I love it when the trains here include the destinations written in English so that I can try to work out where I am.
I don’t expect it so it’s a nice surprise when it happens.
The audio announcements always include English but I like to see written place names too.
I left Guilin on a train heading for Dali with the first stop being Yong Fu Nan. I was going to get off in three hours at Nanning.
Reaching Guilin North Railway Station by bus had been very straightforward apart from when the bus pulled into a stop named “Guilin North Passenger Station”.
Was this the railway station?
I wasn’t the only person confused as several people stepped off and back on board quickly. One woman tapped me on the shoulder to point to the bus’s route plan and show me that the Railway Station was two stops further along.
Unnecessary complication averted.
I arrived at the station, strolled through to the waiting room and then became a little concerned as all of the signage was in Chinese and no sign of any train numbers.
Was I in the right place? I double checked the entrance.
Yes. This was the right spot. There just wouldn’t be a train, and it would be the one I was waiting for, for another 45 minutes.
With 25 minutes to go, the check in gate board became more familiar and I joined the queue.
Once on the platform, I looked for the plates in the ground which indicated where to stand for the carriage door, feeling quite smug at how well I can find my way around public transport in China.
Not so fast, Fiona. There were three different colours.
Fortunately, there were guards on the platform and one of them pointed out where I needed to be.
I’ve mentioned before that the rail travel is busy and frequent in China.
Guilin is a city of 2.5million people, according to the signs I saw around the city. I’d arrived at Guilin West, which seemed a sizeable station, left from Guilin North which had twelve platforms (even if the waiting room I was in seemed quiet) and as the train left the city we passed through Guilin station.
How many stations were there here? On the journey through China, I’ve usually found myself leaving from a different station to the one I arrived at.
Obviously, there are smaller stations at the small towns – sometimes just a platform – but the cities all seem to have multiple huge stations.
Murphy’s Law came into play, weather wise, as I left Guilin.
The area was having the best day it had experienced during the time I had been here. Apart from when the train passed through the tunnels, I had the clearest view of the Karst Mountains I’d had for the last few days.
It was beautiful.
It was like being on an unsuccessful whale watching trip… “Well, here’s what you could have seen”.
The train was travelling at around 120mph – it felt like only 60mph and it was such a smooth journey.
The safety announcements had been updated.
Not only were we to ensure our children were not running around and making a nuisance of themselves, we also had to ensure we kept our balance when getting on and off the train.
We were reminded of this four times as the train arrived at Yong Fu Nan.
After an hour’s journey, the train was approaching Liuzhou, and we appeared to be leaving behind the mountains and the rice fields.
Looking out of the window I could see a metropolis of factories and power plants, in a forest of tall chimneys belching out fumes. The city itself was lost in a grey smog.
It looked like a painting by LS Lowry.
Once out of Liuzhou, the train was back among the mountains, the farms and now forest.
Meanwhile on board the train, we were informed not less than seven times that: “To meet your diversified needs, the dining car has prepared pack lunches and our attendants will be coming through the train shortly.”
I appreciate a repeated message to ensure everyone has heard it but frankly this was cruel and unusual punishment. Seven times, the same recording was played.
Besides, I was in the last carriage and after over an hour, there was no sign of these lunch boxes.
The train was now cruising at over 150mph.
Can you imagine Northern Rail or Transpennine Express offering that speed between Manchester and Leeds?
Further South towards Laibin, the landscape became a mix of peaks, rolling hills, wheat crops and rice fields. The towns we passed were filled with low rise buildings – none of the houses were more than three storeys high.
As we approached Nanning the trolley appeared… though I think it could have been a mirage.
The lunch boxes didn’t look that diverse to me.
Outside, the train was back in the mountains and there were several parallel tunnels providing multiple routes through them. There was no slowing down to allow the oncoming engine to pass along the one tunnel that several rails shared.
Once through the mountains, the tower blocks of Nanning were ahead of me. I double checked my ticket to make sure I wasn’t getting off at Nanning East, the first stop.
Look, if I don’t double check, things can go horribly wrong. It’s good to be a pessimist.