Learn Chinese in China
Geiko

Ten days in China

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A friend of mine and I have decided to go on a short trip to China this autumn (it would be around late October, and it's our first time in the country). I don't like visiting a lot of places in a short amount of time, and I'm also a bit scared of local transport in China, so at first I thought it'd be better to visit only Beijing, but after reading about other people's trips to China, it seems that five days is sort of enough for visiting Beijing (?), and now I wonder where else we could go the other five days. I'm not too interested in Shanghai, and I don't want to travel too far from the capital, so the south west is ruled out. What do you think about going to Xi'an and maybe stopping at Pingyao? Do you have other ideas? 

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Hello Geiko,

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend 2 weeks in China. 

I was based in Beijing and, of course, visited plenty of interesting places in and around the capital (including 爨底下 [Wikipedia]). But  I also flew to Xi'an. I spent 2-3 days there, which is enough to do some touristy stuff (兵马俑, 大雁塔, 大清真寺, tasting wonderful food, strolling along 书院门, cycling on the 城墙, etc.).

 

From Beijing, I also took the fast train to 曲阜 (Wikipedia). I spent a day  in this nice "little" city and enjoyed the interesting  孔庙 and  孔林. From there took a bus to 泰安 and climbed the 泰山.

 

All of this is perfectly feasible from Beijing, with a little planning.

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Late October is a good time of year from a weather standpoint. Xian is on everyone's short list after Beijing, with good reason. And it's a good choice for a few days.

 

Stopping over in Pingyao along the way from Beijing makes sense, and is easy to work out if you go by train. Be sure to spend the night so you can miss some of the day-trippers early and late. The place has a different (and more peaceful) feel without the crowds.

 

Like Laurenth, I enjoyed Qufu and climbing Mount Taishan. Not sure about the logistics or whether it would fit into a ten-day itinerary. Probably not without other things being kind of rushed.

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Travel light, travel right, and end your trip in Hangzhou - it's a sight!

 

(But honestly probably only worth a day, 2 tops)

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On 4/20/2017 at 7:44 PM, Geiko said:

...and I'm also a bit scared of local transport in China...

 

@Geico -- What are your concerns about local transport? Am assuming you mean bus and train. How can we help?

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@abcdefg, thank you for your concern. Basically I don't know how to buy train tickets. I had heard some people say that they couldn't buy them too in advance, they had to wait until x days before the trip, and then people would rush to buy them and the tickets would run out immediately, but maybe that was in the past, or only for important dates, like CNY and the golden week? 

For example, if I want to go to Xi'an on the bullet train, can I buy the ticket any time, be it two months in advance or the day before? Or if it's better to buy it online, is there an official website or something? I see different webs selling train tickets, and I don't know if they're reliable or not. 

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On the whole I've found getting train tickets to one of the most unnecessarily complex and broken systems in China. The system isn't set up to deal with foreigners well. Maybe Beijing and Xian are better, but in maybe half the trains stations I've tried to get tickets it's been difficult to collect preordered/buy new tickets. So in case you're having trouble here are some solutions. 

 

Sometimes to get into the station proper you will need to get your ticket from a machine outside the station using your ID card (which foreigners don't have). So to get your ticket you need get into the train proper to get to the desk that gives foreigners tickets. You'll need to convince the guards (in Chinese of course) that you need to get in to get your ticket so you don't have one yet. This can be difficult. Be persistent and they'll usually give up. They aren't paid enough to care.

 

In some other stations the normal queues won't give foreigners their tickets. I've almost missed trains because of this. Sometimes you need to go to a line for VIP/disabled people/ to get your ticket.

 

Using the online ticket system from outside during holidays is sometimes impossible (it doesn't go down, it just seems to arbitrarily refuse orders from overseas). If possible try to use the website within China.

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Everyone who has traveled much in China has their favorite hacks and tricks and tips. Here are some that I have found useful.

 

1. Checking train schedules. Consult several sources; don't rely exclusively on one because it may not reflect the latest changes. Here are three in English that are usually reliable. After you select the train you think you want, check it against one or two Chinese sites as well. Use Baidu, with your query being 火车时刻表。

2。Purchasing tickets in person.

  •      You can purchase train tickets 60 days in advance of your travel date.
  •      You can purchase all your China train tickets from any station that you visit. For example, in Beijing you can purchase tickets for the Xi'an leg of your trip as well. They impose a 5 Yuan fee for this.
  •      You can purchase China train tickets at sales offices in the city as well as at the train station. Lines are shorter, or nonexistent. There is less of a "madhouse" atmosphere. Costs an extra 5 Yuan per ticket.

 

3.  Purchasing tickets over the internet.

  •      You can do this from your home country prior to arrival. Online ticketing involves a small fee.
  •      The easiest and most helpful website for this is probably this small Australia-based outfit. They specialize in dealing with China newbies and take you through it step by step. http://www.china-diy-travel.com/en
  •      Other reliable sources are C-Trip and Travelchinaguide, links above. Both are larger and the service is less personal.

 

4.  Picking up your ticket.

 

  •      Having it delivered to your hotel may go awry if you are purchasing far in advance of your travel date.
  •      The company will send you a ticket purchase number that you use to claim the ticket at the station.
  •      The difficulties @staplermentions above are true at some stations, but not at others. Allow plenty of time.

5.  Advance preparation.

 

  •      Spend some time on Seat 61. It's a trusted website that talks about China train travel in general as well as giving suggestions on types of trains to book, what kind of tickets to buy (seat vs. sleeper for example,) and lots of other basic information. Clearly written. http://www.seat61.com/China.htm 
  •      Some routes will be more busy than others and their tickets more difficult to obtain. Research this in advance so as to be able to act quickly when necessary.

 

6.  Other

 

  •      Beware of pickpockets at train stations. It is one of their favorite places to operate.
  •      On the train, you and your travel partner should take turns staying with your overhead luggage, and not both leave to buy snacks or visit the toilets at the same time.
  •      Good info from @realmayoabove about refunds and exchanges.

 

 

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With "virtually nonexistent" Chinese, it probably won't help too much, but for what it's worth, www.12306.cn/ is the official train booking site in China. May I recommend "Zhongwen" browser plugin if you use Chrome or Firefox and would like to try this route. :)

 

1 hour ago, stapler said:

 

On the whole I've found getting train tickets to one of the most unnecessarily complex and broken systems in China. The system isn't set up to deal with foreigners well.

 

Too true! If only those automated ticket fetching machines could scan passports, I probably would've been more excited whenever I had to take the train.

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