· chinese daily life · 4 min read

Travelling to rural China

Rural China has more to offer than one may think as long as one does not have the wrong expectations.

Rural China has more to offer than one may think as long as one does not have the wrong expectations.

The summer sun tends to bring out the travelling bug in people. Therefore, let us brush up on our touristy vocabulary before embarking on that great trip to the Chinese hinterlands. Please note that by rural China I mean cities with less than a million inhabitants. This actually is quite small for China.

BTW, I boycott anyone who travels domestically by plane for leisure, so I will just assume that you are being a good boy or girl and take one of the many trains for your trip to rural China.

An old school Chinese train


You can find a train station in literally every Chinese town or village and you probably know that it is called 火车站 in Chinese. Most Chinese now buy their train tickets online and get them at the station by scanning their IDs. But as a tourist you may still have to resort to the old school 售票处 ticket offices. Those you can find basically everywhere, especially close to train stations. They usually take a 5 RMB commission for every ticket printed so make sure to budget ahead. Nowadays, for some tickets you have to show your passport, especially for the high speed trains. Supposedly, the ministry of the railroads wants to avoid shady back market dealings during peak times like Chinese New Year.

After getting your train ticket you want to make sure to board the right train. Make sure to get your bearings right especially if you have been assigned a seat or bunk somewhere. If you haven’t been assigned anything you are in bad shape as you may have to stand for the length of your trip.

Standing room only

There are the following classes on traditional trains:

  1. 硬座 ying4zuo4 hard seat
  2. 软座 ruan3zuo4 soft seat
  3. 硬卧 ying4wo4 hard sleeper
  4. 软卧 ruan3wo4 soft sleeper

And two classes on the new high speed trains:

  1. 一等 yi1deng3 first class
  2. 二等 er4deng3 second class

First class and soft sleeper are comparable and basically the best you can get. The other classes are bearable but if you want to travel in a little comfort, go for a hard sleeper at least, especially for overnight journeys.

Arriving wherever

To state the obvious: China is different. And China becomes even more different the further you move away from cosmopolitan Shanghai or Beijing and into the heart of the country. But it definitely makes for more interesting stories than getting drunk in Beijing’s 三里屯 Sanlitun.

Whatever place your destination may be, try to get some info online about local delicacies and sights to see. Here you may benefit from reading and typing Chinese as most such information will be in Chinese. Unfortunately, rural China is not very mainstream interesting for most foreigners and my betting money is that it won’t ever be. I mean who visits rural areas anywhere unless you are doing research on local farming practices.

No matter how prepared you may think you are, you are about to get your next culture shock - also, if you thought Beijing or Shanghai weren’t really your thing, you may want to give up now and go back to wherever you have come from. If you truly feel ready, though, you can have the time of your life.

Nice home cooking

What (not) to expect

Do not expect great nightlife, good western food (unless you think KFC and McD serve good food) or even English speaking people. On the other hand, expect some great local cuisine, lots of Chinese language that has nothing to do with Mandarin and weird clubs that you may imagine nightlife in Pyongyang to look like. As mentioned previously, every corner of the country has its own local specialties, you should make sure to sample them. Also, while most pundits will speak in tongues (at least to your ear), they will try their bestest Mandarin on you if you make it clear that you have may be able to understand. Kind of cute in a way.

Nightclubs in China’s province are funny and definitely worth a visit. Chinese pop music is generally a little… how to say without insulting 1.4bn people… not so great. But watching a bunch of Chinese going crazy about it, is something else. Also, because it is all about giving face, people will drive their black limousines to the club (could be borrowed from a rich uncle in some cases) and order table service usually including a big, big fruit platter. Come to think of it, it’s not that different from back home.

That black car

Anyhow, after eating, speaking and partying like a local, you will probably still prefer living in Shanghai or Beijing. But I bet you won’t come away from this experience with a lot of sweet memories and a smile on your face when thinking about them.

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