When people think of traveling to China, pictures pop up in their mind would be historical sites such as the Great Wall, ancient imperial palaces or rural picturesque landscape like Guilin. However, except those well-known heritages dating back to thousands of years past, modern wonders of China are gaining attention recent years such as the world-class skyscrapers by the river bund of Shanghai, futuristic architecture in the center of Beijing or tallest and longest bridges connecting oceans and mountains. Among them, a high-speed rail system (HSR)stands out and become one of the most iconic representations of China’s modern achievement. In 2017 HSR extended to 29 of the country's 33 provincial-level administrative divisions and exceeded 25,000 km (16,000 mi) in total length, accounting for about two-thirds of the world's high-speed rail tracks in commercial service. It is the world's longest HSR network and is also the most extensively used, with 1.713 billion trips delivered in 2017 bringing the total cumulative number of trips to 7 billion. One of the longest connectable station Shenzhen and Urumqi and is 3392 km(2108 miles), longer than the distance from Chicago to Los Angeles or Moscow to Madrid.
The massive HSR networks are like ready itineraries that provide guests an easy, convenient and comfortable way to enjoy their long trip in China. Comparing to flight, HSR is much cheaper, and train stations are usually founded in locations closer than airports, most importantly, check-in and security check procedure is much easier and faster than taking a plane. Take the busiest railway Shanghai to Beijing as an example, the distance is 1,462 km (908 mi), the fastest train can complete this journey with 4 hours and a half hours. Train G14 leave Shanghai at 15:00 and arrive in Beijing at 19:36. You would only need to leave your hotel no later than 14:00 and will arrive at your hotel in Beijing by 20:30. Let’s say the total travel time from hotel to hotel is 6 and a half hours. To take a plane, take HU7608(12:15-14:30) as an example, the airport in Shanghai is so far away from the urban area that you would need to leave your hotel at earliest 9:30. Upon arrival Beijing, you would need at least one hour to get out of the airport with time claiming luggage then another hour to travel to your hotel which makes your time to the hotel be 16:30. To sum up, you would need 7 hours to travel from hotel to hotel. A high-speed train can be faster than a plane with this calculation! There is more than a flight cannot compare. You can always break your journey to Beijing with several parts and stop by any cities you want to visit en route then catch another train to the terminal station of Beijing. With the lower cost considered, there is no better way to travel China with high-speed trains if you want to have a long and panorama view of China. For your first long trip to China, we recommend this must-take high-speed train route that connects 4 major cities of China in different regions. They are Shanghai in the east, Beijing in the North, Xi’an to the West North and Chengdu to the West South. These are 4 cities with distinct characteristics, presenting diverse cultures from different parts of China. There are also many cities from small to large with world-class attractions that you can stop by between each terminal.
Shanghai is the largest city in China with a population of 22 million, it also serves as an international aviation hub with a great many airlines connecting China to the rest of the world. Getting to China via Shanghai might be the most convenient way, especially for those who would like to connect their journey with other parts of Asia like South East Asia, Japan etc. Shanghai is the city in China with the longest modernization history thus one of the most internationally known city of China. The city is known for its skyscrapers, architecture scene blending west and east and its international vibe. Most international visitors will find it is easier travel within Shanghai than any other cities of China, Making Shanghai your first stop will also let you adjust with the culture shock that may come along with your visit going deeper into China. The area that Shanghai locates is called “Jiangnan”, south of the river, referring to the lands immediately to the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, the longest river in China. While Shanghai is the wealthiest city in the area nowadays, this is not the case until the 20th century. The area has been the economic center of China for more than 1000 years with Hangzhou and Suzhou being the two most important cities. With a long and prosperous, Hangzhou and Suzhou reserve abundant amount of historical sites. Hangzhou is named the “most beautiful city in the world” in the 13th century by Marco Polo, the West Lake, and the area around is a great collection of natural beauty and cultural heritage while Suzhou is best known for its Chinese Gardens and ancient water towns. Suzhou is only a half hour away from Shanghai and Hangzhou, one hour. We would recommend one or two neighboring cities like Hangzhou and Suzhou for your visit to Shanghai before heading to Beijing. The lay-back side of these cities and the bustling Shanghai are a great balance of Yin and Yang.
Journey to Beijing from Shanghai and neighboring cities is 4-5 hours depending on the train you chose. The traveling time is actually short considering it would take 2 hours by train. Adding the time from the urban area to airport and security checking, high-speed train and plane are not that much different.
On the way to Beijing, there are many cities that you can stop by to have a short visit, like Nanjing, Jinan etc. However, I would like to recommend Tai’an for a visit to Mount Tai, Mount Tai is known as the eastern mountain of the Five Great Mountains of China. It is associated with sunrise, birth, and renewal, and is often regarded the foremost of the five. Mount Tai has been a place of worship for at least 3,000 years and served as one of the most important ceremonial centers of China during large portions of this period.
Beijing is the capital of China for a continuous 800 years plus, it lost the title to Nanjing for 2 decades during the early 20 century and gain it back after 1949. Beijing is where people will feel the “real China” and imperial palace, classic Chinese roofs the Great Wall etc. Here fewer people speak English thus high chance you may encounter culture shocks. There are lots of attractions in Beijing that worth more than 1 week of your stay for solely being a tourist. Plus it is the capital of China.
The next terminal is Xi’an, capital of 13 ancient dynasties of China. Xi’an is the starting point of the ancient Silk Road as it was the capital of China back then. With such profound China, the quantity and quality of heritages in Xi’an is what no other cities can compare. It is like Rome is the western world. As a matter of Fact, when Rome served as the capital of the Roma Empire, Xi’an was the city of China back then. Notable attractions of Xi’an include Terra Cotta Warriors, City Wall, and Wild Goose Pagoda etc. Xi’an was also the starting point of the Silk Road thus culture here has a blend of the “West Area”, referring to middle Asian nowadays. There is a small amount of Muslim population in the city and Islam has been practiced in the city for more than thousand years, the mosques here are a great mix and Chinese architecture and traditional Muslim architecture. And the food here will be something very different than you tried in Shanghai and Beijing. Between Beijing and Xi’an, there is also a perfect stop for history lover, Pingyao Ancient Town, the best preserved Ming and Qing Dynasty ancient time of China. Don’t miss the chance of traveling back in time!
Next destination, Chengdu. You may not hear about this city too often. But you don’t want to miss it as it is the hometown of Panda! All the panda reservation centers are found in and around Chengdu. Be prepared for the cute panda attack! Chengdu is also known for its spicy food, for lovers of spicy food, this is paradise for you. Chengdu is connected with Amsterdam some US cities with direct flights, it can be a perfect port to depart China. However, before leaving China, you may want to check out Chongqing, the most unique city in China and the trendy city for China travelers. Known as mountain city, the landscape of the city one of its kind. Combining the skyscrapers, Chongqing is a cyberpunk city straight out of movies like Blade Runner. There are some experiences that you can only have here, like see a train running through a tall building, highway under your feet., solid ground greeting you on 18 floors etc.
Enjoy your stay!