No one who's ever been on Facebook could have avoided seeing the incredible bird's-eye view of what looked like 90 per cent of the mainland's cars trying, but failing, to stampede into Beijing after the Golden Week extravaganza.

One would think nearly 50 lanes (50!) would be enough to accommodate the capital's cars, but no; there they stood, stuck on a road to nowhere.

I like a good road trip as much as the next man, but I find that the best way to get around the mainland, especially when covering vast distances, is by train.

Train travel used to be a piece of cake: nip up to Guangzhou station, stand in line for 20 minutes and emerge victoriously with tickets for the same evening.

If I didn't mind paying a bit more, I could swing around to China Travel, on Queen's Road, and book the tickets a couple of weeks in advance. Easy-peasy.

That's how I thought it would be the day I sauntered into China Travel to buy train tickets for E, K and me. We were going to Kazakhstan overland and wanted to kick off with a proper train trip: Guangzhou to Lanzhou, in one day and two nights. Three of us in soft sleeper (a "luxury" cabin for four) - fun! Relaxing!

E and K had looked apprehensive when I told them about the train aspect of the trip, but E's fear of flying combined with my enthusiasm - "train journeys are so much fun! So comfortable! You can sleep really well! The food is excellent and cooked onboard! The beer is cold and we can play cards in the dining car!" - won them over.

I thought I had been smart by going to buy tickets three weeks early. But China Travel had become all "talk to the hand". And the hand said "no". The rules had changed and now I could only buy tickets nine days before departure.

That day came and the tickets were all sold out. Even soft sleeper. I hurried to Shenzhen station but was sent home: you need each traveller's passport to buy their tickets.

We got tickets all right, from Shenzhen North the morning before departure, each on the top of three berths, so close to the metal ceiling we couldn't sit up.

"A sea of molten lava," was E's description.

The journey took six hours longer than the one from Guangzhou, there was no air-con, no beer and, worst of all, no restaurant car.

See? That's what happens when all of China is middle class and they travel all the time.

No mode of transport is safe.