Riding the bus is a very daunting experience in a foreign country. It is especially scary in a country that doesn’t speak English. Riding the bus in China for the first time is next level stuff. If you do not have a basic understanding of ‘transportation’ Chinese then you’d best do a little research before you step onto the bus. It’s only difficult in the beginning. Once you get familiar with the routes, you can traverse Beijing quickly and cheaply.
Getting around Being is very cheap generally. Taxis are obviously the priciest and while you could probably afford to take a taxi now and again and not break the bank, riding the bus costs CNY 2. If you have a transportation card, your trip only costs you CNY 1.
A transportation card takes care of your bus rides all through Beijing but not outside of Beijing. Do not go to Shanghai and think you can ride their busses with your Beijing money. The transportation card can also be used on the subway. You can top it up at any station with as little as CNY 10 and as much as CNY 500. When you purchase the card for the first time, there is a CNY 20 deposit. The prices of your bus ride will be clearly displayed on the door of the bus.
Here are few things to help you ride the bus like a professional.
1. Busses have numbers
There are hundreds of routes running all through Beijing and to create some kind of order, there is a bus number system in place. I haven’t quite figured out the system but it has something to do with certain busses only riding at night and others travelling further distances. Certain numbered busses only run within the 3rd Ring Road for instance.
2. Tracking the bus with technology
If you know the bus you’re going to take, you can look up the number on Baidu Maps and you will able to see where it is in real-time. This helps when it’s raining or the middle of winter and you’d much rather be dry and warm than standing on the sidewalk looking up and down the street in a confused daze because you don’t understand where your bus is.
There are many apps you could use to find out routes and real-time locations. One of them is Che Lai Le. Unfortunately, for now, this app and its impressively accurate by-the-minute updates on bus arrival time is limited only to busses fully equipped with WiFi.
3. Bus Times
The busses run from around 5am depending on the bus and the last bus is at around 11pm which is also the time the subway stops running. Make sure to look at the sign at your bus stop if you plan on using the same bus to return home. It would be a nightmare to be stranded in an area where the only thing you recognize is a bus number that is not coming for you.
4. Ask for help
You could ask a ticket conductor for some help. They may seem a little unapproachable at first but if you don’t try then the answer remains no and you remain lost. Show them the name of your destination in Chinese characters to confirm that the bus you are on is the correct one. Nine times out of ten you don’t even have to ask them to tell you when to get off because most of them tend to take you under their wing naturally. You can ask them the following phrase or if you don’t know how to read Chinese, just show them.
I want to go (name of destination) please tell me when we are almost there
我想去(name of destination) 快到那个站时请提醒我
Wǒ xǐang qù (name of destination) kuài dào nà gè zhàn shí qǐng tí xǐng wǒ
A few things to remember:
• While the busses are incredibly efficient, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in the middle of a traffic jam.
• Take care of your personal belongings. China is relatively safe but people are people and if there is a cellphone dangling in a backpack in front of some people, they’ll think it’s a gift.
• Some busses only permit boarding from the middle door and exiting from the front and rear doors while others have no system and even if you find yourself standing in a line, as soon as the bus arrives, you will find yourself standing in another line waiting for the next bus because you’ve been pushed out of the way.
• Bus stops are announced and displayed in Pinyin for your convenience.
• All announcements are in Chinese so it is perfectly fine to put your earphones in and drown it out until there is some sort of an emergency. In the event there is an evacuation or a sudden malfunction, just follow the crowd or wait until you are roughly ushered out.
• During rush hour, be prepared for a lot of pushing and squeezing and total disregard of personal space.
Gird your loins and happy travelling.