While several major airlines fly to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, budget seats can prove hard to come by. For good offers, book as early as you can.
Particularly busy periods are usually when Chinese students are flying home for summer, flying back to universities around the world after summer or around Chinese New Year (early February). Tickets at these times are often hard to get and/or more expensive.
If you live somewhere like Toronto or San Francisco with a large overseas Chinese community, check for cheap flights with someone in that community. Sometimes flights advertised only in the Chinese newspapers cost significantly less.
Tiger Airways, Bangkok Airways. Air Asia and Cebu Pacific offer low-priced flights from Southeast Asia (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Manila) to various destinations in southern China, including Xiamen, Jinghong, Guangzhou, Haikou and Macau.
Many fliers prefer Asian airlines, which generally have more cabin staff and better service. Hong Kong based Cathay Pacific is an obvious possibility for flights to China. Others include Singapore Airlines, Japan Airlines, and Indonesia’s Garuda.
Korean Air often have good prices on flights from various places in Asia, such as Bangkok via Seoul to North America. One person on a mailing list reported that taking a train to Southern China, cheap Macau-Bangkok flight, then Korean Air Bangkok-Seoul-LA was US$200 cheaper than flying direct Shanghai-LA. Korean Air also fly to a dozen or so Chinese cities, including Shanghai, but we do not know if the big discounts are available there.
China’s own airlines are growing rapidly (500 planes in 2000, 863 as of May 2006; they say 1580 by 2010 and 3200 by 2024) and working hard at becoming highly competitive in both service and pricing. They include China Southern, China Eastern, and Air China.
North American airlines: Northwest serves Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou through its hub at Narita. United has the most nonstops to North America, serving Hong Kong, Beijing, and Shanghai from Chicago, San Francisco and Washington. Continental Airlines flies to Hong Kong and Beijing from Newark, and American flies to Shanghai from Chicago. Delta Airlines offers non-stop service from Atlanta to Shanghai. Air Canada serves Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong from Toronto and Vancouver.
Flying from Australia, Qantas offer direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to Hong Kong. [Qantas] also flies to Beijing and Shanghai from Sydney and only offers a code-share service to Shanghai from Melbourne.
Flying from New Zealand, Air New Zealand is the only direct option to Mainland China. They offer direct flights to Shanghai in the Mainland and Hong Kong.
European airlines: Most of the major European airlines — from Air France and British Airways to Finnair — have direct flights from their bases to Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, and several fly to Guangzhou as well. A few have links to other Chinese cities, for example KLM fly direct Amsterdam-Chengdu and Lufthansa fly Frankfurt-Nanjing.
If you are coming into Hong Kong or Macau and then flying on to somewhere in mainland China, consider crossing the border to Shenzhen or Zhuhai and picking up a flight there. These are usually significantly cheaper, as flights between the mainland and Hong Kong or Macau are treated as international flights.
Regular direct flights between Taiwan and mainland China, which have not taken place since 1949, will finally commence from 4 July 2008, though they still have to pass through Hong Kong or Macau airspace. This will involve the airports of Beijing, Shanghai-Pudong, Guangzhou, Nanjing and Xiamen on the mainland side as well as Taipei-Taoyuan, Taipei-Songshan, Kaohsiung, Taichung, Hualien, Taitung, Makung and Kinmen on the Taiwanese side. Airlines authorised to operate the routes include China’s three main carriers as well as Taiwan-based China Airlines and EVA Air. The flights would be open to all personnel holding valid travel documents and visas.
China can be reached by train from many of its neighbouring countries and even all the way from Europe.
Russia & Europe – two lines of the Trans-Siberian Railway (Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian) run between Moscow and Beijing, stopping in various other Russian cities, and for the Trans-Mongolian, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Kazakhstan & Central Asia – from Almaty, Kazakhstan, one can travel by rail to Urumqi in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. There are long waits at the border crossing for customs, as well as for changing the wheelbase for the next country’s track.
Hong Kong – regular services link mainland China with Hong Kong.
Vietnam – from Nanning in Guangxi province into Vietnam via the Friendship Pass; also between Kunming in Yunnan province, and Hanoi via Hekou and Lao Cai.
North Korea – four weekly connections between the North Korean capital Pyongyang and Beijing.
For most travellers Hanoi is the origin for any overland journey to China. There are currently 3 international crossings:
1. Dong Dang (V) – Pingxiang (C)
You can catch a local bus from Hanoi’s eastern bus station (Ben Xe Street, Gia Lam District, tel: 04/827-1529) to Lang Son, where you have to switch transport to minibus or motorbike to reach the border at Dong Dang. Alternatively there are many offers from open-tour providers; for those in a hurry, they might be a good option if they offer a direct hotel to border crossing transfer.
You can change money with freelance money changers, but check the rate carefully beforehand.
Border formalities take about 30 minutes. On the Chinese side, walk up past the “Friendship-gate” and catch a taxi (about ¥20, bargain hard!) to Pingxiang, Guangxi. A seat in a minibus is ¥5. There is a Bank of China branch right across the street from the main bus station; the ATM accepts Maestro cards. You can travel by bus or train to Nanning.
2. Lao Cai (V) – Hekou (C)
3. Mong Cai (V) – Dongxing (C)
At Dongxing, you can take a bus to Nanning, a sleeper bus to Guangzhou (approximately ¥180), or a sleeper bus to Shenzhen (approximately ¥230, 12 hours) (March 2006).
From Luang Namtha you can get a bus leaving at around 8 a.m. going to Boten (Chinese border) and Mengla. You need to have a Chinese visa beforehand as there is no way to get one on arrival. The border is close (about 1 hr). Customs procedures will eat up another good hour. The trip costs about 45k Kip.
Also, there is a direct Chinese sleeper bus connection from Vientiane to Kunming (about 32 hours). You can jump in this bus at the border, when the minibus from Luang Namtha and the sleeper meet. Don’t pay more than ¥200, though.
The Karakoram Highway from northern Pakistan into Western China is one of the most spectacular roads in the world. It’s closed for tourists for a few months in winter.
The road from Nepal to Tibet passes near Mount Everest, and through amazing mountain scenery. Entering Tibet from Nepal is only possible for tourists on package tours.
There is regular ferry and hovercraft service between various points on the mainland, such as Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai to Hong Kong and Macau.
There is a 2-day ferry service from Shanghai and Tianjin to Osaka, Japan. Service is once or twice weekly, depending on season.
A twice-weekly ferry also connects Qingdao to Shimonoseki.
There is a ferry service from Shanghai and Tianjin to Incheon, the main port of South Korea. Another line is from Qingdao or Weihai to Incheon.
Golden Peacock Shipping company runs a speedboat three times a week on the Mekong river between Jinghong in Yunnan and Chiang Saen (Thailand). Passengers are not required to have visas for Laos or Myanmar, although the greater part of the trip is on the river bordering these countries.
Star Cruises operates between Keelung in Taiwan and Xiamen in mainland China, stopping at one of the Japanese islands on the way.