Traveling Around China as a Foreigner

Programs for this blog post

Teach In China Program

Authored By:

Mariah H.

Traveling around China can be intimidating at first. There are so many people, over 30 million people in the Chongqing municipality alone, a stifling language barrier, and more traffic than you can imagine. Despite all that, getting around has been fairly easy. In the city you can walk, take the bus, a taxi or the subway. To travel around the country most people take the train (regular or high speed) or planes. There’s an option for everyone and every budget. I’ve learned that as long as you plan ahead, give yourself extra time to get to your destination, and have a fully charged phone, you’ll be just fine.

To get around I mostly walk. Thankfully, Shapingba is a very walkable area. I can walk to my destination about 80% of the time. I’m about a 10-15 minute walk from the school and have a grocery store and gym on the way. I can find shopping and fast food restaurants just a little further out. When I can’t walk I almost always opt for the subway. One of the great things about China, at least in the developed cities (often referred to as tier 1 cities), is the widespread and advanced transportation systems. The subways in China are surprisingly clean and organized. The ticket machines have an English interface option. Just look up your destination on your phone beforehand and pick your station on the ticket machine – super easy! Plus, there are maps and announcements in English along the way. Busses are also easy to follow along with on your phone. I haven’t seen any English on the busses or bus maps, but had no trouble getting to my destination using my Maps app. In addition to the easiness factor, public transportation is dirt cheap. Most metro and bus fares are less than 4 Yuan (less than 60 cents)! Lastly, you can take taxis, however I avoid them. And you should too if you get motion sick, or value your life. The taxi drivers drive like it’s the end of the world and your destination is the only safe space left. I’m still not sure if there are traffic laws here. It’s also difficult to communicate where you need to go if it’s not a well-known location like the airport or train station. Aside from being a more expensive and less environmental option, taxi drivers will often turn you down or drive past you if you look like a foreigner.

Traveling within Chongqing has been pretty pain free. However, traveling outside of the city is a bit more tricky. I’ve taken a few weekend trips while in China all using the high speed trains. The train system can be intimidating on your own. Thankfully, my first couple trips were put on by my school. My coworkers were able to show me the ropes and now I have no problem planning and executing my trips! I 100% recommend the bullet trains around China. They’re affordable, fast and comfortable. Planes are a little more expensive and also add to the travel time. In my experience, airports tend to be farther out of the city center and security takes much longer. Although, sometimes a plane is the best option. Even with the high speed trains it would be a 12 hour ride to Beijing , which puts into perspective how large China is.

There is so much to see in China! In my backyard and in the sprawling cities and countrysides. Traveling around China takes some adjusting, but it is totally worth it!