I had to jump in and write about this topic, even though I'm a few days late. I'm so happy to have a VPN so that I can write again. I have missed my blogging!
Recently our family took a tour of northern China. We spent about 4 days in Beijing, touring the sites. Then we took a train to Xi An to see the Terra cotta soldiers and other sites there. We went with the family of my husband's college roommate. I also knew him as a teenager. In fact, I was the first girl he ever had a crush on. ;) He was quite surprised when my husband and I got together. I always said that he was our safety net. If we hadn't have met the way we did, he may have been the one to introduce us. :)
When we traveled to Xi An, we took a sleeper train. We also took one when we first went to Beijing. The whole concept of a sleeper train is somewhat foreign to Americans. I think we do have them, but they aren't quite like they are here in China. In China, you book your sleeper car according to price. The cheaper sleeper cars aren't quite as comfortable, and are called "hard sleepers". You can also book a seat instead, and just sit up to sleep. We opted for the more comfortable sleeper beds, which still aren't that comfortable by western standards. But the rocking back and forth of the train, combined with the chugging sounds does provide good "white noise" for a good night sleep.
One of the hardest things for westerners to accept about the chinese sleeper train is that chances are good that you will not have a car to yourself. In our situation, we were able to get a car with our four family members all sleeping together. But coming back, our daughter arrived from the States, and we had an odd number. One person had to sleep in another car. When we were traveling with our friend's family, we had a total of 11 people, and had to split up between 4 rooms. That meant that every room had at least one stranger in it. My husband and I shared a room with two men who were traveling on business. They were polite, but pretty much kept to themselves. I have to admit that it was odd for me to sleep across from a total stranger.
At one point I pulled out some cookies to eat. The man across from me had bought some ramen noodles to eat for his dinner. I was feeling a little sorry for him that he only had noodles to eat, so when he was out of the cabin, I laid a package of cookies on his pillow. When he came back in, he saw them and thought at first that he had the wrong cabin. I told him I had given them to him. He smiled and thanked me. That's about all we said to each other during the trip.
One thing that I really don't like about the chinese trains is the bathrooms. They have squat toilets in the floor, which we westerners don't have in America. Luckily they have a pole or handle located near by so that while the train rocks back and forth you can steady yourself in the squatting position. To flush the toilet, you are supposed to turn on a water spigot that is located on the floor. Basically the water runs over the floor, and down in to the toilet, and out the hole on to the railroad tracks. If you walk past the tracks, you can see toilet paper strewn along the ties. After you are finished, you can go in to a joint wash room that has several sinks. There is no soap available, but you can wash your hands with water, and even wash fruit, or wash out clothing in there.
One of the hardest things about getting on the sleeper train is the sheer number of people who are also waiting to board. We found that there is a special service that will, for a price, load your luggage for you ahead of the rest of the crowd. You are allowed to board at the same time, and avoid all of the thronging crowds of people. This was probably the best money we spent on our trip!
But I digress from my topic. Overall, I enjoyed the sound and rocking back and forth of the train while I slept on my first trip. On the last trip, our car seemed to "catch" a little every so often, and would jolt. This woke me up quite often. We also were in car number 1, and the engineer would honk his horn every few minutes. That kept us awake quite a bit. But the sleeper train is cheap, about 1/3 the price of airfare. It's not for the faint hearted though. But if you are tired enough, you can get a good night sleep.