When I made my plans to travel to Beijing I was delighted to hear about the subway system.  Having rode subways from the Boston T to England’s Underground I thought my transition to the Beijing subway would be seemless.  Boy was I wrong.  Learn from my mistakes, and your China Travel will be much easier than my first few days here.

The most empty I have ever seen Line 10

A very empty Line 10

The first thing two things I noticed when descending into the subway was how clean it was, despite the massive crowds.  Even the Metro in Washington DC does not compare to how clean the subways are in Beijing.  There is no graffiti, no dirt on the floor, no old gum, or any indication that the subway is used just as much as it is.  Coming from New York this was a quite a shock.

After admiring the cleanliness, it’s time to get on.  If you have any bags with you you’ll need to put them through an x-ray machine and then it’s time to board.  Each trip on the subway costs 2 RMB (a little more than a quarter $US).  To buy a refillable card you’ll need to put down a small deposit, but it is much easier than continually buying one way tickets which only work from the station you bought them from.  The ticket kiosks have an English option (tapping the touch screens with a card is more effective than using your fingers), and the workers in the booths are very friendly.  You’ll need to tap your card to enter the subway (like with a SmartLink Card on the NJ Path or an Oyster Card on the UK Underground) and again when you exit.  Be careful not to get on the airport express unless that’s where you’re heading, as that line costs 25 RMB.

Once you’re in the station you need to find your subway line.  All of the lines have arrows on the ground for where the train doors will open (some even have sliding glass doors).  The accepted practice is to wait on the sides, and let people exit from the middle of the door.  The subways are crowded (Even by New York Standards!)  If you’re traveling during rush hour be prepared to pack into the cars like a can of sardines.  If you’re here on vacation try to avoid the trains during this time.  Keep in mind that generally the Chinese workday goes until around 6PM.

Subway Map for Beijing

If you don't have a map feel free to print out this one!

All signs and station announcements are in both English and Chinese, so you should be able to find where you need to go.  Even so, a pocketsize map of the subways is worth its weight in gold, especially if you need to make multiple transfers.  With a few transfers you can move between any line in the city, which is a welcome change from the subways in New York which have left many a traveler stranded on the wrong side of Central Park.  Keep in mind that a lot of people will be getting on and off at transfer stations.

As your stop approaches work your way towards the door.  If, like me, you’re traveling with people of the, ahem, shorter variety (sorry Janna/Clair) be sure that they can weave through the sea of people with you and don’t get left behind on the train.  Also keep in mind which exit you need for your destination (there are usually 4) as most streets are difficult to cross or require walking over a bridge to cross.  Follow these tips and your subway adventures when you travel to Beijing will be a much smoother transition than when I first arrived.

Jack Li
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