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The office is to the right of the main building, accessed directly from the forecourt. You can collect from any ticket window, although there's an English speaking window if you like... Beijing station is in central Beijing, 3 km from Tiananmen Square.

It has it's own station on the Beijing Subway, called simply Beijing Railway Station - see Beijing subway map. Beijing main station dates from 1959 and whilst Beijing's South & West stations are modern and airport-like, negotiating Beijing's original station is a more chaotic old-style Asian experience.

The better the category of train, the faster it is likely to be, and the more modern & comfortable the carriages are likely to be.

Slightly higher fares are charged for the better train categories.

Peak holiday periods means on and around the Spring Festival, May Day on 1st May and National Day on 1st October.

It's also busy throughout the summer, and the beginning or end of university terms.

Now the bad news: Foreigners cannot buy tickets at it's only in Chinese and only accepts Chinese bank cards (although if you happen to be an ex-pat with a Chinese bank card and a basic knowledge of Mandarin, you can follow these instructions for using 12306here).

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Chinese trains are a safe, comfortable & cheap way to travel around China, and a Chinese train journey is an experience in itself, in contrast with less reliable and environmentally-unfriendly internal flights.

Small local ticketing agencies are located all over town. You'll find these train availability boards at all main station ticket offices and they're not hard to read, even though they're in Chinese.

Don't expect English to be spoken, so ask your hotel to write down what you want. The photo below was taken at Beijing West on 1 August, and as you can see, there's zero availability in any class for today's train G625 leaving at , so don't waste time asking.

Barriers close 5 minutes before departure, and the train is then shown as 'check out'.

Photos in this section are courtesy of Sunil Mehta.