Let's face it: buying train tickets in China can be a big, migraine-inducing pain in the butt; thanks to the "ingenious" policy of giving everyone in the country simultaneous vacations, travelling during a national holiday means that you're literally competing with hundreds of millions of others for that tiny, pink piece of paper they call a train ticket. But securing your spot on a train doesn't necessarily mean camping outside a travel agency until the first batch of pre-sale tickets go on sale (usually 10-20 days before), or trying to suppress a bout of rage as every second person cuts you in line at the train station's ticket window. With a bit of tact, know-how and planning, your train ticket may just be a few clicks or phone calls away.
Different methods of buying train tickets
There are four official ways to buy train tickets in China: online, via telephone, at a train station or through a travel agent. Let's take a look at each method in more detail:
1) Online bookings
There's only one website you need to know about for purchasing tickets online via legal channels: www.12306.cn. This is literally China's only official train ticket selling website; all others are not officially recognized and pose risks. However, the immediately apparent drawback with using this site as a foreigner is that no English version is available.
Not only is this site good for bookings, but it also includes useful information about timetables, number of tickets still available, info about delays etc.
2) Telephone bookings
This option is only available to those who can speak fluent Chinese, as there are currently no English services offered by official ticket booking hotlines. The number to call – regardless of which city you're located in – is 9510 5105.
In Beijing, one person can purchase five seated tickets (but five different valid ID numbers are required) and three sleeper tickets (quoting three different valid ID numbers). In Shanghai and Guangzhou, a maximum of three tickets can be purchased per person (three different valid ID numbers), regardless of ticket type. In addition, Guangzhou has a rule that if you book a ticket but don't pick it up or cancel it, you will be barred from using the same ID number to book tickets in the future.
3) Train stations
Train tickets can be bought at stations ten days in advance. All tickets bought at train stations require valid ID, regardless of the train type (high-speed, bullet, regular). Usually, tickets are available for purchase right until the train's due departure, but obviously tickets are subject to availability.
4) Travel agencies
Tickets can be bought through various types of travel agents: specialised train and plane booking agencies, hotels and guest houses. While most large hotels can arrange tickets for you, this option is more expensive, as they usually charge very high service fees for each booking. Regular travel agencies sell tickets up to ten days in advance (subject to change). These agencies are scattered throughout most cities, and are a popular and convenient booking method. To secure a ticket, just bring your passport with you; a modest 5 RMB service charge will be added per ticket. However, expect long queues outside these agencies around national holidays. The earlier you go stand in line, the higher your chances of getting a ticket.
Other useful tips:
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Some additional notes: If you book online, not only do you need to read and write Chinese but you also need a Chinese bank card to pay. Foreigners cannot book by phone as this is an automated service and you can only enter Chinese id card numbers on the phone, not passport info. I think that the comments about travel agencies is not up to date. They also buy 20 days in advance. Price vary. he most expensive will deliver the tickets. Cheaper ones like www.china-diy-travel.com (Australian expat) will get you an eticket and you pickup your physical ticket at the station or in various places all over town.
Jan 24, 2013 00:50 Report Abuse