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With my 21 hour train journey from Yichang in Hunan Province to Beijing finally over (all 1500km of it) I thought I’d cast a little light on how the class system of the Chinese trains work. Basically there are 4 classes: Hard seat, soft seat seat, hard sleeper and soft sleeper.


Hard seat:

The cheapest class of seat. No recline available but not as ‘hard’ as the name suggests, 5 seats across each row (3 on one side, then an aisle, 2 on the other). It’s quite cramped and loud. The lights don’t go off during the night and in winter it’s quite chilling, summer it’s quite hot due to the lack of air-con or heaters. It’s considerable cheaper than the other classes and it’s fine for most people for any journey less than 8 hours or so. For the hardier amongst us, a night on this is fine too, just don’t expect much sleep. Don’t worry, it’s not just a bench, it’s got a little bit of cushion lining it.


chinese hard seat
chinese hard seat

Soft seat:

The equivalent of a long-distance bus seat, complete with reclining ability and soft upholstery. This is pretty comfortable and you could easily spend a long journey on the seat. Air-con pumps in the summer and heaters in the winter.

However the soft seat is similarly priced (70%) to the hard sleeper which, for me, makes this choice redundant, unless there is nothing left. These do sell out fast though so book early.


chinese soft seat

Hard Sleeper:

My class of choice but sells out fast. The hard sleeper is like a dorm room in a train, with a narrow corridor running down the side of the carriage. Then there are 3 beds lined up from bottom bunk, middle bunk and top bunk. The bottom is slightly more expensive than the middle which is slightly more expensive than the top, although only by a dew dollars.

The hard sleeper is open, and often there’s a lot of talking, smoking and drinking going on. The actual bed is fine though, with a pillow and blanket and while it won’t win any comfort awards, it’s certainly possible to get a decent nights sleep on this.


chinese hard sleeper

Soft Sleeper:

The most expensive by a distance. Almost a real bed, in 2 or 4 bed cabins which can close off from the rest of the train. There are 2 beds on each wall, instead of 3 and often a table and chairs in the room too. This often runs a similar cost to a domestic flight though.


chinese soft sleeper

Chinese trains always sell out early so book as early as possible. If you want a sleeper then you need to book a couple of days in advance, turning up on the same day you’ll find it very difficult to get a sleeper, and you’ll be stuck on a hard seat (like I have many of times!). Happy travels!

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10 thoughts on “What’s the difference between a hard sleeper and a soft sleeper on Chinese trains?

  1. Pingback: 中国火车上的硬卧和软卧有什么区别?| 一步之遥 4Ward-数字游民指南
  2. There is the a 5th class too (at least during the Public Holiday period):

    Standing Seats (paradox but true).

    I took a 28h ride from Beijing to Chengdu.
    If you are fine with sitting in the resulting mess on the floor of the the hard seat class and ready to consider a broken ankle from the people tripping over you, then that’s the Bang for the Buck.
    (220 RMB)

  3. Thanks for the info, it definitely makes sense to book locally and pay local prices if possible. When applying for your Chinese visa, what did you use for your proof of exit, if you were booking this inside China?

  4. Oops I just realised this post is about trains in China and not specifically to the trans Siberian railway. 😛

  5. Hi Johnny,

    I will be traveling via the Trans Siberian Railway from Beijing to Moscow in August and I find the information that you have provided very useful and insightful.
    I have a question: what are first class rail tickets and from Beijing to Ulaan Bater are they considered private compartments? I will be traveling with my sisters and there will only be us 3 girls.

  6. experienced hard sleeper from Guilin to Chengdu during hot summer, no aircond, very long 26 hrs journey, amazing view..experienced hard sleeper from Chengdu to Xi’an, yes aircond, comfortable bed, sleeping all the way..experienced soft seat from Xi’an to Beijing, quite cold full blast aircond, comfortable seat..feel free to read my blog on the China Travel..:)

  7. Great guide to seat/sleep options on the trains. For the hard sleeper where do you keep your backpack/luggage? Ever feel worried about falling asleep and your stuff being broken into?

    1. there are areas for some bags, but u gotta rush on first or they’ll be gone and u have to sleep with them! for security, u just have to be trusting i think :S

  8. can’t stand all those smoking in an enclosed air-conditioned space in them chinese trains. experienced both soft sleeper and hard sleeper when we went to datong. i think sleeper trains in malaysia are much better.

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