Travel, Teach, Live in China

The Best Ways to Travel in China
By:David Carnes

Despite China's vast size and status as a third-world country, its travel network is comprehensive, affordable and surprisingly efficient, although some options are better than others. Long-distance travel is best provided by trains and airlines, whereas buses and taxes are the most common local travel method.

Train
All things considered, trains are probably the best way to travel long distances in China. Trains are neither as comfortable nor as quick as air travel, but they are far cheaper and offer the traveler a widow view of the Chinese countryside that air travel cannot compete with. China's "iron roosters" (a local nickname that the Chinese use to refer to their locomotives) may not offer the comforts of Amtrack or Eurrail, but the sleeper cars are comfortable and convenient, and the dining cars serve surprisingly tasty Chinese cuisine. The centerpiece of the Chinese railway system is the Tibetan Railway, which passes straight through the heart of the Himalayas at altitudes of up to 5,000 meters (15,000 feet). It is important to remember that you cannot buy round-trip train tickets at Chinese train stations; if you plan on a quick return, buy the return ticket at the destination train station as soon as you arrive.

Air
China's air travel network is fairly comprehensive and growing rapidly, and its poor safety record of the late 1980s is now a thing of the past. Cross-country one-way airfares of slightly less than US$200 per person are typical, although package tours commonly offer cheaper fares. A valid (mainland) Chinese visa is required to travel from Hong Kong to anywhere in mainland China.

Bus
Bus travel is probably the least attractive means of travel in China. Bus fares are about the same as train fares, travel times are only a bit faster, there is no dining car and stops are relatively infrequent. The advantages of bus travel are that buses travel to destinations not served by train, and bus tickets can usually be obtained during holidays even when train tickets are unavailable. Sleeper buses are also quite common, although they are far less comfortable than sleeper trains.

Local Travel
Shanghai and Hong Kong have well-developed local metro systems, and several other Chinese cities have less extensive systems. Consequently, outside of Shanghai and Hong Kong, you are likely going to require an alternative means of local travel. Local buses are crowded and uncomfortable. Taxis are cheap by Western standards, but few taxi drivers speak English, and rip-offs are not uncommon. All things considered, you best bet will probably be to catch a taxi outside of an international hotel after having the hotel attendant write down your destination in Chinese.


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