China: Train tickets made easy

China is a land of hidden wonders with some of the world’s greatest travel locations. Without a strong grasp of the language it may be frightening to ride a train or buy a train ticket. Train tickets are one of the trickier things to buy in China. There are not many websites with English that offer train tickets. Luckily since there are fixed prices that companies can charge for tickets, prices are the same year around. There are also small train ticket agencies located through the city. These agencies charge a fixed 5 RMB for each train ticket you buy. Applications such as Dong Dong trip are able to locate ticket agencies near you. You can download the free version for searching trains and ticket agencies. I would suggest that you use this app or Ctrip to figure out the train number that you plan on taking. Write down the train number then write down the Chinese characters for the two cities.  This way you just have to hand them a piece of paper, and not have to yell across the counter at a Chinese lady.

Train tickets start to be sold 10 days before hand. You must bring your Passport in order to purchase. A word of advice, during the holidays, such as the days leading up to Chinese New Year (January 31) the trains are jammed packed. Since the majority of the 1.3 billion people want to return to their home towns to visit family, they begin to sell standing tickets. One of my friends purchased a train ticket online through a Chinese website, when he got to the train station, all the seats were taken. He then had to endure the 13 hour, standing train ride to Xian.


Different Train Types

K – Slowpoke train.  The Chinese government refers to these trains as “fast trains” They can reach 120 Km/hr. These trains also have a lot of stops, so the maximum speed is never held for long. Many of these trains are outdated; during summer of 2012 I rode a few of these trains. In the majority of these train’s second class (hard seat area) the air conditioning was not working. It was like being in a sauna full of few of sweaty Chinese men,  a rancid smell of Body Odor along with the smells from mushrooms and fish that some riders were taking home to the family. And be prepared to see a lot of bellies as when it’s hot, Chinese men like to roll their shirts up over their bellies.

T- Express trains. These trains reach a speed of 140 Km/hr and are far cleaner than their K counter part. They run from major city to major city with a limited amount of stops and are equipped with soft sleepers and hard sleepers. The term hard sleeper is a bit misleading. You do not have to worry however as the hard sleepers you will not be sleeping on slates of hard rock. If you order a soft sleeper ticket, don’t expect a memory foam mattress. The softness is about the same between the two bunks however the size is different and the amount of bunks in each cabin is different. In hard sleepers, there are 6 bunks per room The bunks are laid out in three in a row from top to bottom. If your ticket says 上卧 be prepared to do so climbing. In the room on each side the beds are stacked up in threes.  Since there is not enough head room for the middle and top person to sit on their beds. It is common etiquette for the bottom bed person to allow people to sit on his/her bed. While in the soft sleeper cabin there are only 4 bunks per room. The bunks are also slightly wider and there is also a legitimate door that you can lock in your room. Compared to the hard sleeper it also has a little curtain.

Z- Direct Express trains. Some of these trains are only equipped with soft seats and soft sleepers. This train can reach 160 Km/h. These have a limited amount of stops and are efficient for traveling long distances since they maintain their speeds.

D- Bullet train. These trains reach a max speed of Km/h often travel between major cities such as Nanjing and Shanghai.
G-Fast Bullet Train. These trains are the fastest that China has to offer, reaching a max speed of 350 Km/h. These trains usually run long distances with minimum stops. Bullet trains only offer seat tickets. This train can travel from Shanghai to Beijing in 5 hours compared to the D-train counterpart taking in excess of 9 hours.

Return Policy

If you miss your train, you will not have the option to cancel your ticket however depending on the railway station, some stations may let you get on the next train leaving if they feel sorry for you. To cancel your ticket and get a refund you must go to a train station and bring your passport with the purchased ticket. You are not able to cancel your ticket at a ticket agency. If you cancel your ticket before 48 hours before hand there is a 4% fee. If you cancel your ticket between 24 and 48 hours before departure there is a 10% and within 24 hours there is a 20% service fee.

Change Tickets

Train tickets are allowed to be exchanged if the train has not departed yet. A ticket can only be changed once. You are allowed to change the time of the ticket to an earlier or later time. You can also change the destination that you wish to travel. If the train you wish to change to is a different price, you will pay or receive the difference.

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Adrienne Farrelly is one of Shanghai’s most experienced expatriate Property Agents helping expats find new homes since 1994. You can reach her at  +86 13122 810 421 or Connect with her on Skype at shanghaiproperties8. Shanghai Properties


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