We are on the last month of our 60 day tourist visa, and we’ll be spending it in Chengdu, China. Chengdu is in Sichuan province, which should sound a little familiar; it is China’s spicy food capital! I’m not usually a fan of spicy food, but with our trip to Thailand coming up, I figure this is a great place to practice up.
There is a high speed train that goes through Xingping on the way to Guilin, but we chose to go with the slightly cheaper and more convenient option of catching a train from Guilin, instead. Tickets can be purchased online if you are willing to pay a $10 service fee or for a smaller fee if you book it on a Chinese site and use WeChat or AliPay. Since we aren’t using either of those services, and I hate service fees, we opted to purchase tickets in person at a kiosk in Yangshuo.
Turns out you still get charged a ¥10 fee for this service, as well! If you buy from the actual train station, it’s free, but that would have involved traveling to Guilin. So I guess ¥10 isn’t that bad. Our two tickets on hard seats cost ¥778 ($125). This is a little more expensive than I have seen them in the past, but this is peak travel time due to the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year).
From the hotel, we hailed two motorcycle taxis for ¥15 each. It took only 10 minutes to get to the bus station, which was really just a corner gas station with buses parked next to it. From there, a woman beckoned us onto a bus to Guilin for ¥30 each. The bus was clean, comfortable, and even had a horrible Chinese movie playing.
After almost exactly 90 minutes, we hopped off near Wada Hostel. We had a little extra time, so we took a walk to do some grocery shopping and have breakfast. We splurged a little on breakfast and enjoyed a coffee tea (still not sure what this is) and biscuit from a Hong Kong cafe. Both were delightful. At the grocery store, we purchased lunch and some snacks for the train. The train does have a food car, but it is usually expensive and rarely includes an English menu.
Last time we rode the train, we arrived two hours early and were bored out of our minds. This time, we arrived 30 minutes early and nearly missed our train. Thankfully the lines were moving quickly and we had some very helpful attendants to help us along the way. When we aren’t in a hurry, the train station is easy to navigate and has English signs throughout.
Most Chinese trains are organized into “hard” seats, and “soft” seats. The hard seats, which we had booked, are similar to airplane seats with a fold out table. Sometimes, the seats are literally hard, wooden benches, but this time they were padded and comfortable. The soft seats are slightly more comfortable chairs, arranged in groups of four around a large table. These are great if you have a group of four. Otherwise, I suggest the hard seats, as they’re cheaper and basically the same.
The ride was seven hours long and arrived 10 minutes earlier than expected. There were several bathrooms for each car, with at least one Western toilet per set. I strongly suggest using the squatter on trains. It requires less touching of anything and less leg strength than hovering over the always-wet Western seat. The bathrooms included toilet paper, sink, and soap. As per usual in China, there were no towels.
The train also includes a hot and cold water dispenser. We used the dispenser to fill our noodle bowls (the blue one with shrimp on the front is my personal favorite) and an attendant came to collect our garbage later. Our seat mate ate some smoked pigeon for lunch. She ate it out of the bag it came in and spit the bones into the provided barf bag. Her garbage was also collected and she was given a replacement barf bag.
The train stopped multiple times along the way, with each stop lasting 5-15 minutes. If you do get off for some air, watch the smokers; they seem to know the drill. Thankfully, our stop was the last one, so there was no confusion as to where we were getting off. When the train emptied, we got out too.
We got off at the Chengdu Dong (East) Station and caught a metro to our hotel. It was a long, but easy and comfortable trip. So far, Chengdu has a very different vibe from most other Chinese cities we’ve been to. We can’t wait to get set up at our first house sit and spend the month exploring our new temporary home!