This post was last updated on April 13th, 2020 at 01:16 pm
A lot can be said about transport in China. Not because there are many means of transport, but because the country is many times larger than other countries in South East Asia. What is the best way to travel in this immense country? There is a big difference in China between transport in the cities and inland. Which transportation option you prefer, depends on your timetable and budget. In almost all cases, cheap transport takes a little longer and is less comfortable.
If you go backpacking in China and have more time, cheaper transport is ideal. If you have less time but a larger budget, you can opt for the faster means of transport, which are usually also more expensive. Because the distances in China are so large, you also need more time to see the country. A trip from Beijing to Xi’an by car or bus, for example, takes a very long time. Due to large distances, you are quickly dependent on domestic flights or trains.
Trains in China
We have a lot of experience traveling by train in China. Due to the large distances you travel, a bus or car is sometimes not an option. In this case, the train is a fast and cheap alternative. Not only tourists use thousands of miles of track, but the Chinese themselves also love it.
Railways are becoming more extensive and connect north, east, south and west China. The high-speed lines, also known as CHR trains, are increasingly being laid. There are already routes between Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. The train is extremely suitable as a means of transport in China.
There are some differences between the trains in China. There are “hard seats” and “soft sleepers”.
Soft Sleeper – We always recommend the soft sleepers. Here you have a bed in a coupe for four people. Usually, these trains also run at night, so you don’t have to miss a day on your trip through China!
Hard Seat – The hard seats are cheaper but, as the name suggests, not exactly comfortable. You only have a seat and since most train journeys last five hours or more, we definitely do not recommend this!
TIP – Since the Chinese also travel a lot by train, the cheaper classes are quickly sold out.
You can buy a train (or bus) ticket anywhere in China. You can easily arrange this in most hostels and hotels. If it is not stated, you can always ask for it. They will gladly help you out further.
You can also go to one of the many travel agencies in the cities or to the train station itself. Buying tickets at the train station itself is often the cheaper option.
We always arranged it through our accommodation which went very well.
Buses in China
Given the distances you cover, the bus drops off pretty quickly. For those who have a little more time, a bus is a good option for transportation in China. Certainly, in the larger cities and along the coast, buses and bus companies are of good quality, usually with air conditioning. Bus journeys on the larger (high) roads towards the big cities in the (south) east can be done reasonably well. Also, the buses here drive pretty fast and do not have to cross small country roads.
Inland bus rides are of a very different category and usually less suitable as a means of transport in China. The buses here are of lesser quality and usually without air conditioning, which makes it an uncomfortable ride. In addition, you will hardly find people here who speak English, so finding the right bus can be difficult. Keep in mind that there are different standards and values in China regarding hygiene and dealing with other people.
TIP – Since the Chinese also travel a lot by bus, the cheaper classes are quickly sold out.
Domestic Flights in China
For those with a slightly larger budget or less time, domestic flights are a very good alternative. China is the fourth largest country in the world. So you can imagine that the distances are huge. The aircraft is, therefore a suitable transportation option in China.
Despite the size of the country, most domestic flights last no longer than five hours.
In addition, you naturally also have the necessary local airlines. Hong Kong and Macau are not counted with China. These flights are slightly more expensive! You can also arrange a ticket at one of the many travel agencies in China. You can easily walk in here and sometimes the price can still be negotiated!
Chinese Airline Companies
You can easily buy a ticket, the easiest way is online. There are enough providers that offer cheap, good flights. AirAsia, China Eastern, China Southern, and Air China are examples of good airlines that serve most cities.
Transportation in the Major Cities
China’s transportation in the (major) cities is well organized. In metropolises such as Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, and Guangzhou you have different ways to get around in the city. Some things you can do on foot but if you stay in the center of Beijing and want to go to the Summer Palace that is not recommended. The two most used means of transport in the cities are the subway and taxis.
Subways are present in the large cities mentioned above. The subway is a very easy, fast and cheap way to get around the city and suitable as a means of transport in China. It connects all highlights in cities and the system works very easily. Usually, the distances in the city are too long to walk and the subway is a good option. There won’t be any traffic jams when you use the subway! Note, however, that it can be quite busy.
In addition to the subway, taxis are a good option for getting around. Keep in mind that you can often get stuck in traffic jams in the big cities, especially during rush hour and with bad weather. In addition, few taxi drivers speak English. However, they do know most of the highlights in the cities. The price for taxis can be seen on the meter. If you end up in a traffic jam, the price can increase considerably!