A cost effective way to travel from Xi’an to Suzhou is by an overnight sleeper train, but is it worth it?
After a rainy day exploring Xi’an came the only part of our trip we weren’t looking forward to, a 16 hour trip to Suzhou on a hard sleeper train. Here is what we learned from our experience:
Tickets are in Chinese.
- Luckily, our guide was able to translate our cabin number and bed assignment for us. We only had to remember it until we boarded the train.
Limited food is available on the overnight train.
- The Xi’an train station is 2 stories of chaotic, overcrowded terminals, restaurants, and convenient stores. Lines of passengers spilled into the central station. We recommend taking advantage of the restaurants and convenience stores to eat dinner and purchase food and water for the train ride. Many of the menus at the restaurants in the train station aren’t in English, but have colorful photos of each item. A small cart selling a very limited selection of food and beverages passes through the train periodically.
Sitting upright on the train is difficult.
- The train’s narrow hallway is lined with small 2 person folding tables across from each cabin. There is enough room to sit upright only on the 2 bottom beds and at the small tables outside of the cabin. Luckily, members of our group had the bottom bunks and didn’t mind us sitting on their beds until lights out.
There is no privacy.
- There are no curtains, doors, or screens at the 6 person cabin entrances or along the beds. Discretely changing into comfortable clothes for the evening or into fresh clothes in the morning is difficult.
One squat toilet is available per train car.
- There is one enclosed squat toilet and an open counter with 2 sinks per train car. Near the end of our 16 hour trip, the number of people using one bathroom made it very undesirable. There is no shower. We recommend bringing wipes to help freshen up throughout the trip.
Luggage is stored in your cabin.
- There is limited room for luggage in each cabin underneath the bottom beds for 6 people. It took several attempt to fit all of our suitcases into the small space and some belongings spilled into the middle of our cabin floor. Being 5′ tall, I had the luxury of keeping my backpack at the end of my bed without sacrificing leg room.
Sheets, blankets, and a small pillow are provided for each bed.
- The beds, pillows, and bedding were clean. We also had our Therma-Rest Compressed Pillows, fold-able travel slippers, and lightweight travel blanket for increased comfort. The upper beds are reached by a ladder at the entrance of the cabin. It is difficult putting sheets on the upper bunks standing on the ladder since there isn’t enough room to be upright on the bed.
Lights out is at 10:00pm.
- An announcement is made at 10:00pm and the lights are turned off. There are shades for the windows in the cabin and along the hallway. We recommend bringing a sleep mask and ear plugs. There is nothing preventing early risers from opening the shades and flooding the train with light.
Your group may not be together.
- Our G-Adventures guide bought 12 train tickets at the same time, but our group was spread throughout different cabins and cars. Luckily we were able to trade amongst ourselves and keep most couples together. Our cabin consisted of 4 group members and 2 strangers. One group member roomed with 5 strangers. Although everyone kept to themselves in our cabin, it was a little uncomfortable rolling over in the morning and making eye contact with a stranger.
The Traveling Gingerbread note: The hard sleeper train allowed us to travel at a minimum cost. The 16 hours travel time was long and the train made frequent stops throughout the night. We would have preferred an opportunity to shower before bed after exploring Xi’an all day. We enjoyed sharing snacks and stories with our group members sitting side by side on the small beds. Possibly due to complete exhaustion, we were lulled to sleep by the sway of the train and slept great. The train was clean and relatively comfortable. It is a form of travel we are glad to have experienced, have many laughs about, and formed new friendships, but next time we’re booking a flight.