From Beijing you can get just about anywhere in China via the extensive air and rail system. You'd be advised to buy a ticket a few days in advance, though, especially in the summer or around Spring Festival. Few visitors travel long distance by bus as it's less comfortable than the train and takes longer, though it has the advantage that you can usually just turn up and get on as services to major cities are frequent. Buy a ticket from the ticket office in the station, or on the bus itself. Tianjin and Chengde are two destinations within easy travelling distance, where the bus and the train have about the same journey time.
Domestic flights should be booked at least a day in advance. The main outlet for tickets is the Aviation Office, at 15 Xi Chang'an Jie (daily 7am-8pm; information tel 66017755, domestic reservations tel 66013336, international...
Domestic flights should be booked at least a day in advance. The main outlet for tickets is the Aviation Office, at 15 Xi Chang'an Jie (daily 7am-8pm; information tel 66017755, domestic reservations tel 66013336, international reservations tel 66016667), where most domestic airlines are represented. China Southern Airlines is at 227 Chaoyangmen Dajie (tel 65533622), and Xinhua Airlines are at 2A Dong Chang'an Jie (tel 65121587).
Tickets are also available from CITS, from most hotels, and from airline agents dotted around the city. You'll often get a cheaper price if you deal with airlines or their agents directly; call the airline to get their agent list.
To get to the airport, airport buses run from outside the Aviation Office (every 30min; 5.30am-8pm), from the northwest side of the International Hotel (cross the road and look for the sign; hourly; 6.30am-4.30pm), and from outside a ticket office on the east side of Wangfujing Dajie, just north of the intersection with Chaoyangmen Dajie (every 30min; 5.30am-6pm). Tickets cost ￥16.
A taxi to the airport will cost around ￥80, and the journey should take about 45 minutes, at least half an hour longer in rush hour. The information desk at the airport is open 24 hours for enquiries (tel 64563604).
Trains depart from either Xi Zhan , if you're heading south or west, for example to Chengdu or Xi'an, or Beijing Zhan , if you're heading north or east, for example to Shanghai or Harbin. You can buy tickets with an...
Trains depart from either Xi Zhan , if you're heading south or west, for example to Chengdu or Xi'an, or Beijing Zhan , if you're heading north or east, for example to Shanghai or Harbin. You can buy tickets with an added surcharge of around ￥40 from large hotels or CITS, though it's little hassle to do it yourself direct. Tickets for busy routes should be booked at least a day in advance, and can be booked up to four days ahead. Note that you can buy tickets for trains leaving from Xi Zhan at Beijing Zhan, and vice versa; always ask or check the ticket to see which station your train leaves from. At Beijing Zhan, the Foreigners' Ticket Booking Office is at the back of the station, on the left side as you enter, and is signposted in English. At the time of writing, it was a hole in the wall; presumably they'll have built the office by the time you read this, and they may well extend the opening hours - at present it's open 5.30-7.30am, 8am-noon and 1.30-4pm, and, for same-day and surplus next-day tickets only, 7pm-9pm. The Foreigners' Ticket Booking Office at Xi Zhan, on the second floor, is to the left side as you enter the building. It boasts more windows and has longer opening hours (8am-12pm). The most painless way to buy tickets, however, is to get them from a separate ticket outlet - as these are little known, there are never any queues. There's one on the first floor in the Wangfujing Department Store at 225 Wangfujing Dajie (daily 9-11am & 1-4pm) and another in the Air China ticket office in the China World Trade Centre at 1 Jianguomenwai Dajie (daily 8am-6pm). A third outlet at the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel (daily 8am-5pm) is not easy to find; it's to the right and at the back as you enter. If you can speak Chinese, you can make it even easier for yourself by booking your ticket over the phone up to four days before your travel date (Beijing Zhan only; tel 65634672; 6-9pm only, and have your passport handy), then picking your ticket up the following morning from an office at 88 Dongsibei Dajie, at the Beijing Normal University, or at the National Cigarette Bureau at 6 Fuzhouguan Dong Jie.
For train information (in Chinese only) phone 65129525
Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian trains
The International Train Booking Office (Mon-Fri 8.30-12am & 1.30-5pm) is the best thing about the International Hotel at 9 Jianguomenwai Dajie. Here you can buy tickets to Moscow and Ulan Batur with the minimum of fuss. Out of season, few...
The International Train Booking Office (Mon-Fri 8.30-12am & 1.30-5pm) is the best thing about the International Hotel at 9 Jianguomenwai Dajie. Here you can buy tickets to Moscow and Ulan Batur with the minimum of fuss. Out of season, few people make the journey, but in summer there may well not be a seat for weeks. Allow yourself a week or two for dealing with embassy bureaucracy. After putting down a ￥100 deposit on the ticket at the booking office, you'll be issued with a reservation slip. Take this with you to the embassy when you apply for visas and the process should be fairly painless. A Russian transit visa, valid for a week, costs around US$30. A tourist visa, valid for one month, costs around US$50, with a surcharge for certain nationalities (mostly African and South American). Transit visas for Mongolia are valid for one week and cost US$25; tourist visas valid for a month cost US$50.
Chinese train #3 to Moscow via Ulan Batur leaves every Wednesday and takes five and a half days. A bunk in a second-class cabin with four beds - which is perfectly comfortable - costs ￥1606. First class is ￥2306 (four beds) or ￥2786 (two beds). The Russian train #19, which follows the Trans-Siberian route, leaves on Saturdays and takes six days. The cheapest bunk here is ￥1825; first class is ￥2900. A Mongolian train leaves for Ulan Batur every Tuesday and costs ￥606 for one bed in a four-bed berth. Travelling on train #3 is slightly cheaper.
The tour company Monkey Business will organize your trip for you, if you don't mind paying an extra US$150 for the privilege of having your visas sorted out for you and being patronized by their staff of jaded ex-travellers. They're in Rm 406 of the Beijing Commercial Business Complex at Youanmenwai (tel 63292244 ext 2532), a huge building 1.5km west of the Qiaoyuan Hotel, with its name in English emblazoned across it. They also have an office in Hong Kong (Flat 6, Fourth Floor, E Block, Chungking Mansions; tel 2731376).