It was Day 5 of our 7 day trip to China (Read about Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4). Today, we are travelling from Xian to Shanghai on the high-speed train. But we had some time before we were due to catch the train, so we decided to explore Xian’s Muslim Quarter a bit more.
Shopping in Xian
The famous Muslim Quarter of Xian is behind the Drum Tower, a 5 minute walk from our hotel. Yesterday, we explored the brightly lit food street and today we wanted to explore the shopping streets. Having been open late into the night, I expected the food street to be closed in the early morning, but many shops were open still open and brightly lit.
Just off the start of the food street is a narrow entrance between two shops, which leads to a labyrinth of stalls and souvenir shops. Whatever you do here, don’t pay the first price they ask. Haggling when no one speaks a common language is fun, and goes like this: Point to whatever you are interested in buying. The shopkeepers have a calculator, and they will punch in the starting price. Dramatically shake your head and punch the number you are willing to pay. Then it’s their turn to roll their eyes, and make a counter offer. And it goes on. We started by offering about third of the starting price, then ended up paying about half.
We bought several scarves which all had labels that say 100% silk. I’m not sure how much of the scarves are actually silk, but they are very pretty and not expensive, especially compared to Beijing. The maze of shops seem to go on forever, but we had to check out of the hotel and get to Xian Bei station to catch our train to Shanghai, so we turned back after a while.
Getting to Xian Bei Station
After the shopping expedition, we checked out of the hotel and headed to the subway station underneath the Bell Tower, which was a 10 minute walk from the hotel. We needed to get to the Xian Bei station, where the high-speed trains depart. This was easy, as Line 2 from the Bell Tower subway station went directly to Xian Bei station. The subway is very similar to Beijing’s, and navigating your way around is easy. All the signs and tickets machine available in English. Tickets to Xian Bei station cost 4 Yuan per person.
Finding our way once we arrived at Xian Bei was a bit tricky, though. When you disembark from the underground station, go up to level B. From here follow signs to the high-speed rail, and go up one floor. The signs aren’t the easiest to interpret so we needed to ask around. (Pointing to your high speed train ticket and looking puzzled seemed to do the trick here 🙂 ) From here, everything was similar to Beijing railway station, which we visited a couple of days previously. You need to show your passport and ticket at the entrance. Next is the luggage check. After this, you head to the departure gate, shown on display boards around the concourse. The concourse is much like a departure lounge at an airport.
Once you’ve found the gate, and ready to board the train, you need to show your ticket again. The platform has two gates of entry, A and B. The one you need to use will be printed on your ticket. (You can use either entrance, but using the correct one means less walking to your carriage). The train ticket (picture below) shows: Platform number, starting station, ending station, date and time, carriage number and seat. It also contains your passport number and surname.
The train leaves exactly on time, so make sure you arrive in plenty of time to board the train. The train boards around 20 minutes before departure time, and I would recommend arriving at the station about 45 mins to 1 hour before departure time to find your way around the station, use the bathroom and make any last minute purchases.
Journey from Xian to Shanghai
The carriage numbers and seat numbers are clearly marked on the train, so finding your seat is easy. Luggage racks are available one end of the carriage. We left our suitcases here for the whole journey without a problem.
Train is modern, clean and comfortable. We were in a standard carriage, with 3 and 2 seat configuration, and there was plenty of leg room.
Just after the train set off, a guard passed through the carriage, carrying hot water to top-up flasks and pot noodle containers. At one end of the carriage, there is a separate sink and toilet. The toilet is airline style and it was frequently cleaned during the 7.5 hour journey.
There was a ticket check once during the journey, so it is best to keep your ticket within easy access. There is a TV screen at each end of the carriage, but this mostly seem to show promotional videos. The display also showed upcoming stations, and there were announcements in English and Chinese both.
There is also a food trolley that passed by couple of times, as well as an on board shop/ restaurant. We didn’t make use of these as we had packed a picnic.
The train took about 7.5 hours to cover the distance of 1400 km, reaching a top speed of 304 km/h. The train was mostly empty for the first 1.5 hours, but this changed in Luoyang, where it completely filled up.
Scenery-wise, there is not a lot to say. The entire distance from Xian to Shanghai was built up areas, with either residential buildings, power stations or farmland.
Overall the trip was pleasant and comfortable, although 7.5 hours was a tad too long. There are faster trains with fewer stops, taking about 6 hours for the same journey, so these may be a better option. High speed train is not the cheapest way to get to Shanghai – the ticket cost 670 Yuan. The same journey on the sleep tron will cot you about 500 Yuan. In case you are wondering what a sleeper train journey in China is like, read this post.
Arriving in Shanghai and the Bund
Our guide and car from The China Travel Company picked us up from the station to transfer us to our hotel in Shanghai. It was dark when we arrived, but this didn’t matter, because if there is one city in the World where you should arrive in the dark, it is Shanghai. We were able to see the Bund in all its glory as we approached the city.
After a quick stop at the hotel to drop our bags, we headed straight back out to marvel at the lights of the Bund. Vibrant and a futuristic, the Bund is another attraction in this trip that lived up to the hype.
The Bund is the name given to the water front area next to Huangpao river in central Shanghai. From here, you can look across the river to Pudong financial district, with its skyscrapers. Out of all the ultra-modern and colourul skyscrapers, The Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the Jin Mao Tower and the HSBC building stand out. As you gaze out to Pudong, behind you are the waterfront buildings in Belle Époque architecture from Shanghai’s colonial past.
It was great fun to hang around the Bund, with our picnic dinner and admiring the dozen of beautiful wedding couples taking photos with the Bund as a backdrop. Then the clock struck 10 pm, and surprise! Many of the lights on both sides of the Bund turned off. So, my top tip for visiting the Bund, go at night, but before 10 pm.
There wasn’t much to hang around for after the lights had turned off, so we went back to the hotel, to rest and recharge to take on a Shanghai the next day.
Reflections: Today was a day of sitting still mostly, whilst the high -speed train whisked us across China. We had started the day in one of China’s oldest cities, and ended the day in its most modern city. The train trip was very pleasant and gave us a chance to rest and recharge after 4 days of non-stop sight-seeing. In hindsight though, I think I would have liked another day in Xian to visit a few more attractions there. Arriving in Shanghai to all its bright lights was amazing and as impressive as I hoped it would be (until 10 p.m. at least!)