Shenzen to Xining Train Day 2 (33 hours!)

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!

We each got a pillow and a fluffy duvet (comforter), with clean looking covers on them.

Teeth brushed from a water bottle (can’t drink the tap water on the train), and then snuggle into your bunk, fully clothed. There wasn’t anywhere to change with four strangers in our bunk, and the bathroom floors are so wet you couldn’t really take off your shoes anyway! I suppose if you were really motivated to change you could do an awkward dance of stepping out of your shoe, changing your pant legs, and stepping back onto your shoe, while not touching the wet floor nor falling into the squatty potty … so we just decided to stay in our clothes!

Earplugs and eye mask on, and time to sleep for the night.

The gentle rocking of the train is actually really good to put you to sleep!

How did I sleep? Better than on an airplane! But still woke up a few times during the night. On the bottom bunk my head was right near the heater, and it was HOT, so I was a bit uncomfortable. But overall the whole night was so much better than I’d anticipated. Everyone seemed to sleep, no snoring guys or crying children, and it’s so nice they put the lights out so people don’t stay up talking in the corridors etc.

The lights came back on around 7AM and then everyone was up! Morning was really hectic, people doing their ablutions in the shared sink, and digging into more instant noodles (for breakfast!)

As I woke up, I peeked out the window, and it was clear we were no longer in southern China – there was snow! And the windowpane felt really cold.

Shenzen to Xining Snow

During the past 24 hours the landscape shifted from green palm trees in the south to bleak, brown hills with patches of snow and frozen rivers. And as the day went on, it just got bleaker and colder and icier.

There is so much construction in China. Everywhere there are huge new bridges and overpasses, giant apartment blocks half-built, cranes working on some building site, factories etc. The production here is amazing – stuff is happening! You’ll go through an area of nothingness, and then you’ll see a factory and a small little town built up around it, little concrete houses with gardens in the back (still filled with cabbages in January) and laundry hanging on the line (frozen?)

Just as Zak was waking up, we pulled into a station, and food vendors ran up to the side of our carriage. One guy had a steaming stainless steel cart full of hot corn on the cob (yum!) and the one next door had steamed buns (bao). Unfortunately we weren’t fast enough to get out and buy any – now that we know this happens, we’ll be more prepared for future stops around mealtimes. One thing we LOVE is dumplings and buns, so we are really looking forward to trying all the different variations around China.

Breakfast vendors on the train platform in China
Breakfast vendors on the platform

We had instant porridge oats for breakfast with instant coffee. Breakfast of champions!

So far in our journey, we haven’t eaten any local food besides instant noodles. But we’re only on day two. That’s definitely going to change in the future because food is one of our favourite parts of travel!

Lucky us, at the mid-morning stop everyone else in our cabin got off the train! So we had the remaining 6 hours to ourselves which was really nice – stretching out on the two lower bunks and just watching the world go by…

View from Shenzen to Xining train

Around 7pm, 30 minutes before our arrival into Xining, the train attendant stopped in our cabin to give us back our tickets, and let us know we needed to get off at the next stop. This is a really nice feature of the train service – since the attendant holds your ticket, you can’t lose it, and then you get an automatic reminder (or wakeup) 30 minutes before your stop so you don’t miss it!

Xining station is huge, concrete and very cold. It was -11C (12F). For this first arrival at a Chinese station, we didn’t want to be stressing about how to communicate with taxi drivers and where we were going, so we arranged the hotel driver to meet us at the train station. Best. Idea. Ever.

We disembarked the train tired, cramped, with lots of luggage, and slightly dirty, and as we exited the station there was a driver in a suit holding our names on a card. We were whisked away in a black BMW to the Softiel where we got a King Clubroom … ahhh… this is the way to travel!

View of Xining from our hotel room
View of Xining from our hotel room

After a hot shower and settling in, we met up with our friend Rachel, who is also at the hotel, ready to join us for the next leg of our trip. Things are about to get really adventurous…