Friday, April 17, 2015

How to travel from Beijing to Shanghai, China via Train... Nope, not bullet train!

Most people travel via bullet train (if available) whenever they do multi-city travel. However, it comes with a very huge price tag because of the time savings and the convenience you're getting. In fact, in most cases, bullet trains are already considered an attraction on its own. But if you're willing to sit 11 hours in a train but save a lot of money in the process (someone like me!) then there are alternatives to bullet trains that you can choose to travel with! :) Riding regular long haul trains or Sleeper/Overnight buses is one of the key tips to drastically lower your travel cost because ticket prices is significantly lower and you save 1 night of hotel cost if you choose to travel at night.

For our Japan trip, we traveled from Osaka to Kyoto via a overnight bus and this is how much we've spent:
- Overnight Bus One way: Php 1,600  per person 
- bullet Train One way: Php 5,100 per person
- Hotel Costs: Php 3,000-10,000 for 2
- Savings of Php 5,000-8,500 per person for one way!

You see? so much savings right? But I always tell my friends that overnight buses or trains are not for all travelers because of the difference in "traveling styles", preferences, and values ;)

Anyway, going back to China, we traveled from Beijing to Shanghai via a regular train and we chose a night schedule to save on money for hotel/hostel. Here's a detailed step by step on how we did it:

1. Book your ticket online before traveling to China.

We booked our ticket via and paid using credit card. You also have the option to buy tickets on the spot which a lot of Chinese locals do, but we would recommend for you to buy online to avoid the long lines and avoid having to fight through language barrier. The cheapest options usually run out very quickly so don't risk having to change your travel dates or risk having to buy the most expensive tickets which sometimes cost more than bullet trains. 

There are literally hundreds of trains traveling through each station in China so you won't have any problems finding the right time you want to travel. For seats, you can select Business class, 1st class, 2nd class, hard seat, hard sleeper (bed), soft sleeper (bed), and worst of all the standing room (yes, there's such a thing in China!). We chose the cheapest which is the hard seat which is just like a regular train seat.

After booking, an email confirmation will be sent to you so you just need to print it. You'll need to research at which station you can get your tickets as not all train stations provide tickets for intercity travel.

Initially, the website states that you can show the booking confirmation in ANY TRAIN STATIONS in Beijing. By showing, you can already get your train ticket going to Shanghai BUT, THE STAFF ARE NOT AWARE OF THIS PROCEDURE SO MY TIP, GO TO BEIJING SOUTH RAILWAY TRAIN STATION DIRECTLY AND CLAIM YOUR TRAIN TICKET/S THERE :) It saves you time for looooonnnnggg explanations haha! 
2. Go to Beijing South Railway Station and go to the ticketing booth.
You will be required to show your passport and your booking confirmation. 

If ever you don't have an online booking, you may just ask around for an available schedule and seats....then, pray that they understand what you're saying! hahaha just kidding. 

As a tip, translate all details to Chinese and print out the time, terminologies, pictures, the word "Shanghai", or even phrases like "I want to buy a regular train ticket to Shanghai" for example to help you communicate better haha. I believe this is also our reason why we booked online! we're afraid of the language barrier hahaha :)
3. Get your train tickets and know the gates, boarding time, and other details.

The cheapest bullet train costs CNY 553 or Php 4,053 but travel time from Beijing to Shanghai is 5 hours. 

Our ticket costs CNY 309 or Php 2,265 (almost half!) but we paid USD 68 or Php 3,000 because of the additional fees through online booking to the agency. Total travel time for our train was 11 hours.

4. Keep track of your schedule. There are information boards all over the train terminal so you're guided all the time, but trains leave right on time.
5. Proceed to the waiting area
Here, you need to show your passport and tickets before entering. It feels like you're in an airport! The place can be crowded so better secure a comfortable place near your gate. Find a socket ASAP to charge your gadgets because there are no outlets inside the train...not sure though in business class haha :) I saw 1 socket inside the train but it is located near the sink.

Here, you may see several branded shops, convenient stores, restaurants, and gift shops. Not sure though if prices are higher here...
TIP for budget travelers! Buy snacks and water beforehand so you don't need to buy inside the train. Snacks and refreshments are available inside the train but it can be pricey just like in the airplanes. I suggest you buy cup noodles, instant coffee (but you still need a stirrer) or just fill up your bottles with cold/hot water located near the entrance of all Toilets.
6. Go to your designated gate and line up for boarding. Gates will open around 30 mins before travel time so no need to go too early.
7. Go to your designated train carts and seats. Note that you can't just sit anywhere because they will check your ticket. Also, more passengers will be arriving from different stations so most of the time, all seats will be filled up.
The seat is relatively comfortable for small to medium body built. It's definitely bigger than Cebu Pacific Airline's seats haha--if that helps as a reference ;) We brought neck pillows and blankets to keep us comfortable and prepared with downloaded movies, music, and power banks to keep the boredom away! :)
Here are the different seats being offered. Photos are taken from the train's magazine.
Here's the soft sleeper of the train which costs around USD 114 or Php 5,000 for one ticket! This comes with your own socket and table, but if you're alone you need to share a room with someone else. The hard sleeper is a cheaper alternative with about half the price and the only difference is that the bed is literally hard. But only a few trains offer hard sleeper and it's full almost all of the time. 
Only hot waters are provided inside the train for comes with a FREE Paper cup too that's why I was able to use my handy 3in1 instant coffee baon from the Philippines ;) Very Pinoy right? Well, I didn't bring any instant noodles or canned goods from home anymore because that's too much of being a budget traveler! Masyadong naman kami kawawa!
There's a bistro located in train No. 8. where you can buy food and drinks.
8. Once you've reached Shanghai (it's the last station where everyone exists), alight the train and head towards the subway entrance. From here, you can now go to your next area in Shanghai. 
Riding a long haul train in China is a bit difficult because of the language barrier, which is why it's important to research beforehand all the details you need to know. Traveling for 12 hours in a train was definitely a unique experience for us but we wouldn't mind to doing it again if it allows us to save Php 5,000 which we can use to pay for more travels in the future!


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  2. Hi Tin!

    Your blog is really helpful for my travels in Japan, Korea and now my upcoming China trip!

    Is this the one that costs $47 (USD) ? Saka by the way, how many weeks/months in advance advisable magbook ng train tickets?

  3. Hi saan ba maganda magstay na hotel or place na malapit sa beijing south tailway station at airport.. gusto ko kase magstay kame sa malapit sa lahat or kht center lng ng mga lugar.. tsaka mahirap ba magcommute dun? Baka kase maligaw kme haha

  4. The most easy way to get your Vietnam visa is through the service. I have gotten my Vietnam through that servcie multiple times and they also deliver quickly.


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