The best way to get around China is by train and plane (generally safe and cheap, ideal for covering long distances). Look at How to get there to find information about chinese airlines and where to book flight tickets at cheapest price.
In our China Trip Planner and throughout the different itineraries, we always tell which is the best way to get from one place to the other. For each trip, whether between cities or inside of them, we let you know if it's better to travel by plane, bus, rental car, taxi, bike, on foot, or by any other mode of transportation. We also give you the name of the company and the link where you can make a reservation yourself at the best possible rates, thereby avoiding being charged commissions.
How to get around chinese cities:
Once in the cities, it's best to walk whenever you can, and to use the metro or a bike for longer distances. Taxis are extremely cheap compared to Europe, USA and Japan, though many taxi drivers will try and overcharge you. Always take official taxis with a meter or if not, negotiate the price beforehand, that is, if you can make yourself understood:-). In the China Trip Planner, when we recommend you to take a taxi, we tell you the aprox price so that no one will cheat you.
China by train: travelling by train in China is comfortable, cheap and safe. Don't expect luxury; trains are simple, though clean and respectable.
How to buy train tickets:
Most trains in China cannot be booked more than 5-10 days in advance. It's best to just go to the departure station 2-3 days in advance and buy the tickets directly (availability shouldn't be a problem, unless it's the Spring Festival, 1 May or 1 October). Agencies that offer tickets further in advance will charge much more for something they aren't supposed to be doing to begin with.
If you are in Shanghai or Beijing, you'll find ticket windows where they speak English (there are signs). In the rest of the cities, you'll need a piece of a paper with all your ticket information written in Chinese on it: point of departure and arrival, departure time, ticket number, ticket class. Ask someone at your hotel to write this information down for you. Passports and cash are a must!
It's important to be aware that in each station you can only buy tickets for trains which depart from that city, as the computer systems are not interconnected (e.g., in Shanghai you cannot buy a ticket from Beijing to Xi'an).
If you want to avoid having to go and buy the tickets yourself, or you won't be in the city sufficiently in advance, you'll have to pay a third party to book the tickets for you. In this case, it is necessary to do so ten days in advance or even a month if you are travelling during the Spring Festival, 1 May, or 1 October.
The best alternative is asking the hotel to take care of this for you. Don't forget to ask what their commission will be (between 50CNY and 150CNY is a fair price).
If the hotel doesn't offer this service or charges too much, go to an agency and have them do it (China Trip Advisor, China Train Tickets…). Our favourite, because it's the most efficient, is Travel China Guide. Check their website for route and departure time, make a request online, and they will get back to you with specific timetables and prices. Payment is made with a credit card and they'll send the tickets to your hotel. The commission is CNY150 per ticket, including postage.
And if you are not satisfied, we give you your money back. That easy!
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