This article puts together all you need to know about buying and using bus and train tickets in China.
1. Buying Tickets
Whenever you want to buy a train or bus ticket in China write down what you want in Chinese (or take a photo), then show it at the ticket booth, hopefully you won’t get asked any questions.
I’ve had locals try to help me and mess it up. They start talking to the person assume they know best and things get messed up along the way. If you’ve written down what you want, details don’t get messed up.
Buying tickets in advance is another way to ensure things don’t go wrong. This is especially important for long and/or infrequent journeys (infrequent being less than 3 a day). There’s lots of people in China, and a lot of them travel, its best to book ahead!
If you’re a techno geek smart phones are a big help for getting around in China and much more, they make getting around, communication and buying tickets that much easier. China has a number of excellent and cheap smart phones that might be worth buying here due to their cheap price, high specs and overall solid build quality. Xiaomi’s are the best of these that have a limited distribution in Europe and North America and are in many ways outperforming established brands like the Samsung Galaxy and even the iphone in terms of specs and value for money.
All these smart phones will have a number of great apps that you can download that can help with travel, translations, shopping, weather, taking pictures and even dating.
I’ll put together an article specifically covering this topic in the near future.
Here are a few ways you can buy train tickets:
- train ticket offices (queues vary depending on time of year) – these are convenient to use, you can pay cash and there are lots dotted throughout the towns and cities.
- automatic ticket machines (at all high speed rail stations; PRC 2nd-generation ID card required)
- authorized train ticket offices
- by telephone (voice-guided ticketing system)
- online (at 12306.cn)
- on your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad (special software needed)
The classic way of getting your ticket — and the way most migrant workers do it — is to wait in line (or maybe not, as it might seem!) at a train ticket counter at the departure station. You, of course, being the martial arts student will, want to get it done quickly, so make sure you have all info (see below) ready in Chinese and English.
At the largest departing stations and transport hubs there will be foreign ticket offices. Don’t expect a lot from these but you are likely to get a person with enough English to get you what you want. The following ticket counters have services in English and/or specially for non-Chinese riders:
- Beijing Railway Station: Ticket Counter 16
- Shanghai Railway Station: At ticket office near South Square
- Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station: Look for “English spoken” ticketing window
- Hangzhou Railway Station: High speed railway tickets sold at Ticket Counter 3 (outside the ticket hall full of ticket machines)
A few more useful words:
Chinese words you’ll need to buy a train ticket:
Train ticket :火车票 huoche piao
Train number: 车次 che ci
Soft sleeper:软卧 ruan wo
Hard sleeper: 硬卧 ying wo
Soft seat: 软座 ruan zuo
Hard seat: 硬座 ying zuo
First-class seat:一等座 yideng zuo
Second-class seat:二等座 erdeng zuo
Business-class seat:商务座 shangwu zuo
Window seat:靠窗的座位 kaochuang de zuowei
Pathway seat: 靠过道的座位 kao guodao de zuowei
For intermediate language learners who already have a bit of Chinese this video is fairly helpful.
When Buying Bus Tickets there are less options. If you want to buy a bus ticket you should buy them at the relevant bus station. China’s bus stations are organized very simply.
1. Local Bus Stations 本地公交车站 – All local bus services
2. Long Distance Bus Stations 长途公交车站 – All long distance intercity bus services
FOR ALL TRIPS & TO MAKE A PURCHASE, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE FOLLOWING FOR BOTH BUS & TRAIN TICKETS :
- Date and time of departure/return (日期, 时间) (for some journeys single ticket journeys are only allowed to be purchased)
- Train/Bus number (车次)
- Departure and arrival (exit) stations (发站, 到站)
- Class of travel – Soft sleeper, Hard sleeper, Class of seat (席别)
- Optionally: your seat number (席位)
- Your passport (动车组实名制 – 护照)
2. Using Tickets
Reading High Speed Trains
Reading Normal Train Tickets
A lot of people only have standing tickets for the slow normal speed trains, so if there is a spare seat they will just sit in it. Don’t panic people respect the ticket system. So if there is someone sitting in your seat, simply show them your ticket and politely ask them to move.
Nín hǎo, zhè shì wǒ de zuòwèi. 您好，这是我的座位
Reading A Bus Ticket