Exploring China after Arrival – Easier than You might Think

So, you’ve arrived in China, and you’re hoping the airport you’ve landed at won’t be the last you visit in the country. You’ve still orientation to get through, and an apartment to secure, followed by settling in at your office, but, after all that’s out of the way, you might be excited to get some travelling done. If you’re anything like me, this may have been one of the main incentives for finding a teaching job abroad. If you’re even more like me, then you might initially find the size of China to be quite daunting, for it is a large place. After making it through your first month, and when planning your first trip, you’ll find the country shrinks somewhat, far more accessible than you first imagined.

Travelling around China in the 21st century is easily done, thanks to a well-integrated high-speed rail system, countless domestic airport options, and long-distance bus stations in each city. This is a country always aiming to decrease distances, and its transportation network is constantly being upgraded, with slower train routes quickly being converted to high-speed alternatives on a seemingly weekly basis. A few years ago, a cross-country train from Shenzhen to Shanghai may have taken just under a full day, but now you can travel between these two key hubs in just over eleven hours. To put things into perspective, this is only double the time it takes to travel between London and Edinburgh. Cruising at a comfortable 300km/h, the expanse of China becomes slightly less expansive.


Travel can still prove a headache though, especially during busy public holidays, for which you have to be proactive when it comes to purchasing. Outside of these busy windows, things are much easier. Tickets for the majority of journeys can be bought thirty days in advance of travel via several apps, such as 铁路12306, or reserved earlier by local citizens, while the option to purchase in person at stations is always available. In smaller cities, and for less-common routes, you can normally reserve a few days in advance, or buy tickets on the day of travel. The process of moving from city to city is made easier by the implementation of technology throughout your journey, the country recently having moved towards paperless ticketing at all major transport hubs. Whether you’re a fan of large cities or want to find somewhere off the map and quieter, chances are that reaching your destination shouldn’t prove too difficult, as long as you plan accordingly.

It’s safe to say that China has something for every kind of traveller. If you like hiking, there are picturesque mountains. If you like bustling metropolises, there are hundreds. If you prefer quiet and traditional villages, they still exist. Coastal cities and beach resorts? Check. Weekend forest retreats? Also check. It’s possible to taste a few of these flavours during a longer trip but making the most of your weekly days-off can also allow for frequent overnight excursions if you’re willing to wake up early to travel. Regardless of where you’re based in the country, there’s bound to be places nearby worth visiting. You’ll likely have surplus salary monthly, and if you are sensible about your time and holiday allocation then you can travel both frequently and extensively.

In your first year with EF you’ll be given annual leave that does not include national public holidays such as Golden Week and Spring Festival, which provides a few opportunities for longer trips. In my first year with the company, I was able to take three week-long trips, plus have several overnight stays in nearby cities. I made use of trains, planes and buses with relative ease. When visiting nationally recognised sites in slightly out-of-the-way places, such as Enshi’s Mufu Grand Canyon, I found several small shuttles running tourists out to the scenic area every fifteen minutes from the main bus station. Likewise, in Xi’an, a bus from the east train station took me straight to the site of The Terracotta Army within an hour. When visiting Zhangjiajie to see Tianmen Mountain, the countries longest cable car line ran me straight to the main sightseeing spot on the mountain’s peak. You’ll find that each of China’s notable tourist attractions are very accessible, and this goes for the famous mountains also, which were a main draw for this particular hiker. A central hub at the base of each will constantly run buses up to higher altitudes, while cable cars will lessen the strain on your knees when the roads run out (walking is of course an option also). Be prepared for crowds at 1600 feet, and stay overnight for the sunrises if you’re able.

Often, finding these somewhat remote national landmarks and exploring them is simply a matter of reaching the nearest town or city, and then selecting a slightly smaller and slower form of transport to reach the place you’d like to see. Taxis are always on hand, as an alternative, and can be booked in advance or spontaneously via a range of apps such as Didi and CaoCao in modern cities. Drivers are unlikely to speak English though, so it’s important to have translations on hand. On arrival to new cities, shuttles running from most airports and train stations can help you reach your downtown hotel without trouble, and it’s likely these airports or stations will be on a subway line (in most top tier cities). Even if unable to speak the local language, you can usually get by with common sense, or find English-speaking assistants in major cities. To be on the safe side, download offline maps in remote places, and be prepared when first arriving anywhere. The vast majority of the time, locals will approach and enquire as to whether you need guidance, should you look a little bit lost. Likewise, staff in hotels and hotels will be more than happy to help you navigate around a new city, suggesting spots TripAdvisor may not account for. Some hotels will only accept national citizens, but this very rarely leaves you short on options, and cheaper, open-door international hostels can be excellent places to meet fellow travellers.

In short, navigating China’s sprawling landscape is not the obstacle it might look like from afar. Highly integrated, now more than ever, and becoming more so, it is simply a case of choosing where you want to go, doing some research, and then going. Along the way, you’re likely to meet colourful and friendly locals, see some truly beautiful sights, and make memories that last. As somebody who has moved to China to travel, the country delivers everything I want, and makes it all feel pleasantly local, despite the on-paper distance.


Post by: Craig Barker


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