31 Hours on a Train

We’ve written before about how much we like trains. They’ve been our main mode of transportation when moving from city to city on this trip. I’d like to take you back to the very first train ride of our round-the-world trip, when we spent 31 hours on a train.

It was 5 in the morning. The tickets were bought, after more or less the typical amount of hassle we’d come to expect in Mongolia (a lot). We cram ourselves and all our crap into a van with the two other people going on the train from our hostel, a guy from Germany and a girl from Australia, who we’d later run into in Beijing.
On the platform, we’re not totally sure we’re in the right place. The signs are sort of confusing, but then the woman from the hostel tells us we’re okay. We look for a money exchange counter, and find one, but it’s closed. So much for getting any yuan before entering China.

The train pulls in. It’s already come a long way, from Moscow. We go to a different car from our companions and tell them to have a nice trip. We are the first people in our 4-berth compartment. We both have top bunks. For some reason we put our bags beneath the lower seats. Later we realize there is storage up by the top bunks and I move my bag up there. By then the other people, a young Mongolian family with a toddler have arrived and put their giant TV in the upper storage. Yes, a TV, a big flatscreen one, still in the box. The man speaks English and tells us how they live in Shenzhen. They are doing the whole trip in one go. We will make it to Shenzhen eventually – but not for weeks. And we thought 31 hours was long.

Luckily, their baby is pretty quiet and well-behaved, although a couple times he spits out food at me and once stabs me in the knee with a fork. But he’s adorable so I don’t even care.

The train finally starts moving around 7 am. Jeff and I are both still exhausted from the horse trek we took 2 days ago. We both sleep for a while. I read some. The bunks are very comfortable which is good. We’ve brought lots of snacks, and we just eat those for lunch.

There are occasional stops and at one point we get out. We’re in the Gobi Desert at this point. The air is hot and dusty. Carts full of ramen noodles waiting to be bought. We walk down the train, see nothing interesting, get back on. The scenery is flat and brown and endless. I see some camels and get excited.

We eat dinner in the dining car. A pair of French girls are seated with us but protest a lack of English. I eat pink borscht. It’s pretty good.

As the sun sets, we approach the border with China. I’m sure to use the bathroom in advance, as I’ve read they’ll be closed for hours. We sit in our compartment, waiting for the next time some official comes along and asks to see our passports. The passports are stamped and returned. We try to sleep but the train squeals and shudders alarmingly with some regularity. They’re moving us onto a different grade of track.

Eventually the train moves on and we sleep. I awake and go to the hallway. So this is China. I didn’t expect it to be so… gorgeous. Mountains all around, and rivers and bridges to boot. We eat our packages of ramen noodles. I smile at the Mongolian baby as he spits his food at me.

Finally, we come to a stop. We’re here, in Beijing. We grab all our stuff and exit into a seething mass of humanity. Yes, we’re not in Mongolia anymore.

Overall, the journey was relaxing and enjoyable. We didn’t get bored at all, armed as we were with ebooks (which did run out of batteries) and playing cards. I wish there had been an electrical outlet so we could’ve watched a movie, but you can’t have everything. And thus our love of long train rides was born.


4 thoughts on “31 Hours on a Train

  1. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    It seems that China inspires massively long train journeys. We did the 24+ hour journey from Hong Kong to Beijing, which we were quite frankly dreading (we were both sick with some kind of terrible flu), but it wound up not being too terrible. We splurged on soft sleepers, and did a marathon viewing session of The Wire’s first season… it could have been worse, that’s for sure!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..And Now for Some Culture…My Profile

    1. Rachel Post author

      You did right to splurge on soft sleeper… we did 18 hours Shanghai to Shenzhen in hard sleeper. There isn’t much room to sit upright if you’re not on the bottom bunk. And for me the beds were pretty uncomfortable. But I did also watch movies until my laptop ran out of power – it helps!

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