The rail network is the most important means of transportation in China and serves most of the cities. Visitors can explore much of China by train and many find it an efficient and inexpensive means of travel. The cost is around 25% less than comparable air services. There is now a total of 57,900 kilometer of railway track in China. This makes Chinese rail rank first in Asia. The railway goes criss-cross through the entire country. Beijing is the center of the north-south lines while the west-east line center is at Zhengzhou.
Apart from domestic rail lines, trains now can also run to Moscow of Russia, Pyongyang of North Korea and Hanoi of Vietnam.
Chinese trains differ from those in other countries as the seating is not separated into first and second class areas. In China, the accommodation on the trains is divided into 4 categories, namely, soft-sleeper, soft-seat, hard-sleeper and hard-seat.
These are the less expensive seats. These seats tend to be crowded and are not always very clean.
These seats cost rather more but are very comfortable, with plenty of leg room. The carriages are less crowded than the hard-seat carriages.
The hard-sleeper carriage is made up of door-less compartments. Each one contains 6 beds in 3 tiers. Sheets, pillows and blankets are provided and it somewhat resembles a budget hotel. Comparing with the soft-sleeper, hard-sleeper is less comfortable and accordingly, the price is lower than that of the soft-sleeper. Competition for hard-sleepers has become keen in recent years, so if you get one, you are very lucky.
The soft-sleeper carriages are divided into separate compartments and each compartment has 2 lower and 2 upper berths. Sheets and blankets are provided and are generally of good standard. Western style washrooms and toilets are located at both ends of the compartment. Soft sleeper costs twice as much as hard sleeper and almost the same price as flying. Therefore, soft sleeper tickets are more easily available.
Reservations should be made in advance, especially during the holidays and travel season. Tickets may be purchased directly from rail stations or booked a few days in advance from your travel agencies, hotels, or ticket office.
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