Transportation in China

Considering the large area of China – over nine million square kilometres, it is a challenge for anyone who wishes to see this country as much as possible. Thankfully transportation in the country is well developed and allows you to cover large distances comfortably – a far cry from the times when people travelled by foot and took months to reach their respective capitals to appear for the imperial exam to become part of the government.

Today the country has an enviable transportation system. An aggressive approach by the Chinese government since 1949 has resulted in development of superior infrastructure covering all modes of transportation – from railways to air travel and from highway travel to water transportation. From 1950 to 1998, the available railway lines have increased from 21,800 km to 57,600 km. Whilst International airlines link China to 58 international cities. The staff is also efficient and matches up to international standards and speak both English and Mandarin.

Hop on the plane then and travel to China - the land where time is harnessed by bright ideas, galloping technology and fabled story tellers!

Transportation in China will tell you all you need to know about travelling in and around China. Use our China Destination Guide or click on our China Country Guide if you want to know more about travelling to and within magnificent China.

To China by Air

Airlines in China provide safe and good quality service for travellers to China. The aviation industry comes under the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), which successfully operates around 1,000 domestic airlines covering 140 cities. Beijing is central to these airlines. Besides domestic flights there are 130 international airlines which take you to over 40 countries. China’s international airlines offer rates which are very competitive and they are always lower than other foreign international air companies.

China’s major airports are all equipped with superior facilities and even the smaller airports in provinces have recently been modernized and made efficient. These airports may be closer to the smaller towns and reaching here could give you an instant introduction to the ‘real China’. Air China has the distinction of being one of the safest air companies in the world.

Currently an airport tax of 90 yuan, payable in cash, is levied on passengers who are departing from any of the international airports in the People's Republic of China. However, passengers holding diplomatic passports, transit passengers who stop over for less than 24 hours, and children under the age of 12 are exempt from paying the airport fee. Flights to Hong Kong and Macau are also treated as international flights.

For passengers with a first class ticket, the free luggage allowance is 40 kg and it is 30kg for a business class ticket, and 20kg for an economy class ticket. Babies have to pay 10 percent of the adult fair and are not given any free luggage allowance.

From North America -- Among North American airlines, Air Canada (www.aircanada.com) flies to Beijing and Shanghai, Northwest Airlines (www.nwa.com) to Beijing via Tokyo, and United Airlines (www.ual.com) to Beijing and Shanghai.

Japan Airlines (www.jal.co.jp) flies via Tokyo to Beijing and Shanghai, but also to Daia¡n, Qingdao, and Xiamén. All Nippon Airways (www.ana.co.jp) flies to Beijing, Dalia¡n, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenya¡ng, Tianjin, and Xiamén. Korean Air (www.koreanair.com) flies via Seoul to Beijing, Qingdao, and Shenya¡ng; and Asiana Airlines (us.flyasiana.com) via Seoul to Beijing, Cha¡ngchun, Chéngdu, Changqang, Guangzhou, Gua­n, Harbin, Nanjing, Shanghai, Xi'an, and Yantai.
Hong Kong is serviced by Air Canada (www.aircanada.com), American Airlines (www.aa.com), Continental Airlines (www.continental.com), Delta Airlines (www.delta.com), Northwest Airlines (www.nwa.com), US Airways (www.usairways.com), and United Airlines (www.ual.com), as well as Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airlines (www.cathaypacific.com). Indirect routes are offered by All Nippon Airways (www.ana.co.jp), Asiana Airlines (us.flyasiana.com), China Airlines (via Taipei; www.china-airlines.com), Eva Airways (excellent value, also via Taipei; www.evaair.com), Korean Air (www.koreanair.com), and Japan Airlines (www.jal.co.jp).

From the United Kingdom -- British Airways (www.britishairways.com) flies to Beijing and Hong Kong, and Virgin Airlines to Shanghai and Hong Kong (www.virgin-atlantic.com). Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) also flies directly to Hong Kong. Fares with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (www.klm.com) via Amsterdam, with Lufthansa (www.lufthansa.com) via Frankfurt, and with Finnair (www.finnair.com) via Helsinki, can often be considerably cheaper. Fares with eastern European airlines such as Tarom Romanian Air Transport (www.tarom.ro) via Bucharest, and with Aeroflot (www.aeroflot.com) via Moscow, or with Asian airlines such as Pakistan International Airlines (www.piac.com.pk) via Islamabad or Karachi, Malaysia Airlines (www.mas.com.my) via Kuala Lumpur, or Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) via Singapore, can be cheaper still. There are even more creative route possibilities via Ethiopia or the Gulf States.

From Australasia -- There's not much choice to the mainland from down under, although Sydney is served by China Eastern and Air China to Beijing and Shanghai, and by Air China and China Southern to Guangzhou. Qantas (www.qantas.com.au) and Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.com) fly to Hong Kong, and there are possible indirect routes with Philippine Airlines (www.pal.com.ph) via Manila, and with Garuda Indonesia (www.garuda-indonesia.com) via Jakarta. Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) flies directly from six Australian cities and Auckland.

For transport from the airport to the city (or from the city to the airport), we recommend Green Path Transfers, who offer eco-friendly airport transfers in hundreds of destinations around the world, including Beijing, Changsha, Dalian, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Xian.

Visit our partner Air Valid for Airline Reviews and Information about China.

Flights to China

To China by Road

Having a vast mainland and a big population, it has become imperative for China to create a good network of highways to be connected to each other. The Chinese government has given this utmost priority and today there are 1.18 million km of highways in China, including 68 national highways. This has proved to be beneficial for bolstering tourism in the country. Highways to major cities have been completed, such as to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Xi’an amongst a host of other cities.

Regular bus services are available to almost all provinces and the number of buses and sleeper buses is increasing. These services are very efficient, punctual, comfortable, and useful for tourists as foreign visitors are not allowed to drive a vehicle unless the necessary permissions have been taken well in advance from recognized travel agencies. The travel agency will provide you with a guide and also charge you for their services.

Bus services are available from Pakistan and Kazakhastan to mainland China. Tibet still does not have expressways due to its rugged terrain.

To China by Train

Trains are a popular mode of transport as they are 25% less expensive than airfares. Depending on your budget you can opt for one of the four classes of seats available. The categories available are soft-sleeper, soft-seat, hard-sleeper and hard-seat.

Hard seats are the least expensive and contrary to what the name implies, these seats are upholstered, except that these seats are crowded and not always very clean. Soft seats are more comfortable as they are less crowded and have plenty of leg room. The hard sleeper carriage consists of compartments which have beds in three tiers on each side. So each doorless compartment can accommodate six passengers. Sheets and pillows are provided on the train. Soft sleepers have just two tiers and the sheets and blankets provided are also good. However, this comes at a charge and the fares are often as much as the airfare to the destination.

Dining cars are present in trains which travel very long distances. Toilets are not very hygienic and it makes sense to carry your own toilet paper.

To China by Ship

If you want to do the unusual then you can approach China by ferry. There are a few international ferry links such as Incheon in South Korea and from Shimonoseki and Kobe (www.celkobe.co.jp) in Japan to Tianjin. Incheon is also connected to Qingdao, Weihai, Yantan and Da lian (www.fune.co.jp/chinjif). Hong Kong and Macau are also connected to Gangzhou and other places around it by ferry (www.turbocat.com and www.cksp.com.hk).

Getting around China

Since the founding of the PRC in 1949, great efforts have been made by the Chinese government to establish a comprehensive transport system comprising civil aviation, railways, highways, and water transport. By the end of 1999, there were in total over 3.55 million km transportation lines throughout China.

Apart from the economic factors, travelling by air is the probably the first choice of most travellers.
During the reformation, China made great efforts to build and expand airports. By the end of the 1999, more than 140 airports had been opened to civil aircraft. Over 80 of these can accommodate large airplanes such as Boeing 777s, 767s, 757s, 747s and A340s. Over 750 domestic, 128 international and 21 regional air routes have been set up, which in total cover a distance of some 1.522 million km.

With Beijing as the hub, domestic airlines criss-cross the whole country linking 136 cities. The international airlines link 58 cities, including Bangkok, Berlin, Brussels, Frankfurt, Jakarta, Karachi, London, Los Angeles, Milan, Moscow, Nagoya, New York, Paris, Singapore, Tashkent, Tokyo and Vienna in 39 countries and regions.

China's civil aviation has justifiably won universal praise. The entire staff has been trained according to international standards. The majority of the aircraft fleet has been imported from the U.S., Britain and Russia. There is no language barrier aboard the planes since all staff can speak fluent English and flight announcements are made in English as well as Mandarin.

In major cities in China, plane ticket booking is available via a computer network or the Internet. Plane ticket booking is available at all civil aviation ticketing offices, travel agencies and hotels. Airport tax is required for domestic flights and international flights.

Interurban transportation in China

Buses are the most important means of transport in many parts of China, especially on terrain where there is no railway line. In 2004 alone, China added 4,600 kilometres of new expressways extending the total length to 29,800 kilometres. At the end of 2006, the total length of China's expressways was about 45,400 km. It is the world's second longest network only after the United States. Bus travel is also very cheap, and it is advisable that you make bookings in advance. The long-distance soft-seat and soft-sleeper buses are equipped with TV, air-conditioning and also a toilet.

China City Buses and Taxis

Chinese urban transportation is very convenient and offers an array of public buses, tour buses and taxis. While buses can get crowded, taxis are perhaps the best way to get around. The fare is metered and depends on the distance. Taxis will charge you extra for waiting and a taxi will charge you an extra 20 percent above the basic fare after 11 pm. Minibuses also run the route of public buses. They successfully alleviate the pressure caused on bus transportation during peak hours. The tickets cost a little more than those on a regular bus service.

China trains

In Chinese cities, the subway, light rail and Maglev trains are convenient modes of transport for getting around the city. The first subway was built in 1956 and now all major cities have subways. The light rail is an environment friendly vehicle and is considered safer and faster than the common railways. More light-rail routes are planned for the 2008 Olympic Games. Shanghai has the only Maglev train, which is a magnetically levitated train. It is the fastest of all the land transportation vehicles and travels as fast as 431km/h.

China Waterways

You can also try travelling in China by the wide network of waterways. This is a good way to enjoy the landscape as you sail on your journey. China has a long coastline of some 18,400 kilometres along which there are 12 coastal provinces and municipalities extending from north to south and there are now more than twenty major harbours in China. Hence, the waterways play an important role in China’s transportation. China’s navigable inland waterways spans about 111,000 kilometres. The major inland navigable rivers in China include the Yangtze River, Pearl River, Huaihe, Heilongjiang, Qiantang, Minjiang, Huangpu and Grand Canal.

The Yangtze River has 6,000 kilometres of navigable waterways and is known as the golden waterway of China's inland river transport. It accounts for over 70 percent of the annual water transits of both freight and passengers. Ocean shipping in China is divided into two coastal zones, namely the northern and the southern zones. Shanghai and Dalian are the main ports in the northern zone, while Guangzhou is the primary port in the southern zone. Shanghai harbour is one of the 10 largest harbours in the world, while Nanjing harbour is China's largest river harbour.

Some waterway cruises present an enjoyable experience and it is recommended that you try out at least one.

Yangtze River Cruise
A cruise on this route, from Chongqing to Yichang and Yichang to Wuhan, gives the traveller a grand view of the Yangtze River. You come across several scenic spots with the view of the Three Gorges, in particular, magnificent. Other must-see spots on the route include Shibaozhai, Xiling Gorge, Shennong Stream and Fengdu (the 'Ghost City').

Grand Canal Cruise
This voyage is about 146.6 kilometres from Suzhou and Hangzhou and goes via the Grand Canal, which is the world’s longest artificial waterway. The picturesque waterside village scenery is picture-postcard perfect. Dragon boats and pleasure boats take you around for cruises on the Grand Canal - Yangtze River - Taihu Lake Tour.

Li River Cruise
This river cruise takes you from Guilin down to Yangshuo by Li River. A host of leisure boats take you down the 83 kilometre waterway and offer you unparalleled scenic views and visits to several historical ports.