You hear lots of horror stories about long-distance sleeper trains in China, but they are what you make of it. Personally, I’m happy keeping myself entertained and find the journey quite fun. You can make the most of your time catching sight of the cities and rural lands you pass through that you may not usually see (as long as it stays light). They’re also relatively comfortable if you’re not a 6ft man (the beds aren’t so big).
You do however get a bed if you book a hard sleeper. Splash out and get yourself a soft sleeper. Do this and you get much more privacy in a room shared only with three others. Or, if you’re lucky, you may even get your own room. They also come with a massive flask to fill up your hot water with.
What to bring?
Flask & Tea
Sleeper trains have a hot water tap per carriage, allowing you to drink tea to your heart’s content! As a Brit, I’m very appreciative of this facility. You will need to bring your own container and tea though, so don’t forget!
I’m pretty sure that this is the actual reason they have the hot taps – for making cup/pot noodles with. Bring one, two, or as much as you can carry and eat with you! They also sell these onboard, so don’t fret if you’ve forgotten yours.
Either I’ve been pretty lucky, or carriages are surprisingly quiet. Once lights are out (around 10/11) people are very respectful and make sure to keep quiet for their fellow passengers. Make sure to keep this up too – no late night gossiping! Nevertheless, you if you’re a light sleeper, an eye mask and ear plugs are essential for a good nights sleep. If you want to feel fresh in the morning, bring a pair of PJs with you to change into and sleep in. (I just use what I’m wearing!)
Toiletries (including toilet roll!)
There’s a toilet on every cabin, however, you’ll be lucky if there is any toilet roll in there. Make sure not to forget this essential, or you may be caught short! There is also a basin in which you can brush your teeth and freshen up. You may not want to bother with makeup though ladies..!
Almost too much food to carry
27 hours = around 3/4 meals and lots of snacks. Especially when you’re bored!
If cup noodles aren’t your thing, bring some pre cooked things that can be kept overnight or some cereal bars. Fruit is also a good idea to keep you healthy on your travels and doesn’t go off so easily. There will be food carts going through throughout the journey, but they’re generally more expensive than normal food shops. They do provide hot food though. There may also be a restaurant cart on board where you can order hot meals and alcoholic drinks.
Lots of water
You can fill up water bottles with the hot water tap, but you’d have to wait for it to cool. Make sure you have at least one large bottle you can drink from when you need to.
When it got to the 23rd hour at 7 pm, I definitely wish I’d brought some beer with me. But that’s just personal preference, and I suppose it would have warmed up a bit..!
Entertainment – almost as much as food
No matter how much you bring with you, it will never be enough to keep you occupied for the entire 27 + hours. But, you can only try. As well as your usual electronic devices such as laptop, phone, iPod etc, it’s a good idea to bring something that doesn’t need charging that you can depend on throughout your journey. Bring a couple of books, something to study with, write, or draw – whatever you’re used to doing!
It’s also an idea to bring a camera or use your phone to capture those killer views out of the window.
A must for all of your electrical devices – but it’s important to have them charged before boarding, since charging spots are usually limited to around 2/3 per carriage.
Slippers are always a good idea if you want to stay clean but comfortable. I ended up walking around in my socks but instantly regretted it. You’ll still need your shoes for things like stepping out of the train or the toilet, but slippers make for a comfortable stroll around the carriages.
Remember, anything more than 24 hours and it’s your home for over a day! Except you won’t have as much freedom or privacy as if you were at home. Think about all the things you’d need in one day, narrow it down to just above essentials, and that’s what you’ll want to bring. Prepare yourself both practically, and mentally!
If you’re a frequent long-distance budget traveler, head over and check out our survival guide for the Chinese sleeper bus!