Hard Sleepers/卧铺


In another post, I talked about the different kinds of trains, and also touched upon five different types of slow train tickets: soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat (sometimes), hard seat, and no seat. I’ll write about hard seat/no seat soon enough, but for now, let’s dive into the wonderful world of hard sleeper tickets!

First off, when is it a good idea to get a hard sleeper?

Well, I personally think hard sleeper tickets are the most cost-effective way to do overnight trains. True, you can save a lot of money by getting a hard seat (and if money is a big issue for you, then you might not have a choice), but the major downside to a hard seat is that you probably won’t sleep. (Unless you have buns of steel). For some, it’s a worthwile trade-off to save that much more rmb. However, as I’ve come to appreciate more and more, sleep is a GREAT thing! Get a hard sleeper if you have a long ways to go, and enjoy your night’s rest. (Tip: bring earplugs and a face mask, in case your bunkmates are there to play poker all night…that, or join them!)

So, okay, you’ve chosen a hard sleeper. Which bunk should you get?

I’ve slept in all three beds (top, middle, bottom), and there are advantages and disadvantages to each one.

Bottom bunk: This one is indisputably the best. The ticket is slightly more expensive than the others because of this, but for good reason. As a bottom bunk, you don’t constantly have to climb in and out of bed, AND your bed doubles as a seat with its own side table for when you want to enjoy the scenery. The only disadvantage: others may crowd your bed to use it as a seat, too. But most respect you if you want to lay down. You just have to speak up!

Middle bunk: This is my personal LEAST favorite, if only because it’s the most awkward for me to climb into. Others may have no problem whatsoever getting in, but not me. I have to weirdly swing over from the side ladder and unceremoniously plop into my bed while shimmying in the rest of the way. Some (*coughmostcough*) are more flexible than me and don’t mind. Alas, this one feels awkward to me. Though, two major perks: you can look out the window from your bed (because it’s not too high) and you can still reach the side table by the bottom bunk to leave your water bottle at night.

Top bunk: This one’s the cheapest, and most people don’t like it. I like it more than the middle bunk, if only because it’s easier for me to climb into. I just have to go all the way up the ladder and then fall onto the bed. True, there are some major disadvantages: you have no side table access, you can’t see out of the window, and if you’re tall like me, you also can’t sit up without hitting your head. Major perk: you can easily access your luggage from the top rack, which for a fatty like me who likes to snack, this is a great thing.

Once you get a hard sleeper ticket, the rest is pretty straightforward. The conductors take your ticket and give you a plastic card in exchange so that they can keep track of when you need to get off. There are side tables by the windows across the aisle and enough walking space if you need to stretch your legs.

Sure, planes are faster ways of travel, but sometimes, it’s nice to take the longer route, and this is a good way to do it.












Qinghai Lake/青海湖


One of the most well-known places to explore in Qinghai would undoubtedly be Qinghai Lake. It’s also one of the most congested places, depending on what time of year you go. If you go in July-August, when college students are on summer vacation, the road along the lake will be very crowded with cyclists, all vying for the same “off the beaten track” adventure…in a giant crowd of people doing the same thing. Any other time of year will be less crowded.

Should you avoid biking it altogether because of this? No! It’s a circuit that will take you around the famed salt lake in 3-4 days (depending on your speed) and will show you scenery ranging from snow-capped mountains, to herds of farm animals grazing, to nomadic Tibetans in the fields. You’ll see temples, prayer flags, and of course, the lake!

I will admit that Qinghai Lake has definitely been touched by the hand of Chinese tourism, meaning that many of the prettiest spots have been given poetic names and have entrance fees. Local Tibetans in this area are also well-tuned to the tourist part of this lake, charging people to take pictures of their sprawling fields of rapeseed flowers. There will be random spots where you can ride horses, yaks, and in the small portion with sand dunes, even sled down sand. If this sounds like too much for you, Qinghai has other areas to enjoy, but if you’re like me, you can enjoy this scenery while avoiding the slap of tourist attractions for the most part.

If you want to bike around Qinghai Lake, most start at a small town called 西海镇 (xi hai zhen) and take 3-4 days. There are also buses that go along one half of the lake, to 黑马河 (hei ma he) which is generally seen as “the sunrise spot.”

Or, you could take a gamble like me, and hitchhike. I made my way around the entire lake in 2 days purely by hitchhiking, and even lucked my way into a kind Tibetan family on my way back who took me for a spin in a roadside temple. All things considered, Qinghai Lake might not be the natural getaway you’d hope for, but it’s certainly beautiful nonetheless.


这么多人说明你要放弃把青海湖绕一圈吗?并不是!这一条路会化3、4 天时间把这个有名的盐湖绕一圈(但是也要看你的速度)。你会经过雪山,大群野物,还有藏族农民。你也会看到经幡,寺庙,等等。




Travel Tip #2: Toilet Paper/卫生纸


Now, some of you may already know this, but many of you don’t: most Chinese bathrooms DO NOT have toilet paper in them. Yes, Chinese people still use toilet paper (obviously), it’s just that everyone is expected to bring their own. I’ve speculated about this, and have a couple theories: 1) China is trying to reduce toilet paper waste, 2) With such a large population, it’s easier to make people bring their own rather than constantly have workers stock it, and 3) China hates me (just kidding).

Anyway, the point is that you need to bring your own! You have a couple of options. The most common is buying small packets at really any convenience store in the area (for usually 1 RMB per packet). Some travelers opt for buying them in bulk from a grocery store and using them throughout the trip, which really only works if you’re going to be stationed in the same place for an extended amount of time…otherwise, you’re stuck carting it around. Others pack a small roll of toilet paper before even coming to China (which I recommend if you’re coming from overseas and don’t want one of your first Chinese adventures being “let’s buy toilet paper before I pee my pants”).

But what if you don’t want to constantly buy toilet paper? Well, you have options, good ones being: McDonalds and KFC. Yes, Chinese cities have many of these chain stores, and these friendly reminders of consumerism can be your saving grace. Their bathrooms are almost always reliably stocked with toilet paper (and you don’t have to buy anything to use their bathrooms). Don’t like this choice? Another option is to always ask for extra napkins when you buy/order food. Better yet, pad your pockets with it if you’re staying in a hotel. (Hostels may or may not have their own toilet paper, depending on the price range/quality). You can get pretty creative with where you get your toilet paper, but the biggest takeaway here is that YOU HAVE TO HAVE IT ON YOU!

Maybe even bring extra. You might make a friend.

Useful phrases:
卫生纸 (wei sheng zhi)= toilet paper
餐厅纸 (can ting zhi)= napkin
多给我点餐厅纸吧 (duo gei wo dian can ting zhi ba)= Give me some extra napkins
洗手间在哪里 (xi shou jian zai na li)= Where is the bathroom?





Travel Tip #1: Bring Your Student ID! 带上你的学生证!


Yes, yes, growing up is a beautiful thing, and we should all embrace it. But, if you look even remotely young enough to be a student, bring along your ID. I’m talking about the crappy plastic ID that’s probably faded from being crammed into your pocket for too long. I’m talking about the one from undergraduate days. THAT one. Doesn’t matter if it’s expired, bring it. (Especially if there’s a lot of English on it.)


When you go to the ticket counter, show this to them. I try to put on a “I’m so sorry, but this is all I have to prove I’m a student” face and am gently insistent that it’s the real deal. Some don’t even need the effort. If it works, you get half price, which when you’re traveling in China is a really big deal. Everything in China has an entrance ticket. Lakes, mountains, certain parks. This is where the student ID comes in to save the day.

Of course, it’s not fool-proof. Some ticket vendors know exactly what you’re doing or only accept Chinese student IDs. (Or as I unfortunately discovered: only accept undergraduate and below student IDs…as if we grad students are just rolling in the dough…) If they turn it away and refuse the discount, don’t get mad. Because really, you have no right to be mad. Just try again another day.

(And if you think “Wow, this is shady and morally wrong and I think you’re a bad person, Hannah,” you should know that there was a time I signed on for an English tour of the Terra Cotta warriors, and the guide specifically handed out fake student IDs to all of us just to get the discount. My fake ID was a French student, though I forget the name.)

Useful Chinese phrases:
有没有学生票? (you mei you xue sheng piao) = Are there any student discounts?
这是我的学生证。(zhe shi wo de xue sheng zheng) = This is my student ID.
我学生证就是这样,没办法。(wo xue sheng zheng jiu shi zhe yang, mei ban fa) = This is just the way my student ID is, nothing I can do about it.

**If the ticket vendor is still not giving you the discount, count your losses and just pay the full price. No need to make a scene.

你到买票的地方, 就给那里售票员看。我经常用一个“我真不好意思,但是就没办法,学生证就这样”的表情,然后温暖地迫使他们使用。有的时候也不用费力。如果有用的话,票会半价,在中国这就是很宝贵的因为任何一个景点都要门票:山,湖,公园等。所以学生票对你大有帮助!



Trains! 火车!

Trains, hands down, are my favorite way of traveling China (behind hitchhiking, of course). They’re economical, and they’re more scenic than taking a plane. If you have the time to spare, hop on a train!

On my last trip out west, I rode very long trains: a 36-hour train out to Xining, a 21-hour train to Lhasa, and then a 48-hour train back to Shanghai. In my time in China, I’ve managed to ride every type of train there is (even the Maglev in Shanghai). While I’ll get into more details about the different places to be within trains, let me first do a quick run-down of train types.

Fast trains
There are two types of fast trains: the G train (高铁, gao tie) and the D train (动车, dong che). These trains are pretty damn fast, and also tend to connect bigger cities together. There’s even a line between Chongqing and Shanghai!

What are the differences between a G train and a D train? A D train is the slightly older model that runs ever-so-slightly slower. The G train is the newer model. A G train is more expensive than a D train, by a little bit.

For example, as of writing this, a G train to Shanghai takes 45 minutes or an hour, and costs 73 rmb (about 10 USD). A D train takes one to one and a half hours to get to Shanghai, but costs 56 rmb (about 5-6 USD). It’s a slight difference, but a worthwile one to know. That being said. There aren’t as many D trains, so the tickets sell out very quickly.
The major perk of the high-speed trains is that, obviously, you get to your destination faster. The hot water machines and bathrooms tend to be cleaner. The only downside (for some) is that people tend to be a bit less chatty on fast trains. Then again, that might be a nice thing, too.

Slow trains
There are several types of slow trains. There are the T trains. There are the K trains, the Z trains, and the trains that are a string of numbers without a letter. These are the trains that tend to make overnight trips, and have different cabins: hard sleeper, soft sleeper, hard seat, and sometimes soft seat (but don’t be fooled: the seats aren’t actually that soft).

The T and Z trains are the faster ones of the bunch, though the K train is also decent. (Fun fact: the Chinese names for these trains all mean “fast,” but in different degrees. T is 特快 which means “especially fast,” Z means 最快 or “the fastest” and K means 快 which is just the plain ‘ol “fast,” which isn’t to say that any of them are actually all that fast. Oh well!) The string of numbers train is definitely the slowest, though depending on where you’re going, you might not actually have a choice of train type. Most train booking places show the amount of time it takes to get there.

I actually do like these slow trains when I have a longer journey to make. They’re meditative in their own rights, you meet an interesting array of people, and you get to see the scenery unfold. If you’re going a short distance (like from Hangzhou to Shanghai) and a fast train is available, though, I don’t really recommend this route. Because for short distances, the slow speed is maddening.

With any luck, you can avoid the L train, which is a very old model sometimes used out west in Xinjiang. How old is it?! The AC unit is just a fan bolted into the ceiling. The hot water machines are still powered by coal. I mean, it was cool for me to experience, but given the choice, I might have chosen a T or K train.

Crazy fast train
This would just be the Maglev. It goes over 300 km/hour, and it’s currently in Shanghai, connecting the airport with the downtown area. When is it a good idea to take it? Aw, just take it. It’s pretty wild to experience something that goes that fast!

So fast it doesn’t exist yet train
Is there something faster than the Maglev? Maybe in the near future! If you check out this link, you can read about some of the super-fast trains that are bound for China!

Those are some train types in China! Stay tuned for more information about hard sleepers, hard seats, and so on.








如果我要去比较远的地方,我其实很喜欢慢车。游客可以聊天,你可以见到各种各样的人,也可以看风景慢慢的改变。但是如果你要去稍微近点的地方, 我并不建议你坐慢车。去那么近坐那么慢的车会让人疯掉。




I’m Back! 回来了!

As my previous post suggested, I went a-traveling this summer to Qinghai and Tibet Autonomous Region. It was an incredible trip that left me with deep impressions and a desire to go back. (And if you wish to read more in depth, check out my other blog here!)

I’ve actually been back for several weeks now, but have been slow at updating. I promise, more content will be coming! Until then, enjoy your summer!




My next trip! 我下一站


I’m going to take a break from listing favorite places and write about more pressing matters: my trip to Qinghai and Tibet Autonomous Region next month!

As I’ve mentioned before in other posts, I only have 4 more provinces to travel to in China before I’ve been to them all! In the fall, I’ll be going to China’s northeast, but for the summer, it’s out west. I’ll be experiencing the world’s highest altitude and stunning scenery, and of course, will come back with information and tips to share.

Here’s a breakdown of the trip.

First off, to get to Qinghai, I’ll be taking a 30-hour train from Shanghai to Xining, Qinghai’s capital city. I’ll be in Shanghai for a night because of a literary magazine launch. As the train rolls out west, though, I’ll see the landscape change and enter the Tibetan Plateau.

Since Qinghai is home to Tibetan people, and is historically Tibet, much of what I want to do in this province is related to Tibetan Buddhism. I don’t have many specifics nailed down for the 10 days or so that I’ll be here, but there are three things I want to do: Find the salt lakes, go to a Tibetan village, and go hiking. From what I’ve read online, all of this is extremely doable. There’s the Chaka Salt Lake, which is just to the North/Northwest of Qinghai Lake (the huge one), and there are national parks, and there are several Tibetan villages, including Tongren, to name just one. In addition there is the gorgeous Amnye Machen Mountain, which if I can’t hike around, can at least admire from a distance.
For this part of the trip, my travel will be cheap like the kind I’m used to. I’ll be staying in hostels, taking buses, perhaps even hitch-hiking. But that’s just fine with me!

Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)
To get to Lhasa, I’ll be taking the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which has been dubbed “The World’s Highest Railroad,” because of the altitude. While there are flights going into Lhasa, it’s better to go in slowly because 1) the scenery is amazing, and 2) it helps you adjust better to the high altitude.

As for my time in TAR, I will be on a much clearer schedule, because I’ll be going with a small group tour.

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of group tours, but traveling alone in TAR as a foreigner is simply not the most economical idea. This is because all foreign travelers in Tibet must have a guide and a driver, since we are not allowed to take pubic transportation outside of Lhasa. Likewise, there are areas that foreigners are discouraged from visiting. Because having a guide and a driver can get pretty expensive pretty quickly, I’m joining a group to make it more affordable. That being said, the two company I’m going with (Budget Tibet Tours) seem to have a good itinerary in mind. Tibet Highland Tours also has a very good reputation and offers good services, from what I’ve read.

(By the way, if you want to know a lot more about traveling in Tibet, check out this website. The writer is very friendly.)

The trip I want to take will be an 8 or 9-day journey from Lhasa (where we will see the Potala Palace, which in itself is enthralling) all the way to the Mount Everest Base Camp. (“OMG you’re climbing Mt. Everest??” Hell no! I’m not a mountaineer and would need many years of training to even think of that — this is a “poking the base of the mountain” trip). The journey will take us past glaciers, the world’s highest monastery, and more gorgeous scenery.

Oh, and while I’m in Lhasa, I also plan on riding the World’s Highest Ferris Wheel. (Again, because of the altitude.) It has nothing to do with Buddhism, but seems just odd enough to be great.

Anyway, I’m getting pumped for my trip, and will share details as they come/I hit the road. As for now, that’s just a glimpse of where I’ll be in less than a month!








The Tiger-Leaping Gorge 虎跳峡


Yunnan has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty, but one trail takes the cake. This is the Tiger-Leaping Gorge trail, a 2-day hike in mountainous Yunnan.

Actually, it is possible to hike the approximately 15-km hike in one day, it’s just no fun. I met a hostel owner who did exactly this, saying that you basically have to run it. Most hikers do it over a 2-day period, staying in the Halfway Guesthouse overnight (with “the best washrooms in the world” because of the open walls offering stunning views of the mountain valleys.)

To get to the Tiger Leaping Gorge trail, most travelers come from Lijiang, an ultra-touristy village that I could barely stomach for a couple of days. Most hostels will offer information about the trail and even transportation, but if you want to do it on your own, go to the small town Qiaotou. From there, it’s up to the moutains!

The hiking itself ranges from comfortable walking along dirt trails (which is rare in China, most mountain hikes being a series of stairs), to the treacherous and grueling “28 bends,” which is a series of 28 switchbacks up steep terrain. Horse vendors take advantage of this, offering horseback rides (for a fee) to those unable to do it. Out of stubborn pride, I climbed all of the 28 bends without a horse, though there is no shame (well, maybe a little) if you opt for that route.

In terms of food, growing tourism has ensured that there are restaurants along the way. That being said, pack water! Prices on top of the mountain will be higher.

As for the views…well, let’s let them speak for themselves…









Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal/京杭大运河


Hangzhou may be best known for West Lake, but one of its lesser-known attractions for non-Chinese travelers is the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Most Chinese travelers of course know about it, since it’s long been a part of Chinese history. In total it’s almost 1,200 miles long connecting Hangzhou and Beijing, and is the oldest functioning canal in the world.

You can’t ride it all the way to Beijing, though you’ll be able to watch barges begin their journeys to the capital. Instead, take a boat from the Wulin Port (武林码头) and get off at an old neighborhood. The boats count as public transit, costing less than 10RMB for a ride on the canal.

Once off the boat, you can enjoy small canal-side walking paths, or take a trip to see the Knives, Scissors and Sword Museum, the Fan Museum, and the Umbrella Museum. (I personally enjoyed the Sword Museum, which had a robotic arm demonstrating sword techniques at the time I visited. For all museums: prepare yourself for hordes of wax figurines!). The cluster of small old-time buildings has a good selection of restaurants, coffee shops, and art stores to peruse. In the spring, the canal is especially beautiful, with green willows lining the water.

Probably most travelers would put West Lake, Longjing Tea Village, or Lingying Temple higher on their To-Do lists (and for good reason!), but the Grand Canal is still one of my favorite spots in Hangzhou.





West Lake/西湖


The first place you’ll be told to visit in Hangzhou is West Lake. That should come as no surprise, given that West Lake has been a part of Chinese poetry and folklore for hundreds of years. But, when it comes down to it, West Lake is just a giant lake. How best to enjoy it? Look at it? Take a selfie? Those are good starting places. Of course, there are other, probably more satisfying ways to explore this famed lake in Hangzhou.

  1. Quick Trip West Lake
    If you just want to see West Lake and walk along it for no more than an hour, then that’s easy. There’s a subway stop on line one “龙翔桥” (longxiangqiao) that has a convenient exit for exploring the lake. This path will likely lead you to 湖滨路 (Hubin road) which is a walking street along the lake. This portion will be crowded. Not just crowded with walkers, but with tourist carts as well. (If you’re lucky, you’ll see the squirrel that delights all Chinese tourists).
  2. West Lake by bike
    Most travelers prefer this method of exploring West Lake. It will take much of the day, though, so be prepared. You can get a transit card for a 200 RMB refundable deposit for a red bike, or if you have Wechat, you can get one of the bikes scanned by QR code. The bikes are 1 RMB after an hour, and the prices jack way up the longer you keep them, so be sure to switch bikes when you can. If this sounds like too much of a hassle, you can also rent bicycles from vendors along the lake for a day. I suggest making your way to the southern side of the lake, where there’s more greenery and less traffic. Also be prepared for hills. A bit tough on the way up, glorious on the way down.
  3. West Lake by foot
    This will take almost all day. Don’t be fooled: West Lake is bigger than you think. That being said, it’s easier to veer on side paths and get lost in the woods when you don’t have to lock up a bike and fetch it later. Once you get closer to the tea fields, there will be plenty of side paths winding through Dragonwell tea bushes.
  4. West Lake by boat
    Indeed, West Lake being a body of water, there are boats! The boat vendors are hard to miss, since they stand on the shore yelling “BOAT! BOAT! BOAT!” as you walk by. You can rent a paddle-boat (by which I mean, the vendor paddles the boat) and see the Three Pillars Mirroring the Moon (aka the image on the back of the 1 RMB note), and visit Yingzhou Isle. Bargain liberally.
  5. West Lake panorama
    You can also enjoy West Lake from above. While there are several panoramic spots, my favorite would have to be from atop Baoshi Hill (宝石山), which is off of Beishan Road (北山路) and where you’ll also find Baochu Pagoda (保俶塔). The trick is to get on top of the rocks. That’s where you’ll see what I consider the best panoramic view. (Plus, it’s FREE so you can’t beat that.) Other places include Bei Feng Hill (北高峰), Leifeng Pagoda (雷峰塔) among others.
  6. Causeways/inlets
    If you don’t want to do a circumference of the lake, you can also consider walking through a part of it. There are two causeways connecting different shores: Bai Causeway (白堤) and Su Causeway (苏堤). I personally prefer Su Causeway, because it’s greenery is a bit denser, and the Broken Bridge on the Bai Causeway is usually swamped with people. (Especially during public holidays!) Actually, the best causeway would have to be Yanggong Causeway (杨公堤), but there’s less of a lake view on that one. Another area is Solitary Hill (孤山) which is an inlet off of Beishan Road. There’s a seal museum (the stamp kind, not the animal), plus a series of interesting sculptures throughout the area. You can still see the lake, just from a different angle.

In the end, it’s up to you how you decide to visit West Lake. Just know that if you don’t visit it at all, you will be faced with a wash of shame from fellow China travelers! (Just kidding. But still, give it a visit!)