Expatriates will encounter a number of different trains in China, from the famous high-speed bullet trains to special tourist ones. The different kinds are denoted by letters or number combinations:
In addition to the different train types, there exist a number of different travel categories, too. Note, however, that not all categories are available on all types of trains in China:
In a number of Chinese cities, you cannot buy train tickets for journeys that do not start in that particular location. Note that this also includes return journeys! Only in big cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou will you be able to purchase tickets for non-local trains in China.
In bigger cities, you may be able to find ticket offices with English-speaking staff, but do not count on this. Instead, make sure to note down all the important information in Chinese. This includes your destination and the departure date and time, the train number, your preferred class/category of travel, as well as the number of tickets you need.
Next to train stations, you can buy tickets for trains in China at local Booking Offices for Train Tickets. You will, however, be charged an additional 5 CNY for this service. Hotels and travel agencies may offer to book your tickets for you. Some of the latter do so based on online enquires, such as for example China Highlights. On this website, you can also find more information in regard to baggage allowance, transferring, boarding, alternative purchase options, and more.
CNVOL.com similarly provides more detailed information on trains in China, including info on major lines, timetables, as well as the locations of booking offices in a number of cities. Once you have selected a particular train, you can check what prices to expect and also get a reference of your travel details in Chinese to assist you with your on-site ticket purchase.
When traveling by train in China, don’t forget to factor in time for security and ticket checks at the train station, where long queues are nothing unusual. Also make sure to bring your passport, Chinese residence permit, etc. Your ticket will be for a specific seat in a particular compartment. Note that you are expected to board trains in China directly at the compartment as stated on your ticket.
You cannot check in luggage on trains in China, so pack lightly in order to avoid problems with storage space. You may (want to) bring your own food and beverages, though. Simple Chinese food and drinks are sold in dining cars or via serving trolleys. However, these are often more expensive than off the train. Plus, menus on trains in China are typically only available in Mandarin.
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