Riding (73 hours) trains in China

Luckily it was not 73 hours in one go (otherwise I cannot imagine how horrible the long-trains syndrome would affect us). 73 hours in 4 trains, and still, they’re considered long-journey trains (21 + 22 + 16 + 14 hours). It was rather a good decision to switch trains in Lanzhou, although it’s not our place to even stay for a day, otherwise the only available direct Chengdu – Urumqi is 47 hours train.

Unlike Indian trains, we cannot book China train online. At least not by ourselves. Had to seek help from our CouchSurfing friend Derek (who earlier visited us in KL, and also hosted us in Chengdu) to book for us since the online booking is only available in Chinese. Still, we had to collect the actual ticket (in picture hold by Az) in the train station, therefore it’s still so much hassle, especially in the stations full of long queues, there’s no sign in English and if we’re lucky, there will be (only) one person who can speak English among the train officers.

We choose hard-sleeper class for our trains, and when after boarding, an officer would come to collect the tickets, give us cards with our berth number (and random pictures) to keep all the way during the journey. Right before we get off, the officer would turn up again to collect back the cards in exchange of our train tickets. We still dont know why this system is practiced.

Hard-sleeper coach has 3 bunk beds like this so 6 persons share a common area. Most of time we got one top bed and one bottom bed. It’s good as we can still sit together at the bottom bed during the day, and either of us would climb up to top bed for sleeping at night.

People who has middle bed usually sits at the bench in the aisle, or sometimes people in bottom bunk invite them to sit at their place for a while. Within a few hours, everyone seems to be comfortable to each other and talk and eat together. Although they can’t speak English, it’s so cool that they’re still speaking to us in Chinese and most of time we’ll reply with sign languages.

They usually bring several instant noodles (in big paper bowl!) as their breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the journey. As for us, we did pack some Tesco ready-to-eat food and sardines, Maggi mee, 3-in-1 Nescafe and Milo for our only means of food in the train.

There’s a restaurant if you like, but we werent sure if food is Halal and we could only buy plain rice from there to eat with our food. By the 3rd day of train, we managed to finish most of the food and turn our heavy luggage much lighter :)

The views from Chengdu to Lanzhou. Traveling by train spanning thousands kilometers does amaze us of how huge is the land of China!

Sometimes train would stop at a station where there will be 5-10 minutes break, so we had a chance to quickly jump out and get some fresh air while stretching our muscles.

And maybe, buy some breads and biscuits from the platform stalls before continuing the journey for another ten hours. Although, the breads aren’t really good.

Left picture: The full view of 3 bunk beds in hard-sleeper coach. Right: View from top bunk, showing the aisle in the train. There’s a space up there to put your luggage.

Now, this is our only soft-sleeper train! We had to buy the tickets during last minute when our expected Kuqa-Turpan train was cancelled due to sand storm, and the next Kuqa-Urumqi train only had soft-sleeper tickets available. I will put long and complete story later in the travelogue. Although very expensive, we had to admit that it was really neat, clean and comfortable, in a private lockable cabin. Well, it depends with whom you’re sharing the cabin with :) We were lucky  to have the whole cabin for ourselves for a few hours before old couple who sit in the bottom beds boarded in.

And this train (Kuqa-Urumqi) is double decker! :D I guess we wouldnt have taken this train if it was not because of the earlier train canceled (that we got really cranky about!). I cannot say the soft-sleeper and double decker train can pay off the time wasted in dusty Kuqa and missing the chance to visit Turpan, but at least, I guess by this time we’re already cooled-off :)

And this is our last train Xian to Chengdu, in the end of the whole trip before flying home. Note that were left off with our Crocs for the whole second week of trip when I made a biggest mistake for leaving our shoes in sleeper bus in Kuqa =.= And Az started blaming me all the way until we return home. Okaylah I know it’s my mistake, but now I already replaced your shoes, and let’s not talk about the forgotten shoes ever again, okay?

Traveling 9496km in China

I was wondering how far is the accumulated distance we have covered in our China trip recently. I can simply guess thousands kilometers, although didnt bother to sum up all the trains, flights and bus distance. Until just now.

Ignore the timing calculation by Google, which is only true if you drive all the way non-stop. What matters is we have traveled for 9496 km, only a quarter side of China. Amazing. For breakdown: 4363km was by train, 718km by (long-distance) bus and the rest by plane.

Take this as a fresh intro of our big adventure. More stories to come.

The routes (less traveled ;))

Draft itinerary: China Silk Road

day 0 – arrive Chengdu at night
day 1 – Chengdu full day, take sleeper train to Lanzhou
day 2 – arrive Lanzhou, change train to Turpan
day 3 – arrive Turpan. 1.5 days in Turpan
day 4 – take evening train to Kuqa
day 5 – Kuqa full day, take midnight train to Kashgar
day 6 – Arrive Kashgar, visit old town
day 7 – Kashgar Id Kah mosque and around
day 8 – Kashgar – Yarkand – Karghilik
day 9 – Kashgar Sunday market and Animal market
day 10 – Go to Karakul Lake, overnight in Kyrgyz yurt
day 11 – Proceed to Tashkurgan, overnight there.
day 12 – Take bus back to Kashgar.
day 13 – Fly to Urumqi, visit museum, bazar
day 14 – Day trip to Nanshan pasture
day 15 – Go to Tianchi lake, maybe stay at Kazakh yurt there
day 16 – Back to Urumqi
day 17 – Fly back to Chengdu (flight back to Kuala Lumpur at midnight).

That was our itinerary after 100th time of revising :) Funny to announce that I initially purchased AirAsia ticket for Chengdu aiming to visit Xian, but after like 38th time revising, apparently Xian is nowhere to be seen in the itinerary now. Az wanted to put Lhasa, but it would be different path than Xinjiang. I wanted to put Kanas Lake and it’s like in the other edge of China when we’re heading to Kashgar. I once managed to put in Xining, Linxia and Xiahe and I realized I’m actually good at finding out new small places to stop by, and if it’s not because Az stopped me  I would have tried to cram all China in 17 days itinerary. Oh well. Finally we both agreed to stick to Silk road path for this trip. And it was before I added Kuqa in the trip.

While I’m doubting if I can get ready by 13 April with workloads killing me and I’m on my own new big project to finish before April, and at-work exam on 10 May afterward when we come back (how am I supposed to bring the thoughts and worries for exam all the way to China?? I know we’ll be spending time in a 24-hour train and are likely to die bored but the time is NOT meant for studying the exam notes! Ugh).