Boarding at Beijing railway station, the K27 train service is what will take you all the way to Pyongyang. However, owing to customs and immigration, we have to make a procedural brief stop first before going directly to the DPRK. This stop is Dandong, the border city between China and its neighbour. To get here, however, requires an overnight journey on this train first. Many western travelers may not be use to this experience, which may come with a clash or discomfort to existing cultural norms. Nevertheless, it is a fun journey. Our guide will help you
What to know
A Chinese sleeper train is designed to accommodate as many people as possible over the course of a long journey. This means unlike an ordinary or high speed rail train, it is not stacked with seats, but beds. These beds are set out in a communal fashion, with a given number allocated to each class of berth or cabin. There are two classes, “soft sleeper”, which has 4 beds and a cabin door and “hard sleeper”, which has 6 beds and a cabin door. Unless you pay extra, the majority of tourists taking the K27 train are allocated a hard sleeper due to the budgetary constraints of the tour. Nevertheless, the experience is relatively similar. You are situated with a number of Chinese strangers in a communal setting. This may take some getting use to. In the corridor opposite the berths, there are pull down seats and of course for the convenience of devices, power supplies. This however, owing to how busy it is, is competitive. There is no Wifi as of early 2018. Each carriage accordingly has two private bathrooms on each end. This however, comes with the infamous “Asian squat” toilet which may be a challenge to “western comfort”, be prepared!
It is important to get to your cabin quickly when boarding. There is an endless “internal politics” over “who sleeps where” amongst the Chinese, embedded with a culture of compromise. Some may not sleep/sit in their allocated slot and if you are not fast enough, some may take it before you do and expect you to move elsewhere. It is best to be cautious of this, but at the same time if they ask you politely, you should be willing to give space for compromise.
Surviving the Journey
When you get settled into the journey, there is a restaurant carriage available at the middle of the train. This is open until 10pm. Here, you can get all kinds of delicious Chinese food and a variety of drinks. It is not too pricey. Because the train is busy, staff are likely to impose a limit on how long you can be there. When moving throughout the train, be aware that from 9pm-10pm you will be expected to sleep. The lights will go out and the doors in between carriages will be locked by staff for security reasons. This can result in you being separated from your group and belongings! You might be waiting a while…
The K27 train arrives at Dandong between 7-8am. Here it will be time to get off, head down to the lobby of the station and prepare for DPRK entry procedures…