China Transportation Tips by mke1963
China Transportation: 263 reviews and 205 photos
Shanghai-based China Eastern (MU) is one of the big four Chinese airlines, split off from Air China a few years ago.
It is strong in and out of Shanghai and other cenrral Chinese cities, but also in Yunnan (because China Yunnan Airlines was 'returned' to China Eastern in 2003).
It's aircraft are modern, but it just feels like they are older than other Chinese airlines. It uses Airbus A300 aircraft on most Beijing - Shanghai services, but also more modern A320s. Legroom in both, in economy class, is quite tight.
MU have a habit of doing their own decorating inside the cabin: the result is ill-fitting seat covers with magazine poskets that sag badly. It looks very unprofessional and cheap.
I fly MU regularly but have the 'least comfortable' feeling with this airline, compared to other airlines.
Their website brings up a quite incredible number of pop-ups, which adds to my discomfort with them.
Hainan Airlines (HU) is probably my favourite Chinese airline. It has modern, well-run aircraft (767 and newer 737s) which are bright and well kept inside.
Food service remains 'China standard' but this airline just seems a lot more professional than its domestic competitors.
It took over (or just rebranded) some real third-level Chinese airlines a couple of years back, including China Great Wall, Shanxi and China Xinhua, inheriting some fairly old aircraft. Some of these can be seen on services around the country, but I haven't been on any of them yet.
Hainan Airlines is not particularly frequent on any routes, but is worth booking them if you have a choice.
They now operate a flight from Beijing to Budapest, in cooperation with Malev (MA).
Shanghai Airlines (FM) is one of China's smaller airlines, but very popular for good reason.
Well-run , modern aircraft (B757 and 737) with better than average service.
Strong out of Shanghai's Hongqiao airport.
One of the greatest frustrations in China is that local maps are totally useless and good maps are difficult to find elsewhere. It is hard to walk around a village or up a valley using a map that shows 25% of the planet on it. To exacerbate matters, the concept of trails has yet to hit China so yo have no idea if "the waterfall" is 5 minutes away of 3 days march through the jungle.
Just to further confuse you, getting the last few kilometres to where you want to go is often impossible either because no-one tells you where it is, or the name has changed and no-one possesses sufficient lateral thinking to tell you the new name.
At one place in Guizhou I was looking for a certain building, the only old one in a village. I asked locals where it was and no-one knew. Blank looks all around, even when I used more generic terms like "old building". Then a day later I discovered that the name of the building had changed. As I wasn't specifically asking for it, no-one thought to tell me about it.
In Gansu, there is a lake which features in Chinese mythology. Despite strong evidence in the books that it is in a certain village, about other nearby villages have renamed their lakes with the same name so you have no idea which is which. In this case, in the actual village, asking around the village brought the usual blank looks. Go figure, huh?
A particular frustration is the habit of renaming places after nearby famous places, even if the town or village is a long distance from the main attraction. A god example is Dayong which has been renamed Zhangjiajie, despite being 75km from the national park. In Gansu, Dunhuang station is 130km north of the town and many tourists have been misled and shocked to find that once they arrive they have a further 2 hours journey ahead of them to Dunhuang itself.
Oh when will China learn?
The Beijing and China VT forums have a lot of questions related to buying airline tickets.
I have reviewed, and given personal thoughts on Chinese airlines on these China pages.
Here is basic information about buying a ticket.
**China has IATA airline tickets that look just like anywhere else in the world.
**You can buy from online agencies, but most traditional travel agents can match the price
**The international online ticket agencies (e.g. expedia) have domestic flight prices that are SUBSTANTIALLY higher than you can get at a travel agent in China.
**Except for around the Golden Weeks, you can usually get tickets on whatever route you want up to the day before departure, and often on the day of travel.
**Airline ticketing is currently unflexible and there are standard discounts of 10, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50 and 60% of the standard fare (I have never seen 50 or 60% discounts and I travel a lot...like weekly)
**There are NO discounts for return flights. They are simply the outward fare plus the return fare, usually issued on a different ticket.
(Please note this and do not e-mail me about it! China does not work the system seen all over the world where a return on the same route with the same airline gives you a huge discount, often less than the single price)
**Chinese travel agents are as trustworthy of the people down the road from your home in Pasadena or Bradford or Milano.
**Changing flights onto the same airline is usually not a problem, subject to seat availability. Changing to other airlines is NOT and you will need to buy a new ticket.
**You will need your passport or China residence permit to get through security. A work permit is insufficient.
**It is impossible to say whether the best deal is by booking months ahead or at the last minute! It depends on how many people are already booked and the airline's expectations of the final load on the plane.
Please, please, please do not e-mail me with airline ticketing questions. What I have stated above is from my own experience only.
A Chinese railway ticket is written almost entirely in Chinese, which causes difficulties for many foreign visitors. However, the ticket is actually quite easy to read.
The image in this tip has the English written in blue underneath the information on the ticket. You may need to click on the image to see the text.
It is important to know the Chinese characters for your departure and arrival cities, to make sure you have the right ticket.
Double check the class (check phrase books) and note that the text to the right of the berth number contains information about whether your berth is upper or lower (you pay extra for the lower one). Again, check a phrase book for the correct character.
The railway carriage attendant
Soft class arrangements are more calm and a bit more civilised than the rampaging hard class herd.
Also at many stations, if you pay for a porter to carry a bag or two, you get access to the platform before the masses, so again reducing the risk of a crush.
On the train, the soft class sleeper compartments have four berths (two upper and two lower - the upper berths are slightly cheaper but are more cramped). The compartment is carpeted, there is a flask of boiling hot water for tea and coffee, a heater, a small table, curtains, individual reading lights, and music (which can be switched off if you want). Remarkably, many also have a normal power socket for your PC or Walkman!
Trolleys come through the train selling drinks, nuts, sweets, pot noodles, hot food, toys, newspapers.
Soft class is non-smoking (enforced strictly) but smokers can use the doorway at the end of each carriageway.
Each compartment has one or two carriage attendants who are absolutely invariably kind, helpful, and a mine of information about your train and your journey.
China is one of the most diverse countries in the world, but it is a huge land area.
One of the most interesting ways to see the countryside and meet Chinese people is to travel by rail.
I live in Beijing and travel a lot in the country, and my boss and staff are tolerant of my desire to travel everywhere by rail.
China is criss-crossed by a network of railways. You can get to or near most places by train. You can usually also get a direct train from Beijing, Shanghai and/or Xuzhou to most other large towns in the country at least once a day.
Although Chinese railways carry huge numbers of passengers every day, if you travel soft class (i.e. first class) you can avoid many of the most crowded situations, and with care and planing you can avoid getting into the big crowds.
Most big stations have a separate booking window for soft class, and a separate waiting room. You don't have to use them - so getting closer to the real Chinese travel experience - but I can assure you that joining the Friday night rush for hard class seats at Beijing Xi is a stressful experience that can be quite frightening. Imagine 2,000 people blindly running with all their luggage sacks to get the 500 setas for a 32 hour journey. People can and do get knocked over!
(continued in Part 2)
I get a lot of e-mails asking general questions about what Chinese airlines are like. Here is a summary of the replies I write.
China's airlines are generally fine, and I use most of them on a regular basis.
If I have a choice, my prioritisation is as follows:
1) Hainan Airlines: a cut above the rest
2) China Eastern and Air China
3) Shanghai Airlines
4) (former) China Northern, (former) China Northwestern, Shandong Airlines, (former) China Southwestern, (former) China Yunnan Airlines, Xiamen Airlines and the rest.
The reason for the "(former)" is that last year the Chinese aviation authorities regrouped many of the airlines into three major groups.
I am happy travelling on any airline and pretty much any aircraft. The prioritisation is mainly because of the service rather than any safety aspect. The 'former' airlines are slowly being rebranded, but in the meantime, you may be booked on China Eastern and find yourself on a China Northwest aircraft, etc.
I prefer travelling on the smaller aircraft (737s, smaller Airbuses) because they are quicker to load and unload, but the big 747s and 777s have a lot more legroom!
China Northwest and China Xinjiang airlines Airbuses and 757s seem to have higher than usual seating density, and long flights to Xinjiang or Kunming from Beijing can be a pain in these aircraft.
I *do* have some concerns about flying into smaller mountain airports at night in bad weather (don't we all), especially Huangshan in Anhui, and Urumqi in the depths of winter always seems to bring out a nasty hard landing.
China Southern (CZ) is based in Guangzhou and feels one of the most professional airlines in China. Its fleet is modern and is mainly Boeing 777, 757 and newer 737s.
It seems to have less delays and cancellations than others.
In flight service is better than average, especially on the 777, and the cabins feel fresh.
However, CZ has taken over the former China Northwest (with its fleet of MD80s) and China Xinjiang (which certainly used some Russian aircraft until recently, and may still be doing so; its 757 and Airbus aircraft have really, really cramped legroom in economy!)
So China Southern is strong to and from Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Urumqi, Shenyang and Dalian.
CZ uses Beijing's refurbished Terminal 1, and this is a much easier terminal to use than the newer Terminal 2.
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