For many, Spring Festival is THE occasion to travel domestically or even internationally. However, given the remarkable foresight in giving 1.4 billion people holiday at the same time, the logistics around travel during Spring Festival can leave one frustrated, or perhaps crying on the floor in the fetal position.
In an effort to keep our readers frustration-free (or least standing) we’ve put together a guide to make planning and executing your vacation as easy and pleasant as possible:
Too many places to go, too little time, far too many choices. We’ve all been there.
But here’s the thing: Although expectations and hopes for the perfect holiday might be high, the budget is usually limited – which actually works because at the end of the day, that’s what’s helping to decide where to go.
It is advisable to make a list before Spring Festival with personal requirements that are essential to having a good holiday and then to check ticket prices to different destinations that meet these. For example, if the goal is to spend CNY at the beach sizzling in South East Asian sun, there are many fantastic places to go, but it might make sense to let, for example, the AirAsia special promotion decide where the journey is actually going to.
Let’s just get this out there. Buying tickets just before Spring Festival is a HUGE pain and there is no other way to put it. However with a little planning and a few tricks you can lessen the stress by a lot.
Before Spring Festival and National Holiday, it can be a little tricky to get train tickets. Usually, they can be bought quite effortlessly at the train station, at booths all around the city or online (www.12306.cn, Chinese only or booking sites like www.ctrip.com), but for the big holidays, ticket sales are organized differently. The sales start only a certain amount of days before the date of departure, and long queues can be expected at the stations and in front of booths. Only a small amount of tickets are released at a time which makes the booth option less attractive and leads to people lurking in front of their computers, and refreshing their booking sites every few seconds to be able to snatch a ticket. Unfortunately they do this because that’s one of the best options.
Usually, some tickets are hold back until shortly before departure time, but the odds to get on on the day are comparable to winning the lottery.
Intercity (城际 cheng2ji4) tickets often cannot be purchased beforehand during this period, enough time should be planned in advance (read: several hours) to buy those at the train station.
No matter whether it’s a domestic or international flight, plane tickets are going to be way pricier during this period than usually, but there might be exceptions.
A good rule of thumb is to buy as early as possible while giving it enough time to be able to compare prices and to get a feeling for ticket price fluctuations. As mentioned previously, it’s probably best to let prices determine your destination. Hey the beach is the beach, right?..
AirAsia – www.airasia.com
Departs From: Hangzhou Xiaoshan International
Lands In: So, so many. Most of the cheaper flights take you to Malaysia and Indonesia, but specials are running all the time to a surprising number and variety of places.
HKExpress – www.hkexpress.com
Departs From: Ningbo Lishe International
Lands In: Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia
Cebu Pacific Air – www.cebupacificair.com
Departs From: Ningbo Lishe International, Shanghai Pudong
Lands In: Tons of places, but the best deals are to the Philippines.
Spring Airlines – en.ch.com
Departs From: Ningbo Lishe International
Lands In: Nagoya, Japan only, but it is criminally cheap.
Consider different airports. The closest are obviously Ningbo, Shanghai and Hangzhou. But it sometimes might even be viable to take a train to, for example, Xiamen (loads of cheap-ish flights to SE Asia) or other cities. Next to cost, travel time is obviously also an important consideration, and to purchase train tickets might be an additional hassle that’s not worth saving a few bucks.
Hostel and hotel prices within China will be (much) more pricpricier and at times, exceptionally scarcey during the holiday. Places abroad are usually not as affected, but as more and more people travel internationally, accomodation should always be booked way in advance. Better be safe than sorry…
4. Waiting time
From experience, we’d like to emphasize Make sure to plan in enough time for absolutely everything. Travel time might double or even triple due to traffic jam or really long queues, something might go wrong, entrances might be blocked. Remember “Murphy’s Law.” It‘s not at all unlikely that everything that can go wrong does, and in that case, it’s better to be able to relax and watch everyone acting crazy while not being under too much stress and time pressure. Basically take the maximum amount of time that you might think is reasonable to, say, get a cup of coffee or check in to a hotel and then triple it.
5. Avoiding the Masses
Even the popular Chinese expression人山人海 (ren2 shan1 ren2 hai3, „people like mountains, people like seas“) might feel like an understatement when entering a Chinese railway station during the Spring Festival travel rush. But then, amazingly, it’ll never be as easy as during this time, to avoid the masses. First of all, most people will be home for at least the first three days of the holidays, but many tourist attractions, public places and museums are still open – and empty. Second, especially for bigger holidays, those who are travelling, tend to choose popular destinations (for example one of the holy mountains), and thus places that aren’t as developed or well known, are perfect spots to be explored.
While travelling domestically, it should be acknowledged that many restaurants and shops might be closed, hotel staff might be reduced and it might be hard to find cabs. Many travelers aren’t prepared enough and find it therefore inconvenient to travel during Spring Festival. It certainly takes a little more organization and independency. Especially smaller or less popular places might be like ghost towns, and there might just be absolutely nothing to eat nor to do.
Whatever you choose to do this Chinese New Year, make sure to stay safe, warm and uncomfortably full. We’ll catch you back in Ningbo in the Year of the Monkey.