Going to Beijing and then...

Oct 18th, 2002, 07:55 AM
  #1  
Pamela
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Going to Beijing and then...

I am traveling to Beijing in December for 2 weeks and would like to also travel to Xi'an and Shangai, perferably by train, but is this feasible with the amount of time I have?
 
Oct 18th, 2002, 09:57 AM
  #2  
Peter N-H
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The presence of fast overnight trains on these routes means that you need not lose too much time travelling by train. There are two expresses leaving Beijing West late afternoon and arriving at Xi'an early the following morning, the T41, T231, and T55.

From Xi'an to Shanghai there are several trains, some taking 24 hours. The best choice would be the faster T140 which leaves in the early evening and arrives mid-morning the next day.

From Shanghai to Beijing there are also three early evening departures arriving around 8am the next morning, the T14, T22, and T104.

I'd allow roughly five, three, and three days in that order, with a couple of days left to spare for hitches, hiccups, and last minute changes of mind.

Tickets are generally on sale four days in advance including day of travel, so your first activity on arrival in these cities is to book your way out. All three stations have special sleeper ticket offices away from the main melee. The one at Beijing West, signposted in English one flight up from the main concourse, is open practically 24 hours a day, so you could go there yourself. You can manage at the other stations, too, but this might be a case in which you just need to save time by asking an agent to get the ticket for you. If you are in major hotels (including those popular with backpackers) front desks like wildly to overcharge you for organising the tickets. If you find one of the railway's own ticket offices (marked on Chinese-language maps with the railway symbol), the commission is Y5 and the ticket will be handed to you immediately. Y20 is a suitable commission for agents who actually have to go to the station, including ticket delivery to your room. All you need to supply is: train no. (give them as much choice as possible), date of travel, number of tickets required, and class of berth (hard 'ying wo', or soft 'ruan wo').

With only a few days in each city, just remember not to save the best sights to last, but to do them first, or increase the chances of disappointment.

Peter N-H
http://members.axion.net/~pnh/China.html
 
Oct 19th, 2002, 03:55 AM
  #3  
China?
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Let's be real. You forgot to mention that softsleepers are overpriced, hardsleepers are kept from travellers without a bribe, softseats dont exist (practically) and hardseats are like being transported as cattle... actually worse!
If you only want to visit those 3 cities, you may be ok but anything else and you will have to bribe someone in China.
 
Oct 19th, 2002, 08:20 AM
  #4  
Peter N-H
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Both question and answer were, indeed, quite specific to three cities. But while the description above was fair a few years ago, and there are still some local difficulties and problems at certain times of year, the situation is now largely different throughout China.

To take the points made in order:

Taking the T41 Beijing to Xi'an as an example, the T41, one of the more expensive trains in China because of its relatively rapid speed and airconditioning, costs Y417 a 1200km run in a soft sleeper bed. Thats just over US$50 or US$0.04 per km. Expensive for some, no doubt, but not for most readers of this forum, I imagine. There are also slower, cheaper trains.

But the hard sleeper option is also available, and where (or when) there are still difficulties with ticket access its across the board, not just with hard sleeper tickets. Incidentally on the T41 Beiing to Xi'an the hard sleeper cost is Y274, or about US$30; about 2.7 cents per km.

Soft seats have only ever existed on daytime trains, and there are now many daytime trains consisting solely of seats of many classes, especially in the east. On some of these you can walk up and buy a ticket just before departure, or on the train itself.

Hard seat class has always been the choice of the masochistic only, but this, too, has changed in much of China. On many of the T and K expresses there is no longer any unreserved hard seating, so the crowding of before is gone. Rules against smoking, spitting, and throwing anything and everything on the floor are better enforced, and the seats are no longer of wood. Earlier this year I got on a train to Beijing at Shanghaiguan, which had come from Shenyang and was going to Guangzhou, with an unreserved hard seat ticket (I was in a hurry). No problem to get a seat; padded seats; no smoking in the compartment; and a trolley brought round a DVD player and disks for rent. Chickens on the luggage rack? No doubt the older rolling stock is still in use in odd corners of China, however.

The last time I had to buy from touts was four years ago when I needed to get from Beijing to Shanghai at short notice during a major public holiday and I paid a 40% mark-up to a tout outside the station (who ran in and got the ticket from the same woman who had just told me the whole train was sold out). That was for a hard sleeper, and everyone else in my group of six berths had had to buy from touts, too. But every other ticket I've bought all over China in the last few years I've bought myself over the counter at normal face value, with the exception of one purchase via a realistically priced agent (Y20 commission), and one over the Internet. (Don't ask everyone: this is for trains leaving Beijing only and you need to be able both to read and type in Chinese characters on your computer, and to be in China already.)

What has changed? The railways are required to make a profit (or as much money as they can) and there is talk of privatizing some less vital routes--this might already have happened. There is competition both with the airlines and the newly-built highway system, which in more populated areas at least, and on certain routes, now offers more frequent departures at high levels of comfort in Daewoo, Volvo, or even Mercedes buses, with free mineral water and newspaper, and even in some cases a shoes-off policy. These are also sometimes faster than the trains. Futhermore, whereas six years ago there was one overnight express from Beijing to Xi'an, there are now three.

Obviously much of rural China is far less comfortable, with the old decrepit and polluting buses, and no train service at all. But in general rail travel is no longer anything like as bleak as described.

Peter N-H
http://members.axion.net/~pnh/China.html
 
Oct 19th, 2002, 03:38 PM
  #5  
kang
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To China? ([email protected]):

If you were last in China just 5 years ago, you are likely vastly out of touch with today's reality. My last trip to China was one year ago, and the one before was about 5 years ago. During these 4 years in between, the highway system spreading many cities large and small seemed just spring up from nowhere. And I believe that is the main reason for the fundamental improvement of China's transportation system.

Go and revisit the cities you last visited, you will find in many ways that they have changed beyond recognition.

Not all changes are for the better, though, and some developments are actually bad for Chinese culture, and some are quite troubling, the three gorge dam for example. But nevertheless, the energy of the Chinese to develop their economy is nothing short of stunning.
 
Oct 19th, 2002, 06:41 PM
  #6  
China?
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Sorry Kang, I was there in August and I travelled with a group of people who can testify to the post I made.
It sounds you want China to be a great place to visit but in reality, well... I will keep that particular comment to myself. My point, give people a realistic idea of what to expect when they go to China. It has fantastic historical sites and a fantastic culture but the system is close to non-funtional and all that I said above, in the 5 weeks that I was in China during August of 2002, is correct!
 
Oct 19th, 2002, 06:57 PM
  #7  
kang
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My last post was out of my last year's experience traveling in the sourthwestern rigion, and it was in April. I bought tickets at the stations and through agencies and never had to bribe anyone. As for softseat train, I took one from Changchun to Dalian 9 years ago and I can hardly see why they"dont exist (practically)" any more.

I cannot comment on what was going on in August this year during that 5 weeks of your visit. Could you please shed some light by giving us some concrete examples of how you had to bribe your way in China, for every one's benefit?
 
Oct 19th, 2002, 07:05 PM
  #8  
kang
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And I am especially interested in the "particular comment" that you want to keep to yourself. No matter how nasty it might be, please, speak out; it could be a great lesson to everyone, me included. Thanks.
 
Oct 19th, 2002, 07:13 PM
  #9  
Peter N-H
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China? ([email protected]):

Many independent travellers leave China hating it and swearing never to return, and there are equally many reasons why. However fond I may happen to be of China, there's much about the experience of travelling there which I must admit is absolutely vile.

I for one (and I expect quite a few other impending China travellers here) would be very interested in hearing a few more details of exactly what it was that made you so fed up with the place, and particular examples of bribery and difficulties with tickets, so that others can avoid them in the future.

[I see while I've been typing this that a similar request has been made above. But I'll let this stand.]

Peter N-H
http://members.axion.net/~pnh/China.html
 
Oct 19th, 2002, 07:51 PM
  #10  
China?
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Sorry, I really dont have the time to go into detail on the events of 5 weeks travels. The 2 of you seem to have a lot of time to type essay-length messages.
The conditions in China are common knowledge among travellers. I was warned before I went but didnt pay much attention. The traveller that began this thread will most definitely see for herself and form her own opinion. As I said earlier, the point in my post was to balance out the unrealistic messages left earlier. Bye
 
Oct 19th, 2002, 08:23 PM
  #11  
Andrea
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I have found the train system in China to be very efficient, clean, and reasonably priced. I have taken the overnight train from Shanghai to Beijing and several short daytime trips around Shanghai (e.g. Suzhou, Hangzhou). My husband takes trains much more frequently, on much longer haul trips (e.g. Anhui, Yueyuang, Henan - many places I've never even heard of!).

My husband will be the first to agree that hardclass train travel is unpleasant (improvement over yesteryear or not) - but soft class tickets absolutely do exist, and the ones I've been on compare favorably with some trains I've been on in Europe, at far, far lower costs.

My husband also travels on hard sleepers, and has purchased tickets on his own, with no bribe.

(I do need to make one clarification - I think I was the one who had earlier said that my husband had been seated next to chickens on a train - my mistake - I checked with him and it was actually on a long haul bus. Now, if you want to talk about the realities of hard class travel, just ask him about the busses . . . )
 
Oct 24th, 2002, 12:43 PM
  #12  
Pamela
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Thanks for all the responses -especially those tediously written re the train info. It is certaintly helpful to have both sides of the fence presented. With that, I can only hope that my experience in China is a positive one.
 
Oct 27th, 2002, 04:27 AM
  #13  
Nyszka
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We were just in China this past August. My husband travels there often on business. This past summer, we took our children on vacation. We spent time in Beijing, than left one early morning on Air China to Xian and spent the day there, came back at about five pm to catch a flight back to Beijing and then a few days later flew to Shanghai. We were told taking the airlines was a better way to get to the cities than by train. It worked for us. Myszka
 

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