Trains make one of the most convenient and quick ways to travel anywhere, especially in China. The great thing about China is that, even though it’s the third or fourth largest country in the world by area, everything is connected by train. If you want to get between cities, take the train!
Overview of Trains in Beijing and Tianjin
Trains are relatively complex when you’re a newbie. There are a lot of different types, and big cities have several stations. Beijing alone has 4 major stations (Beijing Station, Beijing North, South, and West); Tianjin has 3 (Tianjin Station, Tianjin West, and South). The good thing is trains to cities almost always leave from a single station, but that means you need to know which one to go to.
The best way to make sure is to use a website like Rome2Rio.com that can tell you how to get from any city in the world to any other city in the world. If you are already in China, you can use WeChat, Alipay, JD, CTrip, etc. to search. The problem with these Chinese tools is they sometimes can’t work outside China – its ironic reverse firewall. However, the Chinese platforms will also tell you the times and how many tickets of each class (regular seating, upgraded seating, etc.) are left.
The trip between Beijing and Tianjin should take no longer than 40 minutes on typical high speed rail.
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Getting to and from the Train Station
In Beijing, you should go to the Beijing South Railway Station. While some trains from other stations go to Tianjin, you are better off going to the South Station. The trains from the South Station leave at intervals of approximately one per 15 minutes, which means you won’t have any trouble getting on one. You can wait until arriving to the train station to buy your ticket, and if you miss one you won’t have to wait hours for the next. If you take the subway, the Beijing south Railway Station on the subway is at the intersection of Line 14 and the Daxing Line.
In Tianjin, you can go to Tianjin Station. It’s much bigger than either of the others, and has a similar train schedule to Beijing South. I went around 5 pm, and had to wait around 40 minutes, but that’s definitely not a bad wait. It’s at the intersection of three different subway lines, but chances are the bus system or bike will be more useful for you.
All the buses leave from the same place. I took the 824 from downtown to the Yangliuqing suburbs for the Shi Family Courtyard and New Year’s Painting Studio, and on the return it brought me directly to Tianjin Station. A good portion of the buses around town go through the Tianjin Station bus stop.
For most train tickets, you can buy them online. If you decide to buy tickets at the station, it’s a bit of a navigation process. I chose to do it this way because I was going on my first train ride in China! There are a ton of options, but you just have to make sure you exchange your e-ticket confirmation for a physical ticket. They check it at the gate.
In both train stations, they have automatic ticket vending machines. Unfortunately, they require you to scan your Chinese ID, so unless you’re a mainland Chinese citizen, you’re out of luck. You will have to go to the desk to get a ticket.
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Beijing South Railway Station
In Beijing, the machines are pre-security check. The ticket booths are post-security check. Weird, I agree. If you go by subway, you should go through security, then up to the ticket booth and waiting areas. The station only takes Alipay for phone payment (not Apple Pay, WeChat Pay, etc.) and cash, so be prepared!
Once you buy your ticket, you should be able to take a seat at the waiting area. If it’s not a holiday, though, chances are you might be able to walk directly to your “boarding gate” and step onto the train!
Tianjin Train Station
If you buy your tickets on arrival, you will have to get one before you go through security. When I got off the bus, I was confused because I saw this giant set of escalators that looked like the entrance to the train station:
But be aware that this is, in fact, not the right place. You will only see signs for the exit. The train station is the building in front of you, but the entrances and signs are at the front. That’s the most confusing part.
You will also see that the ticket booth entrances is different from the train entrance. On the left, you can enter, go through some basic security, and buy your ticket. That’s the only thing you can do there. Then, you will have to go out of that section of the train station and into the waiting area. Unlike in Beijing South, my ticket and ID was checked before I could enter this waiting area.
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How to Read Your Ticket
It may seem a bit intimidating, because everything is in Chinese. However, you should be able to parse out all the relevant information even if you don’t read the characters. I’ve labeled the important parts of a ticket below:
Waiting in the Station
If you have some time to kill, you basically have two options: using your phone or eating something.
Beijing South Station
Most of the food options are outside the security check, so you would have to go out again after you buy your ticket, if you go into the post-check area to buy it. On any typical day, the waiting area is pretty crowded, but I didn’t have to wait at all after buying my ticket to board the train. I went basically directly from the ticket booth to the check in counter. If you’re stuck waiting, you should be able to connect to the free Wi-Fi in the station. Just remember that free Wi-Fi always requires you to “verify” your identity, either by providing a Chinese phone number and receiving a verification code via text or by logging into the system via your WeChat account.
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In Tianjin, the situation is pretty different. Because they check your ticket before letting you enter the waiting area, they have many more food options inside. The only problem is that the options are typically 50% more expensive than it would be in the general public. For example, the McDonald’s sells meals that are ¥20 normally, but they cost ¥30-35 in the train station. Plan accordingly.
The nice thing is that the station also has plenty of charging stations like this one. You will have to stand near your phone (or whatever you’re charging), but it’s better than nothing.
[Recommended Read: Tianjin’s Yangliuqing New Year’s Painting Studio]
Then, you’ll be able to board!
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On the Train
On the train, you should just relax! The whole ride shouldn’t take more than 40 minutes, and you won’t have too many options either. The trains will leave exactly at the time they promise so make sure you’re on the train before then. Otherwise, there is one car (usually #4) that is the designated “meal car”. It has a little store on one side that sells all kinds of foods and snacks, and is typically the one with hot water. You don’t necessarily want to sit in that car, though, because the seats face each other in pairs of six around a table.
Most of the time, unless you specify otherwise, you will be sold a regular/economy seat for ¥54.5. The seats look like this:
During the trip, the stewardesses may come through the aisle with various products and snacks on a cart for sale. When I was there, they even had one lady selling bags of candy the way you would see at a street market. The most useful items they sell, though, are subway cards for the destination city. I don’t know if they do this for all trains, but for both the trains between Tianjin and Beijing, they had them for sale. This is a good option if you know you will take the subway and would rather not have to wait and buy them at the subway station after you get off.
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