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Buying train tickets on day of travel

Buying train tickets on day of travel

Old Nov 14, 10, 8:01 pm
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Buying train tickets on day of travel

Is it possible to show up at the train station in Shanghai and other cities in that area of China on the day of travel and buy a ticket for the next train if it's a short, one hour trip? Example, to go from Shanghai to Suzhou, there are many trains all day long. It is only an hour trip. For these short trips and other day trips, like Shanghai to Hangzhou and back or Suzhou to Tongli and back, is it necessary to buy a ticket in advance? I will be in China in October 2011 if all goes according to plan and not there during the National Day holiday so it shouldn't be too busy. I want to stay 2-3 nights in Suzhou and visit other cities from there, like Tongli and Nanjing without deciding days in advance exactly when I go to those places.

If I must buy all tickets ahead of time are there agents who sell train tickets near the big hotels or city centers? Are there city ticket offices of China Rail? Or is it necessary to take the time to go to the train station and get them, chewing up a few hours of touring time. I know I cannot buy them online : (
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Old Nov 14, 10, 8:46 pm
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Originally Posted by susiesan View Post
Is it possible to show up at the train station in Shanghai and other cities in that area of China on the day of travel and buy a ticket for the next train if it's a short, one hour trip? Example, to go from Shanghai to Suzhou, there are many trains all day long. It is only an hour trip. For these short trips and other day trips, like Shanghai to Hangzhou and back or Suzhou to Tongli and back, is it necessary to buy a ticket in advance? I will be in China in October 2011 if all goes according to plan and not there during the National Day holiday so it shouldn't be too busy. I want to stay 2-3 nights in Suzhou and visit other cities from there, like Tongli and Nanjing without deciding days in advance exactly when I go to those places.

If I must buy all tickets ahead of time are there agents who sell train tickets near the big hotels or city centers? Are there city ticket offices of China Rail? Or is it necessary to take the time to go to the train station and get them, chewing up a few hours of touring time. I know I cannot buy them online : (
Sure it's possible... just not advisable. Short distance trains tend to sell out close in, so chances are you'll end up waiting around for a later train for no reason. It's easy to buy tickets a day or 2 in advance.
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Old Nov 14, 10, 8:54 pm
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For the kind of routes you mention I would recommend booking at least the day before, and maybe a couple of days beforehand, especially if you want to take the CRH high speed trains (Suzhou is now under 30 minutes from Shanghai, Hangzhou is also faster now).

That said, if you are unfussy about the time of day you travel (i.e. not at rush hour) then you can often get tickets on the day of travel, though it is unlikely you'll get tickets for a train leaving immediately so may have to come back to the station a couple of hours later. Equally, however, I have been in situations where I needed to travel NEXT day for work, and was unable to do so because all trains before 4pm had already sold out between Shanghai and Suzhou.

Also bear in mind that some trains now only go to the new high speed stations at Hongqiao Airport and Shanghai South, rather than the main Shanghai station.

To buy tickets, I would get your hotel to do it (if staying at a hotel). They will charge a couple of dollars for admin but it will save you time and hassle. The tickets themselves are very cheap, so soft seat (First Class) is an affordable option.

If you want to DIY, then some travel agents will sell you train tickets, and there are boking offices located around town.
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Old Nov 15, 10, 8:47 am
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For trips with lots of the new Gao Tie lines (eg Shanghai-Suzhou/Nanjing or Shanghai-Hangzhou) I actually wouldn't worry that much UNLESS you are on a time schedule. As previous posters said, don't expect to get tickets on the "next train" necessarily, esp if you want first class tickets. However, I will say that with these common route trains I almost always can walk up and buy a ticket - since these routes have many trains and you don't have to queue up, you can simply use the auto ticket machines (which have English). So my thoughts aren't as "you must buy day before" as the previous posters.

As for where to buy, with the routes I mentioned above you can certainly buy them via the auto-ticket machines, hence again I would just show up and be flexible if you have to wait an hour for the next train. But if you really want the ticket in advance, the best is to have your hotel help you book (most large and brand hotels have ticket booking service). Expect to pay another 20-30 RMB for the fee, but if it saves you time and headache it's a cheap advil.
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Old Nov 15, 10, 9:46 am
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If there are people at the hotels who can obtain train tickets in advance, I don't mind paying them a fee for the service. I'm trying to avoid having take the subway or taxi to a train station, wait in a line, buy the tickets, then go back to the hotel, killing a few hours of precious time. It is unlikely the hotels I'm staying at will be within walking distance of the train stations.
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Old Nov 15, 10, 5:24 pm
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Originally Posted by susiesan View Post
If there are people at the hotels who can obtain train tickets in advance, I don't mind paying them a fee for the service. I'm trying to avoid having take the subway or taxi to a train station, wait in a line, buy the tickets, then go back to the hotel, killing a few hours of precious time. It is unlikely the hotels I'm staying at will be within walking distance of the train stations.
There are many places to buy train tickets other than train stations.
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Old Nov 16, 10, 1:03 am
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For the fast trains (G's), I wouldn't worry about it as long as you are past the holiday period and have a little flexibility. In mid-September, I was able to walk up to the automatic kiosks in the train stations at Nanjing and Suzhou, and get the next train out. Another strategy is when arriving at a station, first head for the kiosks to get your outbound ticket to the next destination. These things are almost like buses. Furthermore, even if you can't snag a seat and feel you really want a specific train, they sell standing tickets also, though they'll be the same price as an economy seat therefore not good value.

If you don't want to pay a hotel's surcharge to get for you in advance, then ask them when you arrive, where the nearest satellite ticketing office is, but expect to waste time standing in line a bit. You're unlikely to be more than a 10-15 minute walk from one at most. Mandarin isn't essential but helps. My September Shanghai-Hangzhou leg (D train, G's weren't operating yet) was done like this, buying at a satellite office for a trip 2 days in advance took about 30 minutes in line, but it was unusually busy as lots of people were buying for the upcoming National Day holiday. My more typical waits in line are 5-10 minutes at a satellite. Satellite offices normally tack on RMB 5 to the ticket base price.

Last edited by jiejie; Nov 16, 10 at 1:08 am
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Old Nov 16, 10, 1:40 am
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Very simple basic rule: If you want a specific time window and prefer 1st class, book well ahead and even use hotel concierge service.

Why 1st class? Because travelling by 2nd class/hard seat train in China is anything but relaxing. Many passengers are used to a rough life, have sharp elbows and are ready to use them when lining up. The mad rush is ok as an "experience" once or twice but starts to get traumatic when using trains regularly.

Of course the cabin also tends to be more quiet and feature less first timers on a CRH.

I also wouldn't request a too precise departure time if no timetable and train number at hand. Better to give for example a one hour time window to the hotel concierge or other designated buyer.
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Old Nov 16, 10, 2:56 am
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Originally Posted by mosburger View Post
Why 1st class? Because travelling by 2nd class/hard seat train in China is anything but relaxing.
For the trains susiesan and the rest of us are talking about in this part of China (the G's), there is no problem with 2nd class. It's not remotely close to taking one of the traditional "hard seat" slower local trains. And due to the higher cost of G tickets, you won't find Farmer Wang on them--he'll be on the slow local no-number or K's. First class seating is 2-2 vs Second Class 3-3, but even second class on the G train is a heck of a sight more comfortable than any economy airline cabin. IME, 2nd class on these trains sells out faster than 1st class, so I'd say last minute buyers are MORE likely to have to pay up and take 1st class seats. I find the money difference substantial between 1st and 2nd class, so I usually cheap out, with the exception of the Suzhou-Shanghai segment which is quite short. Others may have different value propositions, but I always seem to live just fine in the cheaper seats (assuming a leisure trip not business).
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Old Nov 16, 10, 7:17 am
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Originally Posted by jiejie View Post
For the fast trains (G's), I wouldn't worry about it as long as you are past the holiday period and have a little flexibility. In mid-September, I was able to walk up to the automatic kiosks in the train stations at Nanjing and Suzhou, and get the next train out.
While I agree that train tickets around the Yangtze Delta are often easy to snag on the spot, they do sell out on occasion (typically not the entire schedule, but 2-3 hour waits are fairly common), and this is a relatively easy contingency to insure against (either pay your hotel a few bucks or visit a remote ticket office).

As you must know by now, my travel related risk tolerance is abnormally high. However, I've spent enough time (unnecessarily) waiting around airports and train stations to prompt a small amount of planning in situations like the OP's.

BTW, I also think first class is usually worth an extra $5-15.
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Old Nov 16, 10, 7:47 am
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Originally Posted by jiejie View Post
For the fast trains (G's), I wouldn't worry about it as long as you are past the holiday period and have a little flexibility. In mid-September, I was able to walk up to the automatic kiosks in the train stations at Nanjing and Suzhou, and get the next train out. Another strategy is when arriving at a station, first head for the kiosks to get your outbound ticket to the next destination. These things are almost like buses. Furthermore, even if you can't snag a seat and feel you really want a specific train, they sell standing tickets also, though they'll be the same price as an economy seat therefore not good value.

If you don't want to pay a hotel's surcharge to get for you in advance, then ask them when you arrive, where the nearest satellite ticketing office is, but expect to waste time standing in line a bit. You're unlikely to be more than a 10-15 minute walk from one at most. Mandarin isn't essential but helps. My September Shanghai-Hangzhou leg (D train, G's weren't operating yet) was done like this, buying at a satellite office for a trip 2 days in advance took about 30 minutes in line, but it was unusually busy as lots of people were buying for the upcoming National Day holiday. My more typical waits in line are 5-10 minutes at a satellite. Satellite offices normally tack on RMB 5 to the ticket base price.
+1, spot on. Kiosks are great for the G trains, and they have them still for some of the D trains (I think).

Originally Posted by mosburger View Post
Very simple basic rule: If you want a specific time window and prefer 1st class, book well ahead and even use hotel concierge service.

Why 1st class? Because travelling by 2nd class/hard seat train in China is anything but relaxing. Many passengers are used to a rough life, have sharp elbows and are ready to use them when lining up. The mad rush is ok as an "experience" once or twice but starts to get traumatic when using trains regularly.

Of course the cabin also tends to be more quiet and feature less first timers on a CRH.

I also wouldn't request a too precise departure time if no timetable and train number at hand. Better to give for example a one hour time window to the hotel concierge or other designated buyer.
I typically go for first class to, but for many of the G trains I wouldn't worry. Why? If the ride is less than 2 hours, no big deal. Esp since many times even the 2nd class cars are empty, esp midday. But yes 1st class is better.
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Old Nov 16, 10, 10:05 am
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Looks like I'll use hotel concierges to buy my train tickets as the most effective use of my time. Because we will have our luggage with us, a rolling duffel bag and small carry on each, will we need to go 1st class? Is there space for luggage in 2nd class compartments on these G trains? I'm not so concerned about seat comfort as non of our planned train trips will be longer than 2 hours, the longest being Suzhou to Hangzhou.
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Old Nov 16, 10, 10:08 am
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Originally Posted by susiesan View Post
the longest being Suzhou to Hangzhou.
FYI, Suzhou to Hangzhou trains go via Shanghai (more than double the direct distance).
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Old Nov 16, 10, 10:32 am
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Wink what a deal

As an example on chinatravel.com I see train D309 leaving Suzhou 6:37 arrive Hangzhou 8:20am. Travel time 1h43 m. Cost $15 1st class. This train does not go through Shanghai. G7381 leaves Suzhou 9:14am arrives Hangzhou 10:40am passing through Shanghai. Travel time 1h26m. Cost does not show. G train is faster than D train.
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Old Nov 16, 10, 10:39 am
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Originally Posted by susiesan View Post
As an example on chinatravel.com I see train D309 leaving Suzhou 6:37 arrive Hangzhou 8:20am. Travel time 1h43 m. Cost $15 1st class. This train does not go through Shanghai. G7381 leaves Suzhou 9:14am arrives Hangzhou 10:40am passing through Shanghai. Travel time 1h26m. Cost does not show. G train is faster than D train.
http://www.travelchinaguide.com/images/map/railway.jpg
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