Migration Nation: What does it look like when 1.3 Billion people go on Holiday?

Migration Nation: What does it look like when 1.3 Billion people go on Holiday?

The Spring Festival Travel Season, or Chunyun (春运), is well underway as people race home to chow down on dumplings and set the country ablaze with crackers and fireworks.

Of course Spring Festival and Chinese New Year is much more than overeating and going deaf or possibly being blinded, but we’ll talk about that another day, today it’s all about travel chaos, as millions pour into China’s transport system try to make it home.

The 2016 Spring Festival travel period runs from January 24 to March 3, a total of 40 days with peaks around February 5 and 7, and again between February 11 and 13. Here’s a number to scare you, it’s expected that a staggering 2.91 billion trips will take place according to the NDRC (more here). It probably doesn’t scare ticket sellers or petrol station owners though.

So what does it look like when the worlds most populous nation goes on holiday? Here’s a gallery of 2016 Spring Festival travel photos via the web, friends and from wechat posts, including pics of Guangzhou Railway Station, Hangzhou East Railway Station which are pretty crazy at the best of times:

Cities with the busiest rail traffic
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Once again, Baidu has set up a live map of train travel journeys which you can view at http://qianxi.baidu.com/. It uses data from QQ browser and from train ticket sales to visualise all the journeys as they are happening.

Baidu Chunyun map

Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou are the busiest cities for outbound journeys. As for inbound traffic, Wuchang, Chongqing, Chengdu, Wuhan and Zhengzhou are the busiest. (more here).

Crazy Traffic Jams
While many people battled huge crowds reportedly in excess of 100,000 at Guangzhou Railway Station yesterday, people driving or travelling by bus didn’t fair much better. Some people reported road blocks lasting for hours. If you are driving by road there’s a live updating traffic map of the major highways at http://chunyun.baidu.com/

chunyun_baidu_com

Me? Thankfully, I’m not going anywhere this year 🙂 I’m sitting back watching the snack stalls come under siege as the festival shopping onslaught begins.

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China Holiday Dates and When NOT to Travel

China Holiday Dates and When NOT to Travel

There are seven holiday public holidays in China lasting from 1 day to 3 days. The holidays are lengthened by people working weekends prior and after the break, holidays such as the National Day holiday/Mid Autumn Festival period can actually become 7 day breaks or longer.

New Year January 1
Chinese New Year 1st day of 1st lunar month (late January-Early February)
Qingming Festival 5th solar term (April 4 or April 5)
Labor Day May 1
Dragon Boat Festival 5th day of 5th lunar month (late June)
Mid-Autumn Festival 15th day of 8th lunar month (late September)
National Day October 1

For travelers coming to China it pays to be very aware of these dates and avoid all travel during these times. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the festival and traditions, but, plan ahead as when over 1 billion people take a day off…well..I’ll let the pictures tell the story. Here’s some photos from around the web showing the crowds at popular tourist sites during the recent 2013 Mid-Autumn/National Day holiday (Golden Week):

crowds

This shot was taken at Jiuzhaigou Valley in Sichuan province, an apparently amazingly beautiful and peaceful nature escape, on most days. On this day, people lined up for hours to shuffle through and then many were apparently left stranded on the mountain as bus services struggled with demand. According to one report, one man described the scene as “11 hours of chaos, anger, desperation and starvation”.

 

traffic-jam

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If you think that you’ll skip the cues trying to buy a bus or train ticket and take a leisurely drive in the car, think again. Some jams extend for miles and become virtual parking lots with people exiting their cars and playing badminton. News reports mention that some jams were moving at 1km per hour and persisted day long!

 

forbidden-city

The Forbidden City in Beijing and the nearby Tienanmen Square managed to attract a few people.

 

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According to the Xinhua News, Chinese railways carried over 65 million passengers during the holidays.

 

Shanghai’s shopping mecca, Nanjing Rd, received 11.8 million visitors during the holiday, the popular sightseeing spots being the Bund and Yuyuan Garden, received  8.8 million and 2.38 million visitors respectively.

So let’s recap a Chinese holiday that many would enjoy: day long traffic jam to get to the destination, “11 hours of chaos, anger, desperation and starvation” at the destination, over-priced & crowded hotel, and then return via traffic jam. Upon return home many were met with a smog surge and typhoon! Happy Days. Choose your own travel dates wisely!

 

From Shenzhen to Hefei to Fuyang to Maanshan

From Shenzhen to Hefei to Fuyang to Maanshan

The Spring Festival travel peak was nearing an end and there was probably some chance of getting a train ticket or flight once again. For this trip it’s off to meet future relatives.

So how to get from Shenzhen to Fuyang? Theres the train, bus or plane. It’s almost 24hrs travel on a train so I’m guessing a bus is similar. Fuyang has an airport and so does the nearby Hefei, capital of Anhui Province. The train would be a great way to see some more countryside but train tickets are too hard to get.

Flying from Guangzhou to Hefei on Hainan Airlines was on sale for 270RMB (40AUD) for the 2 hour flight and this also gives me a chance to see more of inner China.

Hefei Airport is fairly simple, straight out the front door, turn right and around the corner is taxis, and across the road from the taxi stand is a small sign for the number 11 bus which heads across town to the train station.

Turns out there’s still plenty of people trying to get back to the cities where they work after heading home for the Spring Festival, so no chance of a train, luckily, diagonally across from the train station is the intercity bus station and within minutes were on a bus to Fuyang.

It’s a 3 hour ride, but soon enough I’m introduced to another side of China I haven’t seen, and so it seems Fuyang locals are introduced to something many haven’t seen, a foreigner.

Fuyang isn’t a huge city by Chinese standards, and looks like it wasn’t blessed with enough historical relics to put it on the tourist map so it depends mostly on local industry with the major one being agriculture.

See: Photos of Fuyang, Anhui, China

It’s a very dry place, apparently at the time we where there it hadn’t rained in over 100 days which explained the dry dust that seemed to permeate everything.

While in Fuyang we stayed at the Guomao Hotel, which is a little old and tired but in a great location. There’s isn’t a lot of Hotels in Fuyang and this one seemed to be the pick of bunch.

The hotel serves a great Chinese/Western buffet breakfast and it’s also a top restaurant as we found out later when Susans classmate, friends and family shouted us what was nothing short of feast including a mix of local specialities and traditional Chinese specialities. It really was something, in a private room for the 8 of us, I was so fortunate to experience dishes that could never be found in any foreign Chinese restaurant.

So after a little more of a look around Fuyang and after Susan finalises some home town business it’s off to Maanshan, but how when there’s 500 hundred people waiting to do the same thing? It seems this Spring Festival travel surge goes for some time. Lucky for us Susans friends have some great friends and gave us a fast track onto the bus.

Three hours later and we are in Hefei again and then on bus to Maanshan in Jiangsu Province. It’s time to meet the future in-laws.

Xiamen to Shenzhen Bus

Xiamen to Shenzhen Bus

In China there seems to be plenty of privately run bus services running here, there and everywhere but for a foreigner it’s usually much easier and simpler to just buy a train ticket. But in some cases the going via bus can provide huge time savings.

This is especially the case going from Xiamen to Shenzhen (or even Hong Kong). At the moment there isnt actually a train running direct between those places, but they are building a line to carry a fast (220km/h) train which is expected to be completed some say late this year, some say next year.

In the mean time the only way to go via train is to catch the K636/637 Shenzhen to Fuzhou train and get off at Yongding, or probably even better Longyan and then take a 2-3 hour bus ride to Xiamen.

It’s an ok way to go if you want to visit the Toulou buidlings of Fujian Province but otherwise it’s a 8 hour train ride then 3 hours on the bus.

The fastest and most direct way, other than flying, between Shenzhen and Xiamen is to go via bus. For me booking the bus was easy, the kind people at the V Inn at Xiamen took care of it all.

The booked a bus to leave around midday and got me into Luohu of Shenzhen at around 9pm. They even organised a shuttle bus to take me from the hotel to the bus station and the whole lot cost around 180RMB which is similar price to the train/bus option.

The bus was reasonably modern, albeit in need of a good clean it was acceptable. The best part was the huge luxurious seats, think airline first class style seating. The bus is air conditioned and has a toilet.

The bus also makes a 20 minute stop just after half way distance at a roadhouse which has toilets, snack shop and restaurant.

The bus terminates at bust station not to far from Luohu Station, perfect for me, I simply caught the subway back to Nanshan District.

map

Guangzhou Metro (subway)

Guangzhou Metro (subway)

Guangzhou has a modern subway system which services a large part of the city. For me, I wanted to get from Ghuangzhou East Railway Station to Pazhou where the Canton Fair complex is. It turned out to be pretty easy, just buy a ticket at the electronic vending machine which accepts coins, 5 yuan notes and 10 yuan notes.

I had to take line 1 to Tiyuxilu and then change to line 3 and then get off at Kecun and change to line 2 whose second last destination is Pazhou. When I walked out of the Pazhou Station I was right in the middle of trade fair city where the Jinhan Fair and Canton Fair Complex were located. The International Sourcing Expo is also nearby.

Guangzhou Metro map

Train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou

Train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou

I was heading to the trade fairs that are held every year in Guangzhou, in particular, the Canton Fair and lucky for me there’s a regular fast train between Shenzhen Railway Station and Guangzhou East (Guangzhoudong).

There are many trains running through the day on this route, about 24 trains a day, from early morning to early night. It takes just over an hour for the trip although some trains take a little longer at over 2 hours, maybe they stop at more stations but I’m not sure.

For my first trip, I booked a standard ticket at 75 yuan ($11) and it was a modern comfortable train, it was a D series train if you know your China trains. The only downside is that the seats are a little cosy.

The direction signs at Guangzhou East station are vague, non-existent and ambiguous. To find the subway after departing the train you’ll walk down a hallway with a series of stalls selling accommodation and travel services, just keep looking on your left for the opening which is pictured below.

For more detailed info visit the Shenzhen <> Guangzhou transport and train guide at ShenzhenShopper.com

For accurate map locations and discounted rates check out these Hotels in Guangzhou, China.

update: the trains that leave Shenzhen Railway Station heading to Guangzhou East and Guangzhou Railway Station are now c class intercity trains. 

Shenzhen to Guangzhou Map

Train from Shenzhen to Hong Kong

Train from Shenzhen to Hong Kong

Update 2018: there is now a High-Speed Rail service between Shenzhen and Hong Kong which runs between Shenzhen North Station, Futian Station, and to Hong Kong at the new West Kowloon Station. Regardless, the below method is still an option especially if you are travelling to destinations on the East Rail Line such as Sheung Shui or Tai Po areas.

Shenzhen is right next door to Hong Kong which worked out very handy for me as my visa was about to expire. Hong Kong being a Special Administrative Region of China is just like going to another country, so, it’s a popular place to visit and explore, and to then get a new visa if you wish to return to back China.

There are several ways to get to Hong Kong from Shenzhen, including the ferry, bus and train, but for this trip, I chose to go on the train. Apparently, this is the most popular way to get across to Hong Kong via the Luohu Border.

Staying Nanshan District I made use of Shenzhen’s modern subway (called the Metro) riding from Shenda Station (near Shenzhen University) to Luohu Station which is where the subway meets the Shenzhen Railway Station. This is also where the Luohu border crossing into Hong Kong is. Note in China it is called Luohu but in Hong Kong, it is called Lo Wu.

So, there’s an underground subway, above ground major rail station and border crossing immigration point all in the one place. In addition, it’s a mix of old and new buildings. Sounds like a great place to get lost and really confused!

But it’s actually not too difficult, once in the railway station simply follow the signs to the Hong Kong Train which leads you out of the new section into the border crossing terminal. The signage becomes a bit vague but if you follow your nose and the mass of people that are all going to Hong Kong, you’ll get there! There’s also staff floating around that will help with directions.

The immigration area here is pretty busy and you’ll need to fill in a departure card and hand it over with your passport to exit through the China customs. Then down the corridor further to the Hong Kong customs and as an Australian passport holder all I had to do was fill in an entry card and hand that over with my passport which, after being checked, was then stamped with a 90 day Hong Kong Visa.

Once out of the customs area it’s off to the train, there’s an ATM which issues RMB and HKD, there’s also a currency exchange which I used to change some RMB into HKD so as to buy a train ticket (the exchange rates are average, so I  just got enough for the ticket).

There are several vending machines to buy the train ticket which have a touchscreen where you simply choose your destination, which was Mong Kok East Station for me (I was staying at the Dorsett Hotel on Anchor St), and then shove your money in. I think the ticket cost about 40HKD,  I later found out about the ‘Tourist Cross-boundary Travel Pass’ which looks like good value (see the MTR website). There’s only one train here, going in the one direction, so it’s pretty hard to go wrong!

The trains are quite regular, but are often packed to the brim, for a little more you can buy a first class ticket with an increased chance of getting a seat in what was labelled a ‘quite class car’ (really? Quite..hmm..I wondered could there actually be such a place in China….I suspect another dubious claim). The train from Luohu to Kowloon (which is the central area of Hong Kong) took about 30-40minutes.

Update: For a more recently updated and detailed guide on transferring between the cities, visit the Shenzhen – Hong Kong transport page at Shenzhen Shopper which includes the border crossings at Futian, Nanshan (Shenzhen Wan Kou An), and Shekou ferry services.

Below is a map of the Hong Kong rail network including the above ground rail and subway, which make up the MTR systems in HK

Hong Kong MTR map – click for larger image
Beijing to Shanghai via Train D305 – Soft Sleeper

Beijing to Shanghai via Train D305 – Soft Sleeper

This was my second trip on a train in China and again it’s an overnight train with the trip taking just over 10 hours. I would be travelling on the D305 which leaves Beijing South station an 9.40PM and arrives in Shanghai at 7.52AM.

The train leaves from Beijing South Station which is very modern, clean and an easy place to hang out featuring a KFC, McDonalds and numerous other cafes and a pair of restuarants. 

Being an overnight journey I went the the ‘soft sleeper’ option again with the ticket this time costing 685RMB ($107AUD) booked via the Red Wall Hotel tour desk. The train is newer than the one I took from Xian to Beijing   and also featuring a small LCD screen at the end of the bed which unfortunately only screened shows in Chinese.

Inside the Soft Sleeper cabin on the D305
Each bunk has an individual LCD screen with remote controls and headphones
Hot water dispenser, and mirror and wash basins at the end of each car, the cars also have western style toilets

Again, there were four bunks in the cabin and when I entered one lady was already settled in and looked at me curiously when I made my way in. ‘Ni, hao’ I said as I entered, and quickly got a ‘ni hao’ in response (ni hao is equal to hello in mandarin). She spoke some more words in mandarin which I didn’t understand. ‘wu bu hui shou putonghua’ I replied with a smile, meaning I cant speak mandarin, she smiled and could see I was struggling to find somewhere to put my bag and pointed out a neat little storage space beneath the bottom bunk.

That was pretty much the extent of our communication for the journey and just before the train was set to depart a young chinese male joined us in the cabin and one bunk was still empty as we departed.

It was a quite trip all way and with no one knowing anyone else, and one of those people unable to speak the language, soon everyone was in sleeping mode. Come morning most people in the train start waking early at around 5.00 and start making use of the wash basin, mirror and toilets at the end of the car.

The lady that was sharing the cabin jumped off at Nanjing, which is the only stop prior to Shanghai. Not long after that I jumped down to the lower bunk and got my luggage ready to go.

The young guy that was in the bunk below seeing me says a big helloo, turns out he is a university student who can speak pretty good english. We chat for a while about his uni life and we soon start talking about house prices in China, a hot topic here as they have been on the up and up.

I told him how housing prices in Australia were getting further and further out of reach of the average wage earner, and he concurred that the situation was very similar in China except that for some its just a dream that even dreaming of is unrealistic.

Pretty soon the train arrives in Shanghai and its time to see a new city.

Shanghai Train Station