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How to Travel in China — Plane VS Bullet Train

Chinese Bullet TrainChinese Bullet Train

In the past 30 years, airplanes have always been the fastest form of intercity transportation in China.

Traditional trains were the second choice when traveling in China because of the cheap fares and large capacity of each train. However, the situation started to change a decade ago.

With the rapid development of China's high-speed railway technology, the bullet train has changed the popularity of train travel. It doesn't have the disadvantages of slow speed and uncomfortable seats that traditional trains do.

China Plane and Bullet Train Comparison

Here we compare airplanes and bullet trains for efficiency, comfort, travel experience, and price, to help you choose the most suitable intercity transportation for your China journeys.

1. Efficiency

  Airplane Bullet Train Explanation
Location (Distance from Downtown Areas) Airports are outside the city Stations are downtown or in the city Airports are usually in the suburbs, maybe an hour from the city center, while bullet train stations are generally less than a ½-hour drive.
Punctuality Sometimes delayed Rarely delayed Flights are affected by bad weather and air traffic control, while bullet trains are usually not.
Speed Around 500 kph Around 300 kph N/A
Transfer Efficiency Low High During flight transfers, baggage and safety checks are carried out again, but not for bullet trains.
Check-In Wait Long Short Flight check-ins stop 45 minutes before departure, while for bullet train check-ins stop 5 minutes before the train departs.

2. Comfort

  Airplane Bullet Train Explanation
Seats Narrow Spacious A second class seat on a bullet train is more spacious than an economy seat on an airplane.
Crowding (Onboard) Uncrowded Sometimes crowded Everyone has a seat during a flight. Bullet trains have standing tickets in second class car, but not in first class cars or above.
Meals Included Not included, but available Bullet trains tickets don't include meals. Food can be bought from dining cars or food trolleys (no Western food is available).
Restrooms Clean Clean The restrooms in both forms of transportation are communal, but well-maintained.

3. Travel Experience

  Airplane Bullet Train Explanation
View Bad Good On an airplane, you can usually only see clouds; on bullet trains you can enjoy China's beautiful scenery and interesting sights.
English Service Yes No English is used in airports and planes. Bullet trains have station announcements in English, but there are no English-speaking staff.
Baggage Policy Strict Less strict Bullet trains have no baggage weight restrictions, and some items can be taken on board, that cannot be carried on flights, such as liquids.
Disabled Access Complete Incomplete Passengers with mobility problems are advised to take flights.
Internet Yes Yes From January 2018, China planes have allowed smartphone use during flights (no Wi-Fi). Bullet trains have Wi-Fi and allow phone data reception (when not in tunnels etc.).


  Airplane Bullet Train Explanation
Fares Expensive Less Expensive For short distances, flights are more expensive than bullet trains.
Discounts Often Never Bullet trains, therefore, may be more expensive than flights for long distances.

How to Choose Between Planes and Trains

If, after the comparison above, you still don't know how to choose your China transport, we have provided some tips for you below.

Choose Based on Your Itinerary

Beijing Capital International AirportBeijing Capital International Airport
  • A bullet train is recommended for traveling short distances while flights are better for long-distance travel. Bullet train trips that are below 5 hours are recommended.
  • Flights are greatly affected by bad weather, so it is recommended to travel on bullet trains during the rainy season (in south China from late spring to early fall).
  • If your trip to China includes three cities or more, we suggest youchoose one or two shorter train journeys and make the rest by air. This will not only give you a special China bullet train experience, but may also save money and time.

Specific Journey Recommendations

Hangzhoudong Railway StationHangzhoudong Railway Station

Below are some recommended transportation choices for common China tour plans.

For the most popular two China tour plans, Beijing–Xi'an–Shanghai and Beijing–Xi'an–Guilin–Shanghai, we recommend you use a bullet train from Beijing to Xi'an, then use flights for the other cities.

We also recommend you use bullet trains between these cities, as many bullet trains depart from these cities every day and the journeys are not very long:

  Journey Time Trains/Day
Xi'an–Chengdu 3–4½ hours 36
Chengdu–Guiyang 3½–5 hours 20
Chengdu–Chongqing 1½–2½ hours 73
Chongqing–Guilin 4½–5½ hours 22
Shanghai–Suzhou ½–1 hour 181
Shanghai–Hangzhou 1–2 hours 131

Travel China with Us for the Best Transportation Plan

Here are our most popular tour plans, linking top China cities with comfortable transportation. We hope they provide inspiration for your China trip:

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