Beijing is the most crowded city I have been. At 6:00 PM, I was rushing to the train station to collect my train tickets. Beijing Train Station is massive and congested. I booked an overnight train online to Datong. From Beijing, Datong it was an 8-hour train ride.
There were 2 options on how I could get my train tickets. An option to have it delivered to my hotel with additional fee, or pick up in the train station before the trip. Obviously, I didn’t pay the additional fee. Long distance train tickets should be purchased days before the trip since it gets sold out quickly.
The fact that communication is a challenge in China, I was in the train station 3 hours before my trip. Aside from the train station’s heavy crowd, the people are somewhat weird. Most people were staring at me and it felt awkward. I didn’t see any Filipino touring Beijing at that time. Literally, I was alone in a foreign country.
I went straight to the information section of the station hoping to find someone who knows how to speak English, frustratingly; no one could communicate with me. Gladly, someone from the crowd understood me and directed me to a window for foreign customers.
The soft sleeper accommodation that I chose was satisfactory with a small table, a compartment, 2 bunk beds, a soft pillow, a warm blanket and a sliding door for security. The bed size was 30 inches (75cm) and 75 inches (190cm). Basic commodities like wash-bins, toilet, smoking area, water heater, drinkable water are available on the train.
How to Purchase a train ticket online:
- Go to: www.ctrip.com.
- Enter destination and choose the date of travel.
- Check availability of preferred travel dates.
- Choose an accommodation. Standing, soft sleeper, hard sleeper or soft seat.
- Pay using a credit card.
- After the payment, you should receive a confirmation about the status of the purchase. Bring a print out of the confirmation of the reserved accommodation for pick up.
How to get the ticket:
- Have it delivered to your hotel with a fee
- Go to the train station. Get it from the ticketing booth.
From Beijing Train Station, the train left on time. The train attendant changed my ticket to a card. After, I climbed up to my bunk. It felt weird at first because I was not comfortable in my bed. Eventually, sleep came and after few hours of sleep, the train attendant woke me up. She needed to have the card back and returned my original train tickets. Finally, I arrived at Datong Train Station at 5:00 AM.
The trick on how to make sure you won’t miss your station is to look at the arrival time printed on your ticket. The train arrives and departs on the time. Most train attendants do not speak English so it’s not a guarantee that they can communicate in the language you prefer. At the train station, an English translation of each station’s name is visible.
Additional Travel Info and Tips:
- Always ask if you feel like you are lost. Most older people do not speak English, approach the younger ones.
- For long distance night travel, best to book a soft sleeper since it is safer and more comfortable. Although hard sleeper is also a good option, it doesn’t have enough privacy especially if you are a woman traveling alone. Hard sleeper accommodation is cheaper than soft sleeper.
- There are few accommodation options, soft sleeper, hard sleeper, hard seat, soft seat and standing.
- Food and water is available on the train. However, it’s the communication barrier that makes it difficult to make a purchase especially when the food looks unfamiliar.
- Bring food and water.
- Travel light. You don’t want to drag a large luggage around.
- China uses squat toilets.
- Always check on your arrival time to make sure you won’t miss your drop-off station.
- When you purchase you train ticket online, make sure to have your exact name as it appears on your passport. Passport number is needed to purchase a ticket. Present your passport during ticket pick up.
- You can use an app to translate English to Chinese if you are willing to pay extra. I survived China without an app or a translator.