Buying train tickets in China may seem a little intimidating. But armed with the right information, it doesn’t have to be. There are options.


Train travel in China is nothing like traveling by train in the United States. Often cheaper than a domestic flight, China’s train system is arguably the best in the world. It is reliable, convenient, and has timely connections to just about anywhere you want to go at whatever speed you like. Not to mention, the views are spectacular. Even Ningxia province is no exception.


There are a couple of ways to buy tickets for train trips in China.


Use a ticket booking app

The easiest and most convenient way is probably through an app. Currently, has an English app with simple procedures for entering your identification information and payment details, including a foreign debit or credit card.


It allows you to browse through all the itinerary options- any time and any station- and then book a ticket. The convenience comes at a price, however, as the app will add a $3 to $5 fee to each ticket, depending on the type of seat. It truly is the most convenient way if you can’t speak or read Chinese. This will still require a trip to the train station, at any point before departure, to pick up your tickets.


Go to the train station

Booking in person is possible without language, especially if you know the details beforehand. Even if you don’t have a payment method on a booking app, like the app, you can still use it to browse through train options and find one that you like.


Clearly write down the train number, departure and arrival station, and the time, as well as the seat class and take that information with you to the station. Don’t forget your passport! You will probably be asked a few questions like: Where are you going? When do you want to go? What time do you want to depart? Which train? What seat type? Can I see your passport? Is this correct? How will you pay? The things you have written down will come in handy here.


Below are the steps in the ticket buying process.


Before purchasing your tickets, regardless of method, make a plan and gather your documents.


Figure out your desired itinerary and search for the closest matching option. Pay attention to your departure and arrival station. Many cities have two or more stations differentiated by the side of town they are on. Make sure you have your passport details available and a payment method ready for whichever option you choose.


Entrance of the Yinchuan Train Station


Once you have made a decision on the ticket, you can either purchase it using an app or go to the train station.



If you purchase through the app, you can go to the train station to pick up your ticket in advance, or just arrive early on the day of departure to retrieve it. Take your passport and any E-ticket number you received from an app so the agent can look up your order. For both methods, look for the ticketing sign and go inside. Sometimes you’ll have to go through security to pick up your tickets.



The entrance of the ticketing area at the Yinchuan Train Station

After entering the ticketing hall, get in line to get your tickets.


Just hop in a line- most of the time the person at the counter will go ahead and process your request or point you to the correct line. If you have already purchased tickets and have an E-ticket number, show it to the agent and give them your passport. You shouldn’t have to pay if you bought it with an app.



If you are buying your ticket in advance at the station, show them the details and hand them your passport. Many times, a computer screen will show you your booking information, so check to see that it is correct as the agent types information in. Once you have your ticket in your hand, double check the train number details for accuracy.


A few things to remember…


– Train tickets usually go on sale about a month before the departure date, with the app releasing tickets earlier than in person at the train station.


– During peak travel times, like major holidays and the weeks before or after college semesters, tickets are snatched up pretty quickly.


– Consider how you are going to pay. The ticketing lines can be long, and it is common that you’ll be cut at least once by a customer in a rush. Don’t hold up the line trying to figure out what to do. The main options are cash or mobile payments, through WeChat or Alipay.


– Passengers start lining up about 30 minutes before departure and they are allowed on to the train about 20 minutes before departure. Arriving an hour before is usually enough time to go through security and find your gate.


Once you have your ticket, it is important to know what it says. Below you will find a common train ticket with a few important items explained.


A: Pay careful attention to the station names. Most cities have at least two stations. The main station is usually denoted as the city name, in this case 银川(Yinchuan) and 兰州(Lanzhou). Most fast trains depart from and arrive in newer stations, usually denoted as the city name with a cardinal direction 北,南,东,西(north, south, east, west). For example, 北京西(Beijing West).


B: These are the various seating options.


无座 No seat
硬座 Hard seat

上,中,下   [ 铺 ]

Hard sleeper

top, middle, or bottom bunk


上,下        [ 铺 ]

Soft sleeper

top or bottom bunk

一等座 First class
二等座 Second class
商务座 Business class


Guest post written by Jordan Moore