Buying train tickets in China

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Beijing, China

Buying train tickets in China Beijing Reviews

alexchan alexchan
122 reviews
It can be very simple if you're lucky Jun 15, 2012
Buying train tickets in China can be surprisingly easy, but I guess it can depend on various factors. I speak some Mandarin but cannot read, so I'm reliant on help from people at the station.

If it is too difficult, you can always resort to an agent but I hear the surcharge is around CNY25 per ticket - which can be a significant percentage of some short fares.

At the time of writing, there are various sites that help you book online in English but the commission is quite high too. The official China Railways site is in Chinese and has no payment mechanism that will suit foreigners.

Here are my tips:

* Use the numerous websites that give you the train schedules and write down your preferred itinerary (from/to) with date (yyyy-mm-dd), train number and ETD. Also note your preferred class and price.

* If you can, note the from/to city names with the Chinese characters (or get someone to help you)

* Go to a station with your passport. Look for the English speaking counter (clearly placarded) if there is one. Some stations supposedly have a foreigner ticket office but I didn't see them in the stations I visited.

* Buy as many legs of your itinerary as possible in one hit ... they are fully computerised and you can buy a ticket at City X for travel from City Y.

When and where:

* The inventory is supposedly open for sale around 10 days prior (some sources say 20 for some services, and a lot less for other services).

*For queue-management purposes there may be different queues for same day tickets, 2-3 days out and up-to-10 days. At Shanghai South they only sold tickets for travel within 3 days when I visited.

* There is a CNY5 surcharge for tickets originating in stations that isn't where you're buying the ticket; helps with the payback of implementing their computerisation programme I guess.

* I hear that combined stations (slow and high-speed trains) have shocking queues, eg. Zhengzhou, but I guess it depends on the time of day. If you're staying near the station or have other things to do you could try a time when there is no queue.

* Purely high-speed stations can have absolutely no queue at times, eg. Luoyang Longmen.

* Small stations can have more manageable queues, eg. Kaifeng. I bought most of my planned itinerary in one hit here as the queue wasn't too long and I didn't feel bad about holding people up.

Ticket changes:

I'm no expert on this matter but for Luoyang Longmen to Zhengzhou, I finished my sightseeing at Longmen early - they cheerfully moved me to an early train. I guess it could be like airline tickets and it is dependent on the fare, class, availability, same day vs different day, a planned change in advance vs go-show.
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