BULLET TRAIN TO XI'AN
I was only in China for a week and I chose Beijing over Shanghai as I like history and relics and Beijing seemed to have more sites I was interested in. Having said that I did not want my China experience to be just a Beijing experience and before I left for China I booked two days in Xi’an (pronounced Shian I found out). The attraction there was the Terracotta Warriors. They probably don’t need explaining, but they are an army of statues, two thousand year old, that were buried with the first Chinese Emperor. The figures are largely warriors but also depict chariots and horses.
Beijing West Train Station – Towers above the street below
It is just over 1200 kilometres from Beijing to Xi’an and I decided to catch the bullet train. Tickets do get booked out, so I went to the main railway station in Beijing called Beijing West Railway Station. It is possible to catch a train there, but I was on a different line and got off at the Military Museum station and they had shuttle buses the kilometre to the main station for a small fee (although I did walk it back) The main railway station is a massive structure, and the ticket station is on the second floor. They had ticket machines, but after you select the destination and date it advises you need to go to the ticket window. This is because they need to sight your passport (or Chinese ID) in order to buy a ticket. The young lady in front of me in the line was talking English on her phone, and I asked if she was from China, and turns out her dad was English. The reason I started talking to her was I was starting to think I might be a language gap with the cashier. I then asked the lady in line if she thinks the cashier will speak English. She said no but would stay and help me. I was lucky to meet this multi lingual person as I think it would have been a struggle to buy the ticket otherwise.
Inside Beijing West Train Station
There are trains every few hours and this website was a great resource and gave me the schedule and prices of the train I was after. If you know when you are returning, it is probably a good idea to book your return trip at the same time. A one way trip will set you back 515 Yuan for a second class ticket which is quite expensive. If I had to do it again, I would look at airfares as I heard it would have been cheaper (and obviously quicker). The train takes about five and a half hours and is very comfortable. The process of catching the train is very similar to catching an airplane. There is substantial security to get through, lots of people and it is best to turn up a little early.
Inside Beijing West Train Station
The station is well sign posted in English and Mandarin and it was quite easy to find the platform I needed to go to. Each platform has its own waiting area with shops for gifts or snacks and drinks. I went to fill up my water bottle with the free drinking water that was available, only to discover the water was boiling. People were using it to add to their noodles I saw later.
Platform at Beijing West Train Station
Once the train is ready to board, an announcement is made and also advertised on the light boards and there is a mad rush for the turnstiles. The line-up takes a while to reach the front, but then I followed the crowd down the stairs to the train. The bullet train is very sleek looking and I snapped a few shots of it before boarding. The tickets have the carriage and seat number on it, so all I had to do was walk up the platform until I found which carriage I needed to board. The seats are akin to business class in a plane. Lots of leg room and lots of padding, very comfortable. I went second class and it was very luxurious. I wouldn’t bother booking a first class ticket as seemed like a waste of money and not much different.
There are lots of stewardesses on board to help you out if you get stuck, or need some information. Once we are on our way it does not take too long before we are on the outskirts of the capital and heading towards Xi’an. I found it interesting to look out the window at the country side. Mostly rural views with a great deal of new construction going on. As an example, every now and again we would go through a town and there would be half a dozen apartments being built, all the same colour and style and then a soon after we would pass ‘the old township’ of apartments. I wonder to myself how residents find their place with so many identical places.
There was lots of construction going on as I zoomed to my destination
The train has a snacks counter and also has a lady coming around with a cart selling food for the travellers. Chips, soft drink, beer and noodles were what I saw but no doubt had other items as well. They are all reasonably priced. As an example a can of beer was 10 Yuan which was less than $2 Australian.
The train went about 150 km/h whilst close to the city and then out in the countryside it got to speeds around 300 km/h, sometimes a bit faster sometimes a bit slower but hovered around that mark. There is a large LED display with the speed on it in every carriage. There is also a couple of TV at the end of the carriage, but played ads most of the time.
Flying along at 303 km/h
The mostly Chinese passengers seemed to enjoy their journey. Some sleep, others played cards but most just were fixated on their phones or tablets. It was all a bit run of the mill for them and rightly so, it was just a train. Once the initial excitement wears off, there is no real indication that you are hurtling down the tracks at a high speed.
When we arrived in Xi’an, it was another large station and the usual touts to meet the train and offer hotels and taxi rides. I had decided during the journey that since I was returning in two days I had better get a ticket, so the first thing I did when I arrived was get a return ticket. Walking out the turnstiles, I ventured right and then up some escalators to find myself outside, then the ticket offices are to the left. This time I was more prepared and had taken photos of the train schedule I was after and the time and date and was able to show these to the ticket seller. Return ticket in hand, I then went to catch the subway which was easy to find, however I did not know the best station to alight from. I had a map of the place I was staying and with a bit of help from other passengers in line, I was able to get a ticket into town. As it turns out, it was the wrong station, I should have stayed on the train for two more stops, but I was close enough to be able to walk.
All in the entire journey from Beijing to Xi’an was fine. It was a great experience to travel on the bullet train and with a bit of organisation; the trip can be relatively hassle free. I literally could not speak one word of Mandarin and was able to get there safely in one piece without getting (too) lost.