Chinese trains are easy once you’ve missed a few and experienced being stranded with no tickets available for the next two days!
This is my list of tips for booking and getting yourself on the train – with the idea of course that you are joining us at one of the remote and obscure new train stations on the extnsive bullet train network, which are more frequently becoming the starting point of our Bike Aways Rides.
Understanding the system.
Booking in advance is essential. You can rock up to a station and try your chances, but lines are usually twenty people deep, and tickets sell out weeks in advance. Tickets are on a station by stationquota system. People buy on spec and get them refunded at the last minute.
Trains can be booked and cancelled online up to 60 days in advance on websites such as www.ctrip.com
Ctrip charges a non-refundable 20-30 Yuan / ticket booking fee, but the rest of the ticket is fully refundable up to 15 days before your departure. Then it’s a measly 5% of your ticket price.
This means you can confidently book a ticket, even if you haven’t fully decided to commit to our Fujian Tulou adventure (3.5 hours on a train from Shenzhen), or the Yangshuo Bike Festival ( 2.5 hours on a train from Guangzhou).
It’s a one button click to cancel your ticket on ctrip.
Tickets are not transferable and must be in your name as it appears on your passport.
Your passport number is printed on your ticket, and passports must be shown to pick up tickets at the train station.
If you want to rebook a ticket , you need to cancel the old one first! The system wont let you book the same route under the same passport number if the journeys are in anyway concurrent.
This used to work and was useful if you thought you might miss your first train, and wanted a second ticket as insurance. It doesn’t work anymore.
Unavailable doesn’t always mean unavailable
If you are trying to get a ticket from Guangzhou south to Yangshuo Station (for instance) and it comes up as unavailable, try booking a ticket to the next station (Guilin in this case). Keep trying each station down the line. It doesn’t cost much more. And then you just get off at yangshuo anyway, and some poor tired peasant in standing room will get your seat for a stop or two.
You can also try booking from Stations before your stop. Our Guizhou Indigo Road Bike Trip starts and finishes mid ways down the train line from Guiyang and Guilin (Congjiang and Sanjiang stations respectively).
These train stations are hard to get last minute tickets back to Guangzhou, but you can often book a ticket from Guiyang ( further up the line before your boarding station). You then just note down the time it passes through the station you want to get on at. Someone will be sitting in your seat when you get on, but will happily move, grateful for the leg that they’ve had.
Get a ticket for as far as you can and then fare adjust at the end.
To get on the platform to get on a train you need a ticket. You cannot get access to the platforms in china unless you have a ticket. But if you do have a ticket for even one stop down the line, you can pretty much stay on the train and then do a fare adjustment at the end. You can either seek out the conductor on the train – and they should have a machine which will issue you a standing ticket. Or avoid the conductor – cause I am not sure how legal this is, then do you fare adjustment at the fare adjustment booth at your destination station.
Picking up your train ticket
Ctrip has a cool app that saves your tickets in a sexy voucher format.
But all you actually need is the ticket number and your passport.
Shenzhen North Station at least has a special queue for people to pick up tickets ordered online.
Look for the big sign that says tickets. Smaller stations you are often in line with that non-tech-savvy portion of the population still buying tickets analogue style.
I write the eticket number down on a piece of paper, just in case my phone goes flat, or the app cant access the internet. You also don’t need to fumble at the window if they are written down. Give the ticket issue person your passport plus all the eticket numbers for all the onward or return trains you are catching. Tickets issued that don’t originate from that station are taxed an extra 5Yuan. Worth it!
Pick up all your tickets at the first stain so you don’t have to leave that extra forty minutes for ticket pick up at every other station .
Forty minutes you say??
Be safe rather than sorry. At least on holidays. Some times it takes ages, particularly if there’s been a taiphoon and trains have been cancelled and people are trying to redeem refunds. Its chaos!!
No time to redeem a ticket? Sometimes they’ll let you through with your voucher just on your phone.
I discovered this after the Xiamen Taiphoon last year. Xiamen station was in chaos with lines two miles long. With just ten minutes to departure. I showed my Ctrip phone app voucher to the ticket person who waved me through with a look that said we don’t always do this, but I am going to help you just this one time.
Connection time = Forty Minutes
This is my magic amount of time to leave between connecting trains – the most common one for me being Guangzhou South. This is not japan and trains are occasionally late. if you miss your connection its an expensive taxi down to Shenzhen. I have left only ten minutes between trains and had to work out which carriage pulls up closest to the transfer exit. What you don’y want to do is exit the station and have to comde through the whole security palaver again.
Getting from Hong Kong onto the High Speed Rail
People in China all tend to know how to catch the trains already. They have credit cards hooked up to sleek machines which spit out tickets at the stations and they are already tech savvy on this front – for the most part. I’m from Hong Kong which is treated as a foreign country in regards to train ticket bookings. Ctrip wont deliver paper tickets to Hong Kong.
From Hong Kong, here’s how the crossing works.
You need at least two hours from Hong Kong Immigration at Lok ma Chau to your train departure time from Shenzhen North Station.
Get yourself to Lok Ma Chau Border crossing, which is the alternate border on the KCR to Lowu. You want to be crossing through Hong Kong immigration about 2 hours before your train is due to depart – a little longer if you don’t have an HK ID card or frequent visitor / Apec/ card.
Pick up an arrival card from the China immigration people, fill it out in line, keep your eyes peeled for a new line opening up. Its immensely gratifying to pioneer an opening queue, and hopefully allow yourself a coffee as a reward for arriving at Shenzhen Bei with coffee time up your sleeve.
Pass through all the immigration fluff without letting people cut in front too much.
Bank of China is to your right as you approach the escalators ( good for drawing cash), escalators to the left take you down to Money changers ( super fast) and the MTR.
If you’re a super organised peson you’ll have 4 yuan in coins to buy your metro ticket.
This can only be purchased through machine – but there is a change counter, just after the bag check X-ray machine that leads you into the station.
The notes bit is hopeless so go get the coins.
Use notes at your peril.
Count 9 stops on line 4 from Futian to Shenzhen Bei (North) Station – its an obvious interchange station.
Put your 4 Yuan into the machine. Press the Shenzhen Bei Station icon 深圳北 and collect you token.
Wave your token at the magnetic pad on the machine to get on metro. Count of your 9 stops ( it takes about 30 minutes),
Get off the metro and follow signs to the high speed rail – its just down an escalator.
Ticket pick up is on your right as you face the entrance of the station.. Look for Entry A1 to get your tickets. This can be crowded. If there are two of you get in two different queues.
The furtherest queue ( and usually the shortest) is the ticket pick up queue!
Go back outside and then through ticket check ( you’ll need to show passport), and security ( X-ray scans of bags) and into the big hall.
Check the board for which gate you’re train is leaving from and try and be there twenty minutes before. Ten might be OK but aim for twenty. This information is also written on the top right hand corner of your ticket – but departure platforms can change so check the board.
Get on the train and relax if you’re going straight through to say Guilin or Xiamen.
If you’re traveling to Yangshuo, or inter-stations in Guizhou, chances are you’ll change trains in Guangzhou which is as close as 36 minutes away.
If your transferring trains, follow the signs to transfers… NOT EXIT as you’ll need to go through all that security fluff again.
Good luck and have a good train ride. They are fun and fast and opening up some of the most beautiful parts of China for easy biking get aways.