Ground Transportation for China

Options for traveling within China for a 21-day period


Outline

  1. Car
  2. Train / Bus / Air
  3. Other Options
  4. Estimate of total ground travel expenses

In order to get an idea of travel costs inside of China, I developed a list of cities that I know I would like to visit. I then ordered the cities in a way that would make geographic sense when traveling inside of China. I came up with the following order of travel:

 

Arrival City:                Hong Kong

First Leg:                     Hong Kong to Guilin

Second Leg:                Guilin to Nanning

Third Leg:                    Nanning to Chongqing

Fourth Leg:                 Chongqing to Yichang

Fifth Leg:                     Yichang to Nanchang

Sixth Leg:                     Nanchang to Shanghai

Seventh Leg:               Shanghai to Beijing

Departure City:           Beijing

 

This might be too many legs to do in three weeks, in which case I would have to eliminate one or two legs. But I thought it would be better to plan for more when looking at travel costs. I visited China eleven years ago with my parents, and we went many of these cities in three weeks.

 

Travel Books: My primary travel book is Lonely Planet: China, by Damian Harper (1). It has the following summary of thoughts on travel inside of China.

 

            Air: Affordable and excellent for long distances, but delays are common.

Train: Very reasonably priced – apart from high-speed rail, which is more expensive – and very efficient.

Bus: Cheaper and slower than trains but crucial for remote destinations.

Car: China is too large and there are too many restrictions to make this a viable option.

 

A secondary book I am using is Travel to China: Everything You Need to Know, by Josh Summers (2). Summers says “[t]here are a lot of great reasons to take a train in China and a few reasons you might want to avoid them. In general, it is my opinion that the pros far outweigh the cons.”

Car

My itinerary plans to start at Hong Kong and end at Beijing. I could not find a car rental that would let you rent in Hong Kong and drop off in Beijing, like you can do in the United States, so the first car rental example below is for pick up and drop off in Hong Kong for a driver aged 25. (I am 26, but won’t be driving for obvious reasons.) The 9200 Hong Kong dollar price for a three-week rental is about $1172 at current exchange rates.

 

The second car rental example below is for pick up and drop off in Hong Kong for a driver aged 24. I am planning to travel with my sister who is 24. The 12,400 Hong Kong dollar price for a three-week rental is about $1600 at current exchange rates.

 

Although you can rent a car with unlimited mileage, using a car would require driving a total of over 4000 miles for the whole trip, with a final 1350-mile leg from Beijing to Hong Kong at the end of my trip. And while my sister drives, I don’t drive, as noted above.  Driving would not be practical.

 

 

 

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Train / Bus / Air

My mass transit options are air, high speed trains, regular trains and buses.

Based on my books and my internet research, air is usually the most expensive, and bus is the least expensive. But I am planning primarily to use trains to travel in China, although I did look at prices for other methods of travel. Also, I plan to use high speed trains, even though they are somewhat more expensive, because the benefits in saved time will outweigh the cost savings by taking regular trains.

 

Here is a summary of sample prices for each leg of my trip by air and high-speed train, except for Chongqing to Yichang (see the travel option for that leg below). Bus prices would be cheaper, but you cannot book intercity buses online in China, so I did not include bus prices.

 

Leg

Air

High Speed Train (1st class)

High Speed Train (2nd class)

Distance

(miles)

Hong Kong/Guilin

127

92

57

320

Guilin/Nanning

139

30

19

210

Nanning/Chongqing

150

99

62

478

Yichang/Nanchang

261

55

35

309

Nanchang/Shanghai

129

85

51

376

Shanghai/Beijing

193

141

84

665

Total

999

502

308

2358

 

For air travel, cheaper flights were sometimes listed, but they were often for a single flight a day or at unusual times or with long travel times. The prices above were for flights with a good range of departure times and trips of reasonable duration. For some trips, flight prices were pretty consistent from day to day; for others, there was some variation. The fares above are for cheaper travel days, which might not necessarily work with my schedule.

 

For train travel, fares are pretty consistent from day to day. China has both high speed and regular trains. The cities on my trip all have high speed train service. I noticed that regular trains can take three times as long for a trip, and that the regular train fares are not much cheaper than 2nd class fares on the high-speed trains, so I am planning to use high speed trains for now. When I plan a final itinerary, I might choose an overnight regular train for one of these legs to save on lodging costs.

 

I am planning to travel using 2nd class train fares. The Summers book says “[i]n my opinion, second-class seats on a high-speed train are comfortable enough for most people and are a great way to save money.”

Here are the graphics for the high-speed train trips on my itinerary. They are all for the same day, but ticket prices are the same day-to-day.

First Leg:                     Hong Kong to Guilin

 

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Second Leg:                Guilin to Nanning

/Users/matt/Desktop/ground/ground.fld/image003.jpg

 

 

Third Leg:                    Nanning to Chongqing

 

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Fifth Leg:                     Yichang to Nanchang

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Sixth Leg:                    Nanchang to Shanghai

 

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Seventh Leg:               Shanghai to Beijing

/Users/matt/Desktop/ground/ground.fld/image007.jpg

 

Other options

For the leg from Chongqing to Yichang, I am considering a cruise on the Yangtze River, so I did not look at other options travel options for that leg. This is a four-day trip that would come at the middle of the three weeks. I might decide to drop this portion of the itinerary if it seems that my schedule is too crowded, but I included it here for planning purposes. The cost is about $475, but this is not just for transportation but also for lodging, so the transportation cost itself is probably about half of that total cost, when compare the total cost to hotel costs in Chongqing.

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Estimate of total ground travel expenses

The total cost of traveling within China for a three-week period is $ 546. This is the sum of the second-class train fares listed above and one-half of the cost of the Yangtze cruise.


Submitted by Leah Johnson on March 8, 2019.

(1) Harris, D. (2017). Lonely Planet China [E-book]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.

(2) Summers, J. (2019). Travel to China [E-book]. Retrieved from Amazon.com.

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