Friday, April 17, 2015

How to travel from Beijing to Shanghai, China via Train... Nope, not bullet train!

Most people travel via bullet train (if available) whenever they do multi-city travel. However, it comes with a very huge price tag because of the time savings and the convenience you're getting. In fact, in most cases, bullet trains are already considered an attraction on its own. But if you're willing to sit 11 hours in a train but save a lot of money in the process (someone like me!) then there are alternatives to bullet trains that you can choose to travel with! :) Riding regular long haul trains or Sleeper/Overnight buses is one of the key tips to drastically lower your travel cost because ticket prices is significantly lower and you save 1 night of hotel cost if you choose to travel at night.

For our Japan trip, we traveled from Osaka to Kyoto via a overnight bus and this is how much we've spent:
- Overnight Bus One way: Php 1,600  per person 
- bullet Train One way: Php 5,100 per person
- Hotel Costs: Php 3,000-10,000 for 2
- Savings of Php 5,000-8,500 per person for one way!

You see? so much savings right? But I always tell my friends that overnight buses or trains are not for all travelers because of the difference in "traveling styles", preferences, and values ;)

Anyway, going back to China, we traveled from Beijing to Shanghai via a regular train and we chose a night schedule to save on money for hotel/hostel. Here's a detailed step by step on how we did it:

1. Book your ticket online before traveling to China.

We booked our ticket via http://www.chinahighlights.com/china-trains/ and paid using credit card. You also have the option to buy tickets on the spot which a lot of Chinese locals do, but we would recommend for you to buy online to avoid the long lines and avoid having to fight through language barrier. The cheapest options usually run out very quickly so don't risk having to change your travel dates or risk having to buy the most expensive tickets which sometimes cost more than bullet trains. 

There are literally hundreds of trains traveling through each station in China so you won't have any problems finding the right time you want to travel. For seats, you can select Business class, 1st class, 2nd class, hard seat, hard sleeper (bed), soft sleeper (bed), and worst of all the standing room (yes, there's such a thing in China!). We chose the cheapest which is the hard seat which is just like a regular train seat.

After booking, an email confirmation will be sent to you so you just need to print it. You'll need to research at which station you can get your tickets as not all train stations provide tickets for intercity travel.

Initially, the website states that you can show the booking confirmation in ANY TRAIN STATIONS in Beijing. By showing, you can already get your train ticket going to Shanghai BUT, THE STAFF ARE NOT AWARE OF THIS PROCEDURE SO MY TIP, GO TO BEIJING SOUTH RAILWAY TRAIN STATION DIRECTLY AND CLAIM YOUR TRAIN TICKET/S THERE :) It saves you time for looooonnnnggg explanations haha! 
2. Go to Beijing South Railway Station and go to the ticketing booth.
You will be required to show your passport and your booking confirmation. 

If ever you don't have an online booking, you may just ask around for an available schedule and seats....then, pray that they understand what you're saying! hahaha just kidding. 

As a tip, translate all details to Chinese and print out the time, terminologies, pictures, the word "Shanghai", or even phrases like "I want to buy a regular train ticket to Shanghai" for example to help you communicate better haha. I believe this is also our reason why we booked online! we're afraid of the language barrier hahaha :)
3. Get your train tickets and know the gates, boarding time, and other details.

The cheapest bullet train costs CNY 553 or Php 4,053 but travel time from Beijing to Shanghai is 5 hours. 

Our ticket costs CNY 309 or Php 2,265 (almost half!) but we paid USD 68 or Php 3,000 because of the additional fees through online booking to the agency. Total travel time for our train was 11 hours.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

China Expenses: All in 6 Days and 5 Nights in Beijing and Shanghai for Php 20,000

China is a relatively an affordable destination compared to Japan and Korea. Cost of living and daily expenses are comparable between China and the Philippines, but there are differences in cost between cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. We spent a total of 20,783 Php for our trip including Airfare and Taxes but our living expense meaning minus the Airfare and taxes was only Php 10,475. 

Here's what we've spent for EACH person (for 6 days, 5 nights in Beijing/Shanghai):
 If you remove Airfare and Taxes, here's what we've really spent on our Travel expenses:
Our total expense (minus Airfare and Taxes) in China is Php 10,475 each. This already includes 5 nights accommodation, visits to 2 cities (Beijing and Shanghai), expenses for 5 days on food and transportation, entrance fees and Shopping. This is probably one of the cheapest cost that we incurred among all our travel, and here's why:

1. Similar to our Japan trip, don't book round trip tickets in one city. Book airline ticket going to Beijing and book return flight to Manila from Shanghai (or vice versa). This will save you tons of time and money as inter-city transportation is extremely expensive.

2. There are a lot of train options from Beijing to Shanghai. Most people will recommend riding the bullet train which costs a fortune. Being a budget traveler, we rode the overnight train which is a normal train with comfortable sits worth CNY 137 or Php 1,000. There are other options such as overnight sleeper which provides you a bed but will cost you much more than the regular seats (will blog about this soon!!!).

3. Use Airbnb for accommodation! Aside from saving 1 night riding the overnight train, we also saved a huge amount of money by booking through Airbnb. We paid  CNY 428 or Php 3,137 for 2 nights for 2 people in Beijing and CNY 137 or Php 1,000 for 2 nights for 2 people in Shanghai. Accommodation in Beijing is much more expensive compared to other cities, so take note of that in booking for hotels or other accommodation (will blog this soon as well).

4. Research and bring a copy of a printed itinerary with Chinese characters. This will avoid you the cost of riding taxis (which we did once from Airport since it was 1am) and you don't feel the need to get portable wifi as well.

5. This is not really a tip but what we've realized is that food in China is similar to Chinese food in Philippines, so we decided not to splurge on food as we normally do in other countries. We also were not able to see anything special to buy so our shopping costs are extremely low.

Overall:
The biggest cost savings will come from your accommodation and train ride if you'll decide to do intercity trip. So make sure to save on these! Other things like food, entrance fee, daily transportation, shopping, etc. are not really that expensive in China so there is not a lot of tip that we can share here.
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Fall in Love in Summer Palace, Beijing

Summer Palace is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is the largest and most well-preserved royal park in China. It is a royal garden for royal families to rest and entertain themselves. It is like a "retreat" place for the Imperial family...my family! hahaha kidding :) 

The entire garden is about 300.59 hectares and it is dominated by the famous Longevity Hill and the Kunming Lake. Expect to see a lot of bridges, lakes, pavilions, towers, and corridors.Though repetitive, it never gets boring because the ambiance is very light, romantic, and grand at the same time. In fact, Summer Palace is my second favorite place in Beijing, next to the Great Wall of China of course! because the place is so relaxing and everything seems picture perfect! :) Imagine nature and art and the old and new in one grand place....simply marvelous!

Getting there is easy and accessible to tourists. Here's how:

1. Select how much time you'll spend there - I've read in several blogs that you need at least half a day to be able to go around the entire place and I regret not allocating enough time for Summer Palace huhuhu. I suggest you go there after lunch because it's nice to stroll around the area in the afternoon when the sky turns yellow, pink, and orange :) We went there a bit late and only got to spend 1-2 hours :( 

2. Ride the Subway - Take subway line 4 and alight at Beigongmen (北宫门) North Gate area and exit from Exit D. Walk to the west and follow the signs going to the North Gate which is the Beigongmen Gate. 
On your way to the entrance, you will see several pictures of the different pavilions and attractions of Summer Palace on almost all walls...then you'll know you're in the right way! haha :)
Once you reach the end of this long road...turn right and you'll see the Summer Palace sign (see picture below).
It will lead you to the North entrance! Yey! :)

3. Pay Entrance Fee- There are 2 kinds of tickets sold. First is the entrance fee of CNY 20 or about Php 147, which gives access for you to go around the garden area or the entire complex. This is the rate we paid because we didn't enter any Hall anymore since we were on "tipid" mode haha.

The second one is the "through ticket" which allows you to have access in some paid attractions. It will cost you CNY 50 or about Php 367 per person (adult). 

Furthermore, fees will vary depending on the season. November to March is their off-peak season while April to October is their peak season. 
Students enjoy 50% off the original fee but I am not sure if student-tourists can also avail this discount. 

Children under 1.2 meter high are FREE of charge! 
So many tourists haha!
Look at that breath taking view! This is the reason why I suggest you visit Summer Palace in the afternoon... ;) 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Beijing Exploration

Beijing is one of the most famous tourist destination in the world! It is the home for the Great Wall which we have conquered here but there is much more to do in Beijing aside from climbing the Great Wall. These are places seen normally in history channels that people all around China and around the World come to visit. However, with it's fame also comes several challenges such as fighting through the crowds of people in each destination while battling air pollution. But the biggest challenge for us was surviving the language barrier! Many people warned us on this and recommended getting 1 day tour guide which we decided not to follow because of our principles of being a budget traveler. But nonetheless, we survived exploring Beijing!

Here's a guide on to explore the city of Beijing and tips on how to overcome the language barrier:
1. Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City:
Often shown in History Channel, this is where you can see the world's largest public square and it is also the home to the Great Mao Zedong's Memorial Hall. You can also see several historical buildings and it's definitely a must visit for people who have great appreciation of Chinese culture. However, don't expect to see or do much here as what you see in pictures is what you get which is why we decided not to enter Forbidden City anymore.
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