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Look carefully at China and you’ll find there’s much beauty within, far beyond the crowded, bustling cities.
Its countryside hosts a haven of tranquility, with rolling plains, paddy fields carved into mountains and lakes and deserts that blend seamlessly into the horizon.
It’s 14,000 kilometres of coastline features cliffside drops, port towns and sandy beaches.Even within major city centres, historical spaces, monuments and awe-inspiring temples wheedle their way out of the woodwork.
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China is a large country and has an equally large number of transport options.
Below you will find information on the main transport options available in China to help you choose the ones that suit you best.
As China is such a vast country, if you are intending to travel between cities you may want to consider fast transport to save on time, including internal flights and the high speed rail. Your best mode of transport within each city will depend on how large the city you're visiting is as well as how concentrated the tourist attractions are.
It's best to research this before arriving so that you can commute easily between your desired attractions with minimum fuss or stress.
Travelling between cities in China
For an idea of how far major cities are from one another, Shanghai and Beijing are approximately 1,200 kilometres apart. An internal flight for this route takes 2 hours 15 minutes. A high-speed train journey takes anything from 5-9 hours depending on how many stops your service commands. Bus travel is cheaper, though leaves and arrives at terminals outside the city centres. Total journey times from centre to centre is around 8 hours.
Xi'an is near equidistant from Shanghai and Beijing. Flights from each are around 2 hours. High speed trains from Shanghai take between 6 and 11 hours, depending on the number of stops. High speed trains from Beijing take between 4.5 and 6 hours. Buses are more expensive though can take up to 15 hours.
Generally, train travel is preferred over bus or coach travel between major Chinese cities.
Internal flights. Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Changan Airlines, Hainan Airlines and Shanghai Airlines are some of the major domestic airlines operating in China. They have regular flights connecting Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Xian, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Xiamen.
High speed rail. China has the world's largest network of high speed rail, also known as bullet trains or CRH trains. These are a fast, reliable and affordable means of travel in central and eastern regions of China. You can see the high speed rail map here.
Types of transport available in China
Buses in China are cheap and quite comfortable, although they are also very slow. To buy a ticket, go to the bus station in the city where you are staying. The officials usually speak English, so you will not have too much of a problem buying a ticket.
Trains are one of the best options in China for cheap, fast and safe travel. To travel from one major city to another, you can take a bullet train, which is really fast but also much more expensive than standard trains. It is highly recommended that you buy the tickets at least two days in advance because seats sell out quickly. You can purchase tickets in person at the train station or online through an authorised agency.
Although subways can get crowded during rush hour, they are a highly effective means of transportation within cities given their convenience, cleanliness, reliability and speed.
In China, you can also rent bicycles from several hotels. The streets and highways are flat but the traffic is unpredictable and quite dangerous. Most of Beijing's main streets have bike lanes which are safer than the roadway, although they are often crowded with thousands of cyclists at peak times.
Using public transport in China
Paying for transport. To buy a train ticket, you need your passport and enough cash to buy the ticket. You can also buy a China Rail Pass, which is a pre-paid electronic card you can use on bullet trains. In addition, each subway has its own smart-card which offers discounted fares and ease of access.
Getting to and from the airport. In every major city in China, public buses and an underground metro connect the airport to the city centre. Private transfers, airport shuttles and taxis are other options to get to and from the airport in each city.
Best apps for getting around. China Metrois a useful app that has downloadable subway maps of 15 cities with information about fares, timetables and shortest routes. If you are looking to travel from one city to another by train, the China Trains app can help you plan your journey and book tickets.
China car hire rental
Car rental desks of major car hire services like Avis, Budget, Europcar,Hertz, DriveNow and Dollar are available at the major airports in China.
Taxis and rideshare
Taxi. If you don't want to take public transport, taking a taxi is a good option in China. There are many taxis and they are very economical. It is important to carry the destination written in Chinese as drivers are unlikely to speak English. Chinese tuk-tuks are cheaper than taxis, but you must agree to a price beforehand.
Rideshare. Uber is not available in China, but you can use other app-based, on-demand taxis in China like Didi.
Airport transfers in China
You can find several private transfer and airport shuttle services that provide door-to-door transfer to the airport in every major city in China.
Many of these can be found on Viator or City Discovery. Transfers to some of the more popular locations can be booked below.
Stephanie Yip is the travel editor at Finder and has been writing about travel and lifestyle for over a decade. She has written for Travel Weekly, Escape, Showpo, The Nibbler and Hostelworld. She was also the editor of kids magazine DMAG. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Technology Sydney and has visited 55 countries (and counting).
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