Hello! Last time I wrote about our trip I said that Kevin and I had just purchased some pretty budget friendly plane tickets to Shangri La that we were stoked about. However, much has changed since then. Instead of leaving Saturday, we decided to jump on a train Thursday night when Kevin got off of work. Also, instead of going to Shangri La, we decided to head first to Lijiang with the two extra days we gained from leaving on Thursday. We heard from many people that Lijiang wasn’t a place to miss, so since we were going to be in the area, we decided to stop by. Unfortunately, this last minute decision lacked a lot of planning and didn’t go exactly how we anticipated. Beginning with the train.
The good news: Cancelling our plane tickets/paying the fee PLUS the train and the bus tickets we bought to get from Chengdu to Lijiang was still cheaper than just paying for the plane ticket.
The bad news: Pretty much everything else about our journey to Lijiang. Just kidding, it wasn’t that bad. Well, it was a little bad.
Getting from Chengdu to Lijiang via Panzhihua
There is currently no direct train from Chengdu to Lijiang, which means you have a few options.
- You can fly directly to Lijiang. This is obviously the shortest option but also the most expensive. When we went it was the week of Chinese New Year. With Lijiang being very popular with Chinese tourists, plane tickets were not an option for our budget.
- There is apparently a direct bus from Chengdu to Lijiang, which I have heard is wise to avoid like the plague. It is supposed to be a 20-something hour long journey, but with technical problems and dangerous winding mountain roads, it often can be a 30-40-something hour headache instead.
- There is a train to Xichang, which looks on a map like it would be a more direct stop to get to Lijiang. However, with some mountains in the way to drive around, it actually takes a bit longer than going through Panzhihua. It makes most sense I believe if you want to stop at Lugu Lake en route, as it is really close to the lake.
- Take a night train to Panzhihua, which ordinarily will drop you off in time to catch a local bus from the train station to the long distance bus station and then catch a bus to Lijiang.
We chose the last option, which I still think would have been the best and most budget friendly option under ordinary circumstances. But it was Chinese New Year and all rules change. Also, it was our first train trip in China, and we didn’t go about it correctly.
We got to the train station around 2pm on Thursday, wanting to leave around 10pm on Thursday night, the week before CNY. We also didn’t know where the ticket booth was, nor did we (or do we!) speak or read much Chinese. So we killed some time running around trying to figure out where to buy tickets and trying to find people who spoke English. Advice: if you don’t speak Chinese, but have a generous Chinese friend who wouldn’t mind accompanying you to the train station, at least the first time, a little translation could save you some confusion.
Furthermore, Kevin and I showed up without our passports, which was unwise, and were only issued tickets out of the kindness of the attendants heart. Thankfully she let us use our drivers licenses. Anyway, not surprisingly, all of the trains were full except for the very latest one, which left at 11:45pm. And that train only had hard seats available. For an overnight train. In our determination to get out of Chengdu that night, we bought the tickets. They were ¥103/person.
The tickets were cheap, but the seats were uncomfortable. The chairs were stiff, and they never turned the lights off ALL NIGHT. I’m not sure if this is true of sleepers as well, but I hope not. We were the only foreigners in the hard seats, as well. So we got stared at. A lot. For much of the journey anytime either of us looked up we met several pairs or eyes looking back. It was the first time that has happened since I’ve been in China, and I would be lying if I said it made the 15+ hour journey any more comfortable.
15 hours is at the extremely long end of how long this journey should take. This might be because, as we realized too late, this was an extra train scheduled just for CNY. Left later, took longer and arrived well after the regularly scheduled trains. This leads us to Part 2: Stranded in Panzhihua!
- Book train tickets when they become available- 10 days in advance at train stations and ticket offices.
- Know which train you’re trying to book, ie when it departs AND arrives to make sure you make any connections!
- Show up prepared, with cash, identification, and hopefully some knowledge of Chinese.
Now I’ll leave you with some pictures, because no matter how miserable a train journey, they always seem to offer gorgeous views of the country side. Totally redeeming. Train travel remains Kevin and my favorite way to get around.
More information about traveling on CNY on my guest post @ Inspiring Travellers!!