Monday, August 15, 2011
Xian to Guilin, China: Train Trip in a Hardseat (Video)
I've never traveled like this before. I'm used to air travel and occasionally a long car ride. But, on this journey around Asia it's all about train travel -- it's cheap, convenient, and you can travel overnight.
I've tried out every class on the trains. I've been a VIP in my own private cabin. I've tried the soft sleeper, hard sleeper, bottom, middle, and top bunks. I sleep well on the train, as the rocking lulls me to sleep. I awake to a new city and a new adventure -- it's great!
But, what happens when all the sleeper cars are sold out? You end up in a hard seat. That's how we traveled from Xian to Guilin, the longest train journey of my life. I was nervous about this journey. It turned out better than I expected, which is not to say it was great. It was an experience and as travelers share stories, this is our badge of honor. We survived 28 hours on a train!
We survived the noise. Chinese people are talkative, vivacious, and very loud. I kept asking myself: Why is everyone yelling? The noise was never ending. We survived the lack of personal space. This isn't an issue for the Chinese. They don't have that luxury in such a crowded country. So, seated five across, knees touching, shoulder to shoulder we made our trip. Some people had "standing room only" tickets. They sat in the aisles, slept across the bathroom sinks, under chairs and clogged up the passage ways between train cars. Just walking to the bathroom was like participating in an obstacle course. We survived the stares. As far as we could tell, we were the only Westerners on board. Furtive glances are not the name of the game. Some people flat out stared for what seemed like an eternity. If I walked through one train car full of students, I was busy waving both hands as I was greeted with shouts of "hellos" and giggles. We survived the bathrooms. There is no toilet seat. You squat and hope you don't fall over as the train sways. Hold your nose, ignore what you're stepping in and don't forget to bring your own toilet paper. Few bathrooms plus many people = stink. We survived the lack of sleep, boredom, achy backs and behinds and the swollen ankles.
It was no picnic, but it was worth it! Our final destination was the Dragon's Backbone Rice Terraces. The views were simply breathtaking and it was my favorite location in China.