Shenzen to Xining Train Day 2 (33 hours!)

View from Shenzen to Xining train

This post is the second part of the Shenzen to Xining 33 hour train journey. You can read Part 1 here.

Last night we had instant noodles for dinner and a single-serving bottle of wine. We played gin rummy on our laps until it was almost lights out.  At 10pm the train attendants went through the car telling everyone in the corridor to get into their bunks, and shortly afterwards turned out the lights on the train.

Happy Hour in Hard Sleeper
Happy Hour in Hard Sleeper Class

I slept on the bottom bunk, which had been used all day as a communal bench. Zak was on the top bunk, so close to the ceiling that he couldn’t sit up!

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Day 1: Shenzen to Xining


The big journey from Hong Kong to London began this morning. The first leg of the trip is one of the longest: a 33 hour train journey from Shenzhen (just across the border from Hong Kong) to Xining. And we have been expecting this journey to be the worst of the entire trip, because there were only “hard sleeper” class berths available.

Long-Distance Chinese trains have a few classes of tickets:

  • Deluxe soft sleeper – 2 person private cabin with locking door and private bathroom – only available on limited trains from major cities
  • Soft sleeper – 4 person cabin with locking door and shared bathroom
  • Hard sleeper – 6 person bunk room, no door, shared toilet at end of carriage – apparently this is best value for money and what most middle class Chinese take if they can afford it
  • Soft seat – a comfy seat, doesn’t lay flat
  • Hard seat – like it sounds … not comfortable.
  • Standing – never ever ever get this ticket – apparently people with standing tickets jostle to climb onto luggage racks or sit in the aisles!

Our plan was to take Soft Sleeper for the overnight journeys, and Soft Seats for the shorter daytime trips.

Unfortunately on this first train, only Hard Sleeper was available. The only other option that would work for our time schedule was flying from Hong Kong to Xining – and we weren’t going to do that! So Hard Sleeper it is.

Anyway, we’ve been saying that this would be the absolute worst journey, and it would only get better from here. I was imagining a carriage of 15+ bunk rooms, each with 6 berths, filled with smelly food, noisy people, crying kids, spitting, and not getting a lot of sleep.

We were in for a surprise.

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Leaving Hong Kong

Lanterns in Man Mo Temple Hong Kong

It’s finally here. Moving day.

We haven’t slept well all week. As you probably know when moving house, no matter how much you do in advance, there are always a million last-minute tasks that need your attention. Zillions of errands and appointments and things to buy and people to say goodbye to.  So that’s normal house moving. On top of that we had “leaving the country” tasks, and then we had “plan the biggest trip we’ve ever taken” tasks too.

I guess you can imagine we’ve been busy. And a bit stressed.

24 hours ago, the to-do list felt never-ending. Now, it’s pretty much done.

The movers arrived this morning. 2 hours (and 33 boxes!) later, they left with all of our belongings save one small rolling suitcase each and a daypack. That’s it. For 10 weeks. So like it or not, we’re ready, and this trip is happening.

After the movers left, we did make a special effort to close out our time in Hong Kong. We made an offering at Man Mo Temple.

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The Space Between Stories

It’s December 29, 2017. Just over two weeks until we leave on our Hong Kong to London trip.

I feel like I’ve thrown a dozen balls into the air, and now I’m just waiting for them to come back down, hoping I’ll catch (most of) them.

Earlier this year I read a book by Lisa Rankin where she talks about being in “the space between stories” in your life. That phase between phases. When you’re not quite fitting in one or the other. That captures exactly how I feel right now. We’re leaving Hong Kong and the life we’ve made here … heading back to our old life in London, but it’s sure to be different, about to set out on an epic ten week trip … and right now is the pause before it all starts. In limbo.

The space between stories. And I’ve got all the feelings.

Too often we only hear the good things about travel. “Oh that sounds like an amazing trip! You’re so lucky!” — but the reality is always more complex. It’s not just a trip (which will not be all sunshine + roses all the time, for sure.) but we’re also relocating between continents. It’s a massive life upheaval. It’s required a ridiculous amount of planning. And stirred up all the feelings…

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Why Are We Taking This Trip Anyway?

We were supposed to leave in April.

Two warm, sunny, gentle months of travel across China, riding horses on the blossoming Mongolian steppe, and finally the Trans-Siberian train, where we’d watch Siberia bloom into life, and frolic along the shores of Lake Baikal before enjoying early summer in Europe. (Not that we’d idealised the trip, mind you…)

But then … Zak’s leaving date was moved up to January.

Siberia in winter? Are we crazy?

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Podcast: The Boat to Bagan

In October 2017, we went to Myanmar (the country formerly known as Burma).  This podcast is an experiment. It’s our attempt to bring you along on our journey as we take the slow boat from Mandalay to Bagan, and then explore some of the 2000+ temples in the area. It’s an audio documentary, like you might hear on NPR or BBC (although produced by us, so go easy on us!) – so you’ll want to get a cup of tea and settle in to join us on this 30 minute adventure.

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