Sleeper trains in China: reading & ordering tickets
1. Reading train tickets
Take the time to learn how to read train tickets. It reassures that you are in the right place, at the right time. Please note that I don’t speak any Chinese, so the below information is purely based on what we have seen and learned when traveling. Please correct me if I’m wrong!
car number, seat or berth number, berth position, for example: 02 车 022 号 上铺
The train number is a number or a combination of a letter and a number.
C, D or G: high speed trains
K, L, S, T, Y or Z: normal trains, sometimes also indicated by digits only
2. Buying train tickets
Via China Railway website:
(+) up to 60 days in advance (-) only in Chinese and only payment by Chinese bank card
From ticket outlets:
(+) up to 58 days in advance, low service fee (-) often only in Chinese
Via travel agency / booking agency:
(+) convenient (-) you have to pay a service fee
By yourself at the railway station:
(+) cheap and adventurous (-) sometimes you win, sometimes you loose: it might be that you need to take seaters instead of sleepers, or that you need to change departure dates
We were young and wild 😉 So we decided to go for the latter. Some tips & tricks:
Bring your and other passenger’s passports.
Check the trains in advance. I recently discovered ChinaTrain app; a free app with train schedule and ticket availability. You can also check the LED boards at the station.
Schedule it. Expect a long queue, so make sure to have the time to wait.
Do not try automatic ticket vending machines, as they don’t recognize international passports.
Prepare for plan A, B, C and maybe even D. As tickets are sold up to 60 days in advance, chances are they are sold out, especially during peak season or on popular routes.
Most people at the desk won’t speak English. Our pronunciation might have been rubbish, but even ‘Beijing’ seemed to come wrong out of our mouth. So writing is your way to go… Yes, in Chinese! We prepared a paper with departure station, date, arrival station, class and number of tickets in Chinese beforehand. Contact me if you want the online document, I still have it!
Bring cash. In some stations they don’t accept bank card.