Getting around in China: Decoding modes of transportation in dense Chinese cities

Pic: Wayne0216/Shutterstock

CHINA is one of the most well-connected countries in the world by air, but once you touch down, getting around in China is a different story.

While there are different modes of transportation to choose from, each of them have their own sets of pros and cons. Here’s how to ensure a smooth and fuss-free trip, whether for leisure or business.


Pic: Sean Xu/Shutterstock

Pic: Sean Xu/Shutterstock

Taxis are a cheap and easy way to get to your destination in most Chinese cities. Most would have their taxi rates clearly displayed on the window.

However, you may find that many drivers only switch on their meters in bigger cities. In this case, it is ideal to negotiate for a price with the driver before the ride and jot the rate down to avoid any disputes later.

Communicating where to go may also be an issue as most local taxi drivers don’t speak English very well. What you can do is to show them the name of your destination written in Chinese – you can find it on the Internet or get someone to help you write it down at the airport or hotel.


Pic: Jimmy Yan/Shutterstock

Pic: Jimmy Yan/Shutterstock

If you need to travel long distance economically in China, consider taking local trains instead of flying. If you can afford to splurge a bit more, consider taking the bullet trains.

For instance, it only takes five to six hours to travel between Beijing and Shanghai and ticket prices are usually around US$88.

As for regular trains, it’s good to get a soft sleeper as it also offers priority boarding. This would make train travels a lot more comfortable as coaches can sometimes get quite crowded especially if traveling during festival seasons.

For scenic routes, The Shanghai Maglev Train, a magnetic levitation train, is worth checking out.


Pic: maoyunping/Shutterstock

Pic: maoyunping/Shutterstock

There are two types of city buses in China: the ordinary ones called “poo-tohng” and the express ones called “kwye”. Express buses are more expensive but because they make less stops, they get you to your destination quicker.

Many tourists who don’t speak Chinese will find taking a bus in cities to be very confusing as the names of bus stops are printed in Chinese, and some of them even sound the same.

One way to go about it is arm yourself with a city map and refer to the bus route numbers instead. For long distance bus rides, there are also different ranges from expensive rides with reclining massage seats to cheaper but more crowded ones.

Protip: Take your shoes off before getting into long-haul buses as some drivers may just yell at you if you don’t.


Pic: danielcastromaia/Shutterstock

Pic: danielcastromaia/Shutterstock

To avoid traffic jams, take the subway – however, be prepared for a crowd during peak hours (usually between 7:30am-9:30am and 5:30pm-7:30pm).

Chinese cities’ subway systems are efficient, which make them a comfortable and convenient way for tourists to travel around the city – as of 2015, there are subway lines for 25 cities in China.

The good news is that the name of stations are announced in both Chinese and English, so you don’t have to worry about getting off at the wrong stop.

Additionally, the entire process from purchasing the ticket to getting off the subway ride is universal so it’s less intimidating for travelers. Pick-pocketing incidents are common in the subway, so keep your belongings safely guarded at all times.

Car rentals

Pic: Sanga Park/Shutterstock

Pic: Sanga Park/Shutterstock

Even without taking charge of the wheel, weaving through traffic can be a stressful experience for tourists.

Even if you wanted to drive one, you’d need a China-recognized driver’s license (those issued in Macau, Taiwan, or Hong Kong are not recognized in China).

However, you could hire an English-speaking driver to ferry you around; costs vary, but be prepared to shell out.

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