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Traveling Beyond Beijing

By Plane

Daily direct flights connect Capital Airport to nearly every major Chinese city, including Shanghai for around ¥1,130, Guangzhou for ¥1,700, Xi'an for ¥1,050, Chengdu for ¥1,440, and Lhasa for ¥2,430. Prices vary widely, according to the season and your bargaining skills, and may be reduced to half the amounts quoted here. Much Chinese domestic flying is done on a walk-up basis, but the best discount is never available at the airport. The aviation authority officially permits the airlines to discount to a maximum of 40% on domestic flights, but discounts of 50%, sometimes even more, are not uncommon at ticket agencies.

Tickets for domestic flights (and international flights) on Chinese airlines are best purchased through a travel agent, such as Airtrans, C12 Guang Hua Lu, opposite Kerry Centre (tel. 010/6595-2255), or in one of two main ticketing halls: the Aviation Building (Minhang Dalou; tel. 010/6656-9988; fax 010/6656-9333; 24 hr.) at Xi Chang'an Jie 15, just east of the Xidan metro station; or the Airlines Ticketing Hall (tel. 010/8402-8198; fax 010/6401-5307; 9am-7pm), at 6/F Building B, Zhong Ding Da Sha, Bei San Huan Xilu A18 (subway line 13, at Da Zhong Si stop). You can use a credit card at the ticketing hall. Ctrip and eLong are two companies that offer excellent prices on domestic and international tickets through their online websites www.english.ctrip.com and www.elong.net. You can book flights online and pay for tickets in cash upon delivery. You can also pay by credit card (expect a 3-5% surcharge) after faxing through a credit card authorization form. If you hate the Internet, both companies have English-speaking agents that can walk you through the booking and payment process.

Booking from overseas via websites offering tickets for Chinese domestic flights, most of which do not appear on international ticketing systems, is always a mistake. You'll nearly always be charged the full price (which is generally paid by only a handful of people traveling at peak times at the last minute), and probably a booking fee, too.

Most hotels can arrange tickets for flights on foreign airlines, but they tend to levy hefty service fees. The airline offices themselves do not usually attempt to match the prices offered by agents, but are merely a source of the price to beat elsewhere. Special offers are often published in the monthly expat magazines The Beijinger and Time Out, but sometimes agents undercut even these, or they bend the rules on advance booking requirements to give an advance-purchase price at the last minute.

By Train

The main railway stations are Beijing Railway Station (Beijing Zhan; tel. 010/5101-9999) and West Station (Xi Ke Zhan; schedule information tel. 010/5182-4233). Tickets can be purchased at these stations for any train leaving Beijing up to 4 days in advance, and during the busiest seasons up to 10 days in advance. It is possible to buy round-trip tickets (fancheng piao) to major destinations like Shanghai or Xi'an up to 12 days in advance, subject to availability. Nineteen new Z trains, which depart at night and arrive early the following morning, directly connect with other cities. Cities served are Changchun, Changsha, Hangzhou, Harbin, Hefei, Nanjing, Shanghai (five trains), Suzhou, Wuhan (four trains), Xi'an, and the newly opened railway station in Yangzhou. All compartments are spanking new, and staff is more enthusiastic than on other services. Television screens have been installed in soft-sleeper compartments, which may disturb your night's rest. Tickets for Z trains may be purchased 20 days in advance.

Satellite ticket offices (tielu shoupiao chu) scattered throughout the city charge a negligible ¥5 service fee; convenient branches are just inside the main entrance of the Sanhe Baihuo (department store), south of the Xin (Sun) Dong An Plaza on Wangfujing Dajie (9am-9pm); at the Shatan Shoupiao Chu farther north at Ping'an Dadao 45, west of Jiaodaokou Nan Dajie (tel. 010/6403-6803; 8am-6pm); and at the Gongti Dong Lu Shoupiao Chu (tel. 010/6509-3783) in Sanlitun, opposite and slightly south of the Workers' Stadium east gate. Tickets for all trains from Beijing can also be booked free of charge at Beijing South Station (Beijing Nan Zhan; tel. 010/5186-7999) and at Beijing North Station (Beijing Bei Zhan, tel. 010/5186-6223), which is more conveniently located just north of the Xi Zhi Men metro station. Ordinary travel agents without computers on the railway system will usually also handle rail-ticket bookings. The fee per ticket should be no more than ¥20, including delivery to your hotel, although some agencies like to take foreign visitors for a ride in more than one sense. Ticket desks in hotels may charge up to ¥50 per ticket.

At Beijing Railway Station, the best place to pick up tickets is the "ticket office for foreigners" inside the soft-berth waiting room on the ground floor of the main hall, in the far-left corner (5:30am-11pm). Tickets for both versions of the Trans-Siberian, the Russian K19 via Manchuria (Sat 10:56pm) and the Chinese K3 via Mongolia (Wed 7:40am), must be purchased from the CITS international railway ticket office inside the International Hotel (tel. 010/6512-0507 or 6512-0507; Mon-Fri 8:30am-noon and 1:30-5pm, weekends 9am-noon and 1:30-4pm) 10 minutes' walk north of the station on Jianguo Men Nei Dajie (metro: Dong Dan). Both trains travel to Moscow for ¥2,512 soft sleeper, but only the K3 passes through Mongolia and stops in Ulaan Baatar for ¥845. There is a separate train, the K23, which goes to Ulaan Baatar (Sat 7:40am).

At the West Station, the best ticket outlet is not the main ticket hall but a second office inside the main building, on the second floor to the left of the elevators (signposted in English); this is also where you go to purchase tickets for the Q97 express to Kowloon/Jiulong (departs daily at noon; 25 hr.; ¥738 soft sleeper, ¥465 hard). The West Station is also the starting point for trains to Hanoi, but you have to buy tickets (departs at 4:08pm Thurs and Sun; 34 hr.; ¥2,204 soft sleeper only) at a China Railway Travel Service, 1st Floor, Building 20 of Tie Dong Compound, Bei Feng Wo Lu (tel. 010/5182-6541; 9am-4:30pm). The nearest airport shuttle stops at the Aviation Building in Xidan , reachable by bus no. 52 from the station's east side. The taxi rank is on the second floor.

Warning: Larger baggage is X-rayed at the entrances to most Chinese railway and bus stations. Keep film in your hand baggage.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.