Fifteen hours of the worst experience possible
If we have learnt one thing from our travels it will be this; never, under any circumstances, even if someone gave you one million pounds (oh alright maybe then), chose the seated option on a Chinese overnight train. We’d thought we’d gotten a bit of practice in having done sleeper trains in Australia but nothing prepared us for the fifteen hours of trauma we experienced on this train.
We should really have guessed what it would be like before we even stepped onto the train from the attitude of the lady who sold us the tickets. Sunshine and smiles she definitely was not. She looked incredibly pissed off with us for daring to interrupt her staring into space and when we inquired as to the train times all we got was monosyllabic growls in reply. When we requested a hard sleeper she grunted, “No, hard seat.” Assuming that there were no hard sleepers left we asked her for clarification a few times only to receive a nasty stare back. Seated section it was then.
So we arrived at the train station with a few hours to spare due to our over-cautious prep for our first time travel in China. These few hours before the train journey were an experience in themselves. To start with Rach decided they were in need of a treat so went off to find some chocolate and returned successful. We tore open the wrappers in excitement and took our first bite, then nearly spat it back out again. It had the consistency of tar and tasted like cardboard. Fair to say we didn’t finish it. Our mouths had barely recovered when the gates to the platform opened and all chaos broke loose. To put it mildly the Chinese don’t queue very well and people were literally ramming each other, pushing, shoving and climbing over benches to try and get through. Carnage barely describes it. We managed to get pushed right to the back and it took us a while to get to our carriage.
It was when we got inside that our hearts dropped. We had imagined rows of maybe two or three seats facing the same direction with plenty of leg room and adjustable backs after having been spoiled on the Japanese bullet trains, but we were totally wrong. It was rows of three seats but facing each other in groups of sixes (imagine plane seats turned round). This meant that there was no chance of putting your feet up against the seats in front of you, instead there was six people's legs all trying to cram in the same tiny bit of space. We knew at this point that sleep was not going to be easy, if at all possible.
Not only were we destined to be physically uncomfortable but the people around also made us feel uncomfortable. Being white and in Rach’s case blonde, made us stand out immediately and made our neighbours very curious about us. It started with our books; we’d gotten them out to read and Alex became aware that the guy next to him was staring over his shoulder at the book. Feeling a little weirded out we then decided to do some reviews so Rach got the notepad and started writing. Only two sentences in she glanced up to find she had an audience and they were all watching her. Once the guy opposite started trying to read it out loud she soon stopped. Our final plan was to play some card games which turned out to be even worse. Not only were our immediate neighbours watching (and again peering over Alex’s shoulder) but the people on the opposite side of the train were staring and Rach glanced back and noticed the people behind our row were actually standing and leaning over to watch. We played as long as we could but the stares soon became too much so we resigned ourselves to attempting to sleep, aka staring in to space.
At around two am Rach had managed to briefly nap but now was wide awake. The fact that they don’t turn off the lights hadn’t helped and she now needed the loo. Having climbed over all the bodies sleeping in the aisles she made it to the toilet. It’s a Chinese style loo (hole in the ground) and not only was there wee splashed all around the floor but the flush wasn’t working so there was just piles of poo mounted up. (The picture below was taken well before this, so you'll have to imagine the piles of human excrement.) Desperate she went anyway only to find there was no loo roll and the water tap didn’t work. Having remembered seeing a tap in the corridor she headed back only to find someone sleeping in the sink so she had to lean over his snoring body to wash her hands.
Utterly defeated we had another seven hours to go and sat there waiting for that glorious moment when we could finally get off the damn train.
Rex’s Rules of the Road
- It may be a lot cheaper but unless you are truly desperate we strongly advise going for a bed.
- Take anything you can to knock yourself out.
- Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re buying chocolate, unless it’s Cadburys, you’re not.
- It can be a free for all for seats, but if you have got the right ticket make sure you get the ones you've reserved. The inspectors are good and will help you out, as will most people around you.