The Different Classes on Chinese Trains
There are five classes of travel you will encounter on trains in China. Below is an explanation of each class.
Deluxe Soft Sleeper: This class is rare and is only available on selected trains including Beijing-Guangzhou and Beijing-Xian. It has two sleeping berths per cabin and private toilets. Generally it is cheaper to fly than to take this class so it is only an option for people who really enjoy train travel.
Soft Sleeper (软卧): Available on all Chinese trains, this is the most comfortable option. Soft sleeper tickets feature four-person cabins with two upper sleeping berths and two lower sleeping berths. The upper bunks are slightly cheaper than the lower bunks and are preferable as long as you don’t have problems climbing up as your cabin-mates will want to sit on the bottom bunks during the day. The berths in soft sleeper are a little wider and a little longer than in hard sleeper. But since the cabins are enclosed, tall passengers will not be able to stretch the legs out completely, as opposed to hard sleeper where your feet can hang over the end of the bunk. A corridor runs down the carriage outside the cabins. There are seats here where you can seek respite from your cabin-mates.
Hard Sleeper (硬卧): Most popular with budget-conscious travelers, hard sleeper has six bunks in each compartment (two lower, two middle, two upper) and the compartment is open to the corridor. There are also two seats in the corridor facing each set of six bunks. There is a slight price difference between the berths with the top bunks cheapest and the bottom bunks most expensive. Middle bunks are probably the best choice for most people as the bottom bunks are used as seats by all passengers during the day (usually as soon as the sun comes up – whether you’re still sleeping there or not) and the top bunks have very little headroom. However, tall people might prefer the top bunks as they can hang their feet over the edge without people bumping into them. An advantage of hard sleeper is that you’re not stuck in an enclosed space with other people. Disadvantages are that it is crowded and the toilets and washrooms aren’t as clean.
Soft Seat (软坐): This class is usually only available on the ‘D’ class trains and other day trains. The set-up is similar to business class on a plane with four seats in each row (two seats on each side of the aisle), lots of leg-room and stowaway tray tables.
Hard Seat (硬坐): The cheapest option, hard seat can be very cramped and crowded, very noisy and somewhat dirty. The set-up is something like economy class on an airplane with six seats in each row (three seats on each side of the aisle). Due to over-crowding, luggage storage space is limited. Since ‘standing tickets’ are also sold for this class, the aisles can be clogged as well. An overnight journey in hard seat is only for the masochistic.