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How To Guide: Travel Within China Pt. 1

Helpful tips on how to travel within China, including where to go and how to get there!

01·21·2013

How To Guide: Travel Within China Pt. 1

Helpful tips on how to travel within China, including where to go and how to get there!

01·21·2013

You’ve finally gotten yourself somewhat situated in China after arriving from your place of origin. You’ve explored the town or city that you’re staying at a bit, but you’ve decided that while you’re in China, you might as well travel to other locations since– let’s face it– you might as well, now that you’re in one of the largest countries in the world. Whether it’s because you have a couple of days off from school, work, or you’re in China on vacation, you feel that you owe it to yourself to go on an adventure.  You decide that it’s finally time to see another face of China. So how do you do it? Here’s a step by step guide on travel within China.

1. HOW TO START A TRIP IN CHINA

One of the most difficult things to do is to figure out exactly where it is that you want to go.  Most of us have time constraints, so its important to know narrow down exactly which cities you want to visit, if more than one. Take a look at a map of China and look at these pointers on narrowing it down.

  • Visa : First is to look at the type of Visa you have. If it’s a multiple-entry visa, feel free to go to places like Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan: your visa will renew itself upon re-entry to the mainland. If you have a single entry, then you have to limit yourself to travel within mainland China– if you travel outside of mainland China, your visa will be cancelled upon leaving!
  • Weather: If you’re tired of the freezing cold from the north, or you’re tired of the city atmosphere with all of its pollution, try going down south to places like Guilin or Hainan.  If you’re trying to escape the heat and go for more of a city atmosphere, go to cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Shanghai, Xian, and Chengdu are usually slightly warmer than Beijing, while Hong Kong is obviously warmer, but beware of Monsoons during May!
  • Prices: Each city in China has differences in standard of living and prices. While the most famous, Hong Kong is obviously one of the most expensive cities to visit. The prices are comparable to prices in the west. While not as expensive as Hong Kong, Shanghai can still be considered pricey. Places like Beijing, Chengdu, Xian, and other lesser known cities are very cheap to travel to.
  • Cultural versus Modern: It’s important to really figure out what you want to get out of your trip. Beijing has a lot of culture, but getting around can be a little tough, especially if you don’t speak Mandarin. Hong Kong is extremely modern and the majority of the people there speak English. Shanghai is a good mixture of both, while Xian is smaller but plays host to the famous Qin tomb and the Terracotta Warriors.

In Sum, research each city a bit. Terracotta Warriors or cuddling with Pandas? Beautiful waterfalls or the Great Wall? Make sure you take the time to think those choices through! Read this story for cool bizarre places to check out.

At the Great Wall of China!

At the Great Wall of China!

2. FLIGHT VERSUS TRAIN

 If you’ve never traveled within China before, this is one of the most important things to take care of. Your timing must be right and you must make sure to have the right tools.

 Train:

 You would think that traveling by train would be the cheapest and most convenient way to travel across China right? Not necessarily. There are several ways you can buy a train ticket.

First, you must find your train. Train schedules are usually posted online through a couple of websites you can find through Baidu.com. You can try to buy the tickets online through one of these websites, but they are usually ridiculously overpriced. There is an official train website you can try to use, but it is completely in Chinese and you must have a debit card from a specific Chinese bank. Travel Agencies have rail tickets, but they will also overcharge you.  You can try to go to the station itself, however you must speak fairly decent Mandarin. At least know the name of the desired destination, the words for the type of seat you want, whether it be sleeper or hard seats, and understand the responses you will get.  Train stations will not allow you to buy the ticket too far an advanced. Usually 10-20  days in advance is the earliest, however they allow more time during national holidays.

The cheapest way to go is to get an overnight train. For trains more than 10 hours away, I do not recommend getting a hard seat but instead a sleeper. The hard seat is simply unbearable for such long train rides. You’d think a hard seat is just that– a seat; for some trains however, a hard seat means not even having an assigned seat, but rather, simply being allowed on the train: you’ll get the floor if you’re lucky. Read this story if you feel the need to be more convinced.

As for the hard sleeper, you’ll at least have a small twin size bed to claim as your own. Do not be startled if you wake up in your little white bunk bed to see a little old Chinese man staring at you in the bunk bed less than a foot away from you. You might as well have slept in the same bunk as him, because of how small the train cabins are.

Because you don’t have much room, don’t bring much luggage. You will be literally sleeping with it. Think: More room for my body or more room for my stuff? It’s a tough decision, but I think most will opt for more room to move.

Train Ride

Train Ride

Friends on the Train

Friends on the Train

Flight:

Most people think taking air travel is too expensive: that’s usually because most purchase tickets via foreign websites. Websites like Kayak, Expedia, etc. all overprice the flights by more than double.

The solution? Use Chinese search engines to search for Chinese prices.  The website english.ctrip.com is a great example. It not only gives you excellent prices– it’s also in English! Don’t worry, it’s very safe and is China’s leading online travel site. Unless you’re a backpacker that likes over-crowded environments and small spaces, I recommend taking a plane at a cheap price.

For example, using kayak, a round trip from Beijing to Shanghai will cost anywhere between 500 to 800 USD. Using Ctrip, you’ll bring your cost down to about 180 USD.  Go check for yourself: the bullet train will be about the same price, but its way more confusing at the train station and it takes longer to reach your destination.

In Sum, useenglish.ctrip.com.  It will save you time, money, and save you a headache, especially if your mandarin isn’t great.

Leshan

Leshan

Be sure to read Part 2 of this blog series.