Few good things are said about mainland trains. Everyone has heard nightmare tales about scrambling for tickets and hellish hard-seat journeys shared with chickens. The Hong Kong-Beijing train is a different story. It takes you back to a time when the journey was part of the adventure. It's all about the luxury of a pocket of time - 28 hours to be exact. There is time to read, sleep, chat or just stare, trance-like, out of the window. You may argue you can't cut such a big slice out of your hectic schedule. But if you do, you're guaranteed to remember it. And another bonus is that it's cheap. A one-way ticket to Beijing, soft-sleeper, will set you back just $934. That's a little more than a third of the air fare. It is even cheaper to go hard-sleeper - $601 - but there is little point saving the extra and not enjoying the journey. For couples, the ideal thing to do is splash out and get a private, two-berth carriage for $1,200 each. But you have to book well in advance, these cabins are in demand. They even have access to a shower - a luxury you'll appreciate after a day on the tracks. My two travelling companions were party girls and a little worse for wear when we met at Hunghom station on a Sunday afternoon. Wary about the provisions on board, we had come well supplied. Half our luggage was made up of food, water and a cooler bag that would serve as our personal mini-bar. But we need not have worried about starving to death. Each carriage has four bunks and although we had tried to book the fourth our travel agent said if there were only three of us, the extra bunk might be filled regardless of whether we had paid for the extra ticket. We were disappointed to find the fourth berth had been booked. But our travelling companion became our unofficial guard, keeping an eye on our luggage. Aside from the dubious aesthetics of garish peppermint green curtains and plastic roses, the carriage was comfortable. The best feature was a one-metre-square window, which, fortunately, was not obscured by bars or blinds. In addition to a central light, each bed has a personal reading lamp and all carriages have their own air-conditioning controls. They weren't kidding when they said 'soft-sleeper' - double mattresses guarantee comfort and the duvets and pillows are down-filled. Satisfied with the sleeping arrangements, we went in search of that part of the journey which we suspected might be the most unpleasant - the toilets. In comparison with the ones you'll see when you reach Beijing, these are great. But that's not saying much. They are squat affairs that you won't want to linger in. Bring your own toilet roll - it's a great way to make friends. We ended up spending a fair amount of our time in the dining car. There are a dozen tables and it is packed during meal times. Although the kitchen appears a little rough and ready, the meals are acceptable. There are a dozen dishes to choose from - the names for half of which have been crudely translated into English. The fish ($30) was edible, though bony, and the vegetables ($25) were fine. This is not cordon bleu, but it's a hot meal. The dining car is an ideal spot to while away the hours. Regardless of the time, you can always get a snack and a cup of tea. Don't even bother with the coffee; jasmine tea ($5) is a much safer bet. If you can't sleep, you could do worse than return to the dining car. It turns into a bar in the early hours of the morning and PLA soldiers crack open bottles of beer and flirt with the waitress. The atmosphere is friendly and if you have a smattering of Putonghua, you'll probably be asked to join in a card game. But after a quick visit there, we slept soundly and woke in time to see the sunrise, its rays softened by a thin veil of fog. The rhythmic motion of the train is undoubtedly soporific because when we next woke it was 10am and breakfast had been and gone. We spent much of the day gazing out of the window as the countryside rolled by. It was harvest time and the farmers were gathering their corn and spreading it out to dry on the roofs of their one-storey houses. The corn was sunshine-yellow and for much of the journey the landscape was splashed with colour. The train pulled into Beijing on schedule at 7pm. We felt pleased with ourselves. We would not have seen anything if we had flown, we had saved money, and what's more we had enjoyed the journey. GETTING THERE Trains leave every other day from Hunghom to Beijing. Tickets, including return air ticket, are available from China Travel. Phone 2853 3888.