China: accommodation and transport


Flights to China, airports, key destinations, transport, accommodation, tours and more.

high speed train in shanghai

Getting there and around


Getting from Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou airport to your hotel, and the best sites for booking trains and domestic flights - download the China travel guide.

Flights

Flight time from Australia: 10+ hours

  • Airlines that fly directly between Australia and China include Air China, Qantas Airways, Air New Zealand, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Sichuan Airlines.
  • Direct flights are available from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to Guangzhou (Canton), and from Sydney and Melbourne to Guangzhou and Shanghai.
  • Air China flies directly from Sydney to Beijing.
  • Qantas and China Eastern Airlines fly directly from Sydney to Nanjing.
  • Sichuan Airlines flies directly from Sydney to Chongqing and from Melbourne to Chengdu.
  • Many other airlines, including budget carriers AirAsia and Tigerair, fly indirectly to more locations China. Domestic flights can also connect you with your final destination.
  • Another common way of entering China is by the rail bridge or ferry from Hong Kong.

At the airport

China takes its borders seriously, so don't expect immigration officials to wave you through with a smile. Your paperwork is likely to be checked thoroughly, but you should have no problems as long as your passport, visa and entry/exit card (you'll be given this on the plane) are all in order.

If you're entering China on a 72-hour visa-free transit, look for the appropriate queue in the immigration area.

Departure tax and airport fees should be included in the price of your ticket, so there's no need to worry about setting cash aside.

  • 25km north-east of downtown Beijing.
  • Taxis leave from outside all three terminals. All taxis should be metered and you may be charged extra for tolls and surcharges depending on when and where you go (see rates). The journey to the city centre takes about 45-60 minutes, depending on traffic.
  • The Airport Express subway line connects Terminals 2 and 3 with central Beijing in 20 minutes, and connects with the rest of Beijing's metro network. Trains leave every 12 minutes between 6:20am and 10:50pm.
  • Shuttle buses run to various parts of the city and to major hotels.
  • Intercity buses run long-distance services to locations outside of Beijing.
  • There is a free shuttle bus between the airport terminals.
  • Airport website: en.bcia.com.cn (or see travelchinaguide.com for more detailed advice on transportation).
  • Tip: If you have a layover of more than eight hours, day tours to Beijing city or the Great Wall depart from (and return to) the airport.

  • 30km east of downtown Shanghai.
  • Taxis leave from an official taxi rank outside both terminals. They should be metered (see rates) and will cost more between the hours of 11pm and 5am. The journey to the city centre takes about 50 minutes, depending on traffic.
  • The Maglev Train runs express to Longyang Rd Station (where you can connect with taxis or the metro) in just eight minutes - at speeds of up to 430km/h! Trains leave every 15-20 minutes between 7am and 9:40pm.
  • Metro Line 2 (Green) departs the airport at least every eight and a half minutes between 6am and 10pm, connecting with the rest of the metro network and with Shanghai's second airport, Hongqiao. Tickets are much cheaper than the Maglev, but the journey can be slow, with many stops, and passengers from the airport have to change from a four-car train to an eight-car train at Guanglan Road Station.
  • Shuttle buses run to various parts of the city, to major hotels and to Hongqiao Airport.
  • Intercity buses run long-distance services to locations outside of Shanghai.
  • Airport website: en.shairport.com/pudongair (or see travelchinaguide.com for more detailed advice on transportation).

  • 28km north of downtown Guangzhou.
  • Taxis leave from outside the terminal. Queues are generally quite orderly and all taxis should be metered, with an airport flag fall of 10 yuan and a 50% surcharge for trips longer than 35km. Depending on traffic, the journey takes about 40 minutes to the city centre.
  • Metro Line 3 runs from the airport to the city, connecting with the rest of the metro network. It takes about 40 minutes to reach the city centre.
  • Shuttle buses run to various parts of the city as well as major hotels.
  • Intercity buses run to Shenzhen and other parts of Guangdong Province, and beyond.
  • Airport website: guangzhouairportonline.com (information is limited on the official site, you'll find more useful advice on transportation at travelchinaguide.com).

Scam alert: Ignore anyone who approaches you in airport terminals offering you a lift. All Chinese airports have taxi ranks with licenced, metered taxis.

Tip: You'll need your hotel address written in Chinese characters. Some taxi drivers may not be able to read, so check that they understand where you want to go before you get in the cab. Another option is to call your hotel and have them give the driver directions.

Key destinations and their airports

Beijing Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK)
Shanghai Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG)
Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (SHA)
Guangzhou (Canton) Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (CAN)
Shenzhen Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport (SZX)
Chengdu Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport (CTU)
Kunming Kunming Changshui Airport (KMG)
Xi'an
(75km to the Terracotta Warriors)
Xi'an Xianyang International Airport (XIY)
Chongqing Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport (CKG)
Hangzhou Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport (HGH)
Guilin
(65km to Yangshuo)
Guilin Liangjiang International Airport (KWL)
Lijiang
(120km to Tiger Leaping Gorge)
Lijiang Sanyi Airport (LJG)
Dalian Dalian Zhoushuizi International Airport (DLC)

Getting around

China has a population of 1.3 billion people and very few of them drive cars, so the public transport system is extensive and (for the most part) extremely efficient.

Trains

One of the best ways to see China, and meet the locals, is on a train. Modern high-speed trains connect many of China's cities at speeds of up to 430km/h, but the old-style slow trains can also be a great way to travel.

High-speed trains have first- and second-class seats. Some services have business class 'pods' with reclining flat beds and complimentary drinks.

Classic trains generally have four ticket classes: hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper and soft sleeper. Some services offer a deluxe soft sleeper option - a two-berth compartment with private toilet.

Tip: Chinese trains usually have both western and squat-style toilets. It's a good idea to BYO toilet paper.

The official Chinese Railways website isn't available in English and doesn't accept foreign credit cards, but you can check train timetables and buy tickets up to 60 days in advance at chinahighlights.com/china-trains, china-diy-travel.com or chinatraintickets.net. Tickets can also be bought directly from train stations up to 58 days in advance, or via hotels or travel agents. Be sure to book ahead if you're travelling during peak times or if you want one of the better class seats.

For more advice on train travel in China, including descriptions of specific trains, routes and ticket classes, see seat61.com/China.

The China Trains app (Apple / Android) provides country-wide train timetables and ticket booking.

Buses

Buses connect even more towns and cities in China than the train network. Fares are generally cheaper than trains, but journey times may be longer, depending on traffic. Vehicle types vary from comfortable air conditioned coaches to overnight sleepers fitted out with beds, or cheap and cheerful crowded mini buses. Tickets can be bought at bus stations (it's best to buy in advance) or through a local hotel or travel agent. Schedules are hard to find online, so ask your hotel or a travel agent for help.

Domestic flights

Domestic flights connect over a hundred Chinese cities and are an ideal way to get around such a large country. Fares are competitively priced and some can be found on international booking sites, but you'll find a greater range on Chinese (English language) booking sites such as chinahighlights.com, ctrip.com or flychina.com.

Booking tip: The Chinese are very superstitious about numbers. Eight, associated with wealth, is the luckiest number, and four, associated with death, is the unluckiest. Often, people will avoid travelling on dates, times or flight/train/seat numbers with the number four in them, so you might find cheaper tickets, or more empty seats, if you look for the number four.

Transport tip: rome2rio.com is a great resource for working out how to get from A to B, anywhere in the world, by any means of transport.

The best way to get around towns and cities varies from place to place. Many Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, have excellent metro systems that are easy to use, even for English speakers (tip: the China Metro app provides timetables and information for metro systems in 15 different Chinese cities). Public buses may be more difficult to figure out. Bicycle hire and bike share are commonplace (cycling in China is not as scary as it looks - there's safety in numbers and many roads have separated cycleways). And of course, taxis are always easy to come by.

Taxis

Taxis are everywhere in China, since very few people own private cars. You can hail one on the street or find them queuing outside train stations, airports and other hubs. Official taxis are metered, but you will encounter drivers with private cars willing to negotiate a flat fare. Often this will work out fine, occasionally you'll find yourself fleeced, or worse. If in doubt, opt for the licenced cab.

If you're feeling adventurous, a ride on the back of a motorcycle taxi can be cheaper and faster (and more fun) than a standard taxi. Be warned that your driver is unlikely to give you a helmet and it's very unlikely your travel insurance will cover you if you have an accident. Negotiate the fare before you accept a ride - obviously they don't have meters.

Scam alert: Taxi drivers have been known to take travellers to an alternative hotel, telling them their hotel is 'closed'. They've also been known to demand higher payment, for example by insisting the quoted price is 'per person', or to short-change passengers. If you have a problem with a taxi, note down the licence plate and driver ID number and make a complaint.

Tip: Always keep smaller notes on you, many taxi drivers won't have change for larger notes.

Tip: Make sure you have your hotel address written in Chinese characters, or take a photo of the hotel sign or street sign. Some taxi drivers may not be able to read, so check that they understand where you want to go before you get in the cab. Another option is to call your hotel and have them give your driver directions.

Car hire

Car hire isn't an option for most tourists, since you need a local licence to drive in China. Plenty of visitors hire private drivers or enlist taxis for a half day or full day. If you do this, make sure you agree on the rate first. Try to use a driver recommended by your hotel or by other travellers.

Accommodation and tours

Accommodation options range from five-star hotels to cheap and crowded hostels. Bookings can be made on the usual sites, such as wotif.com, lastminute.com, booking.com, hotels.com, expedia.com or hostels.com, or you may find a more competitive rate through the hotel's own website (if it has one, and if it's in English) or through a Chinese (English language) booking site such as chinahighlights.com or ctrip.com. Check customer reviews on Tripadvisor before you book.

Airbnb can be a good place to find a cheap apartment rental or a homestay.

All foreign visitors are required to register with the Public Security Bureau (PSB) within 24 hours of arrival. If you're staying at a hotel, they'll do this for you. Otherwise you should report to the local police station.

Hotel taxes are generally included in the bill, but some cities, such as Guilin, Haikou, Sanya and Lijiang, charge tourists an "old town maintenance fee" or a "city construction fee".

Tours can be organised once you've arrived in China, or in advance through a travel agent or travel booking site. Search Tripadvisor or Viator for recommendations from other travellers.

If you're travelling in a group, hiring a private driver for the day might be just as cheap, or cheaper, than joining an organised tour.

Tip: Most national parks charge an entry fee, and some have caps on the number of visitors.

Travel to Tibet must be organised through a travel agent in China in order to get the necessary permit.

Layover tours are available to travellers making use of the 72-hour visa-free pass. For example, bus trips run from Beijing airport to the Great Wall and back in under eight hours. Two- or three-day tours can also be arranged.

Package tours are a low-stress option for travellers who don't want to organise their flights, accommodation and on-the-ground transport separately. For deals, check airline and travel booking sites as well as travel agents.

Got a travel tip about China? Or spotted something in our guide that needs updating? Add a comment below.


Leave a comment

Display comments