The world has changed a lot since 2011! We remember rolling up to a station an hour before the train left and being able to book hard sleepers, a 6 berth bedroom on a train. That memory is long gone and has been replaced by automated booking service Ctrips. Of course there are many transport methods to get around China but it’s main arteries are it’s train service and the track builders have been busy in the last 6 years! Every major city is now connected via high speed routes, travelling at around 300kph. some routes are even quicker, using magnets, and travel closer to 500kph. High speed trains are pricey compared to the rest of Asia but well priced compared to Europe. The explosion in train options has meant the trains are far busier, arriving on the day of departure without a train ticket is pure ignorance. Now, everything must be booked days in advanced, which often means making rigid plans or risk loosing 20% of the ticket to refund it, this has to be done 24 hrs before departure. Luckily cheap travel can be found and although the price has gone up £35 for 20 hours on a train with a bed seems like a good price. Travel in China is a catch-22, one hand it’s accessible and affordable to all but the trade off is needing a rigid plan, which most backpackers prefer not to have. It makes travelling around this vast country un-spontaneous.
Maybe we’ve been reading too much 1984, but the Chinese people live a very controlled society. Luckily, the Chinese people seem happy, they are very social and community is inherently present on the streets, trains and attractions. But the Chinese are also very quick to follow, to queue and to fall in line. The authorities ask their citizens to queue for almost everything, tickets, getting the underground or a train. Every citizen is put through security checks, X-raying their bags, ID checks, cameras are widespread, every car is photographed at every junction! The amount of signage showing rules and explaining how citizen should act are widespread and laughable, ‘Don’t jump off mountain’ one read from a precipice!? (Thanks for that nugget of wisdom China!) Some sources say that that education is watered down, is pro Chinese and edited in favour of authoritarian politics. It really feels like a place where being an individual is ill advised, where ignorance is bliss. Perhaps we were too young to notice but the imposing governance of the state was barely noticeable in 2011. Right now, it casts a controlling shadow across it’s lands. This is becoming a place for the average person who won't rock the boat, and so we are finding it very difficult to recommend China as a place for those who lust for adventure. In 2017, adventure in China comes pre packaged and next to a megaphone.