How to Travel in China

How to Travel in China
Whether you plan on gazing at the Three Gorges, hiking along the Great Wall, traversing the entire country or journeying on the ancient Silk Road, getting around in China is an integral part of the travel experience. There are flights covering the vast distances between China's major cities, but traveling by land gives you a more intimate view of the country and its culture. Rail travel, while more expensive, is generally more comfortable than bus travel for long distance trips.


Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Travel by Train

Step 1
Choose your route. The China rail network serves all provinces of the country, except Hainán. View a rail map here to help you plan your route:
Step 2
Choose a travel class. Long distance trains generally have four classes: hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper and soft sleeper. Hard seat tickets are the most inexpensive and easiest to buy, although you may not be able to get a reserved seat. Hard seat carriages tend to be crowded and may be standing room only. Soft seat tickets are slightly more expensive than hard seat tickets. For long journeys, hard sleeper tickets are the most popular. Hard sleeper carriages have open compartments of six bunks. The lowest bunk is the most expensive, although if you buy the lowest bunk you will have to share it with other passengers during the day. The highest bunk is the least expensive, but there's not a lot of head room. Sheets and pillows are provided. Soft sleeper tickets cost roughly twice as much as hard sleeper tickets. These cars have enclosed compartments of only four bunks and are more comfortable.
Step 3
Purchase tickets at the train station, from Chinese travel agents, or online. The cheapest prices are available by buying tickets directly from the train station. Travel agent tickets have a surcharge, and you will pay more for the convenience of online booking. Purchase advance tickets for long distance trains. If you want a berth in hard sleeper class, book at least three days in advance. For popular routes, you may even need to book weeks in advance.

Travel by Bus

Step 1
Choose a travel destination. Buses can reach many destinations that the train doesn't service.
Step 2
Research ticket prices, routes and timetables via a local bus station. Decide if you want to travel by regular long distance bus (chángtú gonggòng qìche) or by sleeper bus (wòpù kèche).
Step 3
Purchase tickets. You can usually buy your tickets upon departure. In most cases, the bus will not leave until all the seats have been sold, so be prepared to wait at the bus station until the driver is ready to leave. Think of the 'departure time' as more of a 'reporting time,' so that you don't get frustrated!

Tips & Warnings

Rail travel is more punctual and comfortable, but bus travel allows for more flexibility. Avoid traveling during public holidays or Chinese New Year, as it can be nearly impossible to get a seat.
Buses can be crowded, noisy, bumpy and prone to breakdowns. Bring plenty of warm clothes if you are traveling in high altitude areas. Travel with a first aid kit, matches, and plenty of food and water in case of a breakdown in a remote area.

Article Written By Heather Carreiro

Heather Carreiro is a certified English teacher who has been writing since 2008. The editor of Matador Abroad, her work has appeared online at BootsnAll, Matador Network, GoNOMAD, Journey Beyond Travel and Expat Women. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in linguistics and Middle Eastern studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and is pursuing a Master of Arts in English at Bridgewater State University.

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