherwise, you cannot return to China).
For the first holiday, I planned on going to Hainan. We booked a nice hostel and intended to buy some train tickets but unfortunately, they were sold out.
That’s the thing about holidays in China: since so many people are traveling at the same time tickets and hostels are sold out pretty fast.
Surprisingly, I found cheap train tickets to Shanghai where a friend of mine was doing an internship. Without further ado, I booked the tickets and started planning my trip to this megalopolis.
In China, you have three ways of long-distance transportation: bus, train, and an airplane.
Normally, you have to take a bus first which then takes you to a railway station or an airport.
Personally, I prefer traveling by train. It’s a lot cheaper than flying, you get to enjoy the beautiful landscape, you have more personal space than you would have in a bus or plan and it’s just a relaxing way to travel.
That’s what I thought before I came to China…
Starting at the beginning: I had the choice between the bullet train and the ‘normal’ train.
In general, the bullet train is a lot faster but also more expensive.
That’s why I decided to take the ‘normal’ train which is not as nice and modern but offers you a ride to Shanghai for the cheap price of 200 Yuan which convinced me.
This price includes just a seat and no bed. In order to experience both, I booked a bed on the way to Shanghai for 350 Yuan and a seat on my way back.
17 hours of train ride were laying ahead of me and I was going to experience something but definitely not what I was expecting.
I recommend going to the train station around 2 hours before the train leaves in order to get your printed ticket and find your gate.
Remember barely anybody speaks English and most of the signs are just in Chinese, so it can take a while until you find your way.
Back to my adventure. As I said before I booked a bed for the train ride to Shanghai…
I’m not sure if ‘bed’ really matches the description of what I encountered. Every single cabin contains six beds, three on top of each other on each side. This was the first time that I was thankful to be so small.
The beds were tiny and I couldn’t even move or sit up once I reached the bed. The other Chinese travelers in my cabin decided that I was going to take the bed located directly under the ceiling.
So I looked for a ladder to get up there which I didn’t find. Instead, you have to climb up to your bed. Thus, be sure to use the bathroom before you climb up there.
In addition to the ‘bed situation’, I’ve encountered quite a few other interesting things.
Although there are signs everywhere that you are not allowed to smoke, everybody smokes. Moreover, the bathrooms just offer squat toilets which were in my case beyond dirty.
If you are looking for a seat, you might have to wait for a bit because there are only two for each cabin. Furthermore, you should remember to charge your phone because there is only one socket in each cabin and trust me everyone wants to use it.
Other than that, the train ride wasn’t that bad. You always get hot water which is nice and I slept surprisingly well. Just remember to bring an extra blanket because it gets quite cold at night.
All in all, my unexpected and adventurous train ride to Shanghai was not that bad after all.
Now let’s talk about the one back home. As I stated earlier, this one included no bed but a seat.
If you already wondered how I survived the first 17 hours to Shanghai, you’ll be wondering quite some more after the story I’m about to tell now.
Imagine the scenario from before: everybody is smoking, you barely have any space, it’s dirty and it gets quite cold at night.
Now imagine this but squished into a tiny seat, no legroom at all, and I’m only 1,63m, everybody is talking and singing and there are people laying on the floor.
Luckily, I got a window seat which gave me the possibility to lean on something other than a person. Additionally, everything was so tiny that my neighbor had to move every time I had to go to the bathroom, thus she couldn’t possibly sleep.
Summing up my experience, I totally recommend taking the ‘normal’ train at least once.
It’s an adventure you’ll have once in a lifetime and one that gives you an authentic impression of how an average Chinese person travels.
If you are not up for an adventure you can always take the bullet train which is fast and very European standard. But remember you only live once so why not be a little adventurous.
Marie-Claire Lenhard, from Germany, a teaching intern from Teach & Travel China Program Winter 2018 intake, is placed in Zhongshan, China.
Get to know more about the programme here! About Teach & Travel China Program