GETTING AROUND IN CHINESE CITIES
Chinese city streets are dominated by a chaotic mix of cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicycles, motorscooters, buses and other various kinds of motorized and non-motorized small vehicles. The number of cars and trucks is increasing everyday and some cities are already choking in exhaust fumes and traffic jams.
The cities are big. It is usually hard to get around only by walking. Taxis are relatively cheap. Mass transit is good but the routes are difficult to sort for first time users. A total of 36 cities in China either have or are constructing rail-based public transport systems. Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou already have fairly extensive subways that are rapidly being expanded.
Chinese cities are very confusing. Most small streets have no name; addresses refer to a series of concentric areas; and streets are sometimes numbered according to when they were built rather than their location in an area. Taxi drivers respond to landmarks not street numbers. Before setting out anywhere it is a good idea to have detailed directions and a good map in English and Chinese with your destination marked on it. Some stores and restaurants can fax a map with their location on it to your hotel if you call them in advance.
People should avoid taking the trains, subways and buses during rush hour between 7:30am and 9:30am and 5:00pm to 7:00pm when they can be very crowded. If you get stuck on rush hour train try to position yourself near, but not too close, to the door so you can get out when you reach your stop.
Taxi crash in Dalian
Taxis are relatively plentiful and cheap in most Chinese cities, large towns and tourist centers. In Beijing they are usually red and some are driven by women. Some taxis have meters and some don't. If there isn't a meter or the meter isn't working make sure to agree on the fare upon before setting off.
In Beijing there are basically three price categories: 1.2 yuan per kilometer; 1.6 yuan per kilometer; and 2.0 yuan per kilometer, with the flagfall rate of is 10 yuan (about US$1.20) covering the first four kilometers. The cheaper taxis are smaller and more cramped. The more expensive ones are larger and more comfortable. A red sticker on the window states the price per kilometer.
Taxis can be hailed from the streets, caught at a station or taxi stand, or arranged for you by your hotel (there is often a charge for this). Fares go up at night, generally around 11:00pm, but they don’t go up by that much. There is sometimes an additional charge for luggage. Tipping is not usually practiced but appreciated. Taxi drivers in Beijing almost never have maps and their trunks are often filled with buckets and other items, making it difficult to find space for one’s baggage.
Most drivers don't speak English and addresses in China are different from those in the West. Therefore make sure you have an address and the name of a nearby landmark near where you are going written in Chinese. It also helps to point out on an English-Chinese map where you are going.
Buses are the workhorse of the Chinese urban mass transit system. They are cheap and fairly frequent but most of the routes are difficult to figure out if you not familiar with the system. The bus numbers and destinations are marked on the front, side and back of the bus. The signs are written in Chinese so make sure you known the number of the bus you want.
The bus systems vary somewhat from city to city. In most places, you get on the bus and tell the ticket-collector---not the driver---your destination and pay a fare that is set according to distance. If your spoken Chinese is not so good write down your destination or show it on an English-Chinese map. The ticket-collector usually signals foreigners when it is time for them to get off.
Local buses are crowded and you often have to stand. Seats are usually deferred to people over 60 and women with babies. Picketpockets and razor blade thieves sometimes operates on crowded buses. Remember that buses stop running pretty early: around 8:30 or 9:00pm in towns and small cities and somewhat later in larger cities.
Minibuses operate on regular routes like normal buses in many Chinese cities and towns. They are crowded and cheap. Drivers pick up and drop off passengers anywhere along the route.
Subways and light rail systems are found in a number of cities: The Beijing and Shanghai subways are fairly extensive and crowded. The ones is Tianjin and Guangzhou small, crowded and losing money. The subways generally operate between 5:30am and 10:30pm. The signs are written in Chinese and Pinyin (Chinese in the Roman alphabet). Tickets are slips of paper purchased from a ticket office and given to a conductor at the platform. It is a good idea to buy several tickets to avoid lines. The tickets are not dated and you can use them any time you want. Trams can be found in some Chinese cities
Pedicabs are three-wheeled non-motorized vehicles ridden by a driver in the front. They are cheap and are more likely to be found in greater numbers in small cities than large ones. Their seats are usually large enough to fit two Chinese passengers comfortably but are a tight fit for some Westerners.
A ride on a pedicab should cost less than a dollar. They are slow, fun and unique way to get around, but pedicab drivers have a bad reputation, and for this reason they are best avoided. They badger travelers and try to charge them 10 times the agreed-upon fair once they arrive at the destination. If you do take one, make sure to set the price before setting off and make sure it is clear what the price is (write it down). Avoid pedicabs in which the driver's brother comes along. The "brother" is often a thug whose job is to get you pay the rip-off fare.
Motorized Tricabs are three-wheeled vehicles that come in various forms and operate like pedicabs or taxis. Some are motorcycles with a small compartment attached to the rear end or side. They are cheap and service short rides. The drivers are generally more honest and straight-forward than pedicab drivers.
Motorcycle and Motorscooters Taxis are probably the fastest way to get around China's cities. They are cheap but scary. Bicycles can be rented for one or two dollars a day in many places. The old-style Chinese bicycles are heavy and have only one speed, but are fairly strong. Mountain bikes can be rented in some places but sometimes they are less strong than traditional bicycles. Make sure the seat is high enough and the bike is in good working order before setting off. If you get a flat tire or have trouble with the bike there are numerous roadside repair shops that will fix the problem for a small fee. Pony Carts and/or horse carts are still used in some places. Boats can be hired to tour the canals and waterways in some cities.
GETTING AROUND IN CHINA BETWEEN CITIES
Most people in China travel over long distances by train or bus. China has a very good rail system so whenever possible travel by train. most part. Most major destinations are serviced by plane. The safety record of Chinese airlines is better than it used to be. Roads and road transportation vary a great deal in comfort and quality from place to place but overall are not so bad and are rapidly improving. Buses and trains that carry large numbers of foreign tourists are generally much better than those that carry mostly local people.
Most local people do their local and long distance traveling by bus or train. Sometimes it seems that the they take all their worldly possessions with them. The aisles are often filled with bundles, baskets of produce, and people standing or sitting on little stools. When the buses and trains stop passengers are assaulted by women and children vendors selling snacks and drinks, who walk down the aisles of the trains or hawk their products outside the windows. of the carriages.
GETTING AROUND IN CHINA BY AIR
Airlines ( China Highlights ): In the late 1990s and early 2000s, airlines in China were consolidated and deregulated to make the industry more efficient and competitive. Still the Chinese airline industry remains fragmented. There are more than a couple dozen different airlines operating in China. The small airlines generally operate a few routes in a particular region of China. Their tickets tend to be cheaper than those offered by the main airlines but the planes more are often major airline hand-me-downs, which means they are more likely to be delayed and have other problems.
Air China Air China , China Eastern Airlines Fly China Eastern , and China Southern Airlines Fly China Southern ) are the main airlines in China. Air China is China’s largest international carrier and unofficial flag carrier. Based in Beijing and formally known as CAAC, it has long been the butt of aviation jokes about surly flight attendants, uncomfortable seats, horrible food and scary landings.
China Southern Airlines is the largest Chinese airline in terms of fleet size. Based in Guangzhou, it purchased China Southern Airlines Northern and Xinjiang Airlines in November 2004 for US$230 million. This increased its fleet size from 139 plane to 214. China Eastern Airlines is based in Shanghai and is the dominant carrier there. Poorly run and badly in debt in 2007, it flies to more 130 domestic routes. Shenzhen Airlines Shenzhen Air operates 100 routes in China and Asia.
Among the smaller and newer airlines are China Southwest Airlines,Xiamen Airlines, Hainan Airlines gloval.hnair , and Sichuan Airlines. Yunnan-based Kunming Airlines began operating in 2009. Hebei-based Dazhong Airlines received permission to begin operating in 2005wasn’t operating as 2009. China approved the formation of privately-owned carries in 2004. There is now some discussion of creating a low-fare carrier. Okay Airlines is China’s first private operator. Shanghai Airlines Shanghai Air is a privately-owned low-cost carrier. It has joined with low-cost carrier AirAsia to offer destinations in Southeast Asia, using Xiamen in southern China as a hub. In 2006, Shanghai Airlines announced it would join the Star Alliance. In July 2011, a new airlines, Tibet Airlines, was launched for the Tibetan region. The airline will initially serve the growing number of airports in Tibet but will eventually faly all over China and service some destinations in Asia.
Air Service: The majority of flights in China originate in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Most of these flights are on small Boeing or Airbus planes. Some are small Russian jets or turbo-props. A one way flight from Beijing to Shanghai is about US$100, from Beijing to Guangzhou it is about US$150. An increased number of planes, deregulation and increased competition has caused domestic air fares to fall.
Long delays, mob-scene lines, and strained tempers are all part of air travel in China. One study in 2004 found that two of every three flights within China doesn’t take off on time. Delays are especially common on crowded routes such as the one between Beijing and Shanghai. The airlines are usually not at fault---delays are usually caused by bad weather and travel management---but that doesn’t make passengers feel any better. In recent years Chinese passengers have become fed up for mysterious delays, rude airline employees and poor service and fought back by refusing to leave the aircraft until they were given a refund.
China is plagued by a shortage of pilots, a lack of airports and inadequate air-traffic control systems. In June 2003, there were six mishaps in a month involving domestic flights on four carriers: Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, and Hainan Airlines. The problems involved landing difficulties and mechanical failure. In one case a plane careened off a runway during landing. In another a plane made an emergency landing after experiencing severe shaking during the take off and almost left the runway when it landed.
Passenger etiquette often leaves much to be desired. Passengers often have to be told directly to buckle up their seat belts and often stand up at the end the flight before the plane has come to a complete stop. Sometimes there are too many carry on bags to fit in the overhead compartments so bag are stuffed into the rear bathrooms.
Sometimes the passengers can be quite rowdy, drinking heavily and sometimes singing at the top their lungs and just laugh when they are told to pipe down. Passengers that get upset because of delays demand this and that and take out their frustrations on the flight attendants, who are sometimes reduced to tears. There have been reports of passengers who have never flown before trying to open the emergency doors in mid flight.
With all that said, air service is much better than it used to be. To make sure your reservation is confirmed you generally have to purchase a ticket. There is a domestic airport tax. Avoid travel if you can during the main holiday seasons around Chinese New Year in early February, the May-Day-Golden Week holiday in May and the summer holiday in July and August.
GETTING AROUND IN CHINA BY TRAIN
Trains are the best way to travel in China if you have got the time. On a plane you don't get a chance to see China's wonderful countryside; on a bus you are often cramped and uncomfortable. Chinese trains connect the entire country, including Tibet and the far west, and are generally reasonably-priced comfortable, reliable, and punctual. According to one survey 99 percent of the trains in China run on time.
There are 52,000 kilometers (33,000 miles) of railways in China. China is currently the world's number one railroad builder, adding about 4,000 mile of track every year. A handful of routes still use steam engines. China is currently trying to replace these with electric trains.
There are two main trunk lines. One runs south to north along the east coast between Guangzhou, Beijing and Harbin. The other runs from east to west between Beijing, Zhengzhou, Lanzhou and Urumqi. The three-day journey from Beijing to Urumqi on the "Iron Rooster," a train immortalized by writer Paul Theroux in book by the same name. This line has now been extended to Kashgar The railway between Chengdu and Kunming goes through 427 tunnels and crosses 653 bridges as it twists through mountainous Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. The new train in Tibet was achieved with even more impressive engineering feats.
Chinese trains carry three million travelers daily and tens of millions during the big holidays. Ticket prices are sometimes raised during th holiday season and even then they are hard to get. Many passengers are forced to buy tickets from scalpers.
By western standards the trains in China are very cheap. An average ride in the most comfortable class goes for about US$2.50 per 100 miles, or US$30 between Shanghai and Beijing. Most trains have dining cars with reasonably good food and plenty of beer. The biggest drawbacks of Chinese trains are the sometimes dirty bathrooms and scratchy, irritating public address systems that periodically blast propaganda and wake everybody around 6:00am. The public address systems can often be turned off in "soft bunk" class. Otherwise earplugs are useful.
New High-Speed Trains modeled after the Japanese Shinkansen began operation between Shanghai and Hangzhou and Nanjing in January 2007. The distance between Shanghai and Hangzhou is 171 kilometers and between Shanghai and Nanjing is 303 kilometers. The trains are capable of going 250 kilometers per hour but only go 160 kph because that is the maximum speed the tracks can handle. Service between Shanghai and Suzhou covers the 85 kilometers in 39 minutes.
New high speed trains that went into service just before the Olympics in 2008 on the Beijing to Tianjin line reach 350 kph and connect the cities in 30 minutes, less than half the previous travel time and a quarter of the time of conventional trains.. The service is the fastest commercial service in the world, overtaking France’s TGV. Two types of train run on the railway, the CRH2m based on Japan’s Hayate Shinkansen, and the CRH3, based on technology from Germany’s Siemens AG.
Regular Bullet-train-style trains running between Beijing and Tianjin reach speeds of about 200 kph.. Reserved seats on these trains cost about US$5.50, double the price of slower trains that take about two hours. Improvements on the Guangzhou and Chongqing line have reduced the travel time from 28 hours to 21 hours.
New high speed train lone between Beijing and Shanghai See Infrastructure
Chinese Train Stations are a bit chaotic and overwhelming at first, but once you figure out how they operate they are not so bad. Stations in large cities and popular tourist destinations often have a special office for foreigners. There also often "guides" circulating around that will help you for a small fee. In other cities you will have to wait in line with the Chinese to buy a ticket (make sure you are in the right line and be patient). The train stations usually have baggage storage areas. If you want to have a look around if you have to wait a few hours between trains you can leave your bags here.
Train Tickets are generally only sold at regular ticket offices for trains leaving the day the ticket is sold and sometimes the day before. To book a ticket in advance you will have to go to an advanced ticket booking office. It is a good idea to have your destination and whether you want a soft sleeper, hard sleeper or hard seat written down in Chinese. It also helps to have Chinese person helping you out. Many travel agents sell train tickets but they often charge more than the ticket office at the train station.
Don't buy tickets before you arrive in China. They are really expensive. Local people pay about 70 percent less for tickets than foreigners. Don't try to get a local ticket unless you look Asian. Also be on the watch out for fake train tickets.
Tickets have a seat or berth number, train and car number and date and time of your train. It is a good idea to get your ticket as much in advance as possible and avoid travel during busy holidays. On the trains the attendants will take your ticket and give you a laminated card that has your seat number. If you decide you want to upgrade or downgrade your seat or change compartments, this can often be arranged without too much hassle or extra money.
Train Classes: There are four kinds of classes available on Chinese trains: hard seats, soft seats, hard sleepers and soft sleepers. Traveling on a hard seat train is the equivalent of traveling 3rd class in a third world country. Hard seats are hard and uncomfortable and the carriages are often crowded with Chinese peasants with large bags and bundles. Soft seats are comfortable seats in less crowded carriages. They are fine for daytime journeys.
Hard sleepers are bunks in open compartments, with six bunks to a compartment, three on each side. The top bunk is about six feet off the ground, which means there is a lot of space between the bunks. Hard sleepers usually cost twice as much as hard seats. Hard sleep carriages are often crowded, smokey, noisy and uncomfortable.
Soft sleepers are closed bunk compartments for four people. The beds are generally comfortable and each bunk has a reading light and clean sheets. Try to get a lower bunk, which is more comfortable to sit in when you are not sleeping. Soft sleepers generally cost twice as much as hard sleepers. Generally, the compartments are shared by strangers or both sexes.
Soft sleepers are considerably more expensive than other classes. For this reason it usually not very difficult to get a seat. Some have air conditioning, some don't. The toilets are generally pretty clean and hot water is served for tea. The main drawback is that a lot of people smoke.
Luggage: Most train stations have left-luggage facilities, which you can use to store you luggage. Try to limit you luggage to what you can carry on the train, otherwise you may have to send it ahead of you. Checked luggage may arrive separately from you.
Train Advice: 1) bring earplugs. 2) Keep books, toiletries and things you need in a separate bag near you; once you stuff your main bag or backpack in the luggage compartments it is usually pretty hard to reach; 3) Bring food and water, even though the food on the trains is pretty good and hawkers periodically come down the aisles and sell stuff on long distance trains.
4) train cars are sometimes changed along a train route. make sure you in a car that is heading all the way to your destination. 5) Make sure if you buy a ticket a day in advance it can be used; 6) Remember to get a reserved seat on long distance trains. 7)Try to catch trains form their embarkation point if you don’t have a reserved seat. You are more likely to get a seat.
GETTING AROUND IN CHINA BY BUS
Buses in China vary in quality from company to company and route to route. There are both private buses and government-run buses. The latter are regarded as safer partly because the driver can be imprisoned if he is involved in an accident. Many of the long-distance overnight buses have bunk beds instead of seats. These buses are fine if you get a bunk to yourself but are often uncomfortable if you have share your bunks with a drunk heavy smoker. The bunks near the back often have more room but they bounce up an down on bumpy roads.
The quality of the bus service often coincides with the quality of the road. As a rule the buses traveling between major cities are better than those servicing rural or mountainous areas. But between major cities you can usually take a train. One well-beaten tourist routes there are often special buses for foreigners with air-conditioning and comfortable seats. Many local buses have scratchy, irritating music or video systems. Remember bring your food and water. The places the buses stop at ate sometimes pretty horrible.
Travelers are advised to catch a bus from its embarkation point and get a reserved seat. If you catch a bus in the middle of a route often all the seats are taken. Most day buses leave at the crack of dawn. Most night buses leave in the evening. Many Chinese buses have a luggage rack on the top of the bus or compartments on the bottom. Usually the compartments are locked and the stuff on the luggage rack is tied down so you don't have to worry about you stuff getting ripped off.
Chinese buses are slow and they often breakdown. They can be a little scary and travelers have been injured and killed. The drivers pass on hills and blind corners and play chicken with the cars coming in the other direction. The buses don't have bathrooms; they generally stop every few hours to allow passengers to relieve themselves and/or get something to eat. Sometimes the drivers don't stop very often and leg room can be a problem for tall westerners.
Often times the only way you can find out information about a particular bus route is to inquire in the town where the bus is leaving from. Some cities have a central bus station with buses that leave at regular intervals. Other cities have bus stations, or bus companies, in different parts of the city that service different parts of the country. In small towns without a bus station, the buses generally leave from the main square, taxi stand or bus company office. Some companies have their own offices; others sell tickets through hotels or travel agencies. Web Comment: Teach Abroad China Teach Abroad China
Taxis and Minibuses run regular routes between towns and cities. With few private vehicles and bicycles only good or short hauls, minibuses have become the dominant form of transportation. Minibus drivers are reckless and the ticket collectors are rude and surely. Even though buses have a sign that lit their maximum capacity a 19, the carry 30.
As a rule they service shorter hauls than buses and are fast but crowded. In some rural areas, however, they can be slow if a lot of stops are made and the bus has to wait a long tome for passengers to show up. The taxis can carry up to six people and the minibuses can seat 8 to 16 people with reasonable comfort. It is recommended that you go early to the place where the shared taxis and minibuses leave because generally that is when everybody sets off. Otherwise you might have to wait for a long time or pay a higher price to shove off with less people.
Hired jeep in Xinjiang
Minibus and shared taxi trips to specific tourist spots are often arranged through tourist agencies. Signs outside the front of their agencies give prices and destinations. Some cities and towns have taxi and minibus stands, which are usually located near the bus stations. Large cities and towns sometimes have stands in different parts of town, each with vehicles heading to destinations in different directions.
Shared taxis and minibuses can also be hailed from the side of the road, but often they don't stop because they are full. The fares are set according to distance. It is not necessary to bargain unless you are hiring a vehicle. Shared vehicles leave on a when full basis, and you can get off where off ever you want just let the driver or his assistant know.
Hiring a Mini Bus or Taxi: Vehicles with a driver can be hired formally through hotels, tour companies, travel agencies or rent-a-car agencies, or informally at a taxi or mini bus stand. If you are interested in hiring a vehicle ask around first to find out how much you should pay. Hired Taxis can be rented through China Tourism for US$.75 a mile within the city and US$.40 a mile outside the cities. If you can find one on our own you can probably pay a lot less. The daily price for a car with a driver ranges between US$20 and US$50 depending on the condition of the vehicle and your bargaining skills.
Trucks are often used by travelers to get around on tough roads in remote areas. Some are used specifically to carry passengers. Others are carrying something like bags of grain or empty coke bottles, and travelers have to sit on top of the whatever the cargo is. Most are dump-truck-size trucks with a flat open bed with a seven or eight foot wooden or metal fence around it, which passengers have to climb over to get in.
To catch a truck you generally wait on the side of the road like a hitchhiker and flag one down, or hang out at a filling station or restaurant frequented by truck drivers. Sometimes the trucks are few are far between and not all of them stop. The drivers usually charge about three-forth what a bus charges.
Pick Up Trucks are used to carry passengers in poor remote areas where no other forms of transportation are available. Some run regular routes at scheduled times, but most leave on a when full basis and pick up and drop off passengers along the road. Passengers sit in the back on uncomfortable benches lined up on the sides. Usually there is a compartment over the back to protect passengers from rain and wind. Pick-ups as a rule are very crowded, and uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous.
DRIVING IN CHINA AND GETTING AROUND IN CHINA BY ROAD
Roads between the major cities are generally two-lane roads. There are not many multiple American-style highways but more and more are being built all the time. The Chinese expressway network doubled between 2001 and 2005. In January 2005, Beijing announced plans to extend it by 48,000 kilometers more .
Some of the new modern highway are immaculate and well designed with four lanes, attractive guard rails, well-maintained medians with plants and hedges and newly sloping embankments beyond the guardrails, with a buffer area, often lined with poplars separating the road form the countryside. It is not usual to find a dotted line on a map is a brand new highway on the ground.
By contrast some rural roads are in poor condition. Some roads have pavement sections that run only a few miles and then deteriorate into potholes, washboard ripples, dirt and rocks. Maps are often unreliable. Distances can be deceptive. Even on paved roads traffic is often slowed by potholes and slow trucks. A journey of a 100 miles through the mountains sometimes takes four or five hours.
Traffic is sometimes a problem, especially during rush hour, weekends and holidays. On major holidays the traffic jams can cause back ups that extend many dozens of kilometers. Tractors sometimes use the main highways. Farmers sometimes put grain down on secondary roads to dry or to be threshed by passing vehicles.
Many highways are dominated by fully loaded trucks that have to brake hard when they go downhill. New highways are often two lanes but they have shoulders that Chinese drivers treat as passing lanes.. This is okay expect when there is a disabled car in the shoulder on the other side of a tight turn. Car travel is still lighter than might be expected because Chinese are still not big on the idea of taking long car trips and tolls are high.
Speed Limit: 62mph to 80mph (100 kph to 120kph ) on expressways; 40 mph to 50mph (60 kph to 80kph ) on regular highways; 20 mph to 40 mph (30 kph to 60kph ) in cities and towns.
Driving in China is not recommended in the cities but is reasonably safe in quiet rural areas in daylight. Driving is on the right side of the road (like the U.S.). The driving laws in China are more or less the same as those in the U.S.---there are seat belt laws and stiff punishments for drunk driving---but many people don't obey them and enforcement is light. The road signs are sometimes only in Chinese, and distances and speeds are measured in kilometers. Gasoline is less expensive than in the U.S.
Drive defensively. In addition to cars and truck, the roads in filled with bicycles, scooters, pedestrians, pedicabs, water buffalos and other animals. Rural roads are notoriously hazardous. Roads are often poorly maintained; vehicles are overloaded.
Make sure your car has a spare tire, jack, spare battery water, an extra fan belt and an emergency triangle. There are many military checkpoints and lots of bored police so make sure papers and car are in good working order.
Driving Web Comments: Wikipedia Wikitravel ;Driving-In.com Driving-In.com ; Travel China Guide Travel China Guide ) . For information on traffic, road and driving conditions in a number countries check the Web site for the Potomac- Maryland-based Association for Safe International Road Travel: asirt.org
Chinese Drivers have many bad habits, including grinding gears, accelerating too fast, driving too fast and recklessly, turning suddenly without signaling, speeding through intersections without slowing down, and steering all over the road.
Many drivers are inexperienced. Car culture is new to Chinese. They have not grown up with cars as many American, Japanese and Europeans have and as a result do a lot of dumb things. A surprisingly number of Chinese lock their keys in their cars and forget to put gasoline in their tanks. Students at driving school have to be taught how hold the steering wheel.
China has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the world. China only has for 2.6 percent of the world cars but accounts for 21 percent of the road fatalities. Traffic accidents killed 107,000 people, nearly 300 a day, in 2004.
The high numbers of traffic deaths are blamed on the large number of inexperienced drivers, treacherous road conditions, reckless driving, and poor quality of motor vehicles. Almost two thirds of the of traffic fatalities occur on rural roads. Most accidents involve some kind of driver negligence. Alcohol, tired drivers, overloading and speeding are often involved. Reports of trains colliding with cars, hit-and-run accidents and drunk driving are common.
Some Chinese drivers are very pushy, aggressive, inconsiderate and don't watch where they are going. After observing a van roar through a red light with its horn blaring, one Hong Kong trucker told the Wall Street Journal, "Coming from Hong Kong, you'd expect him to stop, if not for the red light then certainly for a truck 20 times its size. But here, Hong Kong logic does not apply."
To be a good driver in China one has to be brave. On rural roads, heavy trucks, buses and cars race towards oncoming traffic, forcing other vehicles onto the shoulders as they pass slower vehicles. If a car breaks down because the fuel line is clogged many Chinese will simply stick the fuel line in their mouth and suck out the gasoline-soaked clog and then spit fuel into the carburetor. When the writer Peter Hessler observed a Sichuanese driver do this and light a cigarette afterwards he sighed with relief when the driver didn't explode.
Some Chinese drivers don't yield to pedestrians, don't yield to ambulances, park in such a way as to block traffic, oblivious the fact they are in other people's way. They drive slow in situations when they should be driving fast and drive fast when they should be driving slow. Kids often run out in the street without looking where they are going.
City Driving: In the cities the streets are clogged with bicycles, motorbikes, cars, buses and carts. In heavy traffic it is not uncommon for impatient motorists to pull into a bicycle lane to make progress forward. Pedestrians are notorious for jaywalking disobeying walk signals. At intersections traffic officers sit in booths and switch the traffic lights by hand and shout insults at offenders out the window. In Shanghai, 2,000 unemployed people were hired to keep pedestrians in line at major intersections.
Many of the newly installed traffic lights have meters that indicate how seconds are left before the light changed.
In recent years, more traffic lights and bus lanes have been added to reduce traffic jams and cut the rate of automobile accidents.
When driving in Chinese cities watch out for people who: 1) drive on the sidewalk; 2) suddenly sweep across lanes of traffic to make a quick turn; 3) drive in reverse to back up to a missed turn; 4) drive with their parking lights instead of headlights at night; 5) pass on the inside lanes; 6) squeeze in three cars abreast in two lanes; 7) drive the wrong way down one way streets; and 7) run red lights and stop signs.
Driving Customs: 1) Cars making a right hand turns sometimes act as if they have the right of way over people that are driving straight. Often people turn into traffic without even looking to see if there is any traffic coming. 2) Drivers suddenly stop, slow down and pull over. One reason for this is that the address system in China is very confusing and drivers are often lost and looking around for a landmark. Chinese streets don't have names and people usually don't carry maps.
3) Some Chinese turn their engine off and shift into neutral when going downhill to save gas, and turn their lights off at night whenever they stop at a traffic light or stop sign. as a courtesy to other drivers. 4) If two cars meet on a narrow road and are unable to pass sometimes the drivers sit and stare each other down because shifting into reverse is regarded as a loss of face. 5) Motorist who judged responsible for a fatal traffic accident are often locked up in jail until they pay off the family of the person killed.
Off Road Driving: Many of the roads in the desert, mountains, and rural areas are tracks. Some tracks are surprising hard and smooth. Generally, though, they are bumpy and in poor condition. After it rains they often become impassable.
Off the beaten track, drivers have to deal with quagmires (during the rainy season), deep sand, deep ruts, big rocks, dust, steep hills, landslides, and washed out surfaces. Also watch out for camels, sheep, goats and other animals which often run across the road without warning. In the some places the roads are only wide enough for one car so be careful around blind turns (honk to let cars coming the opposite direction know you are coming). Slow drivers are expected to pull over to shoulder of the road to let the faster traffic get by.
Distances off road in China are deceptive. Traffic is slowed by ruts, potholes and animals, and it is not unusual for journey of a 100 miles through the mountains or desert on narrow, twisting, potholed roads to take four or five hours. A global positioning System (GPS) is useful for figuring out where you are and avoiding getting lost if you are driving in the wilderness.
Driver's License: A drivers license from the United States is generally not acceptable in China. You should get an international drivers license (IDP) which can obtained at a AAA office (tel. 800-763-9900) for US$10 and two passport size photographs. One of the advantages of the IDP is that it is written in nine languages. Foreign motorists arriving in China in their own vehicle generally must also have a vehicle registration document and green card or insurance certificate showing that the car has accident liability coverage.
Liability Insurance: In moat countries vehicle liability insurance is required by law. Motorists from abroad must either present the green international insurance card or take out temporary liability insurance at the point of entry into the country. Insurance coverage available at the point of entry can be purchased for 15 days or one month. Should the insurance coverage expire, you may apply for an extension at automobile club offices located throughout the country.
Travel Services: Chinese Automobile Association asirt.org clubs offer 24-hour breakdown and towing service as and other services.
Rental Cars: Automobiles, four-wheel drive vehicles, motorcycles, motorscooters and bicycle can all be rented in China. In Beijing, a small car with unlimited mileage rented from a major rental agency can be rented for about US$35 a day. Local companies charge US$25 or less for the day or US$5 an hour. Sometimes authorities are not so keen about foreigners driving around on their own. If you google “Renting a car in China” lots of articles pop up. Check them yourself.
General Rental Cars Information: Most rental companies operate out of the large cities and airports. Since rental vehicles are in high demand, you should try to book one in advance. To save money get a group of people together and split the costs. To save yourself a hassle you may want to rent a car with an American car rental company that has offices in China. Hertz (tel. 800-654-3131) and Avis (tel. 800-331-1212) all rent cars in China. Motorcycles and scooters sometimes can be rented at hotels, travel agencies and rental agencies in major tourist spots.
If you have small children consider bringing you own car seat. Don’t drive a rental. car off the lot until you have checked the brakes, turn lights, wipers, locks, lights, and high beams.
Third party liability insurance is mandatory for all vehicles traveling in China. Before you make a reservation check with your auto insurance or credit card company about liability and accident coverage in an overseas rent-a-car. You may already be covered. Also, get a written confirmation from the rental company in the local currency, and inquire about additional costs, such as sales tax, airport surcharges, drop-off fees, mileage and theft insurance. When you return the car get a final bill; it is difficult to dispute charges once back in your home country.
Cars with a Driver are available in China. Since driving in China can be very dangerous it may not be a bad idea to hire a driver. The cost of hiring a driver is about US$75 a day for 10 hours and visitors must also pay for the driver's meals and hotel expenses.
Hitchhiking: Many budget travelers find that hitchhiking is a good way to get around China and meet people. Hitching is good from the point of view that drivers often pick up hitchhikers and give them long rides, but not so good from the standpoint that vehicles can be few and far between in some areas. Often times hitchhikers are picked up trucks that require passengers to pay.
Bicycling: The roads are pretty rough in China but good for mountain biking. Heavy Chinese bicycles can be rented in most places for around one or two dollars a day. Mountain bikes can be rented in many places but their quality is often not so good. You can buy a new bicycle for between US$25 and US$45. It is a great way to see the countryside and the cities. Try to make sure you pick a good bike. There are lots of bicycle repair stalls. See Bicycling, Activities
Foot Travel: In the remote area of China often there are no roads, only walking paths. The people that live here describe distance between villages and towns, not in miles or kilometers, but in days or hours of travel. Distance that look close on a map can be deceptively far when you considered the passes traversed, the valleys crossed and the long ascents, switchbacks and descents in between.
Ferries and Boats: Travel on Demand tiglion.com
Image Sources: 1) CNTO (China National Tourist Organization; 2) Nolls China Web site; 3) Perrochon photo site; 4) Beifan.com; 5) tourist and government offices linked with the place shown; 6) Mongabey.com; 7) University of Washington, Purdue University, Ohio State University; 8) UNESCO; 9) Wikipedia; 10) Julie Chao photo site; 11) air line wesites; 12) Seat 61 train site
Text Sources: CNTO, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays