Shanghai to Suzhou train

My first China train experience:

Trying to get to the Shanghai train station also allowed me to experience rush hour metro traffic in Shanghai. I left the office at 6 pm and decided to take the metro from Pudong to the Shanghai train station. That was quite an experience. Although I am quite a bit taller and heavier than most people here, the sheer power of hundreds of people pushing hard in one direction was actually a bit scary. I had no chance moving in a direction of my choice. When the train arrived, a massive push from all the people squeezed everyone onto the train, and it was quite a challenge getting off at my desired station again.

The train experience was quite relaxed compared to this. I booked my train tickets online in advance at, which worked very well, but I did make one mistake. I should have paid an extra 5 RMB or so to get the tickets delivered to the hotel, instead of choosing to pick them up myself at the train station. Luckily, I decided to pick them up a couple of days before my journey, because it probably took me about 1.5  hours to first figure out where to go and then stand in line for some time. 

Foreigners cannot use the automated ticket machines that are available everywhere and well sign-posted. As a foreigner you have to show your passport to get your tickets, so you have to go to the ticket counters. The ticket counters however are not even in the station building, but on the other side of the street, with almost no signs directing you there. After walking around the building for a while, I finally found an enquiry desk, which pointed me in the right direction (with some difficulty since they did speak almost as little English as I speak Mandarin). Once I found the hall with the ticket counters (if you face the station from the main square, it is to your right across the street), things did not get easier, as there were huge lines in front of each of the counters, and I had no idea which counter I had to go to. After standing in line at the wrong one for a while I spotted another enquiry desk, which pointed me towards counter no 3, which at closer inspection had a tiny sign in the window saying 'English speaking counter'. Another 20 min in line there, I showed my e-mail print out, my passport and I got my tickets without problems.

You cannot get inside the station without a ticket, and they carefully check that your passport number matches your ticket before they let you in. Once inside things become fairly straightforward. Large screens tell you which waiting area to go to, and there you see signs with your train number and train time. (I do appreciate in those situations how fortunate it is that China uses the same number symbols as we do). Then you just get in line when everyone else does, and about 10 minutes before departure they let you through the gate onto the platform where the train is already waiting. The numbers are clearly displayed on the train cars, so it’s easy to find my seat.

The train left absolutely bang on time, something I, being German, obviously appreciate a lot. I booked a first class ticket, which was not much more expensive. The first class was very nice with wide and large seats, and it was only half full. The fast train from Shanghai to Suzhou takes less than half an hour. The speed display inside the carriage showed 275 km/h and it was a perfectly smooth ride. Very impressive, indeed.


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