X’ian is dirty, busy and chaotic. The train station is no different…but it’s easier to navigate than Beijing train station. This is because it’s much smaller and concentrated, does not rely on two tiny glass doors to permit entry and, after spending a few days in X’ian this bustling and chaotic environment becomes the norm and you acclimatise. For this reason our experience of X’ian train station was a stark contrast to that of Beijing. We calmly purchased snacks outside the station, forcefully entered the station and navigated immediately to our platform where we nestled with a book and some snacks until boarding commenced.
However, for the benefit of future travellers it’s is worth highlighting two things;
a) we travelled first class (again) and therefore enjoyed the dedicated first class waiting lounge which was empty, and permitted you to board the train first. When I nipped to the bathroom I stole a glance at the 2nd class waiting area for our train and it was bedlam. I have never seen so many people squashed into one area! But saying that – it looked friendly and fun.
b) X’ian train station is rustic. It’s 1920’s comped to the 21st century Beijing station. Beijing is not the norm!
Boarding the train was simple and hassle free. It was easy to navigate to the carriage (via the westernised numerics used) and there was plenty of time to sort your luggage (again, this is because we had priority boarding). Some 15-20 mins later, we were convinced we might have the four berths to ourselves, but then our companions arrived. They were a slick and affluent looking Chinese couple who welcomed us with smiles and we conversed with facial expressions and hand signs for the first few minutes. I was instantly at ease.
First class in this carriage was in contrast to that on the Beijing leg. It was four berth opposed to two, more rustic and old fashioned (i.e no mod cons) and had no en suite. (We knew this when booking). The train journey was also 16 hours opposed to the previous 7 which is a decision not to be taken lightly. There was one toilet and washing area per carriage. It is also appropriate to highlight that the toilet is unisex and Chinese style A.K.A you squat over a hole in the floor of the carriage. But I will dispel all fears (which I had when boarding) to say that the toilet was always clean and even after 16 hours was pleasant to use. I will admit that I’d risked dehydration by trying not to to drink before boarding the train to prevent my need to use the toilet, but I wished I’d not been so silly as it was fine.
Our companions were lovely.She settled onto a top bunk and fell instantly asleep for 16 hours. He spoke English. And when seeing our English guidebooks, he proceeded to ask us where we were going and what plans we had. It turned out they were local to Chengdu (our destination) but worked in X’ian, and they were returning home to spend time with his mother in law. He kindly spent time with us, talking us through the Chengdu maps we had and giving us fantastic local insight as to what to go and what to see that was off the tourist trail.
The 16 hours passed reasonably quickly. We read, slept and watched movies on our laptop, squashed into one bunk between two. We arrived in a dark and chaotic Chengdu rail station at 2am and were extremely thankful to find the shuttle to the hostel waiting for us.
(Note- we had asked the hostel in advance if we could pay for that evening and check in at 2am via a shuttle – others who had just booked for the next evening had little to do but amuse themselves in Chengdu from 2am until mid afternoon. This is something i would not recommend after a long and tiring train trip – especially when our hostel was just £8 a night pp. Pay extra for the privilege of a warm welcome, a warm a shower on arrival and a comfy bed. You won’t regret it and it means you can wake 7 hours later and not waste your first day in a new destination.
Photos from our China trip are available in our gallery.