Suitcase and World: Riding the rails.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Riding the rails.

love riding the train and overnight train rides are a very efficient way to go. First off, you save one night on a hotel and second, you leave one and wake up in time lost.

We had three train rides in China. One was on the bullet train from Shanghai to Nanjing. The second was an overnight train ride from Yichang to Xi'an and the third was an overnight train from Xi'an to Beijing.

The ride from Yichang to Xi'an was a 17+ hour journey in what are called *soft sleeper* compartments which is where each train compartment has four sleeper beds in it. Jan and I would be sharing a compartment with Dean and Bernd. Madeline, Trevor, Jackie and Robbie would be sharing another 4 sleeper bed compartment and Jenny and Maired would be in another compartment that they would be sharing with two other passengers.

The beds themselves seemed to be comfortable enough though the cleanliness of the linens was a bit suspect. I wanted to lay down my sleep sheet but it was buried somewhere in my pack and I really couldn’t be bothered to go rummaging for it. Besides, I was dirty and sweaty anyways so what the heck, I would just sleep on the sheets and pray there would not be any bed bugs…..didn’t want a repeat of what happened to me in Cappadocia, Turkey.

Jan and I made the guys sleep on the top beds. They didn’t object. I couldn’t help but snap photos of them in their beds – we nicknamed them the “Reclining Buddhas”. :-)

Our compartment quickly turned into the gathering place. Jenny broke out her mahjong cards and gave those who were interested, a quick lesson. Soon, there was a game going. I was on my laptop writing my diary so I wasn’t paying much attention to the game but I think everyone got the hang of it sooner or later.


One at a time, we also broke out the munchies. Most everyone, except for maybe Robbie and I, stuck to buying foods that looked familiar to them so there were a lot of cakes, cookies, crackers, chips, etc. Not really any adventurous eaters in the bunch which is a bit of a shame though I guess I can’t really blame them because the last thing you want to have happen is to get an upset stomach on an overnight train ride.

We all did our thing to bide the time – reading, chatting, writing. Around dinner time, Bernd, Robbie and Dean (or *the boys*) as they’ve come to be known headed to the dining car for dinner. Apparently, they had a pretty decent dinner and at 15 RMB was a bargain.

By about 10p, I was ready for bed. I headed to the wash basins to brush my teeth and wash my face. The squat toilets on Chinese trains are not the most pleasant place to spend any more than a few seconds of time so I did my business as quickly as possible and headed back to our compartment.

Luckily for me, I can sleep anywhere. I had been another long day so I was asleep as soon as my head hit the chance to even reflect back on the day or wonder what the next day would hold!

Unlike our train ride from Yichang to Xi’an the overnight train ride from Xi'an to Beijin would be in what are called "hard sleeper" compartments – 6 bunk beds in each compartment… door to the compartment. The accommodations were cramped – we had to find places to store all our luggage so wherever there was a nook or cranny that could fit a bag, that’s where a bag went.

Aside from the number of bunks per compartment, the other key difference between the soft and hard sleepers is a door. The soft sleeper compartments have doors you can lock; the hard sleeper compartments have no doors. So, if you decide to travel by hard sleeper, remember to lock up your valuables before you fall asleep.

Jackie and I slotted ourselves into the lower bunks. Mairead and Jan were in the middle bunks and Robbie and Jenny were on the top. Dean, Bernd, Madeline and Trevor were sharing another compartment with two other Chinese passengers.

Space was tight but I was comfortable. My laptop was fully charged so I powered it up and passed the time by organizing my photos and working on my blog. It was lights out at 10pm… least they dimmed the lights in the hallway. I put in my earplugs and powered up my MP3 player to drown out all the noise. It took a while but I eventually drifted off to sleep.

Going on overnight train....I highly recommend it!!