The next day we got up before 5 AM again, and were ready for a more authentic China, a.k.a, more spitting and farting right wherever you seem to be standing, authenticity. I’m writing this text as we’re walking and taking busses, etc. So between the last sentence that you’ve just read, and this one – we experienced a good hour of China, a travel nightmare so to say: we ended up at the wrong station. Taking a Bejing to Zhangjiajie train doesn’t seem so straightforward now.

Wrong station

“No no no, you go Beijing station”. These words made our legs feel so light, the bloodstream was instantly filled with cortisol and I could see Auste almost shaking. For a split second I felt anger towards this place as we had wasted hours and walked miles yesterday (to make sure we find it today!) just to come to this bloody West railway station which has nothing to do with our trip.

I’m certain that I had read somewhere online that trains to the Avatar Mountains depart from there, and that’s what stuck in my head. Our tickets just said “Beijing railway station”, which in reality means Beijing railway station. Duh. I thought it was called Beijing East railway station, but Beijing East is another station without a subway stop (all the other stations have subway lines connected to them). So all in all I was confused with the East and West stations and neither of them had anything to do with us. Let me know if you want me to organise your Beijing to Zhangjiajie train trip sometime, free of charge.

We had so much stress of sprinting through subway stations, losing our breath, approaching strangers with our panicking faces on, and boy did that wake us up! We triple-checked with three different people that the name on the ticket is actually Beijing station. Our anxiety was so obvious that some girls even showed us a map with subway line connection times on their phones. By now, we were pros at navigating the Beijing subway.

Boarding isn’t the same

We reached this station an hour before departure, thanks to originally planning to arrive 2 hours in advance, in case sizzle like this happened. There were no beggars or bunches of touts hanging around, there was no noise inside, and there was a Starbucks! That’s when you know you’re at a proper station! As soon as we sat down, we treated ourselves to a nice coffee. Even with a full hour to spare, everyone was rushed to the train after 30 minutes. Boarding trains in China isn’t the same as in the UK, , where you jump on a metro carriage right when you hear the “beep beep beep” sound and the doors are about to shut, then you smile at the strangers, roll your eyes and make a “phew” sound to get rid of everyone’s attention. In order to ensure train punctuality the ticket check stops 5 minutes before departure.

Tip: to make sure a timely journey, do not plan trips with short time between connections. It took us nearly an hour to go from the West train station to the Bejing station! Why so long? Walking to the subway, security checks, waiting for the train, actual subway ride, getting off, slow people, a long walk for transferring to other lines, waiting for the train, and so on, and then long walks to the exit, and finding the right one! And if you have to top up your IC card (or buy a ticket if you don’t have a card) that’s at least another 30 minutes of queuing up on top of all that.

On the train:

If you’re tall, you wouldn’t be able to sit in any of the 3 bunk beds. Yes, three. The “hard” sleeper has 3 beds, while the “soft” sleeper has 2, but the latter is twice as expensive. So the bottom one was the most comfortable with the most space (very important for hanging around for countless hours), the middle one – ok, and upper was the tiniest, where you can’t really do anything else but lay down. Even when climbing up there to get into bed you have to crouch yourself into a question mark position.

Once we departed, our tickets were collected and we were given plastic cards with Chinese writings. If it wasn’t for our extra copies of paper bookings we wouldn’t have any information, names or anything in English relating to our trip.

There were toilets, rail wifi (which you have to register for, but we couldn’t understand how), one staff member kept going back and forth every hour selling power banks, and one staff with a trolley FULL of only veg and fruit – they should get some kind of a health Nobel prize for doing that. The cherry on the cake was a hot water machine, that’s a big bonus if you love tea. Pretty much all of the Chinese passengers each had hot water flasks and a carrier bag full of food. You wouldn’t believe how fast a 6 kg bag of food empties out; we were snacking ALL the time as we couldn’t use our phones and laptop in order to save batteries. We later found out that there were sockets to charge electrical goods.

Pro tip: pack coffee/tea! And a cup or reuse a paper cup. Even though there were fruit and veg trolleys, people selling cigarettes and power banks, there was no tea or coffee available, and all the Chinese carried flasks and refilled them with herbal teas. Whoever said that the English like their tea, hasn’t been to China! P.S, how many times can you refill a paper cup before it starts leaking? About 7.

The mood on the train was very relaxed, as we felt the people were much less wild – elder ladies were chatting in a calm manner, others were watching movies at a low volume, and some were just gazing outside the window. But then 5 hours later lots of young Chinese boarded and within minutes there were sunflower shells all over the floor, music, loud chatter and so on.

The sleep was good, as the train was much more stable compared to Thai night trains and they switched the lights off at 10 pm. The good thing was that the train guard wakes you up roughly an hour before your stop, takes your plastic card and gives you back your ticket. Throughout the whole 24+ hour journey we didn’t see the sun. Our noses were kind of blocked too, so it was either that cloudy or that polluted.

In the morning most of the people got off and it was oh-so-quiet again, just with piles of rubbish and sunflower shells. When the train was rather empty, people just sat wherever they wanted, so if you get on and find a man with shoes and a coat having a kip in your seat – wake him up!

The fact that everyone was snoring the whole night didn’t bother us at all. What bothered us was the older men who were staring at us. It turns out that on a 26-hour Beijing to Zhangjiajie train ride our neighbours hadn’t gotten enough of us – before they got off they tried to take a picture of Auste, as if a selfie with me wasn’t sufficient… We thought that if people spit – sorry for the language – piss and shit in public without any embarrassment, don’t be surprised when they blatantly reach out with their phone and try to take a picture of you. That’s still annoying though.

Bonus China:

In what way are white people are so interesting to them? Personally, the many people we saw were definitely unusual to us, for example it was the first time I’ve seen:

  • a grandpa holding his granddaughter while she pees in a rubbish bin next to the toilets on a train;
  • a boy peeing in a see through bag at the airport between two coffee shops;
  • a boy with his pyjamas cut at the front and the back peeing right on the street on a block of ice (or a brick?) and, for the grand finale;
  • a boy taking a dump on the Great Wall, but I hope the last one was an optical illusion as there were so many people around.

To read about our adventures on the Great Wall of China, click here.

And, let’s see how those food courts look like after an exhausting trip:

(she was actually super sweet and friendly, you can read about train station food courts and chinese-style queueing here – coming soon)