Note the lacy decor & flower in a vase on the tablecloth!

Some trains even have personal TV screens for each berth.

Photos in this section are courtesy of Sunil Mehta.

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Train tickets are best booked at least 3-4 days in advance, preferably more, apart from peak holiday periods when they should be booked as soon as reservations open or secured through a train ticketing agency who knows the ropes, as trains get very fully-booked weeks ahead.

Peak holiday periods means on and around the Spring Festival, May Day on 1st May and National Day on 1st October.

Luggage & bikes on Chinese trains Recommended guidebooks for China Travel insurance Hotels in Beijing Hotels in Shanghai Hotels in Xian Hotel suggestions in Beijing & Shanghai Chinese Railways. Yes they do, and most long-distance trains get fully-booked days ahead.

So book as many days ahead as you can or pre-arrange tickets online as explained below.

So you should buy tickets through one of the following reliable recommended agencies, who charge a small fee. Or buy from a local train ticket agency for an RMB 5 fee.

Small local ticketing agencies are located all over town. You'll find these train availability boards at all main station ticket offices and they're not hard to read, even though they're in Chinese.

Or you can take a taxi, the taxi fare from central Beijing to Beijing West is around RMB 35 (3.50, ), allow at least 30 minutes for the taxi ride. Beijing West is large and busy, so arrive in plenty of time for your train, perhaps 40 minutes before your train leaves. When you reach the station, you enter the station through a ticket & ID check at any one of the various entrances, see the photo above.

Immediately afterwards there's a luggage X-ray check into the departures hall. Indicator boards on the departure concourse show which train is allocated to which waiting room - here you can see G71 is allocated to waiting room 8.

As I write this, most Beijing-Shanghai trains are sold out for the day after tomorrow, but a few trains still have seats left the day after that. First the good news: Chinese Railways launched online booking in 2011 at

Now the bad news: Foreigners cannot buy tickets at it's only in Chinese and only accepts Chinese bank cards (although if you happen to be an ex-pat with a Chinese bank card and a basic knowledge of Mandarin, you can follow these instructions for using 12306here).

Slightly higher fares are charged for the better train categories.