A “soft sleeper” is one of the most spacious and comfortable berths available on most regular trains in China, including those trains with numbers beginning with K, T, Z, L and some overnight D trains (a type of high-speed bullet trains). The soft sleeper is a bed with comfortable pillows, mattresses and comforters. Usually there are only 2 carriages with soft sleeper compartments with room for up to 64 passengers. Each compartment is a single cabin with a private door facing the aisle. Each cabin has 4 soft sleeper berths inside with 2 upper and 2 lower berths. Each bed measures about 75 centimeters (30 inches) wide and 190 centimeters (75 inches) long. Each soft sleeper bed is fixed on a steel shelf that can bear a weight of around 300 kilograms (661 pounds).
Upper Berths vs. Lower Berths
With two lower berths and two upper berths in each cabin, a person may wonder which berth would be best. Both of them have their pros and cons. The lower berths are easier to get into and because they are closer to the windows and passengers can easily sit on the beds, it is easier to get a better view of the scenery passing by. However, it is common practice in China for the upper berth passengers to sit on the lower berth beds during the daytime which can be awkward for those not used to such behavior. The upper berths allow for more private space and a less expensive price, but it is harder to look out the windows from the upper berths plus you have to climb up a small ladder to reach your bed.
How to Tell if You Have a Lower or Upper Berth
If you did not specify in advance whether you wanted a lower or upper soft sleeper berth, you will be randomly assigned a berth. The soft sleepers in each carriage are numbered from 1 to 36, with the even numbers representing upper berths and the odd numbers representing the lower berths. If you haven’t specified in advance and you are traveling with friends, you can tell the train conductor that you would all like to stay in the same compartment and he or she will try to help you.
Facilities and Amenities in Soft Sleeper Carriages
As compared to hard sleepers, soft sleepers allow for a quieter, more comfortable and more private place on board the train with more facilities to use. In addition to the larger bed and higher quality bed sheets, pillows and comforters, there will also be a small table with a tray on it, a heat-retaining vaccuum bottle for hot water and a trash can in the cabin. There will also be a 220V electric power outlet located under the table (you may need an adapter for the plug for your phone, laptop or other device.) There may also be a small TV attached to the door near the aisle. There will only be some local Chinese TV programs available for viewing if the TV is operating at all (it does not work on many trains). Near the window there will be an outlet for supplemental oxygen. There may be disposable slippers provided in soft sleeper carriages The aisles outside of the compartments also have some foldable seats for sitting and great views outside the windows.
Luggage Storage in Soft Sleeper Carriages
There is a large and wide luggage closet above the door in each soft sleeper compartment. It measures around 40 centimeters (16 inches) high and 50 centimeters (20 inches) wide so there is room for some smaller luggage here. There is also space under each lower berth for larger and heavier luggage. All luggage storage spaces are shared by all of the passengers in the compartment.
Public Facilities On Board Tibet Trains
Each soft sleeper carriage has two toilets on each end of the carriages. You can find both Western sit-down style toilets and squat toilets on the trains. Remember that no toilet paper or any other amenities are supplied on any trains in China.
At the ends of each carriage near the toilets there is a large washing basin with three faucets available along with a large mirror behind the faucets. Both hot and cold non-potable water is supplied for washing and brushing teeth. No toiletries are supplied on the trains.
There are drinking water dispensers on both ends of the carriage. Both hot water and cold water is available. Remember not to drink the water from the wash basins as it is non-potable.
No smoking is allowed in the compartments or aisle areas. You may be able to smoke at the very ends of the carriages where they connect to the next carriage.
Costs for Soft Sleepers for Tibet Train Routes
Currently, there are soft sleepers available on trains to Lhasa from Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Xian, Xining, Lanzhou, Chongqing and Guangzhou. The prices are more expensive than the hard sleepers but still reasonable. Travelers have to stay on board the train for two nights if taking a train to Lhasa from Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing. The prices of lower berth soft sleepers are more expensive than the prices of upper berth sleepers but not by much.
From our experience, we strongly recommend that travelers choose the soft sleeper train tickets rather than the hard sleepers or hard seats to ensure a much more comfortable trip. This is especially recommended if taking the trains from Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai or other long train trips that require spending two nights on board the train.
Useful Tips for Soft Sleepers on Tibet Trains
1. Since there are four sleepers in each compartment, passengers have to share the space with others who may be of the opposite sex. If you feel uncomfortable with this, you can ask the ticket agent to arrange an all-female or all-male compartment when you buy the ticket at the train station. You will not be able to choose your cabin when you book online or by telephone. If you are traveling with friends or family, you can also ask the conductor to arrange your berths in the same compartment.
2. If you are traveling to Lhasa from Beijing, Shanghai, or Chengdu, we strongly recommend the soft sleeper cabins as you will be spending two nights on the train.
3. You must have a Tibet Travel Permit to travel to Tibet by train or flight. You will not be permitted to board your train or flight without it.