I’ve been wanting to write about the bus system in Chengdu, as it never ceases to amaze me. That is, my impression of buses in general is that they are crowded, slow, and confusing. Packed, uncomfortable, and difficult to navigate. Plus, you have to wait forever for them to come after already having walked all the way to/finding the bus stop. For the record, many of these things do apply to buses in Chengdu. Considering that I can’t read any Chinese at all, I started this adventure with pretty much no desire to attempt to navigate the bus system in Chengdu.
The fact that I have yet to find any kind of map with bus routes marked on it doesn’t help at all. In no other city that I have ever lived in or visited have I had any great experiences with buses, and to add less motivation, Chengdu actually has a brand spanking new metro that I’m pretty much in love with. The only downside being that there is only one line and it only goes north and south. And that it is pretty inaccessible from my apartment unless I’m willing to take a bus to the metro. Bummer.
The point is, I couldn’t really live on a budget, explore Chengdu, AND avoid buses, so I was forced to attempt to navigate them. And since then I have been really pleasantly surprised! In fact, when I say the buses never cease to amaze me, I really mean that every time I get off and am in the right place (which has been every time except for once!) I’m amazed and relieved!
The bus system here is really nice for a couple of reasons. First is that there are tons of buses, bus lines, and bus stops. I’ve never had to wait very long for a bus, and there are often many of the same bus following each other, which helps with overcrowding. This has been a huge relief to me as I am impatient and always late, and thus never leave myself a lot of time to wait for a bus to show up (yet still prone to use that as an excuse).
The second amazing thing about buses is that they will take you anywhere in the city for ¥2 (less than $.50). Granted, the taxis here aren’t extremely expensive either, but you can’t beat $1 for a roundtrip. $2 for a bus/metro combo which can get you all the way to the other side of the city in about 45 minutes. And finally, they’re not THAT confusing. I will admit, it helps that I usually have Kevin with me and he somehow seems to always know where he is and where he’s going. But even on my own it’s much less scary than I originally anticipated.
Here’s how to successfully learn to navigate the bus system with no knowledge of Chinese:
- Orient yourself in your neighborhood. Know which way is north and south, and where downtown is relative to you.
- When walking around your neighborhood, always look out for bus stops! They are everywhere. Write down which buses stop there and a landmark that you will remember. That way you know when to get off. A lot of the city looks very similar to a visitor. You’d be surprised how difficult it can be to find your stop!
- Write down which buses stop at places of interest, and landmarks so you know where to get off.
- Look up which buses go from your place to the closest metro stop. Once you get to the metro getting around (at least to downtown and back) is easy-peasy.
- Try to avoid the busiest times of day (rush hour) when taking the bus because they will get more crowded than you thought possible and you will realize you were claustrophobic and you didn’t even know it.
- Get a refillable card to use on buses and the metro. They are available all over town at mom and pop shops. Or make sure you have enough singles to get you there and back!
- Have your address written down or at least be able to say your street name in Chinese. At least you know if you pick the wrong bus you can probably get a taxi home for under $5
These steps have allowed Kevin and I to use a new method of transportation regularly to explore the city on the cheapsies. I seriously cannot believe that I have been converted to a bus user!
More updates coming soon on Kevin and my job situation. Thanks for reading! Xo.