Most westbound trains from Beijing depart from Beijingxi Railway Station, or Beijing West Railway Station. Click here to find out how to get from Beijing Railway Station to Beijing West Railway Station.
To enter any major railway station in China, you need to validate your ticket together with your identification, which is your passport if you’re a tourist. It is very important that your name printed on your ticket matches exactly with your passport, or else your ticket will not be validated. Full stop.
My validated ticket with the red circular stamp on it.
After validating your tickets and an airport-style security check, head upstairs to the waiting hall.
To find out which waiting hall you’re supposed to go to, look at the giant board where the escalator ends. And watch out for the many groups of passengers who literally just stand still at where the escalator lands – push them away if you must. There are 13 + 1 VIP waiting rooms to look out for.
My train is the Z5次 from Beijing West to Nanning, departing at 4.09pm from Waiting Room 9. Note that the railway staff typically use the 24 hour time, so you may take around 3 seconds to understand them at first when they tell you that your train is departing at 16 o’clock.
You can buy some food or souvenirs from the many stalls around if you’re early.
The sign outside Waiting Room 5, with the other trains of the day sharing the waiting room.
Washrooms are available in the waiting rooms. Remember that “urinating in the pool you are the best” to “build civilized public lavatory”.
Once inside the waiting room, look for your train at the ticket checking gates in front. Note that it is acceptable to sit on the floor in the queue for the ticket checking gates to open, but not in any other parts of the station. There are 4 ticket checking gates to look out for.
You should actually join the mess of a queue as the huge crowds mean that the queue will be cleared the moment the gate closes, and you don’t want to miss your train.
When your tickets are being checked, you can look out for your platform number.
There are 2 platforms you should look out for when descending the escalator. You can mess up the waiting rooms and ticket checking gates before if you had time, but make sure you don’t mess this up, or else you’ll be pushed from train to train, or even worse, not have your mistake found out until you realise you’re heading in the wrong direction.
The train from Beijing West to Nanning. Although it is the fastest classification of locomotive-hauled trains, in mainline operation this is a slow train with speeds of 160km/h, that has to give way to faster high-speed trains along the way.
Newer coaches run on domestic services.
The destination sticker on all coaches.
My Hard Sleeper berth from Beijing West to Nanning.
The Hard Sleeper on domestic services have 6 berths per partition, and no door to the corridor. If you want a real Chinese sleeper train experience, this is it.
The “friendly” passengers on board. You will have non-stop entertainment whether you like it or not till they fall asleep.
The information displays at the ends of the coach. The washroom availability light is the most important.
Once the train departs and ticket checking commences, the conductor will take your ticket in exchange for a berth card, which he or she will exchange back before your destination station. This is to ensure that you do not miss your stop and you do not lose your ticket, which I find is an excellent system, especially if you are getting off at a station in the middle of the night.
Leaving the city of Beijing and back to wilderness.
The scenery from my berth. You can roughly see how each section is laid out on the Hard Sleeper now.
An out of order washroom in my coach. Sigh.
The hot water dispenser is electrically operated and definitely looks cleaner and safer to use than the one on the Trans-Mongolian.
Smoking is actually allowed on the train beside the doors. If you hate the smell of smoke, too bad. There’s also no open windows on the whole train, and not even gaps at the gangway for some respite.
There are announcements saying that the restaurant car is open to take meal orders only, and no dining is allowed in the restaurant car. What they’ll do is that once you have made your order, they will deliver your food to your berth once its ready. Alternatively, they will have push carts selling “fast food” to each coach to sell them at your berth itself. When they announced the menu for dinner, it sounded the same to me. So I didn’t make it to the restaurant car (which was located 7 coaches away in this 16-coach train) this time.
But anyway, I had instant noodles for dinner. Food reviews below.
The sunset on the K5次.
In the morning, I got my breakfast from the push cart. she told me that there were 2 items on the menu, porridge and picked vegetables, and a stamed mantou (bun) with a hard boiled egg and sausage, both of which were 15 yuan (S$3.04). I opted for the mantou set, but she served me the porridge and picked vegetables as well. So I wasn’t sure if I heard the menu wrongly or she gave me free food. Either way, no complains.
The porridge and picked vegetables trolley. Don’t touch any part of it, you won’t know if you’ll get burned by the boiling parts or not.
At other times, you can get snacks, drinks and instant noodles by the other non-boiling cart making their random rounds.
The morning mist outside the train.
I charged my phone at the electrical outlets for shaver at the wash area, since 3 out of 3 charging points in the passenger saloon were perpetually taken up by the other passengers. That’s 3 points for 66 passengers to share, by the way.
The squat toilets on the train. There are no western-style toilets on the Hard Sleeper.
The wash area on the train, where you can brush your teeth, or like some locals on this train, wash up their crockeries and utensils after cooking a full meal for a family just by using the hot water provided.
For lunch, I got a boxed meal from the push cart again. This costs 25 yuan (S$5.06), and it definitely tasted better than the free meal on the Trans-Mongolian.
From the train, you can see how drastically China changes without leaving your seat or berth.
Crossing a river with a dam across.
Passing by the karst hills of Guilin.
Plantations along the way.
Passengers sitting at the side fold-up chairs along the way. Most probably they are passengers on the top-most berths.
The train does call at Nanningdong Railway Station, or Nanning East Railway Station. If you are taking a high-speed train, it will most likely call here too. Most of the Z5’s passengers might get off here. If you’re taking the Z5 to connect to the train to Hanoi, do not get off here. The train continues on and terminates at Nanning Railway Station.
The train arrives at its terminal station, Nanning Railway Station.
Exit the station through the underground passageways…
… and through this construction diversion, probably for the Nanning Rail Transit. This might be gone by now though.
The exterior of the Nanning Railway Station.
Next up, getting tickets for the train to Hanoi.