While living in England, traveling by train became a way of life and when you bought your ticket, you knew exactly what to expect. However, during a trip to China, our first train experience was a bit of a shock. Running toward the platform holding an infant and hoping for a seat was exciting, but also stressful. For the next train ride on a following trip to Ningbo, we opted for affordable luxury.
Making our way to Ningbo
The Park Hyatt Ningbo drew us to visit this city in China that we may otherwise have not yet discovered.
We booked flights in and out of Shanghai and relied on the China Railway High-speed Train (CRH) to get us from point to point. We decided to wait to book our train tickets until we arrived in Shanghai, giving us flexibility on our departure time in case of any unexpected issues with our arrival into Shanghai. We also found comfort knowing that we would have help from the concierge at the Park Hyatt Shanghai incase there was a more clever way to get to our destination or if additional assistance was needed.
After a smooth arrival and a night of rest in Shanghai, we set off to obtain our train tickets to Ningbo. The concierge at the Park Hyatt advised us of a local stand where we could buy our tickets in person before arriving to the train station. The high-speed train from Shanghai Hongqiao station to Ningbo takes around 2 hours and offers three different seating classes; Second Class, First Class and Business Class. A standard train service can also be booked from Shanghai Hongqiao and Shanghai South. These trains take around 4.5 hours and offers tickets as a Hard Seat, Hard Sleeper or a Soft Sleeper.
Booking a ticket
It is possible to book your train ticket in advance online through different holiday booking and China tourism sites that may require a small additional booking fee but ultimately the prices for this route, on these trains look to be a set price. When booking your ticket online and in person you will need to show a passport for all persons traveling. Prices for tickets break down as such:
Shanghai Hongqiao to Ningbo / Ningbo to Shanghai Hongqiao (2 hours)
- 2nd Class 144 CNY ($22 USD)
- 1st Class 237 CNY ($36 USD)
- Business Class 444 CNY ($67 USD)
From Shanghai South Rail Station to Ningbo (4 hours and 25 minutes)
Any passenger with standing ticket will stand in the aisle spaces between Hard Seats. Trains with different equipment or sleepers may vary slightly in price. The seating options and prices for the longer journey are as follows:
- Hard Sleeper Seats 104 CNY ($16 USD)
- Soft Sleeper Seats 152.5 CNY ($23 USD)
- Hard Seat 50.5 CNY ($8 USD)
Discount for children
I have found online that discounted fares for children do exist, but I am not sure how to book this discounted rate, especially if you are trying to book in advance online. The discounted fare is based on the child’s height, not age. I imagine this would be much easier to book in person from an authorized ticket agent. At the time of our travel we were not informed of any discounts and booked a full fare ticket for our daughter.
We planned to book a First Class ticket to Ningbo but when the tickets for that cabin were sold out, we opted for Business Class. We had no knowledge prior to what the train cabins and seats would look like so we were more than pleasantly surprised to see that as we boarded the train there was an automatic door to our left where the Business Class cabin was located. Inside there were 15 seats total (five rows of three in a two-one configuration.) The spacious leather seats are surrounded by a hard shell which gives a small feeling of privacy but mostly allot for personal space. The seats recline to a full-flat position and are equipped with a reading light, television, tray table and some seats have an outlet.
We enjoyed traveling the CRH in Business enough that we decided to book the same class ticket for our trip back to Shanghai on our return. This time however when we boarded the train there was a small automatic door to our left and the cabin had only 9 Business Class seats (3 rows of 3). This smaller cabin felt much more private and only 3 other seats were booked on this journey. The ride was smooth and peaceful. There was also a train attendant who came around with water, juice and a light snack.
It was great to have so much space for our luggage as well. As with anywhere else in the world, it is important to keep your valuables in sight and close to hand.
Almost any seat can be a bed for Lucy, but for Kyle and I, it was great to have room to stretch out. You can see from the photo that the foot rest is dirty, but overall the cabin felt pretty clean.
For as many times as we have traveled to China, we had not done much travel around China and I am glad we were able to see beyond the big coastal cities.
This is one of those cases where it really made sense for us to spend a little bit more for a far better experience. If we find ourselves boarding a CRH train again in the future (and I hope we do), I would opt for the Business Class ticket again.
Have you traveled China by rail? What was your experience like? Would you opt for the Business Class seat?