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How To Take The Train In China


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Lonni Killion



Welcome to China, a country known for its rich history, vibrant culture, and bustling cities. As you embark on your journey through this amazing country, one of the best ways to experience the vastness and diversity of China is by taking the train. The Chinese railway system is one of the most extensive and efficient in the world, connecting major cities and scenic destinations across the country.


Traveling by train in China not only offers convenience and affordability but also provides an opportunity to witness breathtaking landscapes, interact with locals, and immerse yourself in the everyday life of the Chinese people. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time visitor, this comprehensive guide will equip you with all the information you need to navigate the Chinese train system with ease.


In this article, we will cover everything from planning your trip and booking tickets to understanding the types of trains, navigating train stations, and observing train etiquette. We’ll also provide you with essential phrases and vocabulary to help you communicate effectively during your train journeys.


So, grab your passport, pack your bags, and get ready for an adventure as we delve into the fascinating world of train travel in China!


Planning Your Trip

Before embarking on your train journey in China, it’s important to plan your trip in advance to ensure a smooth and enjoyable travel experience. Here are some key factors to consider when planning your train trip in China:

  1. Destination: Determine your desired destinations and the duration of your trip. China has an extensive railway network, connecting major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, as well as popular tourist destinations like Xi’an, Chengdu, and Guilin.
  2. Travel Dates: Decide on the dates of your travel. It’s important to keep in mind that trains in China can be busy, especially during peak travel seasons and holidays. Booking your tickets in advance will help secure your preferred train and class of service.
  3. Train Route: Research different train routes and consider the duration of the journey. Some routes offer high-speed trains that can significantly reduce travel time, while others may provide scenic views of the countryside. Choose the route that aligns with your preferences and interests.
  4. Class of Service: China’s trains offer different classes of service, ranging from basic seats to luxurious sleepers. Consider your budget and comfort preferences when selecting the class of service. First class and second class are the most common options, with first class providing more spacious seating and amenities.
  5. Train Schedule: Check the train schedules to determine the departure and arrival times that best suit your travel plans. Trains in China usually operate from early morning until late evening, with varying frequencies depending on the route and demand.
  6. Duration and Layovers: Take into account the duration of the train journey and the possibility of layovers. Some long-distance journeys may require a transfer at a major station, so plan your itinerary accordingly to ensure you have sufficient time for sightseeing or rest.

By considering these factors and conducting thorough research, you can plan your train trip in China in a way that maximizes your comfort, convenience, and enjoyment.


Booking Tickets

Booking train tickets in China can be done through various channels, both online and offline. Here are the different methods you can use to book your train tickets:

  1. Online Booking: The most convenient way to book train tickets in China is through online platforms such as the official website of China Railway (12306.cn) or third-party websites and apps like Ctrip or Trip.com. These platforms provide real-time train schedules, availability, and seat selection options.
  2. Train Stations: If you prefer to book your tickets in person, you can visit a train station ticketing office or a ticketing agency. It’s important to note that during peak travel seasons, ticket availability may be limited, so booking in advance is recommended.
  3. Travel Agencies: Local travel agencies can also assist with train ticket bookings. They often have English-speaking staff who can help answer your questions and arrange your travel itinerary.
  4. Ticketing Windows: Some larger cities in China have dedicated ticketing windows for international travelers. These windows cater specifically to non-Chinese speakers and can offer a more streamlined ticketing process.
  5. Mobile Apps: There are several mobile apps available for train ticket bookings in China. These apps provide convenience and flexibility, allowing you to search for train schedules, book tickets, and even make seat selections on the go.

When booking your train tickets, it’s important to have your passport with you, as it is required for identity verification. You will also need to provide your departure and arrival cities, travel dates, preferred class of service, and the number of passengers. Once you have successfully booked your tickets, you will receive a confirmation email or SMS with your ticket details. It’s advisable to carry a printed copy of your ticket or save it on your mobile device for easy access.


Booking your train tickets in advance is highly recommended, especially during peak travel seasons, holidays, and weekends. High-speed trains and popular routes tend to sell out quickly, so securing your tickets early will ensure a more seamless and stress-free travel experience.


Types of Trains

China’s railway system offers a variety of train types to cater to different travel needs and preferences. Understanding these train types will help you choose the most suitable option for your journey. Here are the main types of trains you will encounter while traveling in China:

  1. High-Speed Trains: High-speed trains, known as G and D trains, are the pride of China’s railway system. These trains can travel at speeds of up to 350 kilometers per hour (217 miles per hour) on dedicated high-speed tracks. They offer exceptional comfort, modern amenities, and efficient service, making them the preferred choice for long-distance travel between major cities.
  2. Regular Trains: Regular trains, denoted by the letter K, T, Z, or L, are non-high-speed trains that connect both major cities and smaller towns in China. They are slower than high-speed trains but are a more economical option, particularly for shorter distances or when traveling to destinations not served by high-speed rail.
  3. Sleeper Trains: Sleeper trains, represented by the letter Z, T, or K followed by a number, are designed for overnight journeys. They offer various types of sleeper compartments, such as soft sleepers, hard sleepers, and hard seats. Soft sleepers provide the highest level of comfort, with private cabins and beds, while hard sleepers offer open berths in shared compartments.
  4. Bullet Trains: Bullet trains, also known as CRH trains, are a subset of high-speed trains that operate on specific routes. These trains are designed for even higher speeds and provide a smooth and efficient travel experience. They are denoted by CRH followed by a number, such as CRH2 or CRH380.
  5. Subway Trains: China’s major cities have well-developed subway networks, offering a convenient and efficient way to navigate within the city. These trains operate on specific metro lines and are a popular choice for daily commuting and short-distance travel.

When booking your train tickets, the train type will be indicated, along with the corresponding train number, departure, and arrival times. It’s important to pay attention to the train type to ensure that you select the most appropriate option for your journey.


High-speed trains are recommended for long-distance travel between major cities, providing comfort, speed, and reliability. Regular trains and sleeper trains are ideal for shorter distances or when exploring smaller towns and villages. Subway trains are perfect for getting around within cities, allowing for easy access to tourist attractions and other areas of interest.


By understanding the different types of trains available in China, you can make informed decisions when planning your journey and choose the train that best suits your travel needs.


Train Stations

China’s train stations are vital transportation hubs, serving as gateways to various destinations across the country. Understanding how train stations operate in China will help you navigate them with ease. Here are some key points to keep in mind about train stations in China:

  1. Location and Accessibility: Train stations are typically located in central areas of cities or towns, making them easily accessible by public transportation or taxis. Major cities often have multiple train stations, so double-check the station name and address before departure.
  2. Arrival and Departure Halls: Train stations are divided into arrival and departure halls. Upon arrival, follow the signs to the appropriate hall for ticket verification and exit. When departing, ensure you arrive at the correct hall in advance to go through security checks and find your platform.
  3. Platforms: Train platforms are where passengers board and disembark trains. Platforms are usually numbered, and signboards display train numbers, departure times, and destinations. Check your ticket or the electronic display boards for your platform number and proceed accordingly.
  4. Security Checks: At train stations, passengers are required to go through security checkpoints similar to those at airports. Remember to remove any metallic objects from your pockets and place your bags on the conveyor belt for X-ray screening. It’s recommended to arrive at the train station well in advance to allow time for security checks.
  5. Waiting Areas: Train stations have designated waiting areas where passengers can sit and wait for their train. These areas are often equipped with seating, electronic display boards showing train information, and passenger facilities like restrooms and shops.
  6. Information Desks: If you have any questions or need assistance, information desks or service counters are available at most train stations. Staff at these desks can provide information about train schedules, platforms, and general guidance. Some stations may also have English-speaking staff to assist international travelers.
  7. Amenities: Train stations in China offer a range of amenities, including shops, restaurants, cafes, and convenience stores. These amenities provide opportunities for refreshments, snacks, and last-minute purchases before your journey.

It’s important to arrive at the train station with ample time before your departure to allow for ticket validation, security checks, and finding your platform. As train stations can be busy, especially during peak travel seasons, arriving early will help ensure a smooth and stress-free experience.


By familiarizing yourself with the layout and processes of train stations in China, you’ll be well-prepared to navigate these bustling hubs and embark on your train journey with confidence.


Boarding the Train

When it comes time to board your train in China, there are a few key things to keep in mind to ensure a smooth and hassle-free experience. Here are some important tips for boarding the train:

  1. Arrive Early: Arriving at the train station ahead of your departure time is crucial. This will give you sufficient time to locate your platform, go through security checks, and find your assigned seat or sleeper compartment.
  2. Follow Signs and Announcements: Pay attention to signs and listen to announcements for information about your train. Display screens and audio announcements will typically indicate the train number, departure time, and boarding gate.
  3. Ticket Verification: Once you reach your designated boarding gate, be prepared to present your ticket and identification for verification. Keep your ticket easily accessible, as you will need to show it multiple times during your journey.
  4. Be Mindful of Queueing: China’s train stations can get crowded, so be prepared for queues when boarding the train. Follow the designated boarding queue and wait for your turn to present your ticket and enter the train.
  5. Assistance for Passengers with Special Needs: If you require assistance due to mobility issues or if you’re traveling with young children, elderly individuals, or individuals with disabilities, there may be staff available to assist you. Look for special assistance counters or staff wearing identifiable vests.
  6. Keep Personal Belongings Secure: As you board the train, be mindful of your personal belongings. Keep an eye on your luggage and valuables and ensure they are securely stored in the overhead compartments or under your seat.
  7. Find Your Seat or Sleeper Compartment: Locate your assigned seat or sleeper compartment based on the information provided on your ticket. Seat numbers are clearly marked above the seats, while sleeper compartments will have numerical labels on the doors.
  8. Assistive Devices and Strollers: If you are traveling with assistive devices such as wheelchairs or strollers, look for designated areas on the train where these items can be safely stored during the journey.

Remember to follow the instructions of train attendants and be respectful of other passengers while boarding the train. Once on board, settle into your assigned seat or sleeper compartment and get ready to embark on your adventure across the beautiful landscapes of China.


Seating and Amenities

When traveling by train in China, the seating arrangement and available amenities will vary depending on the class of service and type of train. Here’s an overview of the seating and amenities you can expect on Chinese trains:

  1. First Class: First-class seats provide a higher level of comfort and more spacious seating compared to other classes. These seats are often arranged in a 2-2 configuration and offer features like adjustable backrests, footrests, and power outlets. Some high-speed trains may also have a first-class carriage with business-class seating, offering additional amenities.
  2. Second Class: Second-class seats are the most common seating option on Chinese trains. They are slightly more compact, arranged in a 2-3 configuration, and offer a comfortable travel experience. Second-class seats typically provide foldable tables, power outlets, and overhead storage for small bags and luggage.
  3. Sleeper Compartments: For long-distance journeys, sleeper compartments are available on select trains. These compartments come in different classes, such as soft sleepers, hard sleepers, and soft seats. Soft sleepers offer private cabins with beds, while hard sleepers have open berths in shared compartments. Soft seats are reclining seats with more legroom.
  4. Amenities: Train cars in China are equipped with amenities to enhance passenger comfort. These may include air conditioning or heating, clean restrooms, and hot water dispensers for making tea or instant noodles. Some high-speed trains also have dining cars or trolley service, offering a variety of snacks and refreshments for purchase.
  5. Luggage Storage: Each train car provides overhead compartments for storing small bags and luggage. Larger suitcases or backpacks can be placed in the space near the entrances or in designated storage areas within each car. It’s important to keep track of your belongings and ensure they are securely stored during the journey.

Regardless of the class of service, it’s advisable to bring along essentials like a neck pillow, earplugs, and a blanket or shawl for added comfort during your train journey. Additionally, carrying important personal items such as travel documents, passports, and valuables in a secure bag or daypack is recommended.


While the amenities and seating arrangements can vary depending on the train type and class, rest assured that the Chinese railway system prioritizes passenger comfort and convenience. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride as you traverse the picturesque landscapes of China.


Food and Refreshments

Food and refreshments are an essential part of the train travel experience in China. Whether you’re taking a short journey or a long-distance ride, there are various options available to satisfy your hunger and quench your thirst. Here’s what you need to know about food and refreshments on Chinese trains:

  1. Snacks and Beverages: Most trains in China have a food trolley that moves through the train selling snacks, drinks, and light refreshments. You’ll find a range of options, including sandwiches, instant noodles, packaged snacks, hot and cold beverages, and bottled water. Just wait for the trolley to pass by your seat, and you can make your selection.
  2. Dining Cars: Some high-speed trains and overnight sleeper trains are equipped with dining cars. These cars offer a more extensive range of food options, including hot meals and larger portions. Dining cars are particularly convenient for longer journeys, as they provide a dedicated space for enjoying a sit-down meal.
  3. Food Vendors at Stations: If you have time during a layover or while waiting for your train, you can explore the food vendors or restaurants located within or near the train stations. These places often offer a variety of local snacks, street food, and regional specialties. It’s a great opportunity to savor the flavors of different regions in China.
  4. Bringing Your Own Food: If you have specific dietary preferences or allergies, or simply prefer to have your own food, you are allowed to bring your snacks and meals on board. Pack items that are non-perishable and easy to eat, such as fruits, sandwiches, or pre-packaged snacks. Keep in mind that there are restrictions on bringing hot, smelly, or messy foods on the train.
  5. Hot Water Dispensers: Many train cars in China are equipped with hot water dispensers, usually located near the restrooms or at the end of the train car. You can use these dispensers to make tea, coffee, or instant noodles. Just bring your own mug or cup, along with tea bags, coffee packets, or instant noodle cups.

It’s important to note that not all trains have the same food and refreshment options available. On high-speed trains and those operating on popular routes, you can expect a wider variety of choices. However, on shorter journeys or rural routes, the food options may be more limited. Consider bringing some snacks or a light meal with you, especially if you have dietary restrictions or specific preferences.


Remember to stay hydrated during your train journey by bringing a water bottle or purchasing bottled water on board. Stay open to trying new foods and flavors, and immerse yourself in the culinary delights that China has to offer.


Safety and Security

When traveling by train in China, safety and security should always be a top priority. The Chinese railway system takes numerous measures to ensure the well-being of passengers. Here are some essential tips to keep in mind for a safe and secure train journey:

  1. Personal Belongings: Be vigilant about your personal belongings at all times. Keep your bags, backpacks, and valuables close to you and within sight. Consider using locks or secure straps for your luggage to prevent theft or tampering.
  2. Identification and Tickets: Carry your identification documents, such as your passport, with you at all times during the journey. Additionally, ensure that you have your train ticket readily accessible for ticket checks and verification.
  3. Secure Your Valuables: If you are carrying valuable items such as electronics, jewelry, or large amounts of cash, it’s advisable to keep them in a secure location, such as a money belt or a hidden inner pocket of your clothing. Avoid displaying your valuables openly.
  4. Emergency Exits: Take note of the emergency exits and familiarize yourself with their locations on the train. In the event of an emergency, remain calm and follow the instructions provided by train staff or the emergency procedures displayed in the train cars.
  5. Emergency Contacts: Save important contact numbers, such as the local police or the railway helpline, on your phone in case you need assistance during your train journey. These numbers can be useful in situations involving theft, lost items, or any other emergencies.
  6. Travel Insurance: Consider purchasing travel insurance that covers medical expenses, trip delays, or loss of personal belongings. This will provide additional peace of mind throughout your train journey in case of any unforeseen circumstances.
  7. Be Aware of Surroundings: Pay attention to your surroundings and the people around you. Report any suspicious activities or belongings to train staff or security personnel. Trust your instincts and take necessary precautions to ensure your safety and the security of your fellow passengers.
  8. Follow Instructions: Train conductors and staff are there to ensure a safe and smooth journey for all passengers. Listen to their instructions and follow their guidance regarding boarding, disembarking, and any emergency procedures.

The Chinese railway system prioritizes the safety and security of its passengers. However, it is always important to remain vigilant and take personal responsibility for your own safety during your train travel in China. By following these safety tips, you can have a worry-free and enjoyable journey across the country.


Etiquette and Behavior

When traveling on Chinese trains, it’s important to adhere to certain etiquette and behavior standards to ensure a pleasant and respectful journey for everyone on board. Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  1. Punctuality: Arrive at the train station on time and board the train promptly. This shows respect for your fellow passengers and helps maintain a smooth and efficient travel experience.
  2. Noise Consideration: Keep your voice at a reasonable level and avoid loud conversations, especially during overnight journeys when others may be resting. Be mindful of noise when using electronic devices, headphones, or mobile phones, and set them to silent mode.
  3. Respect the seating arrangements and avoid encroaching on your neighbor’s space. If you have extra bags or belongings, store them in the overhead compartments or under your seat to keep the aisles clear. If you’re in a sleeper compartment, be considerate of others when moving around or accessing your bed.
  4. Train restrooms should be kept clean for the next passenger. Dispose of any trash appropriately and ensure proper hygiene. Be considerate of others waiting to use the restroom and avoid spending an excessive amount of time inside.
  5. If you are enjoying food or snacks during the journey, be mindful of the smells and potential mess. Try to eat food that doesn’t generate strong odors and clean up after yourself to keep the train car clean and comfortable for everyone.
  6. Smoking is strictly prohibited on all trains in China. Respect the no-smoking policy and only smoke in designated areas or at designated stops, if available.
  7. Show respect for the local culture and customs. Avoid engaging in loud or disruptive behavior, and dress modestly and appropriately. Be aware of local traditions and sensitivities, especially when visiting religious sites or traveling in more conservative areas.
  8. Show kindness and courtesy to fellow passengers, train staff, and other individuals you encounter during your journey. Offer assistance to those in need and respect personal space. Small acts of kindness can go a long way in fostering a positive and harmonious travel environment.

By following these etiquette guidelines, you can contribute to a comfortable and enjoyable train journey for yourself and your fellow passengers. Remember, a considerate and respectful attitude goes a long way in creating a positive atmosphere during your travel in China.


Common Phrases and Vocabulary

While traveling on trains in China, knowing some basic phrases and vocabulary will help you navigate the journey more effectively and communicate with the train staff and fellow passengers. Here are some common phrases and vocabulary that will come in handy during your train travel:

  1. Train Ticket: 火车票 (huǒ chē piào)
  2. Train Station: 火车站 (huǒ chē zhàn)
  3. Platform: 站台 (zhàn tái)
  4. Departure: 出发 (chū fā)
  5. Arrival: 到达 (dào dá)
  6. Seat Number: 座位号 (zuò wèi hào)
  7. First Class: 一等座 (yī děng zuò)
  8. Second Class: 二等座 (èr děng zuò)
  9. Sleeper: 卧铺 (wò pù)
  10. Toilet: 厕所 (cè suǒ)
  11. Thank you: 谢谢 (xiè xiè)
  12. Excuse me: 对不起 (duì bù qǐ)
  13. I’m sorry: 不好意思 (bù hǎo yì si)
  14. Do you speak English? 你会说英语吗?(nǐ huì shuō yīng yǔ ma?)
  15. Where is the restroom? 厕所在哪里?(cè suǒ zài nǎ lǐ?)
  16. How long is the journey? 这段旅程需要多长时间?(zhè duàn lǚ chéng xū yào duō cháng shí jiān?)
  17. Is there Wi-Fi on the train? 火车上有无线网络吗?(huǒ chē shàng yǒu wú xiàn wǎng luò ma?)
  18. Help! 救命!(jiù mìng!)

Learning these phrases and vocabulary will help you navigate the train journey more confidently and allow for smoother interactions with train staff and fellow passengers. Additionally, having a translation app or offline language guide can be helpful for more complex communication needs or understanding signage and announcements.


Remember, even a basic attempt to speak a few phrases in Mandarin Chinese will be appreciated by the locals and can go a long way in fostering positive interactions and experiences during your train travel in China.



Congratulations! You are now equipped with the knowledge and understanding to confidently travel by train in China. By planning your trip, booking tickets in advance, familiarizing yourself with the types of trains and train stations, and adhering to etiquette and safety guidelines, your train journey in China is sure to be a memorable and enjoyable experience.


China’s extensive railway system offers a convenient, efficient, and affordable way to explore the country. Whether you’re traveling between major cities on high-speed trains or immersing yourself in the scenic countryside on regular trains, the train journeys in China provide opportunities to witness the diverse landscapes, interact with locals, and discover the cultural richness of this magnificent country.


Remember to be respectful of the train staff and your fellow passengers, while also keeping an open mind and embracing the unique experiences that train travel in China can offer. From sampling local snacks to observing the stunning views from your window, every moment on the train is an opportunity for adventure.


So, pack your bags, purchase your train tickets, and embark on your journey through China. With the information and tips provided in this guide, you are well-prepared to navigate the Chinese train system with ease and create memories that will last a lifetime. Enjoy your train travel in China and embrace the magic and beauty that awaits you!