See more of China on its high-speed rail

Many high-speed rail journeys in China are faster than flying.
Many high-speed rail journeys in China are faster than flying.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • You must have read how the growing network of high-speed trains in China has made for easier journeys home during Chinese New Year for millions of people.

It is not just the locals who can take advantage of the vastly improved journey times that the network offers.

Tourists, too, can use this transport option to see more of China - and at a faster pace.

Many high-speed rail journeys are, ultimately, quicker than flying.

Tickets can be booked on Ctrip - a Chinese provider of travel services - and delivered to a hotel.

They can also be picked up from a train station, though leave plenty of time for this as queues can be long.

Tickets can also be bought directly at stations or at offices around cities.

A passport is required to buy or pick up tickets, which are available 30 days in advance of travel.

Trains get booked up quickly, so it pays to be organised.

Day-time high-speed trains have first-and second-class seats; some have business-class options.

Second-class seats are still spacious and comfortable.

Prices vary. A one-way, second-class ticket from Shanghai to Beijing costs 553 yuan (S$115) for the 1,318km journey.

The Beijing to Kunming service, currently the world's longest high-speed rail route, costs about S$240 for a second-class seat.

The services are generally divided into two types: G trains, which run at 300kmh and upwards; and D trains, which go at 250kmh to 300kmh.

Here are some journeys to consider.

Beijing to Kunming (train G403)

This service traverses more than 2,700km from Beijing to Kunming, capital of Yunnan, the country's most south-westerly province, in 10 hours and 43 minutes.

It is a long trip, so you might wish to break up the journey in Wuhan, once a foreign concession port.

Changsha offers a day-trip opportunity, with a visit to the hamlet of Shaoshan, birthplace of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

Further south, the city of Guiyang is a jump-off point for exploring Miao and Dong ethnic minority cultures.

Lanzhou to Urumqi (train D2701)

This service, on China's most westerly high-speed line, takes 11 hours and 31 minutes to connect Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province, with Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

Essentially the Silk Road line, it travels between major points on the ancient trade route, including Zhangye, home of the Danxia mountains; and Jiayuguan, where the Great Wall ends.

At points, the line reaches 3,607m, making it the highest high-speed rail track in the world.

The train also stops at the oasis town of Turpan, geographically China's lowest point at 154m below sea level.

Xi'an to Beijing (train G4020)

After spending time in Xi'an, home of the terracotta warriors, as well as China's most complete ancient city walls, this train arrives in Beijing in six hours and 35 minutes.

It snakes its way along the Yellow River and en route stops at Luoyang Longmen, for an easy visit to the Longmen caves, site of a major Buddhist rock art gallery.

From there, it is also possible to visit the Shaolin Temple, where the martial art form of gongfu is said to have been developed.

Shanghai to Shenzhen (train D2287)

Travelling along the coast in 11 hours and 34 minutes, this train goes via picturesque Hangzhou, for a visit to its beautiful West Lake, and passes through the semi-tropical provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian.

It stops in the old port of Xiamen, where it is possible to visit the colossal Hakka earthen roundhouses nestled in the countryside nearby.

From technology capital Shenzhen, it is an easy ride across to Hong Kong on the MTR train.

Shanghai to Suzhou (train G7006)

This ride whisks you from Shanghai's skyscrapers to the canals and gardens of Suzhou in 25 minutes.

The frequent return trains make this an easy day trip from China's biggest city, but given that Suzhou's red lantern-lined streets are especially charming at night, you may want to stay overnight instead of rushing back.

Shanghai to Beijing (train G14)

It is possible to travel the 1,318km between China's two most prominent cities in just four hours and 28 minutes.

Shanghai, with its high-rise buildings and fast-talking residents, showcases the entrepreneurial energy that has seen the country develop.

Beijing is all about history and politics, from Chairman Mao's huge portrait still gazing out across Tiananmen Square to the Forbidden City, once home to emperors.

GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 15, 2018, with the headline 'See more of China on its high-speed rail'. Print Edition | Subscribe