In July I tried an alternative mode of transport into China and booked return tickets on the overnight sleeper train from Shenzhen to Guilin. Tickets can be booked in advance from a small office in Hung Hom Station, TST, Hong Kong. They will charge an extra HK$100 commission for their service and be prepared to pay cash. Even though they have a computer the ticketing system, once they’ve finished their noodles, involves hand writing receipts and keeping cash in a drawer under the desk. There is a choice of hard seat, bottom hard sleeper and bottom soft sleeper and the price varies according to the comfort you desire. I went for the soft sleeper which is approximately HK$500 one-way. The journey takes around 13 hours and the train leaves at 17.50 from Shenzhen each day.
As I had a China visa already I took the KCR to Lo Wu, passed through immigration into Shenzhen and walked to the Railway Station following signs for ‘long distance trains’.
The waiting area bustled with travellers and once the call went out to board the train we were all duly and efficiently in our designated carriage to leave on time. The soft sleeper is the first class area of the train and is a four-berth compartment with clean sheets, a pillow and a duvet. There was a chaotic buffet car which I declined to make use of.
I was pleasantly surprised as the train pulled smoothly out of the station and after a picnic and a drop of wine, which I had cunningly prepared earlier, I simply made myself comfortable, stretching out on the soft (ish) sleeper, read my book, chatted to the nice polite Dutch couple in the same compartment, before sleeping for most of the night. Certainly better than sitting up in economy class all night. No one came to ask me if I wanted the chicken or the fish, no one made me put my seat belt on and I wasn’t squashed against another human wrestling for elbow space. The toilets were better than anticipated and were even functioning and clean the next morning as we trundled into Guilin Station.
Once off the train we found a local mini bus a short walk out of station and headed for the small town of Yangshuo which is 90 minutes away from Guilin. The gorgeous limestone karst pinnacles are located right in the town of Yangshuo and surround it. The countryside is stunning and away from the main road is quiet and peaceful. It is possible to book a variety of tours from a variety of travel agents around the town and it’s also easy to hire a bicycle and explore without any prior, and more expensive arrangement. There are also options of rock climbing and kayaking for the more adventurous
As it was very hot, early morning starts seemed to be the best bet to beat the crowds We hired a couple of bikes and took them on a bamboo raft down the Li Jiang to the small village of Fuli, then to the village of Liu Gong Gu Pu where we left the raft and began a flat, easy ride back to the main town, keeping by the river, but not before sampling the freshly ground coffee at a small café offered to us by a charming waitress and her children. We just couldn’t refuse.
The town of Yangshuo has a plethora of small craft shops selling any amount of trinkets and slightly quirky items to adorn yourself and your home. There are tons of places to eat and as well as traditional Chinese food there is also a few places offering food from Italy and the USA, I’ll leave it you to guess the menu.
The return train left Guilin Railway Station at 21.40 so we ate a hearty meal before boarding and once back in Shenzhen at 10.30am we were ready for breakfast. Not as luxurious or as expensive as flying first class but the benefits are equal. All in all it was a refreshing and invigorating trip made easier by being able to sleep while travelling. Recommended.
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