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Situation: Me and my co-traveler will arrive at Beijing Capital Airport on 11:55 on May 2, 2016 and plan to take a taxi to Beijing South Railway Station and a high speed train to Tianjin. (This seems to be the best way for us to travel to Tianjin, since all available flight connections to Tianjin include an extra layover and at least 5 hours extra travel time compared to the Beijing connection.) Having checked earlier SE questions on the topic and other online resources, I get the impression that it is advisable to just buy tickets at the station. Since we don't know how much time customs, baggage claim and the taxi trip will take, this option may be preferable. On the other hand it seems to be relatively easy to book tickets online which may be preferable if the trains tend to get full.

Questions: Is it common for the high-spped trains from Beijing to Tianjin to get fully-booked around 13:00-15:00 on weekdays? Could several consecutive trains be full? Can you (always) buy a standing ticket on a full train? Also, how difficult will it be for us to buy the tickets and find our way at the Beijing South Railway Station? (We don't speak Chinese or read Chinese characters. We have been to China before, but have mostly been accompanied by Chinese friends.)

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    The Beijing West railway station has one ticket counter with an English-speaking representative. I suppose the same might be true at Beijing South. – David Z Apr 24 '16 at 22:46
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I know you've already traveled, but for anyone else with the same question in the future, I'd like to give an answer.

Beijing is huge and the Beijing Capital Airport is located on the north-east side of town. Tianjin is just 100 km east of the Airport; about 1.5 hours by taxi.

Beijing south railway station is on the opposite side of Beijing; to go there you will be traveling through the center of a huge busy city.

From the Beijing airport to Beijing South Railway station, it will be about an hour by taxi. You will need to get to Beijing south at least an hour before the train leaves to get tickets and wait and board. It will take 30 minutes to ride the train to Tianjin. It will then be 30+ minutes to your hotel. That's at least 2.5 hours - with no hijinks.

Why not just go directly to to Tianjin? I agree that the intercity high-speed rail is interesting, but it might be prudent to rest a bit from the flight before hustling through the railway stations as an illiterate foreigner. It is really fun, but better after a shower and a good nights rest.

Cost-wise, it will also probably be comparable. The taxi is far easier.

Edit: mts has found a source that shows a cost of about 500 yuan for the taxi directly to Tianjin, and a cost of about 250 yuan for a pure-train/subway/high speed train transit method. This means for two people, the price is the same.

The question considers a taxi to Beijing South Railway Station; this will push the cost benefit analysis in even more favor for the direct taxi option, even for a single person.

mts also suggest this SE link about uber. In my experience in China, uber is about half the price of taxis; although I prefer metered taxis for personal reasons.

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    +1, great thinking! Rome2Rio suggests that you would save 1h by taxi, the hassle at the train station and pay a comparable price since you are traveling in two. – mts Jul 21 '16 at 8:49
  • Wow, cool website. Taxi to Tianjin ride won't be even 100USD. – axsvl77 Jul 21 '16 at 8:53
  • Feel free to include that link in your answer! I am not sure about Uber pricing in China, but appartently Baidu has an estimator for that, see here: travel.stackexchange.com/q/71982/32134 – mts Jul 21 '16 at 8:58
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This is an incomplete answer as unfortunately I have no experience about the BeiJing - TianJin connection.

In general your considerations seem sensible to me, here are some remarks though:

  • Chinese trains can get full and fully booked for days around the major holiday weeks. May 1st is a holiday so there might be increased travel the day after but it is not Golden Week or Chinese New Years so I'd be rather calm.
  • As far as I remember on the high-speed trains there are no standing tickets and the man in seat61 does not mention any.
  • You could get a flexible advance ticket, e.g. on the last site you link to, and then change to the next departure at the station (not sure if that requires empty seats available though). However that would include quite some talking to the staff at the booth in Chinese/Chinglish/English. The agency or friends might write your request down in characters for you to print and show to the staff.
  • If you try your luck just heading to the station, there should be a ticket booth for same-day departures or similar in case you want to skip the queue. I seem to remember that some stations in China even have an English-speaking counter. Just in case you might want to have someone write down TianJin in characters for you though, that is generally a good survival strategy in China (btw. the same goes for the taxi to the station).
  • Thank you for the helpful input. I figured that the May 1st holiday would only be a single day holiday, but now that I checked it seems like it lasts from May 1 to May 3, so that may cause some problems. I wouldn't think that they sold standing tickets for high-speed trains either, but I asked because it was mentioned in this answer. Flexible advance ticket sounds like a good idea, but I can't find any information about that. Where did you read/learn about that? – jkej Apr 25 '16 at 11:10
  • @jkej I know standing tickets for regular trains but not the high-speed. A friend once bought a ticket for me and a friend and was able to change it to an earlier/later train for us at the station. I suggest you contact an agency and enquire with them. – mts Apr 25 '16 at 11:19

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