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Train Travel in China

Just looking for advice on booking train tickets for China
8 years ago, June 7th 2012 No: 1 Msg: #157353  

I'm going to be in China for 3 weeks in September and want to travel around by overnight sleeper trains. Websites regarding booking tickets are currently confusing me tho 😞

The ones i've been looking at all seem to say tickets only go on sale within 10-12 days of the journey but then say book way in advance.

They also offer delivery at a cost of $25 per ticket, so as i want to go from Shenzhen - Guilin (3 days) - Chongqing (2 days) - Xian (3 days) - Shanghai (6 days) - Beijing (6 days), thats like $125 just to deliver tickets, and as i'm crossing the border from Hong Kong not even sure they'd deliver there.

Simply put am i better hoping to be able to buy either on the day or a couple days notice in China. Also do costs go up much, from say booking now to buying whilst in China?


Dan Reply to this

8 years ago, June 7th 2012 No: 2 Msg: #157354  
Or would it be cheaper or easier to just fly the odd leg of the journey instead??? Reply to this

8 years ago, June 7th 2012 No: 3 Msg: #157360  
Hello and welcome to Travelblog!

I've done several train journeys (including overnight) in China and in my experience, prices do not increase the closer you get to the travel date - what does happen though is that the cheaper seats will be taken first, thus it may appears it gets more expensive the closer you get to the travel date.

The train system in China still doesn't have a centralised system (i.e. India) so you are limited to buying a ticket only at the point of departure.

I'd be wary going through an agent, that is a lot of extra money for such a service and the prices are usually cheaper when buying yourself anyway. If you have a little bit of flexibility then wait until you are there. You should make the first thing you do upon arriving in each place is to purchase the following journey.

A flight may be easier for the Xi'an-Shanghai route as that is going to be a long journey. There are many trains from Shanghai to Beijing - some of the the sleeper trains on that route are excellent.

For reference to all things train related, have a look at the Man in Seat Sixty-One website - it always has useful information. Reply to this

8 years ago, June 8th 2012 No: 4 Msg: #157378  
B Posts: 277
Hi, I have done both, that is used an agency and bought tickets on the spot. In the second case you may not get tickets for the train you want, but for a slower, worse train. The agency worked fine and delivered the tickets to us the day before leaving at our hotel in China. We used Chinahighlights, but I don't know if the sell you tickets unless you book some tour with them. If you are doing a cruise you may be able to get tickets through the cruise agency.

Be aware that 1 October is the National Day of China, and people travel a lot around that date.

It is not that easy to buy tickets yourself, it may take quite some time only to find out where to buy them. However, usually the hotel can get them for you for a small fee, much less than the $25 you mention.

You are doing the popular route to Guilin, and this is probably worth booking ahead, unless there are many trains. Travelchinaguide has a good section on train travel with all the time tables, and I have found them to be reliable in their information.

I also think a flight may be better Xian-Shanghai. Shanghai to Beijing now have the high speed trains which makes the trip in a few hours.

I liked the train travel, but don't expect it to be like European trains. It is crowded, noisy (Chinese people can be very loud), dirty toilets and a bit of a rush to get on and off the train with another 1000 or so people. I recommend soft seat which is first class equivalent, one of the advantages is that you get priority boarding from the special soft seat waiting hall. That is great because otherwise you are caught in the mass of people running with enormous bundles of stuff to get a seat - but that is of course an experience never to be forgotten. Train is the cheapest mean of transport so people use it not only for leisure but to carry their produce too. Xian train station for example is one of the BIG stations in China, and that is BIG - you should get there with time to spare just to get into the station building. So maybe a mix of flights and trains is something to think about. Reply to this

8 years ago, June 8th 2012 No: 5 Msg: #157381  
Thank you both for your insights on this. I will have a bit of flexibility whilst in China so i'm thinking more along the lines of going ith booking once i get there, altho i'm going to look into the prospect of flying Xian-Shanghai as both of you have advised that.

I would be planning on using sleeper's for all journeys to not lose any day time in one place or another.

With regards the 1st October national holiday, i was planning on doing the Shanghai to Beijing leg around 2/3 days before this. As it's such a busy and common route i shouldn't have any problems finding a train should i? I mean there are plenty of trains between the 2 and surely they won't all be booked up for the 28th/29th September.

As i'm entering Shenzhen from Hong Kong i was hoping to get there in the morning and pick up a train for the same evening to Guilin altho there only seems to be one. Would you say this is unlikely Inga? I've emailed a couple of agencies to ask if they can deliver to Hong Kong as there only seems to be one train so could do without getting stuck there really Reply to this

8 years ago, June 8th 2012 No: 6 Msg: #157389  
B Posts: 277
Hi again,
2-3 days before October 1 will be busy, but it is hard to say whether that means all trains are sold out or not. it is like Christmas in our part of the world - would you risk it?

Only one train to Guilin is certainly a bit uncertain. What are your backup options? There are sleeper buses I think, so that could be a second option. Or would you mind going the next day? Personally, if on a tight schedule I like to have other options available or book in advance, even if it costs a bit it gives you a piece of mind. We went to Guilin from Changsha and booked several days before, and still had problems getting tickets.

If there is a cheap flight from Shenzhen there is a direct bus from Hong Kong to Shenzhen airport, very convenient if you choose that solution.

Reply to this

8 years ago, June 8th 2012 No: 7 Msg: #157391  
I'll look into a flight to Guilin as back up. To be honest i haven't done that much with regards back up options at moment but this is sure opening my eyes upto needing to do that.

I can be quite flexible. I'll have an entry date and leaving date to China so if i had to stay a day more in one place or leave a day earlier for example that won't be a problem. I haven't looked at buses either yet, can imagine they will take forever tho if the trains take 16 hours plus.

The only concern i have about booking in advance is the fact i'll be entering China from Hong Kong and all the agencies say will deliver tickets to a hotel in China, but none mention Hong Kong. I'm also only using Shenzhen as a go thru and not actually staying there so wouldnt have a chinese address to pick anything up. Once i get to Guilin i can book further onward travel from there, each time i arrive i can book to leave, hopefully Reply to this

8 years ago, June 8th 2012 No: 8 Msg: #157399  
B Posts: 277
It depends on the agency of course, but you could check out whether they have an office in Shenzhen where you could pick up the tickets. But do get the address in Chinese and phone numbers so you can find them. Or maybe you can get them at the train station?

Yes, do book as soon as possible, that will increase your options. Reply to this

8 years ago, June 8th 2012 No: 9 Msg: #157403  
Thanks for this Inga. I've looked into flying the Shenzhen to Guilin route and its not much more than the train ticket cost plus fee would be anyways so i think for that leg i may well fly it and take the risk out of it.

Between my other destinations theres far more train options plus i'll be in China then so hoping to buy tickets on arrival in each place for my next trains onward.

Have you ever been to Chongqing, i was considering a day or 2 there to break up the Guilin to Xian train journey which is around 28-30 hours. Or would you spend a couple extra days in Guilin and just fly north instead? Reply to this

8 years ago, June 8th 2012 No: 10 Msg: #157409  
In response to: Msg #157378

Getting your hotel to buy the tickets for you is an excellent idea - saves any translation issues and quite a bit of your time! Reply to this

8 years ago, June 9th 2012 No: 11 Msg: #157424  
B Posts: 277
I did not like Chongqing much it was polluted, the center was small. There is a very impressive museum of the Three gorges which is worth seeing. An extra day in Guilin area or in Xian (one of my favourite cities) is probably better. Reply to this

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