Travel, Teach, Live in China
If it's a choice between taking the bus or the train, I'll take the train every time. The rail network in China can be a bit confusing at first, but rest assured, I'm here to help clear things up a little.
China has a huge population, around 1.3 billion, so, if you're planning a train trip, book your ticket early.
That's right, I did say, get there early, you can't actually buy a train ticket online in China, you need to go to the station, and buy the ticket. This can be a little daunting, especially if you're in a big city. If you're in a small town, it won't be as hectic, but it sure as hell will be as confusing. That is, however, if you just go in with a phrase book, hoping for the best.
First off, you need to know what kind of tickets are on offer; they range from hard seat to soft sleeper.
Hard And Soft Seat
If your journey is anything more than a couple of hours, don't even consider hard seat, in fact, you may as well pay the extra couple of dollars and go for the soft seat. The soft seat is what you'd expect from a train in Western Europe.
Hard And Soft Sleeper
Contrary to the name, it's not actually hard. When I first heard of this, I thought there would be a plank of wood on offer. Hard sleeper are the exact same bed as soft sleeper, they both have three bunks. The only difference is, with soft sleeper, there are six people in each compartment, and hard sleeper is every one in the same carriage. To be honest, if you get your self a good eye mask, and a set of earplugs, hard sleeper is fine.
Ok, so here it is, the checklist
Get someone Chinese to write down exactly where you're going, what time, and what class/seat you would like. If you can't find anyone, here's a tip, use the Google translator tool, get the Chinese characters of where you're going, and take a picture of it. You can show the person at the ticket desk the picture from your camera or smart phone. You should also translate and photo what seat or bed you'd like. You can also use your smart phone to display the date, or just write it down. Numbers are ok in China.
Tickets don't go on sale until 8 days before departure, so, if it's a busy time of year, you should get there early, as tickets sell out fast, and you may find yourself on the bus, not fun, I know.
When you're travelling, give yourself plenty of time, it can be difficult to find your departure zone. Just keep asking people, showing them your ticket, the Chinese are very helpful, you will find it eventually.
Make sure you pack toilet roll.
If it's a long journey, bring your own food. The food on Chinese trains is terrible, and overpriced.
That's it, that's pretty much all you need to know. China's a wonderful country and getting around it is pretty easy.
If you'd like some more easily digestible advice on backpacking, or to read some of my tales from the road, head on over to my blog, http://www.planitbackpacker.com/
There's lots of things I could have done better when I first set out on the big solo backpacking adventure. You learn by your mistakes I guess. If you're new to backpacking, why not learn from mine.