China Train tickets fall into several main classes as below:
The hard seat is also known as Yingzuo in Pinyin and 硬座 in Chinese characters. Often, hard-seat cars are crowded, as they not only offer hard seats but also provide tickets for standing room. Thus, the ticket price for hard-seat cars is the lowest of all. There are five seats in a row, and they are divided into two sides by an aisle. One side has two seats, and the other, three. A small, shared table is set between two rows, and passengers sit face to face. Luggage racks are offered, but the toilets are often in poor condition. If you have other options for other cars on the train, don’t buy a hard seat in China.
Soft seats (软座) are better than hard seats as regards to cabin facilities. They are offered only on certain short-distance trains. Tickets for standing room are not offered, so the soft-seat cars are not crowded. Besides air-conditioning, and clean toilets and washrooms, they are generally more comfortable. On some trains, three or four people will share a long soft seat, and the opposite side is the same. But things may be different in soft-seat cars for some newer trains that have two soft seat on each side. Passengers in these two rows share a table together, but soft-seat cars are not always used and during high season periods especially Chinese public holidays. They may even be replaced by soft sleepers and hard sleepers. For a journey of about 4–6 hours, a soft seat can be considered.
A hard sleeper is 硬卧 in Chinese, and is made of the same materials as hard seats. There are six hard sleepers in an open compartment, including two upper bunks, middle bunks, lower bunks and a table between the bunks at the window. Thus it may be noisy in the daytime, as passengers can walk around in the aisle. Each bunk is provided with a pillow, a sheet and a blanket. Usually, they are Ok and bearable for an overnight journey.
Note that prices vary for the three kinds of bunks. The upper bunks are very uncomfortable, as space is very limited, with only about 60 cm of vertical space, but they are the cheapest. The lower bunk is the most comfortable, and sometimes the passengers in the middle and upper bunks may sit on the lower bunk in the daytime.
Seats are available near the window in the aisle, which the opposite of the compartment offering. Washrooms and toilets are provided, which are cleaner and better than in hard-seat cars. Smokers can go to the corridor between cars to smoke.
Soft sleepers (软卧) are recommended for overnight or long-distance travel. Most passengers are foreign travelers or Chinese businessmen. The ticket prices are twice that of a hard sleeper. Four soft sleepers are set in an enclosed compartment. There are only upper bunks and lower bunks, so the space for both bunks is sufficient. Storage space is available. On some trains, both overhead storage and under-bed storage is provided, while certain trains only have under-bed storage. For each bunk there is an LCD TV to pass your travel time. Western-style toilets, squat toilets and a clean washroom are provided in each soft-sleeper car.
The difference between lower bunks and upper bunks is ticket price and a window view. There is no window for upper bunks, while lower bunks can enjoy the scenery along the way. Thus the price for the lower bunk is higher. If you are just taking an overnight train, there is no big difference. If you need to spend the daytime on the train, taking a lower bunk would be a wise choice.
The Deluxe Soft Sleeper (高包) is also highly recommended, especially for couples. However, deluxe soft-sleeper cars are only available on certain Z-Trains, T-Trains and overnight D-Trains. An enclosed compartment includes two bunks, ensuring good security and privacy. The design of the deluxe soft-sleeper compartment may vary among different trains. On some trains, the two bunks are set on two sides, with a sofa below. On other trains, bunks are set on one side, and the sofa is on the other side.
In the compartment, an LCD TV, a table and a closet are provided. Western-style washrooms and toilets are clean and comfortable. On some newer trains, a shower cubicle is included in compartments in deluxe soft-sleeper cars.