I had a whole lot of misconceptions surrounding my recent visit to China, one of those was transport. I had expected the train system to be similar to India or Vietnam but I’m happy to report it is a fantastic system to use and very similar to the Shinkansen in Japan. Here’s your guide on how to book tickets for the Beijing to Xian train or any other train tickets in China.
China is currently laying a huge amount of high-speed rail to expand their very user friendly rail system, I experienced the high-speed rail in China on three occasions, Shanghai to Zhengzhou, Zhengzhou to Xian and the Xian to Beijing.
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With Beijing being the Chinese capital and the easiest place to get to the Great Wall of China from and Xian the home of the Terracotta Warriors, I can guess that the majority of visitors to China would be most interested in the Beijing to Xian train.
Read my The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Beijing with kids for an in-depth outline of which parts of the Great Wall of China are best to visit for all levels of fitness and interests.
Travelling to Shanghai too, well I’ve got you covered there as well, with our Shanghai with kids, the Ultimate Guide!
Well I’m happy to report that it’s pretty straight forward and very easily done on the high-speed rail system. The train runs at maximum speed of 304 kph. Apparently it can get up to 400 kph but the Chinese are happy with 300 kph and have deemed that the safest speed. The distance between Beijing and Xian is 1216 kilometres and on the fast train we did that in just on 4.5 hours.
Travelling by train in China including the high speed train is very affordable and much cheaper than flying.
There are two types of train travel in China, it depends on your budget and your itinerary which is the best option for you. Chinese train types are identified by their letter codes. G, D and C trains are high-speed trains, while Z, T and K are regular and/or overnight trains. I have outlined both options below.
China’s high-speed trains aka the bullet trains are coded G, D and C, these trains travel up to 300 kph. I do recommend taking the high-speed train, they are more expensive however the slower overnight train is less comfortable and trips can take up to 16 hours.
If you have a tight itinerary the trains are better than flying if you ask me. You can arrive later at the station than an airport when flying, there’s no luggage check in and the stations are much closer to the centre of the cities than any of the airports. Its a quick, comfortable, efficient way to travel in China.
The trains are very comfortable and there is plenty of room for your luggage either in the overhead racks or in luggage compartments at the rear of each carriage. The carriages are clean and orderly and the toilets are very clean, some are even western toilets. We travelled in second class for all our train trips, they were completely fine and the seats were comfortable. However sometimes the seats did not match up with the window which was a bit annoying.
|High-speed Train||Business/VIP||1st Class||2nd Class||Sightseeing Seats||Soft Sleeper|
If your budget is a bit tighter, I recommend the Z, T and K trains, these are mostly overnight and travel much slower and on a different lines to the high-speed trains. They also stop frequently making the trip longer as well. These trains are more likely to be overcrowded and will have mostly local people with few foreigners.
As stated above these trains will get you there and will be very easy on the budget. So if you don’t mind a bumpy nights sleep these can be a great option.
|Regular Train||Hard Seat||Soft Seat||Hard Sleeper||Soft Sleeper||Deluxe Sleeper|
Booking tickets for the Beijing to Xian train
There are a couple of different ways to book your Beijing to Xian train tickets, it really comes down to how organised you like to be and what time of year you’ll be travelling. If you are travelling during the Golden Week (first week of October), during Chinese New Year or any other peak times, you’ll really have to consider booking online.
Booking in person means you’ll have to wait until you are in country which means your itinerary will need to be flexible. That’s ok if you have a good amount of time but if you are short on time and really need to book on certain days you’ll again have to consider pre-booking your tickets.
The China Rail Corporation has a centralised booking system so you are able to book any trains for any line at any station. So if you are booking in person and know all the dates you want to travel, you will be best to do them all at once and in advance.
Booking Online Through Trip.com
Alternatively if the queues and the usual drama that comes with travelling in China don’t thrill you, you can skip the queues and book online at Trip.com. Online tickets can be purchased up to 60 days prior to travel and up to 35 mins before the train departs.
Click on the button above then select trains, enter your intended route and the date you wish to travel, and click ‘find trains’.
The system will provide a list of available trains to choose from, choose which suits you best and complete the instructions to make your reservation. Make sure you use your full name as per recorded on your passport and your passport number as your ID number. If you do not have the name as per your passport, you may have trouble when boarding the train.
Go through to the payment screen and complete your payment. Collect your tickets from any railway station or authorised ticket office in Mainland China. Make sure you have your ticket pickup number along with your passport with your Chinese visa clearly stamped inside. Alternatively you can have your tickets delivered to a specific address, this service incurs a small fee CNY40 (approx AU$8) and will be delivered within 24 hours of being issued.
Tickets can not be cancelled or modified once purchased, you will need to go to the refund counter at any railway station on Mainland China with your purchased tickets and passport for identification.
If you are collecting your tickets in person, allow at the very least an hour as queues will be long. My advise is to attend the train station a day or so prior and collect all of your tickets at once therefore not leaving it until the day of travel as this could be risky and may result in you missing your train.
At the train station in person
You can purchase tickets up to 58 days in advance and many of the larger cities such as Beijing, Xian and Shanghai will have a foreigners window or at the least an English speaking staff member.
You need to show valid ID, your passport is perfect. Ticket counters are open 24 hours a day at most large train stations so you can purchase your tickets at any time. There are also various local ticket agencies usually close to hotels, you can ask the concierge at your hotel for your nearest agency.
Foreigners are unable to use the self-service ticketing machines at the stations, they only accept Chinese ID cards. Once you tell the service attendant where you want to go and on what date, you’ll be shown a list of all trains, you can choose which suits you best. Provide your passport for identification and pay the fare which will include a small fee equivalent to a booking fee.
Like all things in China, expect to queue and also expect the usual pushing and shoving and people pushing in! Again, as stated above, do not leave it until the day of travel, you are much better off visiting the train station a day or so prior to your intended travels plans.
How to read your Chinese High-speed Rail tickets
Much of your ticket will be in Chinese however the most important parts and the parts you need to get you there will be readable. I have provided what you need to know below and this will get you to the right train and the right carriage and seat.
Your Chinese High-speed Rail Ticket
This is what a Chinese rail ticket looks like, you can clearly see the date and time recorded, that’s the date and time of departure of your train. I have blacked out my name however your name must be recorded as per your passport with the correct passport number.
Identifying your train number
This image shows the G26 circled at the top in the middle, that's the train number. G for high-speed train and the number 26. You will need to look at the departure board to get the platform number. These can change so won't be printed on your ticket.
Identifying your Carriage number
This image shows the 04 circled in the right hand corner, that's the carriage number.
Identifying your seat number
And this image shows the 08A circled in the right hand corner, that's the seat number. Just like Japan, you must sit in your designated seat, otherwise things get a bit messy and people get confused. People get on and off at all different stops so you could have a few different people sitting next to you throughout the trip.
Cost of your Beijing to Xian train ticket
The image below shows CNY515.5 circled in the left hand side, in the middle of ticket, that's the price. That's about AU$107 and this trip was Xian to Beijing one way. That might seem a little expensive, however this train covered 1200 kms, which is 300 kms further than Melbourne to Sydney, in 5 hours. Not bad for $100 if you ask me.
As you can see, once you understand how to read the ticket it really is pretty straight forward. There is enough English on it to get you through!
Train travel in China
Train travel in China is affordable and easy to use, the train stations at the major cities are massive like airports. The service is very regimented and trains are punctual.
The platforms open approximately 15-20 minutes prior to departure and they will generally let foreigners through pretty promptly. However I would arrive at the station at least an hour prior to your departure time.
All seats are numbered so there generally won’t be an issue with seating. Sometimes you might find people in the wrong seats but just show your ticket and it will be easily sorted out. You will need your ticket to exit the station so make sure you hold on to it.
Luggage is x-rayed on the way into the train station and you will need to show your passport to security as well. Thereafter its all pretty straight forward, check the board for your train number and head to your platform. If all else fails and you are having trouble, you can just ask someone. I found most people to be helpful and if they didn’t speak English they would find someone who did.
I actually found the train travel much easier than flying. Flying you need to be there a couple of hours early, then check in luggage and do all the security checks which are much more stringent in China. Most of the major airports are miles from town, Shanghai Pudong Airport is over an hour from the centre of Shanghai. Whereas Shanghai train station is in the middle of the city.
Overall, I think it is a great way to travel, China is laying high-speed rail links all across the country and will lay another 1200 kms over the next 5 years. Soon there will be a high-speed train from Beijing to Tibet that is believed will be as spectacular as the Rocky Mountaineer in Canada for scenery. Its definitely the way to go for affordable and reliable travel in China.
Sal, Craig & Our3kids.