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China Master Transportation Thread

China Master Transportation Thread

Old May 22, 11, 2:45 am
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China Master Transportation Thread

Based on popular demand, this thread will provide much of the information and details the China traveler should be armed with, particularly if you are planning an independent or part-independent trip. The FAQ Transport Sticky will link to this thread, and most updates will be edited or posted here as they occur.

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jiejie is offline  
Old May 22, 11, 2:47 am
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Intercity Travel--Domestic Flights


The Chinese domestic flight market is structured differently from that of many other countries and it is useful to understand the key features. In nearly every aspect, the Chinese system of locating and purchasing flights is more straightforward and less geared to outfoxing and outwitting the airlines. The most meaningful differences are:

• Chinese air ticketing is essentially a point-to-point based model.
• Chinese base airfares are government-set according to distance.
• Airlines and third-party agents may discount off of the full-fare government price according to supply, demand, and other considerations.
• Fares for all booking classes including the discounted ones are loaded into the system on a quarterly basis, so it is unproductive to look for the best fares too far in advance.
• Chinese habits are geared to walk-up flying and short-term planning, not booking months in advance.
• There is normally no benefit to buying a round-trip fare, vs two one-way fares.

The traveler’s first choice should always be direct point-to-point travel when available. There is very rarely any cost benefit to making a connection in China—because of the distance basis of flight pricing, traveling A ->C directly is always going to be cheaper than A->B->C, mostly because the latter will be priced as the sum of two separate tickets A->B + B->C. Only occasionally will a pricing anomaly make a connection the cheaper routing. There are no issues with complexities such as hidden cities, end-on-end, Saturday night stays, etc

The Chinese government sets baseline plane fares that are based on distance (i.e, 1 km = X RMB) which is the standard full-fare economy ticket price. Airlines and third-party agents are then free to discount off this baseline price. Taxes and fuel surcharges are additional, but are standardized by the government, levied on a per ticket basis, and not discounted. As of August, 2013, there is a standard domestic departure tax (also known as the "Airport Construction Fee") of RMB 50 per ticket, plus a fuel tax of RMB 60 per ticket for flights under 800 km, and RMB 110 for flights over 800 km. This would make a total "taxes and fees" of RMB 110 for the shorter distances and RMB 160 for the longer. This tax is subject to adjustment up and down as fuel price conditions warrant.

Flight Pricing and Booking

In general, most Chinese domestic tickets offered by travel agents outside China will be offered only at the full-fare price + tax. This includes online mass agents such as Expedia. Chinese domestic agents, as well as Chinese airlines directly, can offer discounts. Discounts are typically done in 5% or 10% increments, and on some flights at certain times of the year, this can be as much as 70-75% off base price. However, more typical discounts range up to 40-50% off baseline. The deeper the discount, the more restrictive the ticket on cancellation, refunding, date or flight changes, endorsability, etc. Make sure you know the rules before you finalize your purchase. If you wish to earn miles towards a Frequent Flyer program, make sure you know what Chinese airline booking classes earn miles on your program—in generally only the highest cost booking classes will earn. Chinese FFP’s are relatively useless, even to China residents that frequently fly domestic.

Note that tickets to/from the mainland to Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are considered international, with different pricing and tax/fee structure, and generally expensive per km.

When is the optimum time to book to get the best discount? Over the past year or so, our collective FT wisdom is that there is a sweet spot for booking, which generally is 2-6 weeks before flight departure. Book too early, and the best discounts will not be available—and flight schedules might change a bit. Book too late, and the most heavily discounted booking classes will be sold out and you’ll get a lesser discount. There are some routes where significant discounting is unfortunately uncommon: Kunming-Lijiang, Lhasa-Chengdu come to mind. The main reason to deviate from the sweet spot period and book farther in advance is for travel during Chinese major holiday periods, especially if there is little schedule flexibility on flight choice.

For people already in China, office-based TA’s usually have access to the same discounts that the online agents have. For those who wish to book in advance, the most popular online agents with English-language interfaces, live-person support, and ability to take foreign credit cards for the traveler located outside China are (best used with Internet Explorer browser):
Ctrip. Mainland-based.
Elong. Mainland-based.
Travelzen. Taiwan-based. Travelzen does not levy the 3% fee for using a foreign credit card that the others do.
9588. Mainland-based. This website is popular with some expats though not as well-known outside China.

Note: Please be cognizant that with any China-based company or merchant, use of a foreign bank-issued Visa or Mastercard may result being charged in your home currency using DCC (Dynamic Currency Conversion) rather than in local currency. The exchange rate used may be unfavorable. This may or may not be objectionable, but be aware the potential of DCC exists so you are not surprised. While you are supposed to have a choice, in China DCC is increasingly being imposed unilaterally, without consultation with or agreement by you.

If you are looking for China to Country X (outbound international travel from China), these outlets may be checked to see what's on offer. However, they do not automatically have the best options or pricing, and should be compared with airline-direct fares and those of major international booking companies also.

Qunar is a Kayak-like site that is very useful for readers of Chinese who can work with the Chinese payment system. Each of the major Chinese airlines also offers ticketing on their own websites, sometimes at slightly better rates. However, the English-language pages of the websites are not necessarily fully functional or updated as frequently as the Chinese pages, and a check with their latest payment policies is always in order.

Pricing example: Let's take SHA-PEK. Full fare economy is currently RMB 1130 + RMB 160 tax. If you buy your tickets from many foreign travel agents (Expedia being one), this may be the only price they have in their system, though there may be a few (Edreams being one) that do load some of the discounted fares into their booking systems. If you use a Chinese travel agent, you definitely will be able to tap into all the discounted booking classes available, let's say 40% on a specific flight. This lowers the price to RMB 680 + 160. Very few residents of China buy full fares unless they need full refund and endorsability privileges.

Domestic First Class fares are not cheap, however on some routes for some flights, discounted First Class is sometimes available for no more than full fare economy, and sometimes a bit less. Discounted First Class fares are one of the exceptions to the booking time window—for these, earlier is better and if you see them offered, commit quickly if that's what you want.

E-tickets are now the norm on nearly all domestic airlines.

Chinese Airlines

There is no consensus on which of the following is the "best" Chinese domestic airline. Same goes for which one is the worst! (Again, Chinese websites are designed to work best with Internet Explorer.)

• Big Three State-Owned enterprises: Air China, China Eastern Airlines (includes Shanghai Airlines), China Southern Airlines
• Significant fourth: Hainan Airlines (a group that includes Capital Airlines--formerly Deer Air, also Tianjin Airlines—formerly Grand China Express; West Air; and Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express)
• Major Regional Players: Shenzhen Airlines, Xiamen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines (last is Chinese-language only)
• Smaller Regionals or Niche players: Shandong Airlines, Chongqing Airlines, Chengdu Airlines, Hebei Airlines, Lucky Air (last four are Chinese-language only)
• Unique: China United Airlines (ex-military, MU owns it now, flies to some interesting places and airports) (Chinese-language only)
• Private, relatively new carriers: Juneyao Airlines (Chinese-language only), Okay Airlines (Chinese only) Spring Airlines (a low cost carrier not hooked into central reservations systems)

Note that some of the regional, smaller, and unique players are owned or part-owned by one of the Big Three. This thread has a good outline for anybody interested in this sort of thing.

Related Links:
Domestic China flights
Ctrip also CTrip Question
Using qunar.com for bookings
Recent experiences with 9588.com
Air China e-ticket
ChinaSouthern online purchase
Juneyao / Spring Airlines: PVG - HKG
Frequent flyer benefits flying within China

And for getting to/from the airports on ground transportation: Airport-City Transfer Time and Fares for Various Chinese Cities

Last edited by jiejie; Sep 2, 13 at 10:28 am Reason: updated information
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Old May 22, 11, 2:49 am
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Intercity Travel--Domestic Trains


Train travel is the workhorse of Chinese intercity transport, possibly carrying more humans on more trips per year than anywhere on the planet. There are two broad categories of trains:
1) Standard rail running on standard tracks, which still comprises the vast majority of the system throughout the country and which carries the lions’ share of passenger traffic; and
2) High-Speed Rail (HSR) which has uses a different set of tracks and trains, and is expanding remarkably quickly. When planning a trip to China, check for the latest status on what is operating, and what is likely to be added by the time of your trip. When available as a journey option, HSR trains can offer a number of advantages over flights, and make logistical sense for many travelers. These trains have a different price structure from the standard rail trains.

The system is safe—despite the highly-publicized July 23, 2011 HSR track accident near Wenzhou, the Chinese have an overall good record of safety. The system is efficient, generally punctual, and cleaner than one might expect. Although there is a lot of grumbling among local Chinese at the price of the HSR train tickets, for most Chinese, the rail system is cost-effective. All this means two things for the foreign traveler:
1) About 80-90% of the places you want to go will be accessible by intercity train, or one can get you darn close.
2) You will be in competition for train tickets, especially for sleepers and especially on the less-expensive non-HSR trains.

First, let us preface the train ticket discussion by an unfortunate truth: there is no good way for the non-resident traveler to purchase at-cost Chinese train tickets in advance while still out of country. There are web sites that claim this ability, but all they do is take the order and then have a staffer order online or head to the ticket windows when tickets go on sale. Usually, these agents put a hefty surcharge onto the official ticket price. Since early 2012, there has been a direct online sales method for train tickets from the official website www.12306.cn, but the website is only in Chinese and registration/purchase is extremely difficult for the non-resident foreign visitor with no local Chinese bank card, making it a non-starter for most. This system has improved over time but periodically does undergo technical growing pains from time to time.

There is another unfortunate truth that the best master reference sources for schedules, prices, and official availability of all Chinese trains are all in Chinese language only. If you can read Chinese even a little or are willing to work a bit with a little Google translate or dictionary program on the side, the following is an excellent official resource (use Chinese sites in Internet Explorer for best functionality):

Other readers of Chinese swear by www.tielu.org

Two of the better English-language tools that are kept fairly up-to-date on schedules (though prices on cnvol are occasionally slightly off of the official) are:

The first and second are lookup tools for schedule and pricing. The third has a very user-friendly lookup tool, shows real-time availability for train departures inside the 20-day sales period, and is also an agent that can book some tickets (Note that we have no experience actually using the booking function but the easy-to-use schedule lookup of train options is pretty current with accurate base ticket prices).

Know Your Chinese Trains

Chinese trains are either letter + number, or number only, with the letter designation telling you what sort of train it is. Currently the following are in service:
HSR-High-speed Train: C, D, G (C and G are the fastest “bullet” trains, D trains are high speed but technically not “bullet”)
Standard Train, Express: Z
Standard Train, Limited Stop: T
Standard Train: K
Standard Train-Pokey Slow Milk Run: no-letter/number only
Standard Train-Special: Y, S (short distance tourist trains), L (temporary trains)

Most foreign travelers will likely be using the CDG trains or the Z/T trains—the latter particularly for overnight routes. Some more exotic routes, or when availability is scarce, may need to invoke the K trains which are slower and more variable in quality--many of them will have older versions of carriages. But still an acceptable choice when Z or T options are not available or sold out on a route. Numbered trains are used when you need to go to an off-the-beaten path station not served by anything else, but be forewarned that besides being very slow, some of these number-only trains running more localized routes are non-air conditioned and carry hard-seat class only.

Sleeping, Sitting, or Standing?

Chinese trains have different options, but not every train carries every option. And the popular options sell out faster on a given train. Rundown from most posh to most humble:

Conventional Trains (Z, T, K, Y, S, L, numbered)--

• Deluxe Soft Sleeper—only carried by some long-distance trains, 2 people per cabin with private lav/toilet, as expensive as flying if not more so. Some foreigners want to try this out. Usually about 85% higher than regular soft sleeper.
• Soft Sleeper—nearly all long-distance trains will have one or more of these cars. Four people per cabin (2 lower/2 upper bunks). Cabin has a door for privacy. Most foreigners tend to like soft sleeper compared to hard, but the premium is usually about 55% more than hard sleeper on a given train. Some of the soft sleeper cars have individual televisions, though no airplane-like IFE.
• Hard Sleeper—the bulk of China’s sleeper stock and the most popular choice for long distance due to pricing. The berth is padded, and not literally “hard” but it is narrower than a soft sleeper berth; 6 people per open “barracks-like” cabin (2 lower/2 middle/2 upper bunks). No door and no privacy, but some people prefer it to soft.
• Soft Seat—sort of like airline domestic first class seats, usually 2-aisle-2. Not carried on a lot of trains anymore, generally only selected T and K.
• Hard Seat—these days mostly upholstered and not literally “hard”, but seating for the masses 3-aisle-2. Can be very crowded but is very cheap. Not recommended for more than 3 hour journeys unless desperate.
• Standing—Sold on conventional trains on a regular basis, after hard seat is sold out. Number of standing tickets sold will be limited, and standees have to hang out or sit on their luggage in the interstitial spaces between the hard seat carriages (near the smokers and the toilets). Except at peak travel periods such as Chinese New Year, nobody really wants to travel this way. Usually the same price as a hard seat ticket.

HSR Trains (C, D, G)--

• Soft Sleeper—C and G trains are currently not carrying sleepers, which due to speed of service are generally not required. D trains will carry these, though on daytime routes or routes that aren't too long, sometimes the upper berths will not be sold and the lower berths will be sold as multiple seat tickets. In sleeper configuration, four people per cabin (2 lower/2 upper bunks) and with a door for privacy. These carriages are nicer and newer than the conventional train soft sleepers. For a given distance the difference in ticket price for a soft sleeper berth on an HSR train is well over double the price of a soft sleeper berth on a conventional train, the tradeoff being time saved.
• Hard Sleeper--HSR trains do not carry hard sleeper carriages.
• Business Class Seat (may also be translated into English as VIP seat)--Very expensive way to travel, sometimes as much or more than flying first class. Seating is 2-aisle-1, with powered reclining seats, cup holders, etc. Available on the Beijing-Shanghai bullet train route, cost of RMB 1750 or 87% more than First Class Seat. Also available on the Beijing - Xi'an and Beijing-Guangzhou high speed routes. Don't get fooled by the name; unlike airline seats, this class is more luxurious and expensive than HSR "First Class."
• First Class Seat—2-aisle-2. Newer and a bit nicer than old-style Soft Seat. Price premium is about 60-70% over Second Class Seat, yet these are popular seats and sometimes sell out before Second Class. Where D and G trains ply the same routes, the faster G train FC seat ticket will cost about 45% more than the same on the D.
• Second Class Seat—3-aisle-3 or 3-aisle-2 depending on carriage model. Same idea as economy class on an airline but with more leg room. Where D and G trains ply the same routes, the faster G train SC seat ticket will cost about 35% more than the same on the D. Second Class tickets on D trains can be one of the most cost effective ways to travel medium distances with reasonable speed.
• Standing—Not all HSR trains make standing tickets available, and those that do will have them priced same as second class seat. For a short journey (hour or so), standing would be feasible on an HSR train, if needing to travel on a service where seats are sold out. The area between the cars near the large luggage closets is surviveable.

You can get some idea of what the interiors look like on Seat61.com and there are plenty of other internet resources out there. Note that there are some comments on Seat61 (and other non-China based websites) that have not been updated for current realities, so cross-check information whenever you can.

For journeys of 4-5 hours or less, a seat is fine. In some cases such as CDG trains on daytime runs, it may be your only choice. For journeys of 8-9 hours or more, a sleeper is the way to go and especially if the journey is overnight. For middle distances of 5-8 hours, it’s a judgment call depending on time of day (or night), your comfort level desired, and availability.

Train Dining

Conventional trains, except for short-distance tourist trains, will carry dining cars with full working kitchens able to offer fresh-cooked meals. Some of these dishes can be quite acceptable in quality; try to avoid the made-up "sets" in favor of a la carte ordering. If one is unfortunate enough to be stuck in hard-seat class, sometimes whiling part of the hours away in the dining car nursing food and beers can help take away some of the pain! On overnight trains, dining cars will close up after certain hours so find out when you board so you can make your plans. Pricing is not expensive.

HSR trains, however, do not carry dining cars with proper kitchens, therefore are unable to load fresh ingredients and cook proper meals in restaurant style. Dining options on these trains are more akin to snack bars with prepackaged food and drink. They do carry microwaveable packaged dinners that can be purchased and heated, but these are widely panned as nearly-inedible. Again, pricing is not expensive though a bit more than the supermarket.

On nearly all trains, periodically a staff member with a rolling cart will come through selling a limited selection of bottled drinks, snacks, etc. so you can purchase from your seat. On overnight trains, the vendor carts will normally not run in the late night and wee hours.

Regardless of train type, it's standard practice among the Chinese to bring along one's own favorite snacks and drinks, purchased at a supermarket or small shop before boarding the train. Type and amount depends on person and length/timing of journey. Around all train stations and inside major ones, there will be shops to get simple provisions. All Chinese trains have water boilers at the end of every other carriage or so, where one can self-dispense safely drinkable hot water to reconstitute dried pot noodles, make tea or instant coffee, etc. At most Chinese train stations, the platforms themselves will not have much vendoring (or poor selection), so expecting to alight and quickly grab something before jumping back on the train may not be fruitful. Also not normally seen at Chinese train stations: India-style vendors with baskets of goodies coming up to the windows so you can buy something through the window.

Purchasing Tickets

If you have planned rail journeys based on timetables of unknown vintage, especially if more than a month old, it pays to re-check periodically (or when you arrive in China) to make sure schedules have not been adjusted. In particular, check the week before or week of travel to corroborate or finalize travel times.

Online and telephone sales currently begin 20 days in advance of departure. For in-person sales at train stations and satellite ticket offices, the purchase period usually begins 18 days before departure. This advance period includes the departure day, so as example for a train leaving the 24th of a month, online sales begin on the 5th and window sales on the 7th. During holiday or other busy periods, the government sometimes narrows the window to fewer days. Sleepers on popular routes sell out quickly especially on the T and Z trains since they optimize speed with lower pricing compared to the bullet trains. It is quite common for complete sell out of sleepers at the official outlets, within a few hours of the first day of the sales window. Where bullet train alternatives exist, they usually are less likely to sell out quickly due to higher availability and higher price. Sometimes during busy holiday periods, you may be told at a rail station that they won't sell until 5 or 10 days before departure, yet go to a remote ticket office elsewhere in the same city and they'll have no problem selling to you at the full 18 days in advance. And vice-versa. So if getting that ticket is critical, try at least two locations before giving up and believing the tale that "they're not on sale yet."

In the last year or two, as high-speed rail services have come on line, standard services on those routes have been curtailed or eliminated. For these routes, this often produces a choice of two train travel extremes: (a) daytime trip on high-speed rail, faster but more expensive, and usually tickets are easier to procure closer to travel time; (b) overnight service on standard rail, slower and cheaper, saves a hotel night, and much more difficult to procure due to limited supply/high demand conditions. Note that this is the general situation in those parts of eastern China where HSR services exist—other parts of the country without HSR service don’t have this dichotomy, but then the standard rail tickets that do exist are likely to still be difficult to procure on short notice, particularly for sleepers. There used to be an unofficial underground of shadow agents and scalpers that could procure hard-to-get sleeper tickets at last minute (for an elevated price), but as of 2012 due to the institution of Real-Name ID for all ticket purchases on all trains, the scalper underground network has been disrupted. It is unclear whether this illegal, unfair, but sometimes useful shadow system can now be considered permanently defunct.

The Chinese system now generally allows you to purchase tickets in any city, for routes anywhere in the system even if not originating in the city of purchase. Usually this can be done not only at the rail station ticket offices, but also in most of the satellite offices scattered throughout the city. However, in some smaller cities, there may be a policy that tickets for other city pairs must be purchased at the rail station ticket windows only and not the remote offices. For this service, there is a nominal RMB 5 booking surcharge per ticket.

There is no truly “hop-on, hop-off” inclusive ticket for segmented journeys; you will need to buy point-to-point tickets, although as per the previous paragraph, it is now possible to purchase the various segments in advance if the travel dates fall within the active sales period. There are no Chinese rail passes for foreign travelers similar to Eurailpass.

Train tickets cannot yet be purchased through official outlets with a foreign credit card though a Chinese bank-issued credit or debit card is possible. Bring cash RMB if you don't have the latter.

Around most train stations, you may encounter “huang niu” (ticket scalpers) who offer tickets for a higher-than-official price. We do not recommend that a foreigner deal with these people directly, as sometimes the tickets they offer are counterfeit or have been tampered with. The 2012 implementation of Real Name ID requirements for all train ticket purchases appears to have put these scalpers out of business--or forced them into the counterfeiting mode completely. If you are desperate, hotel and hostel staff, and some local travel agents, may have some ideas for sourcing genuine last-minute tickets, or can tell you about other transportation options.

Purchase Yourself

There is now an official online purchasing system for tickets but at present, it is very difficult for non-resident foreigners to use. It requires ability to read Chinese (or have a friend standing by who can), preregistration on the official site http://www.12306.cn/mormhweb/kyfw/, and a Chinese bank card. Legitimate sales are only through this official site and the purchasing part of the website is active only from 07:00 to 23:00 local time. Although availability lookups can be done 24/7. The sales period for most trains begins 20 days in advance of departure. Ticket bookings are given a confirmation number, and stations have a designated location/window for pickups of electronically booked tickets can be made, upon presentation of ID and confirmation number. Telephone bookings can be done in the same manner (Chinese language only at present) but have the same limitations.

More viable though more trouble for foreigners are the ticket windows at a Chinese railway station—usually the ticketing office is off to the side and accessed from a separate entrance to the main station building. Chinese train ticket windows are legendary for doubling as tryout venues for the National Queue-Jumping Team, so you must be aggressive to hold your place in whatever passes for a queue. If you are not a decent Chinese speaker, in advance of your visit, have someone write down your destination, train number (1st through 5th choices!) and sleeper/seat type you prefer. Some major cities have a window designated with an English-speaking staff member, look for one if possible. Window advance sales begin 18 days ahead of departure.

Some stations also have automated ticketing machines for HSR trains, but unfortunately due to the Real Name ID policy, cannot be used by foreigners at present since the machines only recognize Chinese IDs during the purchasing process. Hopefully at some point in the future, they will program some machines with passport scanning ability so that foreigners can use these and avoid the staffed ticket window queues. But we're not there yet.

A more civilized experience than the station windows are the satellite/ remote ticket offices (some call them “kiosks”). Every city has these scattered all over the city, and generally they are open from 08:00 to 20:00. Often there will be no queue, or only 1-2 people ahead of you. And no pushing or crowding. Do not expect English to be spoken, but non-Chinese speakers armed with information written down in Chinese can usually manage alright. There will be an RMB 5 fee per ticket levied for using the remote ticket office outlets—well worth it. Your hotel or hostel should be able to direct you to the nearest and most convenient one. www.cnvol.com has city outlet locations for a number of major cities, with addresses and phone, but it's not always 100% complete and some cities aren't yet listed. Again, advance purchase at the satellite offices begins 18 days prior to departure.

Unless you can pass for Chinese, an attempt to purchase a ticket for any train to Lhasa, Tibet will likely be refused unless you can show a Tibet Travel Permit (refer to Visa section of FAQ). At any rate, as most train tickets into Lhasa are completely snapped up by various agents, the chances of getting one of these as an individual is extremely slim, except perhaps in winter, and quoted prices are sometimes much higher than official ticket price. Tickets for the Beijing-Erlian (Mongolian border) train, even the domestic route only, may ONLY be purchased at Beijing Main Station and then from a specific ticket window...this window changes around so you have to persist until you find the current window assignment. Usually you will need your passport to purchase a ticket on this train, even though it is a standard train and even if you are not crossing the border.

Purchase from Abroad

If your itinerary depends on getting a sleeper ticket for a specific date, and a fallback to hard seat or taking an alternative mode (bus or flight) is not an option in case of a sleeper sell-out, then you must try to get those tickets in advance, and it will cost you extra. Your options are:

--Have your hotel or hostel procure for you. Not all of them will do this any more, and those that will, will want upfront payment + a surcharge which is generally around RMB 50 per ticket, maybe more on something really long distance and hard to get.

--Use an online travel agent that will get for you, for a surcharge/commission. Different agents have different markup policies, so shop around and take note of their responsiveness to inquiries, payment terms, etc. Many agents will refuse to get tickets for travel during Chinese New Year and other holiday periods. Use of an online travel agent or taking your chances with self-purchase and availability once you get to China depends on when you are traveling, how flexible your overall schedule is, and what Plan B options exist in case your preferred train options are sold out. In some cases, paying an agent is worth peace of mind. While we don't really have a favorite agent to recommend, one fairly new service that has been getting universally good reviews for train ticket purchase is http://www.china-diy-travel.com/ due to their responsiveness and lower commission (AUD 10 currently). They do differ from most other agents in that they do not deliver tickets but give you a confirmation number and you do your own ticket pickup of the prepaid tickets at rail station or satellite office once you get to China. http://www.ctrip.com now also offers a train ticket service, but at this point is limited primarily to high speed trains on the Beijing-Shanghai corridor, and delivery of tickets is currently only in Shanghai and other cities in this region. They will probably expand offerings in the future.

--If you are already committed to using a local travel agent for a city or area tour (car/driver, sightseeing, etc), then it should be feasible to piggy-back the request for outbound train tickets from that city to the same agent, as part of their overall service package to you. This would likely be cheaper than using an online agent only for train ticket purchase.

--For those with an office or colleagues/friends in China, offer a nice gift for them to get your tickets! On some occasions, resident FT'ers have been known to offer to purchase for fellow FT'ers if they will be around in your departure city during the sales time window applicable for your tickets.

Identification Required for Ticket Purchase

The entire Chinese train system has now changed over to require real-ID purchasing. Your passport number will be imprinted on the ticket during the purchase. This includes both HSR and Conventional trains. Foreigners will need to show their passports in order to purchase. From a compilation of reports, it appears that many locations will also accept a photocopy of one's passport photo page instead of the original, but we cannot guarantee this will always be accepted. Likewise, just giving the passport number without even a photocopy sometimes works (particularly at the remote satellite offices), but no guarantees here, either. Most foolproof way is to have the original passport with you. One purchaser may take passports for a small party of travelers and buy the tickets; normally the rest of the party does not have to show up during the purchase session.

It seems that very short distance Y/S tourist trains are exempted-no ID required. For instance, the Beijing-Badaling Great Wall train.

Identification Required for the Journey

There are three key places that you may be required to produce your identification along with your ticket. Have your passport handy for the following situations, which are used in varying combinations depending on location and station policy:
1) To gain entrance into the station. Most stations have a queue outside the main entrance to the station, where a gatekeeper official will check your ticket and your ID for a match, before allowing you to proceed to the WTMD/xray machine.
2) On the platform just before entering a carriage. Sporadic occurrences, but may be increasing in frequency. The carriage attendant that normally checks for a ticket assignment to that carriage may ask for an ID also.
3) On the train once in seat or berth. It is actually typical for staff to check for tickets, and in the case of sleepers, to temporarily exchange your ticket for a berth card (switched back before journey end). It has been very rare (so far) to be asked for any ID once ensconced in one's seat/sleeper.


Always keep your ticket stub in a safe place, as at some train stations, there is an exit checkpoint where an attendant may want to doublecheck. Do not consider the journey complete and the stub tossable, until you are on the other side of any checkpoint. Since Real Name ID was begun on all trains in 2012, ticketing check at exits has become less common.

Related Links:
Buying train tickets on day of travel
SNAFU: ID Required for Train Ticket Purchase
The Jinghu (BJ-SH) HSR Thread (Beijing-Shanghai high speed rail route)
Train tickets (Shanghai ->Wuxi) and another similar thread
Shanghai - Nanjing High-Speed Trains Timetable
Shanghai to Hefei. Options?
High speed train from Shanghai to Shenzhen?
Sleeper train from Beijing to Xi'an?
BJ to Tanggu 10/7 - tickets for train (Beijing-Tianjin-Tanggu Port bullet train info)
Beijing CBD to Tianjin TEDA: take the train?

Last edited by jiejie; Sep 2, 13 at 10:50 am Reason: updated information
jiejie is offline  
Old May 22, 11, 2:51 am
Ambassador, China
Original Poster
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Southeast USA and Beijing
Programs: various
Posts: 6,710
Intercity Travel--Road

Intercity Coaches and Buses

Coaches/buses are often overlooked by foreign travelers as a viable method of transportation, yet they can be very useful in a number of situations.

• When train service doesn’t exist. In places such as southern Yunnan, buses may be the only public transportation option between cities and towns.

• Where train service exists but the route is longer, or when service is at odd hours. Huangshan (Tunxi) is one such example where the train to major cities to the east is many, many hours slower than the bus, and leave at mostly crappy times.

• Where there are many frequent bus departures but train departures are sparse. Beijing to Chengde (mountain resort 3 hours’ distant), for instance.

• Where a shorter distance bus journey between intercity railhead or airport, and actual final destination completes the transport sequence. Guilin to Yangshuo (1 to 1.5 hours) is a prime example of this.

• Where trains are completely sold out or only standing room is available. This happens often (even non-holiday times) at a place like Pingyao (Shanxi province). The alternative solution: take the bus to/from major hub Taiyuan.

Locating the Station, the Bus and Purchasing Tickets

Every town in China has a long-distance bus station, some cities have two or three stations, and larger cities such as Beijing have many stations. In cities with multiple stations, generally buses are organized by destination: the west-bound buses leave from the west bus station, etc. etc. Popular routes may be served by multiple bus stations—so you would have a choice. Any Chinese hotel or hostel will either know this information, or with a quick phone call, can find out which bus station you need to leave from, and departure times. Some may even be willing to purchase your ticket for you, with a small surcharge. A bit of quick internet research can also pull up the relevant schedule and price information, though bus schedules adjust frequently, so current information is vital.

Purchasing a ticket at the bus station is very straightforward at the ticket window. Identification is not required nor asked for, at least for foreigners. Most Chinese purchase for the next bus heading to their destination. There is normally a timetable posted on the wall, but check with the agent at the window in case the timetable is out of date. Non-Chinese speakers should have their destination written down in Chinese, as there will likely not be an English speaking staff member. In general, purchasing tickets at a bus station is less pressured and much easier when compared to purchasing tickets at a train station. For some reason, there is either not much of a queue or the bus passenger queue is better behaved, a phenomenon we don’t entirely understand either!

For journeys requiring sleeper buses or for a seat at peak travel times of the year, purchasing a ticket a day in advance is a good idea to ensure you get a seat or berth on the bus that best fits your needs. Often a good strategy if you are larger-sized, have a bag of valuables with you that you cannot be separated from, or just want more comfort...is to purchase a pair of adjacent seats. This is particularly useful if the journey is on a local type bus rather than a large touring-type bus, or if the journey is more than two hours. If you do this, make sure the driver/ticket taker knows you purchased a double-seat, so they don't try to sell it, and so they can help thwart potential seat-poaching passengers.

Purchasing will require cash RMB only. Pricing: on a per km basis, a seat on a long-distance bus actually comes out a little more expensive than Hard Seat on an equivalent route train—this is largely due to fuel prices. In general as of 2012, for planning and budgeting purposes, you can roughly estimate what range your bus fare will be by calculating Journey Km x 0.35 RMB/km. For a sleeper bus (which exist on long-distance routes but which we do not recommend except in emergencies), use 0.50 RMB/km. Depending on bus, your fare should be within 20% +/- of this number. All routes do have established flat fares which can be researched via the internet, and there do not seem to be recent reports of dual-pricing or of foreigners being overcharged by normal public bus companies.

Bus Quality

Most Chinese intercity buses plying major routes are surprisingly comfortable, a few can be reasonably luxurious. Only in rural areas or the farther outposts of China will you still find the classic Third World “Chicken Bus” experience. A few have on-board bathrooms, but the Chinese are not known for their high-capacity bladders, so a journey of at least 3 hours will be broken up by a comfort break of about 15 minutes or so. Longer journeys will have extended breaks for meals, usually at a simple roadside cafe or restaurant grouping. Small items and valuables should always stay inside the bus with you, or taken with you on comfort/meal stops. Larger luggage including rollaboards, are easily carried in the hold below. Note that on most buses, the overhead compartments or shelves above the seats are slim, and can only accommodate things like briefcases, shopping bags, or very flattened daypacks. It is possible (though not sanitary) to place bags on the floor.

Bus safety in East China is generally decent, mostly because road infrastructure and services are more developed. However, particularly in mountainous areas of China, there are lingering safety concerns and particularly with overnight sleeper buses. We recommend caution on bus selection in this area, and avoid after-dark services whether seat or sleeper.

Minibuses ply some routes, and are more of a gray area since in some areas they are part of the governmental official transport system, and in other areas they are operated by private entrepreneurs/companies. The latter very more widely in vehicle and driver quality, and tend to be more dangerous "wild rides" than the larger buses and coaches and the government-operated minis. Note that many of the privately-owned minibuses in heavily touristed areas tend to congregate at prime locations but NOT at the official bus station, and they may drop off at the terminus end at an inconvenient location vs the official bus station. Or try to charge extras once they have you and luggage captive. Try to do a little research on specifics for your destination(s) in advance, and be alert and aware. When in doubt, go with the official bus.

Minibuses are often used as shuttles between regional hub towns and nearby villages, and in many parts of rural China, may be the only public transport option available. Typically these charge per seat, and when all seats are filled, the minibus heads to it's designated destination. If you don't wish to wait, you may purchase all the empty seats (or the entire minibus) and the driver will leave immediately. Usually these are reasonably safe, in daylight and in decent weather.

Intercity Private Vehicle

We refer here to hired car with a Chinese driver, not self-drive. With rare exceptions, almost no foreign visitors travel long distances this way. This form of travel is most useful when one or more of the following applies:

• The geographic region on the itinerary is circumscribed within approximately a 500 km diameter circle (250 km out from a hub city).

• There is a lot of travel to be done in this region, and on a relatively inflexible or tight time frame OR the destination is uncommon and poorly served by public transport. (i.e. Old ruins sites out in Inner Mongolia).

• “Exploration” type trips where maximum flexibility to stop and go is required. This includes photography-focused journeys.

• Travelers with mobility or medical problems needing special assistance or needing to avoid public transport situations.

• Groups of 3+ travelers that make the private vehicle proposition more financially attractive.

• Tibet travel—under current government policies, this is the ONLY option for foreign travelers and must be prearranged before arrival in Tibet.

There are too many variables to provide cost estimates here, but it is by far the most expensive form of travel on a per km basis. Drivers for this type of trip should come from a solid private recommendation, or a hotel, or a travel/tour agency. Expect to pay more for a driver that speaks a little English—which on this type of trip is a necessity if you do not have a basic Chinese speaker in your travel party. Remember that most Chinese drivers will not know much about routes, streets, landmarks, etc. in cities they don't normally travel to...so take along patience and a time cushion, and give the driver an upfront OK to stop and ask for directions when the route is unclear--many drivers hate to "lose face" by asking, and would rather drive aimlessly.

Using taxis for shorter daytrips returning to the same city are covered under the Local Area Transport section.

Last edited by jiejie; Aug 23, 12 at 8:44 am Reason: updated information
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Old May 22, 11, 2:52 am
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Local Area Transport

Covered in this section are options for the independent traveler to get around a specific city area, including transport to/from airports. Methods, some of which may not be available in every location, include:

Airport shuttle buses and minibuses
Private Car
Light Rail
Local Bus
Tourist Experience (pedicab, electric cart)
Self-propelled (bicycle)

Airport Shuttles

If there is a Chinese airport without a shuttle bus, we have yet to find it. It is almost always the cheapest way to get from airport into town. Airport shuttle buses are often faster than taxis--no need to wait in line and the bus gets access to special lanes on critical roads and expressways and bypasses toll booth stops. For cities like Guangzhou, Lanzhou, or Xi'an, where the airport is significantly distant from the city, the price difference can be substantial.

The downside is that there will be a fixed route (or routes) which you must match your destination to the closest fit. There will be room for large luggage in the cargo bay below, but you will have to handle it after the bus drop point. Shuttles generally run at limited hours. In smaller airports with limited flights, the bus schedule will match up with departures and arrivals, and a smaller capacity vehicle may be used.. In large airports such as Beijing or Shanghai, buses will be full size, will leave continuously on a fixed schedule, and/or as soon as one fills up, usually from around 07:00 to 22:00, with limited route service until midnight or the last flight of the night is in.

For information on:
Beijing Airport Shuttle Bus service: http://en.bcia.com.cn/traffic/airbus/index.shtml
Shanghai Pudong Shuttle: http://chinaairlinetravel.com/airpor...irport-bus.htm
Shanghai Hongqiao Shuttle: http://chinaairlinetravel.com/airpor...irport-bus.htm
Guangzhou Airport Shuttle: http://www.travelchinaguide.com/city...huttle-bus.htm
General List of Airports and Times for Shuttles vs Taxis: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/china...ese-cities.htm

Arriving/departing travelers in a party of 2-3 or more, or laden heavily with luggage, should probably stick with the door-to-door service a taxi provides.


In addition to getting to and from airport to city, taxis are generally the mainstay of the average foreign visitor’s local transport methods. By world standards, Chinese taxis are inexpensive and generally honest. Very few cabbies speak any English or other foreign language, even in the largest Chinese cities. Each city is responsible for regulating its own cab companies and for setting fares. Legal cabs in most major cities are metered, and provide receipts. One’s journey should always start with the cabbie engaging the flag and resetting the meter to base cost. In most cities, taxis gather at popular places (hotel areas, office buildings at rush hour, etc.) and they can also be hailed from the street as they cruise around. Taxi drivers are supposed to display their photo ID and taxi license on the front passenger side, if there are any serious complaints, you take down their license number and call the specified company complaint hotline (generally just a threat to do so will fix whatever driver behavior is troubling you).

Taxi fares vary a little between cities, with fares in the largest cities such as Beijing and Shanghai slightly more expensive than those in secondary cities. Flag fall will generally be between RMB 8 -12 for the first 3 km, with additional RMB at increments thereafter. There is a nominal waiting charge when sitting in traffic. There is usually a nominal night surcharge for journeys after 23:00. There are no extra charges for additional passengers or for luggage. Cabbies are allowed to charge the following extra in addition to the metered charge: official highway/expressway tolls (commonly RMB 5-10), fuel surcharge fee (currently RMB 1-2 in cities where this exists). Receipts are available for these upon request, the magic word is “fapiao.” As a benchmark, a 5 km, 20-minute daytime ride in average traffic in Beijing should cost around RMB 20.

Frequent major issues foreign travelers have with Chinese cabbies:
---Not being able to find an empty cab when you need one. This should be expected between 07:30-09:30 and 16:00-19:00 on weekdays, and anytime it rains or snows. Some cities or parts of cities are just difficult, period. Try the nearest hotel taxi queue (pretend you are a guest) if street hailing is unproductive.
--Not being able to communicate with the cab driver. Non-Chinese speakers should have their destination written in Chinese, and (very important) a phone number at the destination so the cabbie can call for directions if needed. All cabbies carry mobile phones. Most cabbies will at least know the major tourist sites for their city, though.

Minor issues that are not universal but do happen from time to time:
---Cabbies not wanting to use the meter but negotiating instead. This tends to be locational (culture common to the particular city) or situational (i.e. taxi mafias at certain airports like Shenyang).
---Taking the long way around to run up the meter. Sometimes this happens deliberately (Shanghai has a subset of cabbies that like to pull this trick), but other times it happens because the cabbie really doesn’t know where he’s going. Speakers of Chinese can help their case by learning the route and directing the cabbie along the way. Most cab drivers do not read maps nor navigate that way, so this is rarely a fruitful course of action.

Payment for cabs is RMB cash. Alternative payment cards, where introduced, have not been enthusiastically received by drivers. Carry plenty of small bills—try not to be caught with only RMB 100 notes for payment. No tipping. Chinese cabbies do not expect tips, it is not the culture, and they are baffled why you would give them free money...so expect your exact change in return as a matter of course.

If you need a cab at a specific time (such as a very early morning departure for the airport), your hotel should be able to arrange this the day ahead to ensure your transport.

For local area daytrips, cab drivers are often willing to drive you around for a flat, negotiated fee, payable upon delivery to your final destination. Very common in the Beijing area for trips to the Great Wall (cabbie will wait while you are on the Wall). It helps to be (or enlist) a Chinese speaker to simplify the negotiation, and to have a local mobile number to communicate with the cabbie when not in the car. Dependent upon distance and exact location(s) desired, a 4 hour block might be in the RMB 350-400 range and a full 8-hour day around RMB 600-700. Experienced shrewd bargainers speaking Chinese might be able to do better.

Related Links:
Are Beijing taxis on strike or something?
Taxi to Beijing airport at 5 am on a Saturday
BJ taxi fuel surcharge increased two days ago
The Shanghai ground transportation data thread
Shanghai taxis with a toddler
Suzhou to Shanghai (PVG) taxi

Private Car with Driver

For those willing to spend the money, a private car can be extremely worthwhile, especially on days when visiting locations out of the central city (i.e. Great Wall outside Beijing) or when planning a lot of shopping and needing to transport purchases. It is also the method of choice when one or more of the traveling party has limited mobility or is easily fatigued. Besides cost, the main downside is needing to coordinate with the driver, who is unlikely to speak much English. (English-speaking drivers do exist but need to be specially requested, and come at a premium). For parties of 4 adults or larger, two cars will be needed, or better yet, a minivan. It is also possible to engage a larger vehicle for groups.

Prices vary depending on car size/quality and also method of booking--generally, through hotels will be the most expensive. The least expensive would be booking directly with the driver based on a personal recommendation. Somewhere in the middle are tour agents or vehicle + driver rental companies. At this writing, expect RMB 800-1000 per day (8-9 hours) for a full-size, late model car booked through a vehicle company. About 20% more for a 7 seater minivan, and above that for a small bus. This should include all tolls, fuel, and the driver looking after his own meals and personal needs during the journey. Drivers hired personally should be paid at conclusion of day and delivery to your final, agreed-upon drop point. Drivers booked through hotels and commercial vehicle hire companies may require upfront payment (and will normally take credit cards).

When using a private car and driver at sights that have multiple entrances and exits (i.e. Beijing Summer Palace), it is essential to have someone in the travel party carry a local Chinese mobile phone/number, and to get that of the driver, in case of misconnects or the need to communicate delays. It is helpful to speak rudimentary Chinese, but not absolutely essential if the plan is communicated upfront.

Related Links:
Beijing Drivers-Phone-Prices
Beijing car service - book off the web or at hotel
Hotel Car or Taxi from Beijing Airport
Shanghai in a Wheelchair, Questions?
Bus Rental in Shanghai or Beijing
PVG private transfers

Light Rail

A few Chinese cities have this method currently in operation for public transport--and usually it is connected to the subway system (if one exists) and/or general transportation system. Beijing’s Line 13 and Airport Express, and the Shanghai Maglev come to mind. Chongqing and Xiamen also each have a light rail line that connects the central city with some useful transportation and other nodes. Beijing's Line 13 is a suburban loop line—integrated with the subway system--that few casual travelers would have occasion to use. It can be valuable for transport to the northwest university district of Beijing and for those with business at suburban high-tech facilities beyond. Beijing’s Airport Express is significantly more useful, and cost for a ride is RMB 25 either direction. It generally makes the most sense for solo or pair travelers who can interconnect with its city connection points fairly seamlessly, and who are not traveling heavy with luggage. Information: http://en.bcia.com.cn/traffic/express/index.shtml

Shanghai’s controversial Maglev is priced expensively on a per km basis, is not particularly useful, but as the only commercially-functioning system of its type in the world, has a certain appeal just for the experience. Information: http://www.smtdc.com/en/index.asp

Chongqing and Xiamen's light rail lines can be extremely useful for movement. Expect more of these to show up in the future in other cities, as local transportation infrastructure continues to develop.

Related Links:
Beijing Airport Express at night?
Maglev or Taxi at Shanghai?
Killing Transit Time at PVG - Ride Maglev?


A number of large Chinese cities have subway systems that range from simple (Tianjin, Nanjing) to extensive (Beijing, Shanghai). Subways can be a cheap and excellent way to get from point A to point B without wasting time in traffic. They can also be crowded at weekday morning and evening rush hours, as well as Saturday afternoon in shopping districts. Chinese subways are quite user-friendly for finding the proper station and purchasing tickets. System maps are posted, and all signage is in Chinese characters and English (pinyin) so non-Chinese speakers will be able to self-direct quite easily. Most subway lines in most cities run from approximately 06:00 to 23:00 daily, with some variations per line. For those interested, a list of cities with current and planned systems can be found on this website although the information may be slightly out of date. (For instance, some cities like Chengdu and Xi'an have their first line already in operation.)

Purchasing tickets can be done in two ways: automatic ticket dispensers and at staffed ticket windows. Some systems such as Beijing’s are flat rate (RMB 2) per ride regardless of distance and with unlimited transfers. Others, such as Shanghai’s are distance dependent and a typical ride in the most touristed area will be between RMB 3-5, transfers allowed. Single-use tickets can be purchased, as can stored-value cards which automatically deduct the appropriate amount after each entry/exit to the system. Stored value cards can be obtained at any station window for a nominal deposit fee (i.e. RMB 20), then add whatever additional travel money you wish. The additional money is non-refundable, but the deposit will be refunded when you hand in the card. Stored value cards have the advantage of avoiding ticket window/machine queues during busy periods...and we recommend them for travelers who will be using this form of transit extensively over a multiday period.

Subway Day passes: Have not yet caught on in China. Shanghai however, introduced a One-day pass during Shanghai Expo in 2010 and continues to make it available. Cost is RMB 18. It is good all-day, for one calendar day, throughout the subway system with unlimited transfers and no area restrictions. It must be purchased manually from the service desks (from an attendant) at subway stations and is not available from the automatic ticket dispensing machines. Useful if you plan to go on at least 3 segment rides, as it also saves you time queueing at ticket machines or customer service booths to repeatedly buy individual tickets. Visitors staying 3 or more days will probably find a non-time limited, stored-value card a better buy.

Two caveats: Transfers between subway lines are nearly always well-signed, but in rush hours, can be very crowded and also may require surprisingly long walks. Also, many if not most subway stations require negotiating various flights of stairs, particularly in the entrance (down) direction. Very few are truly accessible, so those burdened permanently or temporarily by mobility issues should reconsider using this method of local transport.

Local Bus (including trams and trolleys)

For getting to all locations in a city, local buses are hard to beat, coverage is much greater than any subway system, and there is always some night bus service after the subway is shut for the evening. Bus rides are generally cheap in most cities, with some types of buses RMB 1 or less, others distance-priced but rarely more than RMB 2-3 for a fairly long ride. You will either need exact change in RMB or use a stored-value card and swipe at the card reader as you enter the bus. In most cities, a stored-value card will work for both bus and subway public transport.

The biggest problem with Chinese local bus systems is that figuring out the routes is not easy for the non-Chinese reader. The placards at bus stops which detail the stops are not useful if you cannot read Chinese. There are few good resources available in English. For Beijing buses, try playing with http://www.bjbus.com/home/map_section.php?uPageType=5 but sometimes the best way is to just ask your hotel or hostel. For Shanghai buses, a comparable tool in English hasn’t been located yet, but some useful routes are listed at: http://www.travelchinaguide.com/city...tro-search.htm

Buses can be crowded in rush hour but no worse than the subway. However, heavy traffic will slow buses down, even in cities like Beijing where there are designated bus-only traffic lanes on major roads. There are relatively few seats on buses, so much of the time you will be standing. Despite the drawbacks, they are one of the more reliable forms of transport when there are no empty taxis, when the weather is bad, or when you need to go somewhere not served by subway.

Buses can be particularly useful to get to suburban tourist sites at reasonable cost. Very popular tourist destinations may have special public buses running dedicated routes, especially during warm weather months (i.e. from Beijing to the Great Wall).

Tourist Experience

A relatively limited genre of local transportation such as pedicabs in the Beijing hutongs and other neighborhoods, or the electric tram carts used at Pingyao old city. For short rides in a well-defined small area, when you need to rest your feet or just want a different experience. If you are negotiating independently (i.e. not part of a prearranged tour), then be very clear with the driver on price. Write it down in RMB, get agreement, and keep the written paper in case there are disputes at the other end. Beijing has some rather sneaky pedicab drivers that like to verbally negotiate with the unwitting tourist, and then demand the number in USD not RMB, or per person, or similar nonsense. On a per km basis, expect this type of transport is fairly expensive—more so than a taxi. Once in a trip is generally enough for most visitors.

Self-Propelled (Bicycle)

Another often-overlooked mode for leisure travelers, bicycle transport for shorter or medium distances can be an interesting option for those of average or better fitness, in selected cities that are bike-friendly. Seeing the city (or parts of it) by bicycle is much more efficient than walking, yet lets you see much more up-close-and-personal than vehicular transport. When traffic is gridlocked and the bike lanes are stuffed with cars, you can take the high road (sidewalk) and keep on moving. Not to mention dart down alleys that cars can only dream of. The key to safety on major streets is to ride with the pack of your fellow cyclists, and do what they do. Cities that have dedicated bike lanes separated from auto traffic on many streets and/or that have a strong biking culture are the best bets. Highways are to be avoided.

Most cities have private shops that will rent bikes by the hour or by the day, and they may want a cash deposit (do not leave a passport), refundable when you return the bike. A few cities (i.e. Hangzhou) have an well-organized public bicycle system with kiosks throughout the city: you put a deposit on an electronic card, go to kiosk, unlock the bike electronically, ride around, drop it off at another kiosk and electronically lock it. Rinse and repeat. Return the card and get the balance of your money back. Very cheap on an hourly basis—a day’s transport Fall 2010 around Hangzhou city sights, plus the perimeter of West Lake ended up costing the whopping amount of RMB 2, plus calories lost along the way. Sometimes a mention to your hotel can produce a bicycle--especially in smaller cities and towns. The recent need for some personal wheels for an afternoon around Huangshan town (Tunxi) for sightseeing and misc errands/provision shopping produced a lovely bike in great shape courtesy of the hotel--an RMB 500 deposit but free for the using. Returned 4 hours later with missions accomplished (and yes, deposit refunded). Bicycles can be a very pleasant and inexpensive way to tour areas such as the villages adjacent to Lijiang, Yunnan.

Last edited by jiejie; Aug 23, 12 at 8:49 am Reason: updated information
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Old May 22, 11, 5:49 am
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Common but Special Ground Transport Tips

There are frequent questions about two common situations that may be usefully addressed here.
1) How to connect in Shanghai between Pudong (PVG) and Hongqiao (SHA) airport/railport.
2) How to connect between Hong Kong (or HKIA) and Shenzhen (SZX) or elsewhere in the Pearl River Delta in the PRC.

It may be most useful to first read other previous threads to see if your question has already been addressed. Note that information that does not include current official links to service provider direct websites should always be cross-checked, in case schedules or prices have been adjusted.

Related Links: Shanghai PVG <--> SHA:
(including how much time to schedule between flights)

Transfering from PVG to SHA in Shanghai

Related Links: Hong Kong <--> Crossborder Connection (including airport connections):
(note that this will involve passport/visa issues)

HK-guangzhou airport
Hong Kong to Shenzhen Airport
Suggestions in getting from HK to Shenzhen
Getting from HKIA to Shenzhen late at night?
Shenzhen to HKIA via Boat?
Details on Shenzhen Shekou to Hong Kong Airport Ferry Service
Transportation from HKIA to Dongguan
Private Transport HKIA to Dongguan (SkyLimo)
Luo Hu (Lo Wu) border to Shenzhen Airport
Frequent visitor e-channel at Lo Wu

Last edited by jiejie; Sep 8, 11 at 3:53 pm
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Old May 22, 11, 6:14 pm
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gypsy taxis (black cars, 黑车, rickshaws, touts)

This topic is semi-controversial because: 1) there is a widespread fear of non licensed taxis; and 2) gypsy taxis tend to put upward pressure on the cost of travel.

As much as I respect both of these arguments, if you happen to work in the Beijing CBD and fancy escaping between 4p and 7p, you may well wind up in one. Between the CBD and Sanlitun, the asking price is around y30 (taxi would be y15), but you can usually knock them down to y20.... I scored y10 a few weeks ago (very rare). On Friday afternoons when it's raining, I'll go as high as y50.

On rare occasions, I rely on the same services on my airport runs, but I would not recommend this strategy for those of you that lack strong Mandarin skills because, chances are, you'll end up accompanying a second passenger to Wudaokou before being brought to your destination. Furthermore, it's usually pretty easy to get taxis at PEK.

That having been said, the gap between licensed and un-licensed taxis is closing. Basically, it is wrong to assume that licensed drivers are knowledgeable about geography or are willing to provide a comfortable environment for you (e.g. air conditioning... 2/3 of air conditioners were "broken" last September and none of them have been fixed yet). I'm by no means advocating choosing gypsy taxis in favor of the real deal, but if "Option A" entails standing on Guanghua Lu for 45 minutes in the presence of 20+ competitors, it's often worth it to roll the dice.
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Old May 22, 11, 6:43 pm
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gypsy taxis (black cars, 黑车, rickshaws, touts)

Can be usefull in certain situations:


End of day at Canton Fair, there are about 500 people waiting in
line to get a taxi from the queue. Look out on the street and
you see some "black" taxis and real taxis hanging out. They want
fixed amount, which would be double the normal fare, but you
save standing in line for 1+ hours.
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Old May 23, 11, 6:16 am
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I have occasionally used the illegal taxis myself when desperate, but these were not included in the general primer because I don't think they are a good choice for someone not familiar with the territory.
1) You need Mandarin skills.
2) You need to know where you are going...as in the city and the route.
3) You need to be desperate and have no other options.

While my ventures into this area had no detrimental outcome other than my wallet, on one occasion after about 100 meters, driver stopped and a second man (obviously someone he knew) got into the car and I raised holy h*ll and jumped out immediately. It was a set-up for a robbery...or worse. It felt all wrong. This guy had a fake "meter" and medallion on top of the car. But as I only noticed once I was out of the car--both his front and rear license plates were completely covered up. Bad news.
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Old May 23, 11, 9:51 am
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Originally Posted by jiejie View Post
5-10) Receipts are available for these upon request, the magic word is “fapiao.” .
Its advisable to always get a receipt. In the event you forgot
something in the taxi, it makes it much easier to get it back
quickly. Plus if you feel you got ripped off, documentation
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Old May 25, 11, 6:11 am
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^ to writing the thread
Originally Posted by jiejie View Post
Train travel is the workhorse of Chinese intercity transport, possibly carrying more humans on more trips per year than anywhere on the planet. It is safe—the Chinese have a good record at keeping their trains on the tracks. It is efficient, mostly very punctual, and quite cost-effective for the average Chinese. Also surprisingly clean.
Lies! Lies! Lies! Take a hard seater from a non tourist location and you will never want to...

This site is also very useful:

Last edited by Shimon; May 25, 11 at 6:59 am
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Old May 25, 11, 11:31 pm
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Originally Posted by Shimon View Post
^ to writing the thread

Lies! Lies! Lies! Take a hard seater from a non tourist location and you will never want to...

This site is also very useful:
Oh trust me, 3 weeks ago I was stuck in hard seat (gambled and lost on sleeper availability + no on-board upgrades available)...from Jining, Inner Mongolia (a real dump of a place) to Beijing. Nearly 10 hours overnight on the slow train option. Me plus a carriage crammed to bursting with I.M. farmers. At least we had no farm animals on board. By Chinese standards and definitely by I.M. standards, it was actually pretty clean for the first 1/2 of the journey. It was a "colorful" experience, to say the least. Once again, I got religion, and am back to my nun-like vows of No More than Three Hours in Hard Seat. At least it was cheap: RMB 70 to go 500 km.

The reality is though, that FT readers rarely have to deal with this sort of travel in hard seat. (Lonely Planet forum, maybe a different story.) Or put another way, those FT'ers who have to deal with hard seat travel rarely have to do so for long distances, and then usually in the more developed East China corridor routes.

In a pinch, 2-3 hours in hard seat isn't going to kill the average traveler. This is still the Third World, I say don't be prissy when you're desperate to get down the road, suck it up and deal! You'll likely have another hilarious China story to add to your repertoire. And you'll all the more appreciate treating yourself to a nice meal and massage at your ultimate destination...whenever you get there.

Last edited by jiejie; May 26, 11 at 12:25 am
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Old May 26, 11, 1:22 am
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The seat isn't the problem. Its the insects, the people and their behaviour...
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Old May 26, 11, 1:44 am
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Originally Posted by Shimon View Post
The seat isn't the problem. Its the insects, the people and their behaviour...
Welcome to China! You have 1.4 billion people, you're going to get plenty of looloos in the mix. (Or Lu-Lu's.) Although I must admit, I have not seen insects. Plenty of sunflower seeds on the floor yes, but not insects. I have seen plenty more insects on SE Asia trains. And let's not even think about trains of India.

I stand by what I have presented. Hard seat on a Chinese train is not an option to be considered lightly, especially for longer journeys, but it is often available when all else fails, and I would have been remiss to not mention it here. I try to be comprehensive and let people make up their own minds based on their own style and comfort zones. Also purpose of trip--some people wouldn't dream of doing a business trip in hard seat (I'm one of them) but for jaunting off for leisure to the backstretch of Guizhou...might be willing to. Not every situation requires pristine perfection.

Many FT'ers are only used to the upper end of travel. However, I've met a surprising number that while going First Class and Ritz-Carlton is their preference, are perfectly able to roll with the punches and do what needs to be done to find transport options when push comes to shove. And some FT'ers do travel on tight budgets, for whom high costs are far scarier than insects and Chinese with strange behaviors.
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Old May 26, 11, 10:50 pm
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Originally Posted by jiejie View Post
I have occasionally used the illegal taxis myself when desperate, but these were not included in the general primer because I don't think they are a good choice for someone not familiar with the territory.
1) You need Mandarin skills.
2) You need to know where you are going...as in the city and the route.
3) You need to be desperate and have no other options.

While my ventures into this area had no detrimental outcome other than my wallet, on one occasion after about 100 meters, driver stopped and a second man (obviously someone he knew) got into the car and I raised holy h*ll and jumped out immediately. It was a set-up for a robbery...or worse. It felt all wrong. This guy had a fake "meter" and medallion on top of the car. But as I only noticed once I was out of the car--both his front and rear license plates were completely covered up. Bad news.
+1. In general, if you are not from the area I do not suggest illegal taxis. If you're with a local friend, then ok.
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