China is a massive country, one of the world's largest. But exploring this vast land isn't as difficult as it looks. The Middle Kingdom is in the midst of rapidly expanding its transport infrastructure. New flight and high-speed rail routes are opening up all the time. There's never been an exciting time to travel within China than now!
Whether you're doing an internship in Beijing or an internship in Shanghai, you're in luck: Both cities - one the political capital, the other the financial one - are two of China's premier transport hubs. Getting where you want to be is cake.
Below is some information about the country's high-speed trains to help you as an intern in China get your travel plans off the ground. In a later post, we'll look at travel by air.
High-Speed Trains. One of the best ways to travel in China is no doubt by high-speed train. China has become a world leader in high-speed train travel. The country is home to more high-speed rail lines than anywhere in the world, including the longest line from Beijing to Guangzhou at 2,294 km or 1,425 miles.
The country's rail network overall is comprised of several classes of trains that run at different speeds. The fastest is the G class, or gaotie (high speed), and the next fastest is the D class, or dongche. G trains run at 310 km/hour (186 miles/hr) and the D trains at 200 km/hr. The slowest are the T and K trains.
Every six months or so it seems another route for high-speed G trains opens up. High speed rail has significantly cut travel times by several hours when only slower trains were once the sole option. You can take a high-speed train - a G train - from Beijing to Shanghai in under five hours. Before 2011, the trip took more than 11 hours. Beijing and Shanghai are home to high-speed trains that head toward several parts of the country.
High-speed train tickets are cheap too, at least compared to Japan and Europe. A three-hour ride from Beijing to Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, is 309 yuan, or roughly $51.
Buying Tickets. Buying train tickets is also a breeze. Dotted all over Beijing and Shanghai are ticket offices known as shoupiaochu, which can easily be spotted by the characters 售票处. If you're not sure where the closest ticket office is to your work or apartment, simply ask HR at your host company or give us a call at Getin2China. You can also purchase tickets at a train station. Both Beijing and Shanghai are home to several of them.
Even if you don't speak Chinese, most folks who work at a ticket office have some basic English skills. The service representative will even allow you to look at his or her screen to help you indicate departure times.
Alternately, you could ask your new Chinese friends to help you buy tickets online. Young Chinese people are savvy and well connected and arrange most of their travel plans over the Internet, including booking train tickets. They will most likely be using the Chinese website 12306.cn to book online.
To check English train schedules and buy tickets online, head to Ctrip, a website that comes in a variety of languages, including English, French and Russian. Tickets purchased here can be picked up at the train station (you can also pick up a ticket bought online at a ticket office for a five yuan or 80-cent fee. Sometimes, that's the easier option).
Whether you buy your ticket online or at a shoupiaochu, you'll need your passport and/or passport number. Although a passport is not necessary for travel by train, we advise that you bring it anyway. Besides, you'll need it for any hotel/hostel stays.
We also recommend that tickets be picked up days in advance to avoid any last minute problems on the day of departure.