I’ve got big, big plans up my sleeve. The clock is ticking, and with every click of the clock I am closer to starting my one month of travel through some of the hottest spots in western China (not literally hot—they are actually some of the colder places in China!).
This is not an ordinary trip. This trip will be done almost solely by using the conventional trains of China (around 160 km/hr), a great deal slower than some of China’s (and the world’s) fastest “bullet” trains (200-350 km/hr). I have used China’s bullet trains in the past, and frequently, but this is the first time I will use their conventional trains. I am both excited and nervous! Will I be able to tolerate being in a moving train without getting off it for 15 to 32 hours at a time?
A big reason we chose the slow trains was to save money. Not only are these trains cheaper but they also save you a night in a hostel or hotel! My boyfriend and I plan to make this trip as economical as possible (this is why we chose the hard sleeper beds rather than the soft ones, which can be 100 to 400 yuan more, depending on the trip). Not only that, we are trying to leave as little impact as possible on the planet while we travel.
For this reason, we have purchased our own silicone collapsible travel bowls with our own chopsticks and retractable spork (Yes, a spork). We are bringing some quick-cook brown rice Thai noodles, Thai curry pastes to make our own noodles for lunch, and we will use the same bowls and utensils to make our own breakfast with muesli and milk. (Dinner is TBT: I don’t think we can manage to eat curry noodles twice a day!)
So, where are we going? What will we do? What will we see?
Stop 1: Fuzhou to Xi’an. （从福州市到西安市陕西省）
Train time: 27 hours and 34 minutes
Cost for two people: 827 CNY
Time: 3.5 days
Here we will spend three and a half days (I suspect half a day of recovery upon arrival from such a long journey!—so let’s say three days!) of venturing through this historic city. Of course, we will see the Terracotta Warriors (DUH). Though it’s a spot booming with tourists nearly all the time, I have read that it is better to go around noontime, as this is the typical lunch hour of the Chinese people. Hopefully we will accomplish that! We plan on strolling along the impressive city wall, visit the Muslim Quarters Drum Tower, and the Qing Masoleum, visit history museums, and who knows what else? Wherever the wind blows.
Stop 2: Xining, Qinghai Province (西宁市青海省）
Train time: 11 hours and 6 minutes
Cost for two people: 468 CNY
Time: 4 hours
This stop is a short four hours. We may or may not even get a chance to get out into the city! This is going to be perhaps the longest and most testing part of the journey. After getting off the train and stretching our legs for a few hours, it’s back onto a train for our next destination.
Stop 3: Lhasa, Tibet Province （拉萨市西藏省）
Train time: 21 hours
Cost for two people: 947 CNY
Time: 7 days
This part of the journey is planned for us. In fact, to enter into Tibet as a foreigner it is required that you travel with a licensed travel agency and possess and Tibet visa: Independent travel is forbidden. We have booked a tour with Tibet Vista (tibetvista.org). They book your hotel rooms and you can state your preferences for hotel class (of course we chose the cheapest—guesthouses!) and what you want to see, and they even take care of your Tibet visa for you. The woman I have been working with has been more than helpful!
So far, I would recommend this company if you plan on visiting Tibet! Our tour includes 7-days of travel through Lhasa, Shigatse, and Gyantse to see pristine lakes, towering mountains, and a plethora of wildlife (so we hope). When this is over, the company will take us to the train station to hop on our longest train ride yet…
Stop 4: Chengdu, Sichuan Province（成都四川省）
Train time: 36 hours and 35 minutes
Cost for two people: 1,121 CNY (we booked this through our Tibet agent as to secure our seats, so actual market prices may be lower)
Time: 5 days
What. A. Ride. I haven’t even done it yet and I’m feeling the pain of it! 36 hours and 35 minutes on a train? I can’t even stand being in my cozy apartment for that long! This should be interesting. As for our plans, we actually really don’t have any! I really wanted to visit Jiuzhaigou park with its colorful topaz lakes, waterfalls, and stunning scenery, but I found out it takes 10 hours by bus from the capital of Chengdu to arrive there, and after such a long journey I don’t know how much we will be up for a 20 hour bus ride round trip. There are flights to the park but they are obscenely priced! That airport is for the rich.
Our main goal in Sichuan is to see pandas (BUT OF COURSE!). I’ve also heard that Sichuan is known for its spicy but tantalizing cuisine, so perhaps we can put down our Thai noodles for a night and explore the streets of Chengdu for some amazing Chinese food. Only time will tell.
Stop 5: Kunming, Yunnan Province（昆明市云南省）
Train time: 18 hours and 43 minutes
Cost for two people: 571 CNY
Time: 2 days
This part of our trip is part of the unknown. We don’t know yet what Kunming has to offer. If nothing, we may venture on a day trip to Stone Forest. Either way, we need to stick close to the city in order to catch a train to our next destination.
Stop 6: Dali（大理云南省）
Train time: 2 hours and and 9 minutes
Cost for two people: 330 CNY
Time: 2 days
Similar to Sichuan province, there are no set tours or specific places we want to visit here,except for Erhai lake and Dali Old Towne. The rest is as the wind blows! We want to see what the city is like and get a feel for the best places to go!
Stop 7: Lijiang (丽江云南省）
Train time: 1 hour and 58 minutes
Cost for two people: 108 CNY
Time: 2 days
There seems to be SO MUCH to see in Lijiang, and I’m super excited to see what’s up. At this point in our journey, we have been traveling for three weeks. I didn’t want to make any firm plans of what to do and what to see. But I do know there are a few highlights that are worth seeing: Tiger Leaping Gorge, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lugu Lake, among several other hotspots. We will have to see what fate has in store for us because all of these places sound amazing and I don’t know how to choose.
From Lijiang we will also have the option to take a bus ride to Shangri-la. I have read online that the famous Potatso National Park will be partially closed, and that would have been one of my main motivations for going to Shangri-la, so we will see what we have time for. And of course, it all depends on what we do in Lijiang: we may not have time for Shangri-la.
Stop 8: HOME. Changle District, Fuzhou, Fujian (长乐区福州市福建省)
Flight time: 4 hours and 20 minutes
Cost for two people: 2,758 CNY
Well, this will be the end of our journey. Back to Changle, Fuzhou. We decided to fly back in lieu of trains to allow us some extra time to rest before we had to get back to work. If you ask me, I think it will be worth the extra money for a bit of rest! At this point we will have been traveling for 26 days straight, often on very long train rides! I think we will be happy we allotted ourselves this short but necessary rejuvenation period.
TOTAL train/flight time: approximately 5 days
TOTAL cost for trains/flights for two people: 7,130
ONLY trains for two people: 4,372
*note: all train prices included a booking fee from ctrip.com. Actual price of tickets will be slightly less.
Want to find out how this trip went? Check back in a couple of months to find out!
Thanks for reading!
Andrea is a Senior Teacher from the USA at our Changle branch. You can read more of her blog posts here.