Even those who have never visited China are probably aware of two things in particular about the country. It’s huge, and there are a lot of people. If there’s one thing China needs, it’s good transport infrastructure. Fortunately, that’s exactly what China has. Once you’ve settled into your new life teaching English in China, you’re going to want to explore a little. Whether this means nationwide travel or checking out your own city, China’s extensive transport network means there will always be a way. From the traditional to the über-modern, here are the main modes of transport you can expect to take during your time as a teacher in China.
Nationwide transport in China
One of the many benefits of living in China is the ability to explore the country during your time off. In a country so large, you’ll never be short of new places to see. Your options for travelling between cities in China are split between planes, trains, and automobiles, and the one you end up taking will usually depend on how far you’re going. For journeys between major cities, the bullet train is hard to beat. With a top speed of around 200 miles per hour, it only takes 5 hours to make the 820-mile trip from Beijing to Shanghai, and seats can be had for 555 RMB ($1,100). If you factor in the time it takes to reach out-of-town airports, check-in and pass through security, high-speed train journeys in China can be quicker than flights. The country already boasts the longest high-speed rail network in the world, and it will continue to expand over the coming years. However, should your destination not yet be included in the network, there is still the option of the older, slower trains. At 327 RMB, a bed on a sleeper train is even cheaper than a seat on the bullet train, and overnight train journeys in China are an experience all in themselves. Internal flights can also be found at prices not too dissimilar to those of the trains, thanks to the growing number of low-cost Chinese airlines. Found online through the usual comparison websites, they’re arguably easier for newcomers to China to organise for themselves than trains. For short intercity trips, which in China can mean anything up to a 3 or 4-hour daytime drive, buses are a cheaper option yet. You can expect to pay between 20 – 50 RMB depending on the journey, although it will take you longer to arrive than most other options. Overnight buses with lay-flat beds are also popular for longer journeys, although it should be noted the beds were designed for the average Chinese person’s height, and not the average Westerner’s.
Local transport in China
If there’s one thing you should understand about Chinese cities before you arrive in the country, it’s that they’re big. Probably bigger than you’re used to, and probably bigger than you imagine. However, whichever city becomes your home while you’re teaching English in China, you’re going to want to get out and explore it. Again, the Chinese transport infrastructure makes this easy. Underground rail systems can be found in over 20 cities, with several more in the planning or construction stages. Shanghai boasts the longest subway network in the world, and it represents great value when getting around the city. Even riding from one end to the other, the most you will pay is 7 RMB. Although they can get very crowded at peak hours, the subways in China are cheap, efficient, and very simple for even newcomers to use. Local buses run in all Chinese cities too, although these are less foreigner-friendly than the metro. While subway maps are written in English as well as Chinese, bus timetables are not. This means you’ll either need to know in advance where to get off, or be able to read Chinese. It also makes buses the most authentic mode of city transport in China. While you won’t be the only foreigner on the subway, you almost certainly will be on the local bus. Any city bus ride will most likely set you back 1 or 2 RMB. Hailing a taxi from the roadside in China can be hit and miss; especially when competing with a number of experienced locals, and doubly so should it be raining. You’ll pay for the privilege too, in relative terms. Taxi journeys in Shanghai begin at 14 RMB and rise with each passing mile. Although the most expensive city transport in China, they’ll undoubtedly be cheaper than anything back home. Uber does operate in certain Chinese cities, although the country does predictably have its own version too in Di Di Da Che. The adoption of taxi-hailing apps demonstrates how transport in China is kept just as current as in your own country. In some cases, such as the ever-expanding bullet train network, it’s actually more advanced. There is, of course, one final mode of real Chinese transport we couldn’t leave out. And it’s arguably the most enjoyable.
When you come to China to teach English, you’ll probably want to experience life like the locals. If you want to travel like hundreds of millions of them too, we recommend getting on your bike.