Since its proclamation as a world heritage site in 2011, Hangzhou is often described as one of the most beautiful destinations in China famous for its West Lake. Its West Lake District is rich in cultural and historical sites and has become a tranquil escape for residents and visitors of Shanghai. Thousands of holidaymakers and business travelers arrange day trips to Hangzhou as often as possible, to escape the constant chaotic pace that Shanghai offers. With Shanghai being only 200 km’s away from Hangzhou, there are many ways to get from Shanghai to Hangzhou, but which is best?
1. Taking The Train
Other than using a professional car service to make the short trip, using the trains will be the cheapest, safest and most comfortable way to travel. During any 24 hour period, more than 4o trains make their way between the two cities. With China’s impressive high-speed trains now also available between Shanghai and Hangzhou, traveling at over 350 km/h your train ride could last as little as 45 minutes! The high-speed trains run every 30 minutes during peak hours and are relatively easy to navigate for first time users. English vending machines are scattered around the Shanghai Hongqiao and Hangzhou stations, with tickets available, so you don’t need to book ahead of time if your visit to Hangzhou is a spur of the moment decision!
If you’re hesitant about using the high-speed train, there are several types of trains you can still use. The fastest and perhaps most comfortable train is the “Dong Che Zu” (“动车组”), which is relatively new and clean with journeys lasting just over 1 hour and 40 minutes each way. If you’re not bothered about your journey time, the cheaper ‘express trains’ can take between two, and two and a half hours to travel between the cities. Something worth considering, regardless of which time of the year you’re going, is that the older trains seldom have working air conditioning and are likely to be packed with passengers. If you’re traveling on business, any of the high-speed trains will be best suited, removing any hassle or chaos you might not have time for on your trip.
2. Taking The Bus
If you’re making the journey during the day, then using the bus might be the most convenient option. The highway between Shanghai and Hangzhou is considered one of the best roads in China and would match anything you’re used to in Western countries. The average bus ride will last between two to three hours, but will only set you back 50RMB. The trains may be quicker, but the busses depart more frequently. You’re able to find a bus every 10-20 minutes anytime between 8 AM and 8 PM from Shanghai’s several bus stations.
If you’ve landed at Shanghai’s Pudong airport and hoping to hop onboard a bus before making your way to Hangzhou, the long distance buses are easy to find on the first level of Pudong’s departure hall. Directly from the airport, your journey will take the best part of 3 hours, so be prepared unless you’re in no rush to reach Hangzhou.
It’s worth noting, that as with any public transport in China’s major cities the buses will likely be very crowded in and around peak hour. Busses are also generally older, and not in particularly good shape. Similarly to the lower end trains, aircon is seen as more of a luxury on busses which can become difficult to deal with when every seat on your vehicle is occupied.
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3. Taking A Taxi
It may be the most flexible way of getting to Hangzhou, but it’s also the most expensive. Taxi’s in China are not as easy to use and navigate as you might think they are. Firstly, China’s roads can be chaotic. The world’s most populous nation also boasts one of the busiest road networks anywhere in the world. For foreigners, the roads might seem overwhelming. Signposts in Mandarin and the general disregard for road rules in many areas are hard to ignore, especially for those visiting China for the first time.
The taxi’s on offer will get you to Hangzhou within 2 to 4 hours, depending on traffic and your exact location apparently. If you’re considering using a taxi, you’ll want to research the dos and don’ts of traveling in one beforehand. It’s easy to be ripped off and even ignored as a passenger. Drivers often refuse to take foreigners, not willing to risk information lost in translation with someone who can’t communicate in their language.
If you’re comfortable with using a taxi, it’s advised you do some research on the company you’re using beforehand. There have been several reported instances of kidnapping in China for long distance taxi rides. While it may seem an on over exaggeration to warn of such cases, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. Taxi’s from bigger companies are usually able to assure you of the integrity of the driver and the car itself. Plus if you experience any issues, it’ll be far easier to report when using a big taxi provider in China.
4. Using A Car Service
It’s recommended that you don’t attempt to rent a car and drive yourself through China. China’s rental market is a new concept, but the roads themselves as mentioned above, are dangerous for those not experienced or fluent in Mandarin or Cantonese. International drivers permits aren’t valid in China, so you would need a Chinese driver’s license before even being allowed to drive in China. Obtaining one may not be too expensive, but can become tiresome to follow the administrative procedures required.
The most comfortable and reliable method of travel is using a professional car service. The drivers provided will be able to speak English fluently, your pick up times will be guaranteed, and the car will be comfortable. If you can afford the rates, you’ll not have to concern yourself with any of the stress or hassle associated with traveling through China.
Hangzhou is clearly one of China’s gems. The west lake district is something every visitor should experience. When comparing the tranquility, heritage, and beauty on offer within the West Lakes, to the thriving and bustling big city of Shanghai, it’s incredible to see just how much China has grown within the last few decades. Getting to Hangzhou is fairly easy, depending on which transport route you’re able to take. If money is not a concern, a reliable car service or one of China’s high-speed trains is easy and convenient. Whatever route you choose, you will surely not regret visiting one of Asia’s most beautiful cities.