The Joys of Chinese Railways…

Yesterday (23rd) we had a nice lie-in, packed and tried to find some DVD’s to watch on the train. We had lunch in a similar noodle restaurant and then went into central Dalian to try to find the train station. We got a little lost on the bus, but eventually managed to get to the train station, and after waiting in the waiting-room for about two hours, got the 16:07 to Tonghua, which arrived at 6am this morning. Trains in China are rather different to trains in England, not so much in terms of what they are, but rather in their function. England has quite a small railway network by Chinese standards, but almost every town or village has a railway station. In China, to have a railway station a city needs to have several million people or be quite large and on a direct line between two big cities. The trains in China seem to function more like short-hall flights in England, with buses and taxis doing the rest of the transportation. The overnight train that we were on was quite good, we had managed to get hard sleepers somehow, but they were better than the other hard-sleeper carriage on the train, perhaps because we were going the full distance rather than a partial distance. Even on trains which go over the day, you can still get beds because it is much more relaxing than having seats. Six hours on a Chinese train in a bed doesn’t really feel like any time at all compared to six hours on an English train.

This train journey from Dalian to Tonghua was quite fun because we were able to talk to several people, a few Chinese and a few Koreans (heading back to North Korea?). There was no air conditioning, which is probably why the ticket price was so low, but the train didn’t get too hot because we kept the windows open (which helped to get rid of the smoke from cigarettes) and there were also fans which were rather noisy and klunked quite a lot, but I managed to sleep very well. The only problem with hard-sleepers is that they wake you up a while before you arrive at the station and try to take all of your bedding etc. away so it can be washed. This morning, the lights came on at 4:30am and all the bed-clothes were stripped off by 5:30. We arrived at Tonghua at 6am, rather tired but managed to get 5 tickets to go on the next stage of our journey, travelling to Baihe.

I’m writing this on the train, and it’s now about 10am. The train left at 8:15 and we should arrive about 2:30pm. The tickets were an incredible 21 Yuan (£1.40) each; I’m not sure you could even get a 10 minute train journey for that, and we are going for over 6 hours! It seems from what I saw at the station that Baihe is a growing city, whereas the several-yearold internet site with the railway timetable on has no direct trains from Baihe to Beijing or Shenyang (a big city in the north-east of China), there are now trains which you can get on from Baihe which let you go straight to these places. When I tried to buy tickets from Tonghua to Beijing, I wasn’t able to get a sleeper, even 4 days in advance, so I hope that when we arrive in Baihe there will still be some tickets free, or we can get them through a travel agent. If this doesn’t happen I will just have to wait outside the station a while before the train departs because there are always people looking to sell tickets for a small mark-up. If I still can’t get a hard sleeper, I should be able to get at least a seat, but on a 15-20 hour train journey that isn’t the safest or most ideal option, particularly if I’m travelling alone as the other four will be going to Xi’an via Shenyang.

Tonight we’ll be heading to a national park (the largest one in China) which borders North Korea, so I’m not sure when I’ll next be able to get on the internet to update my blog with pictures of the journey and the park.

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