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Buying a Train Ticket

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Buying a Train Ticket

Girl asleep on a train, taken from the waiting room at Shanghai Station.

© 2008 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.
Train travel is generally a great way to get around China. It is cheap (much less expensive than air travel) and generally very comfortable. Gone are the days of wooden seats at ninety-degree angles with loud speakers blaring propaganda. Trains nowadays have four classes, refreshment carts and decent (if not fabulous) bathrooms.

Buying a Train Ticket

2012 was the first year that Chinese customers could buy domestic train tickets online. However, this presents a problem for anyone who does not read Chinese. So unless you can read Chinese or a friend can help you, this is not an option. You can click here to check out the booking website in Chinese. Hopefully someday they'll put an English version up. Until then, see other options below.

The next best option for buying a ticket is to go physically to a railway ticket office to purchase your tickets. There is now a "real-name" policy for booking tickets. This means the purchaser must show identity papers for each ticket they are purchasing. (This policy was put into place to prevent scalpers from buying up tickets during peak travel seasons.)

  • To buy your ticket, check the route and decide what train you want. China Train Guide is a great site for looking at train schedules.
  • Take along your passport for identification. If you are purchasing tickets for others in your party, you'll need a copy of a passport for each ticket you're buying. Photocopies of passports are acceptable.
  • Go ten days before you want to leave. Generally tickets are released ten days before the date of travel.

If you're not physically in China and neither is anyone you know, find yourself a good travel agent in China to book things for you. A Chinese agent will be cheaper than your agent back home and probably a little more flexible. Of course there will likely be a nominal fee on top of the ticket price, but this is worth the peace-of-mind as well as the time saved.

Your agent can courier you the tickets to wherever you are but the thing to do is just to have them hold on to the tickets until you arrive in China and then have them sent to wherever you're staying.

Another way to go about booking tickets without your physical presence is to ask your hotel concierge to do it. Even if you're at a small inn without a concierge, they will likely be able to help you out. Again, especially for that small inn with no official concierge, you can probably talk them into going for you for a small fee. You'll have to email or fax them a copy of your passport.

The Joy of Train Travel

Now sit back with a good book or just watch the stretch of humanity go by your window. One of the luxuries of train travel is that it allows you to see just what lays in between the cities of millions that dot the country.
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