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Asia > China > Useful Info
Updated on Aug 23, 2018 Useful Info

How to buy tickets for China's High Speed Railway (HSR)

  • You can buy it online or in person from any train station, but speaking from personal experience the best way is to buy it at the train station in person
  • Reason is that unlike a typical flight ticket, where you just need to show some sort of ID, for the Chinese HSR you still need to possess the physical ticket
  • The big hassle with buying online is that the process to get the physical ticket is not easy (I'm speaking from experience - I bought it online once before from the Ctrip, the biggest travel portal in China)
  • Basically if you buy it online, you have two options to get the ticket: 1 is to have it delivered to your address, and 2 is to meet a dude at the train station a little bit before your train departure to get the ticket. I went with option 2 and it was so hard to find the spot where I was supposed to meet the guy. I ended up missing my train because I couldn't get my ticket in time.
  • I suppose if you have a lot of time and if you live in a big hotel, you can try to get the ticket delivered. Still a lot of friction in my opinion
  • Tip: Any train station in China can sell you tickets anywhere in the network, meaning it doesn't have to depart from the city you happen to be in. And you can buy tickets up to 30 days before your trip. So if you know you're going to take a bunch of trips, just buy it all as soon as you get to China. Unless you're in China in February/March around Chinese New Year or if there's a big weather event causing lots of flight cancellations, you almost never have to worry about any route selling out on the HSR
  • How to buy HSR ticket at the train station:
  1. Before you go to the train station, use Ctrip (recently rebranded to Trip.com) to look up 1 - departure station, 2 - departure time, 3 - train number and 4 - ticket price of the train you want to take (don't bother with the official site it's useless). The site is super easy to use and has English version.User submitted photo of ChinaA couple of tips:
  2. There are usually multiple train stations in Chinese cities, it's very important to go to the specific station specified (e.g. Beijing Station =/= Beijing South Station)
  3. HSR trains all have train numbers starting with the letter "G" (e.g. G154). If you see any other letter, it's not HSR. G stands for "Gao" which means high (as in high speed) in Chinese
  4. If you don't speak Mandarin, write down something like Shanghai -> Beijing | 2018-08-23 | G154 | 2nd Class on a piece of paper or on your phone. Just copy this information from the Ctrip site. You can show this at the ticket counter later for a smoother ticket purchase experience
  5. Go to the specified train station 1.5-2 hours before departure. Follow signs (will be in English) for the ticket counter. Go to a human counter and don't go to any machines they're for people with local Chinese IDs only. Have your passport ready
  6. At the counter, tell the cashier the destination city, date, train number, and class of ticket. Or, just show them what you wrote down earlier on paper or phone. Give them cash and passport
  7. That's it. They'll give you the credit-card-sized paper ticket that looks like this:User submitted photo of China
  • A note about lining up in China:
  • China is pretty infamous for people jumping in line. From my experience this still happens frequently
  • In the four 1st-tier cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou - this will be relatively better (especially Shenzhen; when I went last year lining up was almost at developed country level). You'll still see line jumpers but only a handful. In smaller cities lines can be very messy
  • What you need to do: if there's a semblance of a line, just go to the end of it. Keep a tight distance between you and the person in front of you (just watch how close others are lining up). When it's your turn at the counter, if there are people who's trying to cut you off, just aggressively push their hand out of the way and quickly give all your stuff (cash, passport, etc.) to the cashier. Don't be afraid of being aggressive and little rude. Just pretend you're going up to the bar at a busy nightclub on a Friday night