Train Journeys – Guilin to Shanghai

Everywhere I go, as you might have gathered, if I can take a train or two, I do. I took a couple in China, both over-nighters, and the most memorable was the one from Guilin to Shanghai. Leaving Guilin in the evening, and not arriving until mid-afternoon in Shanghai, I went the soft sleeper which I think is definitely the way to go.

Not too shabby

Guilin is near the stunning Yangshuo and surrounds.

Yes, it’s the most expensive option – at over 500 yuan on 2014 prices, but it’s as comfortable as you’re going get on the journey and it’s still under 100 bucks – it works out to be around $82. It’s a journey of around 19 hours. I wasn’t on the Chinese version of the bullet train, but I did pass a few of them as we got close to Shanghai. No, I tell a lie, they passed the train I was on.

inside the cabin on the train

inside the cabin on the train

Guilin is near Yangshuo, and down south in China. It’s a pretty rural area – a far cry from the destination of Shanghai, one of the world’s biggest cities with a lot of neon lights. The trip started with everyone setting in in the cabins for four. The locals sure knew what they were doing, bringing a full selection of food to last the entire trip. I was lucky to have some friendly Chinese peoples in my cabin, and despite not having a word in common (language) we managed to communicate the basics. That I was from Australia, where I had been on my journey so far and where I was headed. And of course, I was offered food! Including chicken as I recall.



The night wore on, and sleep was as usual fitful. But the beds were soft, if narrow, and came with bedding. The carriages were carpeted. The train clickety-clacked its way through the night. The next morning it was noodles and more noodles.

The train made its way through rice fields and rural scenes for much of the morning, but after lunch time things built up. We were going through towns and suburbs, and then there were concrete bridges and raised tracks. It was clear that the area was more and more densely populated, and it was then that I saw the Chinese bullet trains. They did, admittedly, look a lot like the Japanese ones.

And then, roughly on time, I was arriving at Shanghai South train station. And it was mad! It was really big and busy, basically. Okay, I’m writing this late and for some reason I can’t seem to locate better adjectives. Going to the subway there all my bags were x-rayed, which is pretty rare. I think the Tashkent subway also had x-ray machines on the ready.

Shanghai subway sign.

Shanghai subway sign.

Finding my way to the hostel after a long train journey in a sweaty place like Shanghai was never going to be mega-fun, and of course I went the wrong way when I got off the subway, but the longer, earlier train journey had, perhaps surprisingly, proven comfortable and smooth. I’ve heard a lot of people not really enjoying the trains in China, but I thought they were a great way to travel.

With the long distances, you may want to mix them up with flying as I did in China (although I cannot recommend Spring Airlines in that respect), but I can’t imagine taking the bus was either quicker or more pleasant.

Tomorrow, the podcast returns with the second part to my chat about Backpacking Europe with Jock Read-Hill. Until then, may the journey never end!


  • I have never taken overnight train abroad. I should have tried it at least once. BTW, the subway in Bangkok also has x-ray machines!

  • I have ways wanted to try out overnight trains but never seem to be able to get the opportunity to do so! But I do like trains too…I enjoy watching the scenery go by….well..maybe for a short while in the beginning…:)

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