Travelling in China is a challenge even if you are from there – unless you have a private driver or someone to do all the legwork for you. Factor in a major holiday when millions (that is plural) will be trying to get to, or away from cities at the same time and it is amazing the train, bus, and airline systems do not crash.
Booking trains is a test of patience, tickets are generally only available 30 days before your proposed departure date. Even if you manage to find tickets they are often not what you want. For instance, an overnight sleeper is so much more comfortable than a hard sleeper. If however, you end up having to book a hard sleeper because you were asleep in your comfy bed in your home country when everyone in China was madly booking the soft sleepers, do try to snag a lower berth. Keep in mind though that you might be fending off what may seem like rude strangers trying to take over your space if you are not actually occupying the bed. It is not uncommon for people in the middle or top berth to hang out on the bottom berth. So make friends, have a picnic, laugh with newfound friends. (If on a strictly overnight train then everyone will most likely go straight to sleep)
Back to booking when Chinese citizens have the advantage of a time zone ahead of yours. I know there are intrepid souls who want to go it alone – “he who thinks himself…is a great fool” – so I give this warning, be prepared to be infinitely patient when attempting to book in the month before a holiday! With that in mind, and having a fairly good understanding of how the rails system works, I chose to once more book through an agency. Let them deal with finding the seats and sleepers for my dates, or come up with alternatives for me to choose from. All I had to do was send my itinerary along with the type of train, and seats, I wanted. They sent back a quote, including their fees, payment options and extra information – I only had to send the money! I used China Highlights because I already knew they come through. Heck, they even pick up errors in dates – mine.
As for the third leg of my trip, Hanoi to Nanning; Nanning to Sanjiang, and beyond…..I am hoping with the holiday over I will not be “a great fool” by doing my own bookings. Besides, I have been down that track before.
First, I should make it clear that I do not think my blood pressure did go up. Of course I chose to not check it. As I grow older I am also far more mellow than when I was younger, raising children and juggling all the unnecessary stuff that made up my life. Slough off much of that and everything seems just that much easier. It might not be, but it feels like it. Then every once in a while I hit a roadblock. Or, in this case a derailment.
Not to worry, it was a figurative one. After spending far too much time working on an itinerary that will give me time to actually enjoy each place I visit, I booked my train passage for the first leg of my trip. I had every intention of booking this time with travelchinaguide.com a dollar (USD) cheaper than chinahighlights.com and far more information to glean ideas from. However, I found some challenges with their payment request. Little did I know that their competitor also requires a copy of the ‘payer’s passport’. In other words, although it is me paying, me going, but not my PayPal account I would have to ask the person whose account I am using to send along a photo of their passport.
I realize someone is under the impression this is for security measures. I just do not see it. Therefore, after checking out chinahighlights.com -I used them last year – and finding nothing to suggest any difficulties, I booked and paid through them. Except the app used seemed to only Book one trip at a time. Which then seemed to be booked – but not yet paid – and an email was sent with a booking number along with a request for money. I sent a message to cancel it.
Back on track using the website, four trains booked, paid for through PayPal using my debit/visa, no need for anyone to do it on my behalf. Except this time all I received was a PayPal receipt. No booking number, no confirmation, nothing. I started to panic. I thought my money was lost in the ether. Finally, about three hours later, I received a message (I had sent an email) that the money was received and my tickets would be ordered. Except….did I really want to leave Shanghai on May 20th? Oh my goodness! Am I glad some bright individual caught that.
So, happy with the agency I used, still unsure if they need a photo of my passport for proof of purchase – the cancelled app order asked for it , but the main order there was no mention. So long as I have four train tickets to pick up in Sep no problem.
Shanghai to Suzhou; Suzhou to Nanjing; Nanjing to Huangshan (this was a test – I told my daughter Hangzhou); Huangshan to Shanghai. All for 165.67 CAD