46 Hours later…and we’re in Beijing!

Well, we survived the two day, two night train journey from Lhasa to Beijing and arrived here bright and early this morning!

Despite the horror stories of hard sleepers on Chinese trains, we have to say that our experience really wasn’t all that bad! The worst thing that we encountered during the trip was boredom!

One of the first things we did when we got on the train was check out the toilets, which were pretty spotless. The hard sleeper cabins too were clean and the mattresses more comfortable than many of the hostels and hotels we have been staying in! There are 6 bunks in a hard sleeper cabin – the two top ones being ridiculously high and the foothold designed to help you scramble up there completely pointless, but once you got up there and lay down, it was actually quite cosy!

I had the top bunk and Richard the middle, but in two different carriages. The first four hours we were just one carriage apart but after that, I had to go all the way down to carriage 3 and Richard stayed in number 13!

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The walk down to the 3rd carriage (or ‘the basement’ as I called it) was definitely the worst thing about the entire trip. The middle of the train housed the ‘seats only’ carriages – where everybody who couldn’t afford a sleeper ticket (or couldn’t get their hands on one) sat. It was a complete mess! 5 carriages of seats filled with mostly youngsters playing music, drinking, smoking and literally throwing ribbish around! Everytime we walked through there some smart alec kids would start shouting out in broken English ‘hello, hello’, ‘wassup’, ‘can you see me?’ which got really annoying after the third or fourth time of walking through there!

I have no idea dear how they all sat there for 46 hours. It was long enough for us and we went to bed for 8 hours each day!

We had a sneek peak at the soft sleepers too, to see what we were missing out on and to be honest, it didnt look any better than the hard sleepers! The main differences were that there were 4 beds in soft sleeper rather than 6, the cabins had doors on them and they had bigger, wider mattresses. But apart from that, the walkways were much narrower with less seats and no tables, so people had no choice but to stay in their cabins. It also seemed a lot stuffier (and a bit smellier) than the hard sleeper carriages! We were very glad that we had saved the extra $200 it would have cost us to book a soft sleeper.

There is a chance that we just got lucky however, and that the people on our train were a lot tidier and quieter than the people others have encountered. We’ll know more once we have experienced a few more inter-China trains!

We spent most of our time up in carriage 13 sat on a couple of seats by the wind0w – not the most comfy of seats but the bottom bunks in the cabin were mostly taken up by the chinese family that Richard was sharing with so we couldnt really sit in there. They were a very nice family – the man looked like Mr Miyagi from Karate Kid and the little girl was so disciplined that she sat down for the entire first day, hands in lap, not saying a word. The lady gave us a couple of bananas on day two which was very nice! I think she must have seen us sharing an apple and felt sorry for us!

Looking out of the window was interesting for a while, but that quickly became boring as the scenery got quite monotonous – the awe of Tibet meant that anything we witnessed after that never quite matched up! The landscape during the first day’s journey flattened out quite a lot – although we did get to see some snow! As we neared Xian and headed toward Beijing the next day, it livened up and we began to see hills and mountains again!
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We ended up buying a pack of cards from the trolley man to amuse ourselves as well as playing i-spy, hangman, guess who and pictionary in between eating our pre-bought boxes of noodles and Snickers!

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Richard had the inspired idea of writing 46 lines on a piece of paper for us to tick off hour by hour, and it actually helped the time go quicker!

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After about 32 hours on the train we began to notice that people were feeling the effects of the long journey – the toilets were no longer spotless, neither were the carpets and the middle carriages of the train were simply disgusting. A whole day and night without showers or a change of clothes also began to add to the ‘ambience’ of the train! Little children had started running up and down the walkways screaming and shouting on a sugar rush – even their parents had gotten bored of looking after them and instead just kept feeding them with chocolate biscuits!

The food carriage at this point also reeked of warm, rotting vegetables, so we did our best to run through it holding our breath everytime we had to walk back down the train!

It was all managable however, and I think that we had struck gold with the carriages we had (well Richard’s one really) as everybody was relatively friendly, tidy and stayed quiet when the lights went out. We also had two of the best night’s sleep we’d had in weeks – something else that we definitely hadn’t expected from a sleeper train in China!

Will have to remain open-minded however, as we’ve just booked an overnight train to Xian for a few days time, and they didnt have ANY hard or soft sleepers available – looks like we’re destined for those middle carriages!

Uh Oh.

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