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1. 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, as the bus system is complicated, slow and predominantly Mandarin-driven, while taxis can soon start to get pricy and the scene is rampant with unscrupulous drivers looking to capitalize on tourists who don’t know the lay of the land. 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!
2. September 2018. 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, in which case it’s a flat 25RMB (£2.80/€3.15/$3.65). Queuing up for a one-way ticket every time soon gets tedious though, so your best bet is to get hold of one of these blue cards (Oyster style for anyone familiar with The London Underground) that allows you to bulk up on credit and get on with the business of scuttling around the city. The card requires a 20RMB deposit (£2.20/€2.50/$2.90), which you get back upon its return at the end of your trip. Recharges can be done at subway station ticket counters (show off your Chinese language skills for this) or at the self-service machines where… praise the lord… you can switch to English!
3. September 2018. 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 what the word means. 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 and will shamelessly race and shove each other frantically to steal a free spot once onboard. 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, elbow you, 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 absolutely horrendous. This video was taken during a TWENTY MINUTE WALK to simply change lines at Zhichunlu station. Another tip: Whatever station you’re jumping off at, try and do some research beforehand as to what exit you should take. Some stations have up to 8-10 options, so if you get it wrong you could find yourself far, far away from where you want to be.
4. September 2018. I don’t want to scare you off altogether though, as 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!
5. September 2018. Train services start at around 06:00-06:30 every morning, with the final route of the day taking 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, even if most of the time the girl manning the x-ray screen is clearly half asleep. This final shot is onboard the Olympic Line (8, green), which is easily my favorite line. It’s nearly always quiet and still feels as shiny new as when it opened back in the summer of 2008.
Like this? Why not take a look at more My 5s from around Beijing.
Want to delve further afield? I’ve written stacks of travel reports from all over China.