13 Jul

Hard Sleeper: The Second Poshest Way to Go

There are five classes of railway tickets in China. Starting with the poshest, these are: soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat, hard seat and unreserved. We took a hard sleeper from Jinzhou to Guangzhou, so now we have experienced every class of train car. Hard sleeper is definitely the best. It is comfortable enough to survive a long trip, and it's also social.

Our train car was divided into sets of bunks stacked by threes. There were no doors that would have separated compartments, so people throughout the car could see each other, chat and mingle. Josh slept on the top bunk, I slept on the bottom. Opposite us were two ladies in their seventies. They were sisters, a fact we knew before they told us, since they were wearing matching outfits. They were travelling with one of their granddaughters. We were able to communicate using our limited Chinese, and the granddaughter would occassionally translate when we reached our limits.

We got on the train at 1 p.m. on Monday and we got off at 9 p.m. on Tuesday. We both slept for about ten hours, which made the 32 hour trip go by much faster. By Tuesday morning everyone on the car was relaxed and friendly, and most of them wanted to try talking to the foreigners. The younger ones spoke some English, but they preferred to let us practice our Chinese.

We passed a lot of time just looking out the windows. Since there were no doors on the compartments, we could see the country go by on both sides of the train. The scenery was spectacular. We saw the farms change from corn to rice as we moved from north to south. We also saw some surprisingly elaborate farm houses along the way. Most of China's farmers are terribly poor, but a few of them seem to be thriving, and building homes to prove it.

Throughout the trip we ate instant noodles, chocolate bars and grapes. Instant noodles are the food of choice for long train trips because the train cars all have dispensers of boiling water. Most people on board had much more food than we did, multiple bags filled with steamed buns, hardboiled eggs and hot dogs. Most passed the time by eating. Still, the car was kept surprisingly clean. Attendants came through ever hour to sweep, wipe down surfaces and empty trash cans.

Our one experience with soft sleeper was also good, but much less educational. When we travelled from Beijing to Jinzhou for the first time we took the fancy car. We shared a compartment with two Italians, father and son, who were trying to set up a tannery. They told us, in their excellent English, that they enjoyed travelling by hard sleeper just as much as soft sleeper. Now we know why.


  1. 1
    Mike Nicolini
    July 18, 2006 at 1:09 am


    I spoke to your brother today and he directed me to your site. Looks like you and your wife are having a great time. I never knew you could cut such a rug! Send me your email address when you get a chance.

    Take care,

    Mike Nicolini

  2. 2
    July 19, 2006 at 11:35 am

    the hard sleeper sounds awesome!
    We’re ready to join you! It sounds alittle like the LOJ where betty bart bill and I go in the ADK. Athough the LOJ doesnt have moving scenery.
    -molly and baby

  3. 3
    February 12, 2008 at 8:49 am

    I took the ‘hard seat’ from Beijing to Xi’an last summer. I think I would have been more comfortable had I been tied to the end of the train and allowed to bounce off of every railroad tie on the way there.

    The car was filled with every seat taken, and at least one person standing for each person sitting. People slept standing up or on the very dirty floor. There was a group of maybe high school kids who stayed up playing cards and making noise all night. Like with your experience, people seemed to eat without stop for most of the trip. When they were done, there was all kind of food garbage and wrappers all over the train car. The people were generally polite and forebearing, but in a way, I think I would have been more comfortable stretched out on the dirty floor with people stepping on me than forced into a rigid position with some kind standing/sleeping next to me, bouncing off of me with every bump.

    We took the ‘soft sleeper’ on the way back: air-conditioned, comfortable beds with TVs built in, a nice, spacious bathroom, etc. It felt horribly decadent.

    (by the way, I found your site via Fark.com and the piece on the bizarro ABC blocks. My girlfriend’s niece had similaryly weird ones.)

  4. 4
    February 13, 2008 at 10:14 am

    Hord seat is murder. Hard sleeper is good. Anything but planes, which pollute the air just as much in China as they do every place else.

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