I am the first to admit I was ignorant about China’s transport system. I had low expectations, especially when it came to finding anything accessible, but I was wrong. The train system is excellent and the trains have wheelchair access. My experience on China’s bullet train was an unexpected highlight of my trip to China.
Chengdudong Railway Station is huge, modern and bustling with locals using the efficient train system to get where they need to go.
Our tour guide had us arrive early for our departure which enabled us plenty of time to explore the terminal. Shops, food outlets and railway lounges line the inside perimeter of the station. Being the shopper I am I was keen to see if I could pick up some souvenirs and I did well. BJ was particularly happy with his model bullet train. Proving you can’t escape fast food there’s KFC and Burger King as well as many convenience stores for purchasing snacks for the trip ahead.
I was impressed with the clean facilities at the station and yes, there’s accessible unisex bathroom facilities. Again I found the rails beside the toilet and couldn’t be moved.
But there was toilet paper. Who knew I’d ever be so impressed by the provision of toilet paper!
Walking along the length of the train I was thrilled to notice a small wheelchair symbol on the side of one carriage.
The door width of the accessible carriage was much wider and once inside I found a wheelchair space at the front of the cabin.
We travelled first class which I equate to premium economy on an aircraft with wider seats, greater leg room and a lovely foot rest. A USB charging station is beside the footrest for the convenience of travellers on long journeys.
Our journey was six and a half hours and honestly, it was the most comfortable way to travel. The comfort of the seats was evidenced by one of my fellow travellers snoring loudly behind me, a mixture of funny and annoying. With so much leg room I didn’t feel restless like I do when on a plane. I enjoyed being able to get up and move around as I wished but only got up to go to the bathroom.
For research purposes I used the accessible bathroom rather than the squat toilet (so not a fan of the squat toilet!). The accessible bathroom is equipped with a push button door and rails which could be lifted out of the way.
The bathroom space is long and narrow so difficult for a wheelchair user.
Hot water facilities are available on the train and those in the know were equipped with travel mugs to make noodles and hot drinks.
The trains are incredibly clean with staff walking up and down sweeping and clearing any rubbish left behind. A food trolley with a range of snacks regularly did the rounds for those not travelling with snacks.
I can’t emphasise enough how clean the train experience is in China.
When we arrived at our destination and got off the train we were met with a huge staircase. This was a challenge for the majority of the group with large suitcases to get to the bottom. I quizzed our guide later as to how a wheelchair user would have managed. From what she said there are escalators and lifts however being a tour group we were taken the quickest way. It sounded like lifts are not on every platform though and would take some organising to get to a lift for a wheelchair user. I wish I’d had time to do more research but groups are fast-paced and there was no waiting for me if I detoured from the plans. Considering the access on the train it would be crazy for there not to be access at the platform but then many cities around the world are still struggling with access to train stations so it would not be unexpected.
The train journey rates as a highlight of my time in China because it gave me an amazing snapshot of the countryside, cities and everything in between. I had my laptop, a book and magazines but it was hard not to just gaze out the window enjoying the variety of scenery as it whizzed on by. Although we were travelling at speeds up to 190km per hour it was easy viewing.
While I was enjoying the views I was reminded of travel’s power to opens our minds, to smash preconceived ideas and educate. I was only a couple of days into my journey and China was surprising me at every turn. I absolutely loved everything I was seeing and felt incredibly alive travelling and taking in a different side to the country than I’d imagined I would find.
I was hosted by SNA Tours on their Pandamonium tour of China but as always, my opinions are my own.
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