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How to Travel in China by Train Safely I

You have always wanted to adventure in fabulous China, but don't have the money to fly to every destination. Maybe you could take the train! Yes, it's possible, but difficult.

1. Be prepared for difficulty. Travel to China is never easy, especially if you don't speak much or any Chinese, or have a translator.

1>Little public information is available in English. It's often hard to find signs, brochures, guidebooks, schedules, etc.
2>Most people speak little to no English. Most can't read a map with you, or look at your phrasebook successfully.
3>Public officials (police) generally aren't very helpful; many can be rude. Don't look to them for help.
4>Most people don't offer to help. You can stand there looking desperate, but you may not get much attention.
5>Foreigners are usually received politely but are sometimes preyed on, looked to for handouts, and expect to be the object of great curiosity, especially in smaller cities and remote locations.

2. Buy tickets. This can also be difficult. Many hotels offer ticket buying services, but you will be charged more than the window price. That can be worth it, though, to avoid the hassle of buying your own tickets. Travel agencies can also buy tickets, but are liable to charge you a lot more than the window price, and there are many stories of agencies cheating foreigners outright, so be careful.

3. It's nearly impossible to find specialized ticket booths outside the train station. You must go to the train station itself.

Most people buy tickets the day of travel affordable China tours. This works if the route isn't the most popular one. If it is a very popular route, you'll want to buy ahead.
You can buy tickets at the station up to 5 days in advance of travel for most of the year. Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is special. Don't try to buy tickets then.

Most city central stations are huge, crowded, noisy and dangerous places. Find the ticket hall, and see if you can spot one window on the far edge that might cater to foreign buyers. Go to this window, as they may speak English.

Otherwise, stand in the long lines, get to the front, try to state (or have written) your destination and desired time of departure. Being flexible is the best. Take what you can get.

Buy the best class ticket you can. Most Chinese trains have three classes. ( A few have four; they include "soft seat", but only run on short hops between major cities, such as Shanghai and Nanjing Yangtze River tour.) At best, buy "soft sleep" tickets. Otherwise buy "hard sleep" tickets.

4. Prepare for train travel. You should have enough to eat and drink for the whole journey (usually 18-36 hours). While food and drink are sold on board and at each major station stop, it's expensive and not that good. Bring some of your own.

On board you can buy beer (not cold), liquor, packaged snacks, instant noodles, crackers, and prepared meals (three per day). The train food is generally bad, though not usually dangerous, and is best avoided. Try it once, but don't depend on it.

At major station stops of 15 minutes or more, except during the middle of the night, people push carts with many foods. Again avoid anything hot or prepared, but look for fresh local fruits, snacks, beer.

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