Recently 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, traveling by air is the probably the first choice of most travelers.
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.
Overland buses are the most important means of transport in many parts of China, especially where there is no railway line. By 1999, over 1.352 million km highway has been put into use. The overall length of expressways has reached 9,083 km. Now, all counties, towns and townships are easily accessible by road.
Bus is the cheapest means of transport, but also is correspondingly slow. Long distance buses can be divided into soft-seat and soft-sleeper buses. Some are equipped with TV, air conditioning and a toilet. Compared with the train, travel by bus is more flexible as there are regular breaks during the journeys.
Seats on the bus are numbered, so it is advisable to book a ticket and seat well in advance. The booking could be made through the travel agencies and hotels.
All China’s major cities have good transport networks. As well as public buses, there are the tour buses, mini buses, and taxis.
Buses in Chinese towns are always crowded. The fare depends on distance, and is payable to the conductor.
A taxi is often the most convenient means of travel in the city. They are available at airports, railway stations and hotels and can be flagged down in urban areas. The total fare depends on the starting meter price, which can range from 5 to 12 yuan, and the distance. Extra fees are charged for waiting and low speed driving during traffic jams. If you take a taxi after 23:00 pm, a 20 percent surcharge applies over and above the basic fare.
The minibus is a compromise between the relatively expensive taxis and crowded public transport. Charges are a little more than on the bus, about 2 yuan or more depending on distance, but it is very convenient for it can stop at any point you want along the route.
Tour buses are managed by travel agencies, hotels and airports and are provided for short tours. They are normally equipped with air conditioning and TV. A tour guide is usually present on such buses.
The rail network forms the backbone of the Chinese transport system and serves most of cities. Visitors can explore much of China by train and many find it an efficient and inexpensive means of travel. The cost is around 25 percent less than comparable air services.
There is now a total of 57,900 km of railway track in China. This makes Chinese rail rank first in Asia. Double track railways cover 20,935 km, while electrified lines cover some 13,629 km. The railway traverses the whole country. Beijing is the hub of the north-south lines while the west-east line centre is at Zhengzhou.
Chinese trains differ from those in other countries as the seating is not separated into first and second class areas. In China, the accommodation on the trains is divided into four categories, namely, soft-sleeper, soft-seat, hard-sleeper and hard-seat.
Hard Seats: Contrary to what the name implies, the seats are upholstered. These are the less expensive seats. These seats tend to be crowded and are not always very clean.
Soft Seats: These seats cost rather more but are very comfortable, with plenty of leg room. The carriages are less crowded than the hard-seat carriages.
Hard Sleeper: The hard-sleeper carriage is made up of door-less compartments. Each one contains six beds in three tiers. Sheets, pillows and blankets are provided and it somewhat resembles a budget hotel. Comparing with the soft-sleeper, hard-sleeper is less comfortable and accordingly, the price is lower than that of the soft-sleeper. Competition for hard-sleepers has become keen in recent years, so if you get one, you are very lucky.
Soft-sleeper: The soft-sleeper carriages are divided into separate compartments and each compartment has two lower and two upper berths. Sheets and blankets are provided and are generally of good standard. Western style washrooms and toilets are located at both ends of the compartment. Soft sleeper costs twice as much as hard sleeper and almost the same price as flying. Therefore, soft sleeper tickets are more easily available.
There are washrooms on the trains. The toilets, irrespective of class, are not usually very hygienic and it is a good idea to bring your own toilet paper! Boiled water is available on trains and dining cars on long distance routes only.
Reservations should be made in advance, especially during the holidays and travel season. Tickets may be purchased directly from rail stations or booked a few days in advance from your travel agencies, hotels, or ticket office.
Another method of travel in China is via the waterways. Navigable inland waterways in China total 111,000 kilometers and there are some 5,000 berths in the harbors, of which over 1000 are 10,000 ton class berths. The major inland navigable rivers in China include the Yangtze River, the Pearl River, the Heilongjiang, the Huaihe, the Qiantang, the Minjiang and the Huangpu, as well as the Grand Canal.
The Yangtze River, known as the golden waterway of China’s inland river transport, has 6,000 kilometers navigable throughout the year. The annual water transits of both freight and passengers account for over 70 percent of China’s total capacity.
Ocean shipping in China is divided into two major navigation zones: the northern and the southern zones. Shanghai and Dalian are the main ports in the northern zone, and Guangzhou in the southern zone.
Today, there are more than twenty major coastal harbors in China. Shanghai Harbor ranks among the 10 largest in the world, with an annual capacity of over 100 million tons. Nanjing Harbor, with an annual capacity of 40 million tons, is China’s largest river harbor.
The following inland waterway tourist attractions are highly recommended:
Yangtze River Cruise
Voyage on this route, mainly from Chongqing to Yichang and Yichang to Wuhan, provides a grand view of the Yangtze River. A special feature is the magnificent view of the Three Gorges.
Grand Canal Cruise
Suzhou and Hangzhou are connected by the Grand Canal, a voyage totaling 146.6 km. Feast your eyes on the enthralling waterside village scenery, typical of the areas south of the Yangtze River as you sail along this route. In Nanjing, Wuxi or Yangzhou, dragon boats and pleasure boats provide for cruises on the Grand Canal – Yangtze River – Taihu Lake Tour. These cruises impart in full the flavor of Chinese poetry and painting. Tourists have the opportunity to enjoy good food while appreciating the surrounding scenery.
Li River Cruise
Surrounded by rolling hills, steep cliffs, fantastic caves and groves of bamboo, the Li River, with its fleets of leisure boats, is the largest and most beautiful scenic area in China. The 83 km long waterway from Guilin to Yangshuo – the spirit of Li River, is often called the hundred-mile gallery. Cruising along the Li River, one gets to enjoy both the stunning and unique scenery, and a galaxy of historical ports.