Not being able to speak the Chinese language and having to travel through China on hand motions alone can be very intimidating and frustrating, especially if you were never that good at charades. With a few tips and tricks from this article, you’ll be speeding away on the bullet train in no time.

irst you must determine which train station is closest to you or that you will be departing/arriving from. There are four train stations in Shanghai, three in Beijing, and two in Suzhou, etc…well you get the picture so making sure you start at the correct station is important.

Second you must buy the train ticket. If you have access to the internet use CTrip, its in English and you can book train tickets, flights, and hotels. This is a very useful website to know, trust me. There is a service fee for every ticket bought on the site but knowing the exact time, destination, and station is worth the fee and the peace of mind that comes along with it. My first couple ticket buying experiences in China were not on this site but at the ticket counter in the train station and they gave me tickets to the wrong train…TWICE, but thats another story. Once you buy the tickets online you can pick them up at the train station. I doubt the person behind the ticket counter speaks English so it is important to screen shot the ticket issued e-mail as it has the booking number on it or if you have a sim card just pull up the email and hand the ticket issuer your phone with the screen shot/email. This makes it easy for them to type in the booking number and voila you have your tickets. There are machines that will print your tickets but again there is no English translation option on those machines so unless you can read Chinese you’ll be staring at a screen getting no where fast.

Third always have your passports on your person as you’ll need them to purchase/recieve your train tickets. (This being said you need your passport to get hotels and certain activities too.)

Below I have a break down on how to read the ticket:


BLUE: Train number

BROWN: Train station you are leaving from

PINK: Destination/arrival train station

ORANGE: Date of departure

RED: Time of departure

PURPLE: Ticket price

YELLOW: Carriage number

WHITE: Row and seat

BLACK: Passport number

Fourth the gates open 15 minutes on shorter distance trains and a half hour on overnight trains prior to departure and its mayhem, a full on race. Even tho you have carriage and seat assignments, everyone runs like its first come first serve and for some reason you’ll end up running with the rest of them.

If you’re traveling on an overnight train and want the best bang for your buck, get the hard sleeper. Its comfortable to sleep in but doesn’t have much room to sit up as you can tell by my picture.

Lastly bring your own snacks if its a long distance train as it’s much cheaper than purchasing on board. I’d bring some beer as well since you’ve successfully navigated your way through Chinese train travel and you deserve it!

*Also keep your train ticket close by as you’ll need to show it to the attendant when leaving the train station and its not fun to fumble around and look for it when you have a long line behind you and all of your bags on!

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