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I will be travelling in China this July. My trips will be

  • Beijing - Shanghai
  • Shanghai - Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong - Tianjin

I have read a lot about the train situation on Seat61 and am thinking about doing the following. Please consider the timeframe of July.

  • Beijing - Shanghai via hard sleeper, buy the tickets when we arrive in Beijing at a train station. If the hard sleeper is sold out, we'll fall back on the high speed trains, which I assume should have two seats available at short notice, as they leave quite regularly. Is it realistic to buy these tickets a few days beforehand if we're flexible on exact times or does this connection sell out completely on a regular basis?

  • Shanghai - Hong Kong via hard sleeper. I am considering buying these tickets beforehand online as I imagine they may get sold out easily. Is it realistic to buy these tickets on-location or should I expect them to sell out?

  • Hong Kong - Tianjin via hard sleeper from HK - Beijing. I am considering buying these tickets beforehand online as well for the same reason. I imagine Beijing - Tianjin is easy and can be arranged when we arrive in Beijing for the second time. Same question as the Shanghai - HK connection

Update

For future travellers, we bought all our tickets after we got to China. Booking them online or via agency/hotel is a good idea if you want to avoid the hassle of getting them at the station. We were lucky at the station as our sales clerk spoke a few words of English. If you want to get them at the station, print out the form supplied by Seat61 under the chapter "How to buy tickets at the station".

The sleeper trains may sell out and we only got a seat (instead of a bed) for our Beijing-Shanghai connection, while the HK-Beijing connection still had a lot of empty beds. Book as far in advance as possible though if you want to make sure you get a bed. The bullet Beijing-Tianjin connection was easy, we got it a half hour before boarding the train, though the train was pretty full. There are also slower trains that go all night.

In general:

  • get to the train station a half hour early for any connection
  • if you need tickets, add at least another half hour, as there are always tons of people queueing up at the ticket counters and you'll have to show your passport when buying tickets
  • get there an hour early for any connection leaving mainland China as you will have to go through Customs and Passport Control - they close this 20-30 minutes before the train leaves, so you may miss the train even if you get there 20 minutes early!
  • Welcome to Travel SE Chris. Your questions are a bit broad and mostly ask for opinions, rather than answers. Consider narrowing it down or asking specific questions – blackbird Jun 30 '15 at 14:46
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    Thanks @Blackbird57. I edited my post and asked the questions more specifically and marked them in the text. – Christof Jun 30 '15 at 15:11
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    Don't you need to list your accommodation for the entire trip when you apply for your Chinese visa. Every time I've gone to china i've had to put details about where I'm staying and for how long on the Visa application. Having your accommodation booked in advance makes this a whole lot easier. You can book cheap accommodation and then cancel it once your visa is approved, but what's the point. If you're booking accommodation you might as well book somewhere you actually want to stay. – zeocrash Jun 30 '15 at 16:52
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    I don't see why my question is off topic. As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't meet the criteria of the WANTA debate. I have specific questions and have marked them as such. – Christof Jul 1 '15 at 7:31
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    I do agree that the question is formulated clearly und the questions are specific enough. However, one potential issue is that there are several questions in one single question. Especially the question on hostels selling out is a different question than the question on trains. So I would suggest, that you open a new question to separate those. Note that the 'Too Broad' closing reason for this case probably is: 'too many questions in one question' rather than 'question not specific enough'. – drat Jul 1 '15 at 8:26
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From my experience travelling in China. I usually go to local agency to buy train tickets and they will sort everything out for you. I bought tickets from Beijing to Shanghai before so I can speak from my experience. I got the tickets before I travelled 2-3 days because I speak little Chinese and I find myself stranded trying to explain what I want at the train station which might not be the experience you want. So, I would say it's realistic but I do recommend.

For Beijing -> Tianjin. I would say you can just go to the station and buy the ticket. They have many trains from Beijing to Tianjin. However, it's likely to be sold out during peak time as people travel to work or back home but you can always stand all the way which most people do or sit on the floor if you don't mind.

  • Thanks. We booked all our trains when we got to china. The Shanghai-HK and HK-Beijing connections we did at the train station, wasn't a big hassle but we were lucky that the sales clerk spoke a few words of english. – Christof Jul 25 '15 at 11:12
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I travel a lot around China and one thing I would advice is for you to buy tickets online in advance whenever possible. Considering that you are travelling around July it will be better if you buy the tickets you mentioned early. Please note that right now most schools are about to complete their second semester. This is when a lot of students travel hence you might have a problem finding tickets then. For a route like Beijing -> Tianjin, there are a lot of trains there so the only thing you will need to consider it the time you will travel. As @toy mentioned, during peak hours you can miss a seat.

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