How to Travel by Train in China: A Complete Guide
Have you ever dreamed of traveling by train in China, the world’s most populous and diverse country? If so, you are not alone. Millions of travelers from all over the world choose to explore China by train every year and for good reasons. Train travel in China is not only fast, convenient, and affordable, but also scenic, cultural, and historical. You can experience the world’s largest high-speed train system, the breathtaking scenery along the routes, and the diverse culture and history of China by taking a train. In this article, we will show you how to travel by train in China, including how to book your train tickets, how to arrive at the station, how to get on a train, and how to deal with your luggage. We will also share some tips and tricks to make your train travel in China more enjoyable and memorable.
Travel by Train in China
If traveling in the inner city, subways and buses are the ideal means of transportation, while for traveling between provinces, trains are the right choice. Despite being developed later than some other countries, China’s railway system now boasts the world’s leading speed, length, reasonable fare, and variety, catering to the needs of people with low to high incomes.
For example, if you’re traveling the same distance from Kunming to Guangzhou, you’ll find more than 20 train options and 60 train ticket options available on the same day. The cheapest ticket class for this route is about 26 USD (190 CNY), with a travel time of 27 hours. On the other hand, the highest ticket class is priced at 208 USD (1,515 CNY) and takes 7 hours and 50 minutes. If you choose to go by plane, the ticket price ranges from 167 to 333 USD (1,217 to 2,427 CNY).
Another noteworthy example is the Beijing – Shanghai leg, which covers a distance of 1,200 km. The high-speed train covers this distance in about 5 hours and costs around 83 USD (605 CNY) per person. In contrast, the Shanghai – Suzhou leg, which is 110 km, takes approximately 25 minutes and the ticket price is about 5.5 USD (40 CNY).
While traveling by plane may offer shorter flight times compared to train journeys, it is important to consider the additional time required for airport commutes (which are usually far from the city center), check-in procedures, security checks, and retrieving luggage.
How to Book Train in China
The official website of China Railway is now available in English. It also allows payment with popular international payment cards such as Visa, Master, and JCB. To access the website, you need to register an account and create a password. Registering is easy. You just simply enter your email and personal information exactly as it appears on your passport. No phone number is required.
Once you’ve registered an account, you can input your departure point, arrival point, and departure date. The platform will then display all available trains, ticket classes, and travel times. Next, you choose the desired train and make the payment using an international payment card. The platform then send you a confirmation email with your ticket details. There’s no need to print your ticket. You simply save the email on your phone and present it at the station. The email will include the passenger’s full name, reservation code, fare, train number, car number, seat number, departure point, destination, departure date and time, and check-in information.
Things to Know When Buying Train Tickets in China
There are two important points to keep in mind when buying tickets. One is that a lot of trains run out of tickets right after they go on sale, so buy as soon as possible. Usually, these websites open to sell tickets 14 days before departure. Second, when registering an account and buying tickets, it is necessary to enter your real information and that of your companions exactly as it appears in your passport. This is because when you board the train, the staff will check your passport to see if it matches the ticket or not.
If you don’t want to buy on the website, you can also buy train tickets through a third-party app, like 12Go. This application supports different languages with supporting channels for you.
In case you can’t buy a ticket online, you can buy it at the station. Nevertheless, the selection will be much less and the date you want to go may not be available.
Arriving at the Station
Many train stations in China are as large as airports, with some big centers. Indeed, Shanghai Hongqiao railway station is even larger than airports. This is because they have metro stations, inner-city bus stations, long-distance bus stations, and even a civil airport. Additionally, some stations feature amenities such as food courts, supermarkets, and souvenir shops. Passengers can purchase food and drinks to enjoy onboard their journey.
The terminal is large, so you will need a lot of time to move, especially when dragging luggage. Therefore, you should aim to be at the station at least 30 minutes before the train’s departure time. In those 30 minutes, you need to complete two procedures:
At the entrances of all stations, there are security checkpoints and baggage screenings. Railway regulations are not as strict as aviation. You can still bring food, liquids, and personal items, but you should avoid carrying potentially dangerous items such as cutlery, chemicals, and explosives. There is a list of prohibited items on the train, clearly stated on the railway website. However, if you are only carrying regular luggage, there is no need to worry. It only takes a few minutes to go through security. Then, find the correct check-in gate to board the train.
Scan documents at the boarding gate (check-in). You do not need to present any kind of ticket because your ticket is already saved in the system, corresponding to the personal document you used to buy the ticket. Chinese passengers just need to swipe their citizen IDs to board the train. For foreign visitors, there will be a separate gate with staff standing by to assist them. You should give your passport to that person. They will enter the passport number into the machine and then return it to you. Thus, when buying tickets for yourself and your companions, make sure to enter accurate information.
All stations have English signs. During the above two steps, you do not need to communicate with the station staff unless there is an issue with your luggage or ticket.
Getting on a Train in China
On most trains, no one will check your ticket. Passengers find the correct carriage and seat number and settle into their seats before the train departs. When compared to trains in other countries such as Europe, Japan, Korea, India, or Southeast Asian countries, trains in China are the most spacious, modern, and clean. Each seat is approximately 50 cm wide, providing ample room for comfort. The legroom is wide enough for individuals up to 1.90 meters tall to sit comfortably. The aisle between the two rows of seats is more than half a meter wide, allowing passengers to easily move about the train. It is also convenient for carrying large luggage. Most seats are equipped with power sockets, dining tables, and storage compartments. Additionally, every car is equipped with clean and comfortable toilets, free hot and cold water dispensers, and multiple electronic screens that display important information such as the departure and arrival stations, train speed, and outdoor temperature in both Chinese and English.
On the train, there are often staff pushing food carts to sell to passengers at reasonable prices. You can also pre-purchase a wide selection at the station. Please clean your table and seats after eating; there are trash cans and sinks available in every car.
The train ran very smoothly; a full glass of water was placed on the dining table and not a drop was spilled during the 5-hour journey. On the train, there is almost no smell, and no one plays loud music or talks loudly.
Handling the Luggage
The general regulation of China Railways for luggage is not to exceed 10 kg per child and 20 kg for an adult. The sum of the dimensions should not exceed 160 cm. Wheelchairs for people with disabilities are charged separately. At the station, there are almost no scales and tight gauges like at the airport. However, you should not bring too many things, leading to difficulty in moving and the risk of delay due to baggage problems.
For large suitcases, put them in the luggage compartment at the front of each car, and small bags in the tray above the seats. Trains in China are civilized and safe, but you should still carry your passport, wallet, and phone with you wherever you go. If you need assistance, you should ask the station and train staff. They are professional and friendly.
Final Thoughts on Train Travel in China
Train travel in China is a wonderful way to discover the beauty and diversity of this amazing country. By following our guide, you can plan and prepare for your train travel in China with ease and confidence. You can also enjoy your journey onboard with comfort and convenience. Whether you are looking for speed, scenery, or culture, you can find it all by traveling by train in China. So, what are you waiting for? Book your train tickets now and get ready for an unforgettable adventure!
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