Chinese trains usually run to time and there are express and special express trains, for which you pay a supplement, as well as the slower regular services – the lower the train number the faster the train. Air-conditioned trains run between Beijing and Shanghai and between Canton and Hong Kong.
Most express trains have dining cars where the Chinese food is usually preferable to other dishes. Dining car attendants bring round flasks of hot water and will sell you small packets of green tea.
Instead of different classes the carriages have different kinds of seats and sleepers. ‘Ruanzuo’ are soft seats, and carriages with these are more comfortable and less crowded than those with “yingzuo” or hard seats, although these are worth trying for shorter trips. “Ruanwo” are soft sleepers, with four bunks in an enclosed compartment. These can be booked with the sleeping-car attendant, if still available, and are twice as expensive as “yingwo or hard sleepers, doorless compartments with six bunks in three tiers.
Soft seats and soft sleepers are usually the province of foreigners and high-ranking party officials and army officers who can afford the greater comfort, cleanliness and privacy. If you want to make closer contact with ordinary Chinese people then opt for hard seats and hard sleepers since this is what the vast majority of the population use.
Tickets should definitely be bought several days in advance. Reservations can be made and tickets bought at CITS offices or you can get them from the normal station ticket counters – be prepared to push and do not expect to have to apologise – and from special Chinese Railways ticket offices for
Restaurants foreigners at the larger rail stations as well a ticket offices in the centre of town. Prices vary according to train speed and the kind of seat or sleeper, but in any case foreigners have to pay much more for their tickets than the Chinese.
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