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Beijing to Kunming By Train Posted by on Jun 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

If you enjoy traveling by train, China is a country that should be high atop your list. While the US technically has a larger rail network than China, a majority of the lines are used for freight. When it comes to moving passengers around, China blows the US out of the water. China’s railways delivered nearly 2.5 billion trips in the year 2014 alone, 2nd only to India. The country also budgeted around $130 billion for railway development that year, with plans to expand the network to 270,000 km by the year 2050. Its high-speed network has been growing rapidly in recent years and it is now by far the largest in the world. With a few weeks to travel in China, you could cover a nice chunk of the country by rail. One excellent trip you could take is the Beijing-Kunming route, visiting a couple of provincial capitals along the way to break up the journey. Here are some highlights of this epic train trip.

Beijing (北京 – běi jīng)

Beijing.

Beijing.

Start off in China’s capital city and spend a few days taking in all of the sights. Some of Beijing’s top attractions include the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and of course the Great Wall. The city is also home to countless museums, temples, and parks – enough to keep you busy for a week if you have that much time. A longer visit will allow you time to get out and do one or two day trips, such as the Botanical Gardens or Fragrant Hills. Check out those and a few more in this short video:

Foodies will also love the city, as you can find just about any kind of cuisine imaginable here. Don’t leave without trying the city’s most famous dish – Peking roast duck. Night owls will have no trouble entertaining themselves, as Beijing’s nightlife is pretty amazing. See for yourself…

Wuhan (武汉 – wǔ hàn)

Wuhan's icon - the Yellow Crane Tower.

Wuhan’s icon – the Yellow Crane Tower.

Your next stop is Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei. Make sure you book your ticket early, as this is a popular route. There are high-speed trains that take 4-6 hours, and regular ones taking 10-12. The slower trains are far cheaper, so consider taking one of those overnight and getting a sleeper – you’ll save money on the fare and on accommodation. Wuhan is basically three cities in one, split up by two rivers. This is a good spot to jump on a cruise of the Yangtze if you’re so inclined. Otherwise, 1-2 days should be enough here. The main attraction of Wuhan is the ancient Yellow Crane Tower. You can easily spend a day walking around the surrounding parks and temples in addition to the tower. Check out some highlights in this video:

After all that walking, you’ll probably be hungry. There are a few snack streets in the city where you can go to fill up on all the classic Chinese street food. Make sure you try the local specialty – “hot, dry noodles.”

Changsha (长沙 – cháng shā)

One day in Changsha

One day in Changsha.

This leg of the trip is a breeze, as you can get from Wuhan to Changsha in just 1.5 hours on the high-speed lines. Even the slower ones only take 3-4 hours, so this is a good journey to do during the day. Capital of Hunan province, this city has played an important role in Chinese history. It was here that Chairman Mao – who was born in nearby Shaoshan – began his political career. If you’re so inclined, you can visit his hometown on a day trip. With a full day in the city, it’s best to head to the Yuelu Mountain scenic area, home to the oldest Buddhist temple in the province and an ancient academy. See what you can do with a day in Changsha in this video:

When it comes to eating, people here like it spicy. Try some traditional Hunan food – commonly referred to as Xiang cuisine – loaded up with chili peppers and garlic. If you’re feeling brave, you can dig in to some of the city’s famous stinky tofu for a snack. From Changsha, it’s possible to visit the famous Zhangjiajie park that was inspiration for the landscapes in Avatar. To do this, you’ll need an extra 3-4 days at least.

Guiyang (贵阳 – guì yáng)

Old and new Chinese buildings.

Old and new Chinese buildings.

Once again, you have a choice between what kind of train you’d like to take. The high-speed option will deliver you in 3-4 hours, while slower trains take 12-13. This is another instance where you might want to consider taking a slower overnight train and getting a sleeper ticket. Either option will bring you to Guiyang, provincial capital of Guizhou. With a day or two here, you can explore the city’s countless squares, check out the ancient Jiaxiu Pavilion, and take a day trip out to Qianling Park. Get a taste of this often forgotten city in this video:

If you’ve got another day or two to spare and want to get out of the city, consider adding a stop at Huangguoshu waterfall. To do this, catch a train to nearby Anshun. From there, it’s easy to catch a bus or hire a cab to take you out to the falls for a day of exploring.

Kunming (昆明 – kūn míng)

Kunming

Another beautiful Kunming day.

The high-speed rails have yet to reach this corner of China, as it’s very mountainous. With most trains taking 7-10 hours, it’s best to choose an overnight one and get some rest. You’ll wake up in the capital of Yunnan province – Kunming. Often referred to as the “Spring City” for its mild weather, it’s a nice place to spend a couple of days. I liked it so much I even moved there for a year! Although it’s not full of big attractions, there’s plenty to do here. Stroll around the Green Lake, hike up in the Western Hills, visit the Bird & Flower Market, and more. Check out this “10 Things to Do in Kunming” video to help you plan your trip:

You’ll definitely want to make sure to budget at least a week of your time for Yunnan, as there’s lots to do here. Some of the most popular places to visit include Dali, Lijiang, the Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangri-la, and Xishuangbanna. Once you’ve had your fill of Yunnan, head back to Kunming to catch a flight out. Alternatively, if you’re headed to Southeast Asia you could keep taking the train. It’s now possible to get to the China-Vietnam border by rail from Kunming, where a whole new journey awaits!

 

Have you ever traveled by train in China? Where did you go and how was your experience? Leave a comment and let us know!

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


Comments:

  1. Amitava:

    Hi,
    Me and my wife plan to spend 7 days in China before heading out to San Francisco. We live in Calcutta (India) and the we do have a flight to Kunming from Calcutta.
    I would like to seek your guidance in planning a trip across China. We would love to do travel by train, and are nature / wildlife lovers. Not a great enthusiast of city life.

    I am quite fascinated by your experience in China. Could you spare few moments and guide us to plan this trip. We are in our mid 50s. Hence may not be able to take long treks and mountain climbing at this age. But very keen to explore hills & forests.
    Look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your blog which has in a way helped in seeking this trip.

    Warm regards,
    Amitava

    • sasha:

      @Amitava Hi Amitava, Thanks for your response! With only 7 days, you really won’t have the time to travel across China by train properly. That would be quite exhausting. If you’re nature lovers, then I recommend just spending your whole week in Yunnan province. You can take a few trains, like Kunming-Dali and Dali-Lijiang, and explore around those areas. The Erhai Lake and Cangshan Mountains in Dali are great, and there’s lots to see around Lijiang as well. The towns are super touristy and can be crowded but it’s easy to escape. Alternatively, consider heading to Sichuan province and visiting Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong National Parks – both are incredible but you can’t reach either by train. Enjoy your trip – China is a fascinating place!
      -Sasha


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