When I originally decided that I was going to take a train from Beijing to Shanghai, I figured I’d take the night train, since it’s inexpensive and saves time by transporting you while you sleep. I’d done this to save time and money on several European overnight journeys in the past. But I realized that on this China trip, I wasn’t really in a rush. And I’m a big fan of train travel — I enjoy the experience of staring aimlessly out the window for hours, reading a book or catching up on journal writing.
Since this was my very first train trip in China, and I had the time to spare, I decided to investigate day train options. Seat 61 alerted me to news of the brand new express electric train that began daily runs between the two cities in April 2007. I decided that the D31 bullet train would be the way I’d go.
Budget backpackers on a tight schedule and no extra RMB might skip this pricier option, but since I’d only spent $30 on my four nights in the hutong hostel, I decided that the “splurge” for this train ride was worth it. At 327 RMB for a second class ticket, the D31 ten-hour trip would set me back a whopping $43 bucks. I pay more than twice that for a lousy 4-hour Amtrak from NYC to DC!
But before I get too excited, let me rewind to the ticket purchase process:
Although I didn’t have to persevere as long as Ember and her pals did when purchasing the ticket, it was a confusing process that could potentially cause major headaches, especially if you’re planning to buy on your own. I had heard about rules regarding when you can buy (usually only five days in advance if not purchasing through a travel agency) and so I waited till mid-week, and then feared I had let too much time pass. Thank goodness for my wonderful Mandarin-fluent Couchsurfing host, who sent me off to the main train station with my ticket purchase request written out in Chinese characters.
(Model of Beijing Zhan from the Urban Planning Exhibition – just imagine loads of folks queued up out front!)
A few days later I made my way back to the station. I was pleasantly surprised to find this comfy setup when I arrived ridiculously early for my 10:50 departure:
By about 10 am the waiting room was packed and I soon befriended Bobby, a 12-year-old from Beijing who spoke excellent English. He was traveling with his cousin and grandparents, and it was cute how his grandfather motioned for Bobby to come sit next to me, and then began video-recording us as we chatted.
“The train to Shanghai takes eight minutes,” Bobby explained.
“Wow! That is really fast!” I smiled at him, hinting with a wink, so that he would realize his mistake.
He giggled. “Oh!! I mean eight hours! But it used to take 15. Now they have faster trains.”
I still didn’t have a window seat, but I was happy with an “upgrade” to the now vacant aisle seat. I got up every hour or so and would walk to the end of the car, where I could stretch my legs and do my window staring. The landscape consisted mostly of cornfields and construction: