A Traveler’s guide to the Beijing Subway

On June 13, 2012, in Beijing, Getting Around, Travel Info, by Jack Li

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 […]

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.

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Drifting on the Beijing Subway

On April 11, 2012, in Beijing, Getting Around, Tips & Ideas, Travel Info, by Jack Li

In every bigger city in the world there is a subway system and in general they are not that different from each other. But it still needs some getting used to, to find your way around. In most cases it’s a rather cheap, fast and easy way to get around town because it’s pretty much […]

In every bigger city in the world there is a subway system and in general they are not that different from each other. But it still needs some getting used to, to find your way around. In most cases it’s a rather cheap, fast and easy way to get around town because it’s pretty much independent of weather and traffic conditions. When you travel to Beijing you’ll see that the subway system is, unlike some other cities, quite modern, clean and easy to use. When you go on one of the Beijing tours you can experience travelling by bus and being on the road. Taking the subway offers different opportunities and another view of Beijing. If you haven’t travelled by subway you’ve missed one part of the Beijing experience.

One of the hardest parts might be getting the ticket because the machines are quite easy to use but there is no English version. All lines have different numbers and different colors, so if you know the name of your stop in Chinese characters it’s not difficult to use. On the top part of the touch screen you can find all lines, line 2 being the most important one, going in a circle around the center of the city. If you click on it the screen it will show you all stops of this line. By clicking on your stop it tells you the price and you can insert the money. To pay you can either use 1 ¥ coins or 5, 10 or 20 ¥ bills. But pay attention, some machines don’t give change so you have to insert the exact amount. If you don’t have any change or only 1 ¥ bills you can also get a ticket at the ticket booth.

The tickets are only valid for a short period of time after you buy them, so you shouldn’t buy more than you need exactly at that time. Another option instead of the single tickets is a rechargeable ticket card which you can also get at the ticket booth. You have to pay a 20 ¥ deposit for the card and then you can put the amount of money you need on it (10 ¥, 20 ¥, 30 ¥…). When exiting the subway the machine will show how much is left on your card.

One thing that might come unexpected is the security check before entering the gate and the number of police officers. Your bags will be scanned or for smaller handbags and during busy times you can present it opened to the officer. To enter the gate you need to hold your card against the machine to open the barrier.

Once you’re at the gate you just need to find the right direction but there are maps with all the stops in characters and English names. Usually the trains for one line are on one gate right opposite each other going to opposite directions. On the train you’ll find maps above all doors indicating all stops and the transfer lines. Those maps are in English and Chinese and so are the announcements for the next stop.

When you exit the subway you first need to decide which exit to take. There are up to four different ones, A, B, C and D, indicating the direction, e. g. south-west. If you take the wrong exit you might have to cross the road to get where you want, but in general the exits are not that far from each other. To get out you need your card again, if it’s a single trip card you need to insert it, the rechargeable cards only need to be swiped again at the barrier.

At rush hour times, for example on a Friday afternoon, it can happen that at the crowded stations in the center of the city one entrance is closed and only serves as an exit so you need to go to another entrance to get in. That way there is a one way system underground to bring some order into the crowded place. Not only in Beijing but also in other cities, if you travel to Shanghai or Xi’an for example, you’ll see how many people can actually fit into the subway trains. At busy times they are really packed with people and even if it looks full, you’ll still find a way to fit in.

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Dealing with Culture Shock in China: Part 2

On October 12, 2011, in Cultural Experience, Tips & Ideas, Travel Info, by Jack Li

After familiarising yourself with two of the prominent areas that are hugely different from your own country, this ‘Part 2′ will continue on to discuss other big differences you will discover once you step off your China flight. Travel to Beijing and Shanghai is generally easier than the smaller and less tourist friendly areas, however […]

After familiarising yourself with two of the prominent areas that are hugely different from your own country, this ‘Part 2′ will continue on to discuss other big differences you will discover once you step off your China flight. Travel to Beijing and Shanghai is generally easier than the smaller and less tourist friendly areas, however you will still experience the same culturally different things as many are the same across the country.

Shanghai is probably the most traveller friendly, being very international and tourist friendly. After this comes Beijing and other large cities, with rural and more unknown cities being the hardest of all – generally most of the general public won’t speak English or understand Pinyin at all.

 

One element of Chinese culture you are sure to find hard to get used to, particularly in big cities like Beijing, is the large population resulting in almost everywhere being busy and crowded. Nowhere is this more evident than on the subway, particularly during rush hour. This is a completely alien experience as tube carriages are packed full like sardines, often with subway guards cramming people in until the doors barely shut around them. Then for the duration of the journey you are wedged in, with no sense of personal space!

It is quite interesting to watch the chaos as people try to make it on and off the subway without losing shoes, handbags or dropping something. However, once you become familiar with the protocol it is fairly simple, just be sure to get as close to the doors as possible when you wish to alight, and as far away when you wish to remain in the carriage! Another thing to be aware of (although it is changing) is queues aren’t particularly commonplace in China, and although initially there may be a queue formed, as soon as the carriage doors are open it is every man for himself.

 

The sense of hustle and bustle is not only limited to the Subway. In general the traffic on the roads is just as hectic as the Subway lines and attempting to cross the road can at first be very intimidating as cars, buses, rickshaws and motorbikes will not stop or move around you. The best thing to do is follow some locals the first few times and before long you will be weaving in and out of the traffic confidently. One thing to know is the Chinese love to toot their horns, which generally makes you freeze on the spot convinced they are going to hit you, but usually those hooting are infact nowhere near or heading in a completely different direction to you, so just keep moving!

You will get used to the constant noise, whether it be from the roads, the locals talking at maximum volume or the lullaby constantly being blown out of McDonald’s speakers. It is quite exhilarating to experience and sometimes it is great fun to just step back and watch the madness.

 

If you are a bit intimidated by the idea of navigating China by yourself, look into a China tour or multi city tour for a milder introduction to China.

Beijing Train system

On October 20, 2010, in Beijing, Cultural Experience, Getting Around, Transportation, by Jack Li

Taking a trip on the subway is a must for anyone who wants to experience real Beijing, It’s very easy to navigate with signs and online announcements in English and Chinese. Also onboard some of the newer modern trains there are LED displays which indicate the current position or the train. I would suggest for […]

Taking a trip on the subway is a must for anyone who wants to experience real Beijing, It’s very easy to navigate with signs and online announcements in English and Chinese. Also onboard some of the newer modern trains there are LED displays which indicate the current position or the train. I would suggest for those people who want to avoid getting squashed or the claustrophobic among you to avoid rush hour as this is the busiest time on the subway and when I say busy I mean it you cannot move and its really hot!  I think Chinese people missed the memo about personal-space!

The subway Train

The subway system is the oldest and busiest subway in mainland China, however it has recently undergone a major revamp and extension mainly thanks to the olympics. There are currently 11 lines in operation with 100 stations servicing 5 million people daily. The extension work is still ongoing estimated completion 2015, the planned work will allow a whopping 3million more people to get the train and will be 561 km of track making it bigger than most other major cities including London and New York. On April 30, 2010, the subway delivered a record 6.4 million rides making it the busiest of its kind.

The subway is very cheap at a flat far rate of only 2.00RMB regaurdless of where you go or how many changes are made. Apart from the newly installed airport Express which costs 25 RMB one way, children below 1.2m in height ride for free when accompanied by a paying adult. If you are staying in Beijing for a long period I would suggest to get a top up card for the subway. This card will make it easier and quicker to multiple trips. It is 20 RMB deposit which is refundable plus whatever amount you want to top up the card with. This can be very useful as sometimes during rush hour the line to get tickets can be up to an hour long.

Waiting for the train

The subway is very reliable and can be very useful when in a hurry especially at rush hour, it beats getting on the road and can be much faster than a taxi. Keep in mind the subway is generally closed after midnight, unless some special occasion prompts extended operating hours.The first trains depart terminals at around 5 am and the last leave at around 11 pm on some lines this can be as early as 10.30pm. For precise hours and frequency of service, check the official schedule.

The Beijing Subway system is also a great for anyone who is on a budget and wants to do some cheap sight seeing as it does connect some of the major tourist destinations such as Tiananmen Square/Forbidden City, Wangfujing, the Lama Temple,  the main train station and the Olympic Park.

Beijing subway map


Beijing’s subway lines generally follow the checkerboard layout of the city. Most lines run parallel or perpendicular to each other and intersect at right angles

If this account has inspired you to want to travel Beijing but don’t know where to start for some great low cost travel idea’s go to China Tours. Or if you need advice on hotels go to China Hotels

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