While the bullet-train itself is sufficiently futuristic, getting yourself a seat has not quite made it into the 21st century of online booking. The concierge at our hotel in Beijing provided us with the train times a few months before our trip, but in order to make a booking needed a scan of our passport and a scan of our credit card (a requirement of the ticketing office, not the hotel).
As we weren’t too keen to send these two pieces of information via email, we waited until we were safely in Beijing ourselves to sort everything out. Train tickets only go on sale a limited amount of time before departure, so availability wasn’t an issue, and a travel agency outpost inside our hotel got us the tickets within a few hours. Cash payment was the only option.
Travel classes & cost
Two main cabins are available on each train: First and Second Class. Second Class tickets were CNY555 ($90), First Class tickets CNY935 ($150). We traveled in First Class, which you can see pictured in the gallery above. The red seats sit in a 2-2 configuration on each side of the aisle. Exploring the train when we boarded, there was also a “Super VIP” cabin, with only a handful of fancy leather recliner seats, which remained empty. The First Class carriage was at the end of the train, and on our trip was fully occupied with a mix of mostly Chinese and Western business people.
We arrived at Beijing South Railway Station by taxi from our hotel and were directed to the doors outside platform 16 by the information desk at the entrance. There are a number of trains between Beijing and Shanghai every hour, and many more to other destinations, so we double-checked with one of the security guards at the platform entrance that we were in the right spot. English won’t get you very far, so this was pretty much limited to us holding the ticket in front of us, pointing to it and the sign above the platform door and waiting for an affirmative response, but it did the trick.
You can only make your way down to the actual platform once boarding begins, and you need to go through turn-style entry gates, so the chances of getting it wrong are fairly limited.
One of the main benefits of taking the train is that you get to see something as you travel. Like we said, China is a land of contrasts, and this is pretty evident during the journey. While not particularly scenic, the Beijing to Shanghai route offers a fascinating look at the country. Crazy construction and monstrous apartment blocks interchange with traditional hutong-style housing and farmers laboring away on rice fields. There’s a certain frenetic pace to the construction you see everywhere, and the scale of the housing developments is truly mind-boggling.
Above the compartment door is a speedometer to tell you exactly how fast you’re hurtling through the landscape. Doing 190 mph explains the blurriness of some of the pictures; our camera couldn’t quite keep up with it.
Leaving Beijing at 2pm, we arrived at Shanghai HongQiao just before 7pm. We were picked up by a driver from our hotel, but there are a number of public transport options to make your way into town. HongQiao is also the location of Shanghai’s second airport, the other being Pudong International.
A fast, efficient, and interesting way to get from Beijing to Shanghai; we had no complaints at all. Add to that a ticket price in First Class which was not much more expensive than a one-way ticket on a full-service airline, the avoidance of airport security, and we’d do this again should we need to in the future.
We're going faaaaast - hitting 306km/h (190mph)