Beijing is a major transportation hub. Roads, Railways, and bus lines all intersect and pass through the city. It is also one of the main points of entry by air. Within the city, a complicated system of metro and bus systems transports visitors and residents to the many fascinating places of Beijing.
Though Chinese students learn English skills from an early age, the focus is on reading and writing. That means that while many people know some English, they may not want to use it or be uncomfortable. It is important that you be able to try and communicate (at least a little) in Chinese. Since pronunciation is key, it is difficult for most beginners to make themselves understood. Practice the name of the place you are going and write it down, both in English and in Chinese characters. Also try to know the specific addresses and nearby intersections.
Beijing is constantly changing, making maps out of date by the time they are printed. Unfortunately, most maps will have a few errors. Try to prepare with the latest maps online, take a breath, and ask for directions.
There are several ways to navigate the massive city of Beijing. A few things to keep in mind when moving around:
During early July millions of university students go home and in late August they return to school. This tends to jam all transportation options, but is especially annoying on public transport. Some inconvenience is unavoidable, but try to be informed
Crossing the road in China can be an art form. Beijing driver's are aggressive and pedestrian rights aren't well respected. The best places to cross are, of course, the traffic light crossings with zebra stripes, but it may still be difficult. Rely on strength in numbers and cross with the masses.
The Beijing Subway is a great way to move through the city. Opened in 1971 with two lines, the network is being expanded rapidly. Despite this growth, rush hours still impose cramped quarters. In 2010, the Beijing Subway delivered over 1.6 billion rides. There is recent single-day record of 6.82 million on March 4, 2011.
Subway station entrances are identified by a large blue stylized letter G wrapped around a smaller letter B. The subway shuts down around midnight, and opens again around 5:00. It is well marked in Chinese and English. An introductory tour of the system and more information about the system and updates can be found on the Official Beijing subway site.
A metro system map can be accessed here.
A basic fare is 2 RMB. This affords unlimited transfers (except for the Airport Express line, which costs 25 RMB per trip). Children below 1.2 meters (47 in) in height can ride for free when accompanied by a paying adult.
Fares are collected through automatic fare collection (AFC) machines. The machines are easy to use; press the numbers along the left side of the screen to choose how many tickets you want to buy, insert cash into the machine and press the green button then collect the ticket and change. The machine does not accept RMB1 bills but if you pay with a RMB10 or RMB20 bill you will be returned change in coin. Pass your ticket through the turnstiles upon entering AND exiting the station.
Yikatong Pre-paid card: A reusable, integrated circuit card (ICC) that is great for frequent users. It can be used on the metro and public transit buses. The card costs a 20 RMB refundable deposit. Swipe the card at the entrance turnstile and again upon exiting. It can also be used on buses, in which it reduces the fare by 60 percent.
More information about fares can be access here.
Metro/Bus: Beijing MTR corporation - http://www.mtr.bj.cn/En/index.htm
Beijing has long been the largest railway hub in China. Common lines run from Beijing to Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kowloon, Harbin, Qinhuangdao, Baotou, Chengde, and Tianjin. Passenger trains in China are numbered according to their direction in relation to Beijing.
Chinese trains are split into different categories designated by letters and numbers indicated on the ticket. A guide to the hierarchy of Chinese trains from fastest to slowest are as follows:
On the regular non-CRH trains there are five classes of travel:
Note: In sleeper cars, tickets are exchanged for cards on long distance trains. The cabin attendants return the original tickets when the train approaches the destination station thus ensuring everyone gets off where they should even if they can't wake themselves up.
At the starting station of a route, train tickets can usually be bought up to five days in advance. The following stations allow for a smaller number of ticket sales. Usually these are the standing class. If you want to get a seat assignment or a sleeper (wopu) once you are on the train, find the train conductor and he will tell you if there are any available.
The easiest way may be to go through an agent. The markup is usually low and the convenience of having a reservation is worth it in the busy season. There are agents off of Tian'anmen Square). Beware that travel agencies will accept money and bookings for train tickets in advance, but no one can guarantee your ticket until the station releases them onto the market.
It may be difficult to find English-speaking staff at stations. If you don't speak Chinese, write the departure and destination station, date and time of departure, train number and required class on paper. You can write the station name in pinyin, as the cashier enters them in the same way to the reservation system. Beware that many cities have different stations for normal trains and high-speed trains. High-speed station names usually consist of city name and cardinal direction (for example Hengyangdong is "Hengyang East").
Tickets are necessary to both enter and exit the station. There is usually an inspection at the departure hall entrance or the boarding gate and another at the exit gate. Once in the departure hall, follow the digital indicator boards to find the right boarding gate (they are in Chinese but will display the train service number which is printed at the top of your ticket). Approx 10 minutes before boarding your train and platform will be announced and the gate will be opened.
The toilets can be a challenge, but are more Westerner friendly than buses. They usually utilize a simple device that empties the contents directly onto the track and don't smell as bad as some other facilities. Soft sleeper cars often have Western throne-style toilets at one end of the car and Chinese squat toilets at the other. Be aware that if the train will be stopping at a station, the conductor will normally lock the bathrooms prior to arrival so that people will not leave deposits on the ground at the station.
Long distance trains will have a buffet or dining car, which serves hot, but pricey, food. Usually meals are around RMB 25. For better, cheaper options, wait to buy food at stops and get something from a vendor on the platform. Trains also offer boiled water so you can make your own meal if you bring tea, soups or instant noodles.
Motion sickness pills and ear plugs can be a huge help if you are sensitive to either affliction.
Technically, smoking is not permitted in the seating or sleeping areas but is allowed in the vestibules at the end of each car and in the restaurant car. On the new CRH trains, the Guangzhou-Kowloon shuttle train, and the Beijing Suburban Railway smoking is completely forbidden. Smoking is banned inside station buildings apart from in designated smoking rooms, although these places are often unpleasant and poorly ventilated.
A Beginner's Guide to Train Travel in China covers more on particular routes and intricacies of the system.
There are nearly 700 bus and trolleybus routes in Beijing, including three bus rapid transit routes. Packed public buses make their way throughout the city and to other destinations within China and Asia.
The Beijing Public Transport Holdings is a large state-owned enterprise operating mainly the ground passenger transportation. They offer a website in Chinese and English with route maps, fare info, and more.
Bus lines are numbered from 1-999. Most buses with a line number under 200 are night buses, running daily 5:00-23:00. Buses under 300 serve the city center. Buses 300 and up run between the city center and more distant areas and run from 6:00-22:00. Buses in the 900s connect Beijing with its rural districts (i.e. Changping, Yanqing, Shunyi, etc). Rush hour (6:30-9:00 and 17:00-21:00) can be very crowded.
Tickets can be purchased in cash or by pre-paid smart card. Different rates apply to different routes.
There are also 3-day, 7-day and 15-day passes available for travelers. There is no return ticket or day ticket.
Areas from as far as Shanghai and the Mongolian border connect to Beijing. There are over 20 long distance bus stations. Most of the buses are be regular or express buses and cost from RMB200-600 per trip. They are generally comfortable and sleepers may be available. Sleeper buses often cost less, but may travel painfully slow and stop at every city or town.
Bus personnel are helpful, but may be unfamiliar with foreigners. Note that coaches have toilets, but are often dirty and a bit cumbersome to use. Also be aware that riding buses around Beijing or the East is vastly different than buses in the West. It is much harder to get around without understanding Chinese, routes are often crowded, and the roads are extremely rough. This is the only way to reach some remote areas of China without personal transport.
Tickets can be purchased from ticket counters at large bus stations. These tickets will include the departure time, boarding gate and license plate number of your bus (which , unfortunately, is not always accurate). Smaller bus stations will have people who shout destinations and direct you to your bus where you pay on board. These people are called touts and they will also be seen at large stations. When purchasing your ticket from the driver, you will negotiate a price. Know what the route usually sells for and use whatever bargaining and Chinese abilities you have.
Beijing is inland, so there is not direct ferry transport from the city. Connections can be made most easily through Shanghai or Tianjin's Tanggu port.
For Ferry schedules between Japan and China, consult the ferry schedule (in English).
Beijing's primary airport is the Beijing Capital International Airport (IATA: PEK). It is about 20 km northeast of city center and is the 2nd busiest airport in the world, the busiest in Asia. Capital Airport is the main hub for Air China and a hub for China Southern. Recently renovated for the 2008 Olympics, the airport now boasts three terminals with terminal 3 being one of the largest in the world.
Be aware that upon departure, porters may want RMB10 to wheel your bags the short distance it takes to check-in.
Taxi: Depending on your familiarity with Chinese, have the name of your destination written out and in characters for the easiest communication. A taxi from the airport should cost RMB 70-120. You will have to pay the fee shown on the meter (make sure the driver uses it) plus RMB10 toll for the airport expressway. At high travel times, Traffic jams are common.
Airport Express train: A welcome addition since the Olympics. It runs in a one-way loop from T3 to T2/T1 then SanRMBqiao (transfer to subway line 10) and Dongzhimen (lines 2, 13). A one-way fare is RMB 25, and the trip takes about 20 minutes from Dongzhimen to T3, 30 min to T2.
The Airport shuttle: A less expensive option is the shuttle. Buses leave every 10-30 minutes with several different lines. Tickets cost RMB 16 for a one-way trip.
Public Bus: The cheapest option is public bus #359, which runs from the airport to Dongzhimen, where you can get on the subway 2.
Also note that many youth hostels and luxury hotels offer complimentary pick-up so ask when you are making reservations.
Registered taxis can be found throughout Beijing and are a convenient, safe and fairly inexpensive mode of transportation. However, they are also at the mercy of congested roadways. Taxis are usually dark red, or yellow top with dark blue bottom. Official taxis can be identified with license plates beginning with the letter "B". Luxurious black executive cars (usually Audis) can also be found waiting outside hotels, but are usually unavailable off the street. Call a company to book.
Fares on legal taxis start at 10 RMB for the first 3 km and 2.00 RMB per additional kilometer, not counting idling fees. After 15 km, the base fare increases by 50 percent. Between 23:00 and 5:00, fees increase by 20 percent. Fares when it is raining may also go up. Time spent idling (i.e. speed is slower than 12 km/hr or when waiting at traffic lights) are charged a lower fee with 5 min of waiting time equaling 1 km running. Outside of rush hour, an average trip through the city costs around 20-25 RMB, and a cross-town journey about 50 RMB. There is also a 1 RMB gas surcharge on all trips. Note that this surcharge is not displayed on the meter, so if the meter says 18 the price is 19 RMB.
To make sure that you are charged fairly, make sure the meter is on and you may ask for a receipt at the end.
A large number of unregistered taxis also exist in Beijing. In remote parts of Beijing, there are more unofficial than official taxis. The cars are usually non-descript, but the driver will address you if you look like you are searching for a taxi. Negotiate the fare before you go. Local people usually pay a bit less for unofficial taxis, but obvious visitors often pay higher.
Also known as Sanlunche, rickshaws are an effective is unusual way to travel through Beijing. Either pedal-powered or motorized, negotiate a fare in advance. There is no set fee for a ride, but expect to pay from 30 to 50 RMB. Beware drivers in old fashioned costumes. These cabs usually charge a much higher fee.
Motorcycle taxis are also common, especially in smaller cities and rural areas. They are usually cheap and effective but a bit dangerous. Fares are negotiable.
Car rental allows visitors to move freely through Beijing and the rest of China. Since the Olympics in 2008, foreigners are allowed to rent vehicles while in China. Rentals can be easily arranged online or at points of entry. Several major car rental dealers are located at the International Airport, as well as the main train stations. Cars with drivers are also available.
Foreigners in China must apply for a driver's license. International driver licenses and overseas driver license are not recognized because China has not signed the convention which created IDPS (International Driving Permits). These licenses are valid in mainland China only. Residents from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan also need to apply for a China drivers license to drive in mainland China.
Processing time: 15-20 working days
Beijing is well-connected to all parts of China as part of the National Trunk Road Network. Nine expressways of China connect with Beijing, as do eleven China National Highways. Roads in Beijing often are in one of the four compass directions.
The city's transportation is divided into five "ring roads" that successively surround the city. The Forbidden City is the geographical center for the ring roads. The lst Ring road is not officially defined. The 2nd Ring Road encloses Beijing's inner city areas.
Traffic jams are common, even outside of rush hours. Urban area ring roads and major thoroughfares, especially near Chang'an Avenue, are normally cited as high-congestion areas. By the end of 2010, the government expects 5 million cars in Beijing. Improvements are being made to the mass transit system to try to relieve this pressure. They have also limited the number of new plates issued to passenger cars to 20,000 a month and bar cars of non-Beijing plates from entering areas within the Fifth Ring Road during rush hours.
China claims more lives in car accidents than any country in the world. Beijing is not very safe to drive in. Drivers violate traffic laws at will and there is significant road debris. Pedestrians should be very careful crossing the street as drivers generally won't stop and begin to go before the light turns green. Try to cross with locals en masse and watch the sidewalks as cars occasionally will drive up on them in frustration.
Beijing has a large segment of the population on the move by bike. Motor traffic is always on the rise, but large numbers of cyclists can be seen on every road. Most of the main roads have dedicated bicycle lanes. Bicycling can be faster than traveling by car, taxi or bus because of the traffic in the motorized traffic lanes.
If you are staying more than a few days, it may be cheaper to buy a bike than rent one. Ensure that you have a good lock included in the price.