Travel Report: How To Ride The Beijing Subway.
September 2018. Whatever it is you’ve come to China’s capital for, chances are you’re gonna get acquainted with the good old Beijing Subway! It’s unavoidable really. After all, the bus system is complicated, slow and Mandarin only. Furthermore, taxis can soon start to get pricy and the scene is rampant with unethical drivers looking to capitalise on naive tourists. The Beijing Subway is the country’s oldest metro network and the world’s second largest behind Shanghai. Just try and wrap your head around 22 lines and 370 stations! Not to mention the fact that it’s still growing!
A basic one-way fare starts at 3RMB (£0.35/€0.40/$0.45) and increases depending on the distance travelled. Fear not though, you won’t pay over 10RMB (£1.10/€1.25/$1.45), unless you’re taking the magnolia-themed Airport Express at a flat 25RMB (£2.80/€3.15/$3.65). Queuing up for a one-way ticket every time soon gets tedious though. Therefore, your best bet is to grab one of these blue cards that allows you to bulk up on credit. The card requires a 20RMB deposit (£2.20/€2.50/$2.90), which you get back at the end of your trip. You can recharge at subway station ticket counters, which gives you a chance to show off your Chinese language skills. Alternatively, there are also self-service machines where… praise the lord… you can switch to English!
The Beijing Subway is not for the faint-hearted! Please believe me when I say it can get BUSY in a way that will literally redefine your comprehension of the word. This is hardly helped by local etiquette, or rather the total lack of it, which dictates a dog-eat-dog approach. People rarely wait for others to disembark before pushing forward. They’ll also shamelessly race each other frantically to steal a free seat once onboard. I took this video during a TWENTY MINUTE WALK just to change lines at Zhichunlu station!
Personal space has little value in Chinese culture and indeed the subway is a shining example. People will knock into you, drag their suitcases over your feet and elbow you. Similarly, they’ll stick their armpits into your nose and pretty much burp into your face given half the chance. Try and avoid travelling at rush hour, which is just… well it’s horrendous. Another tip: Whatever station you’re jumping off at, try and do some research beforehand as to what exit you need. Some stations have up to 8-10 options, so if you get it wrong you could find yourself far away from where you want to be.
I don’t want to scare you off altogether though, because there are many positives to the Beijing Subway! The trains themselves are fast, smooth and for the most part super modern. Plus, if you’ve just missed one you won’t need to wait more than a few minutes before the next beast comes gliding into view. It’s also great for people watching. You never know who and what you’re going to see. In order to fend off the unwanted prospect of colds, bugs and viruses, it’s common to see people wearing masks. But I can’t say I’d ever seen anything quite as badass as this guy’s headgear!
Train services start at around 06:00-06:30 every morning. The final route of the day takes place somewhere between 23:00-0:00 across the various lines. Be prepared to go through a security check in every station, which includes a perfunctory bag scan. However, a lot of the time the girl manning the x-ray screen is half asleep. This final shot is onboard the Olympic Line (8, green), which is easily my favourite. It’s nearly always quiet and still feels as shiny and new as when it opened back in the summer of 2008.
Like this? Why not take a look at more of my travel reports from around Beijing.
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