Travel in China – Part 4: Self Drive
Carefree travel by self drive is always my most preferred option and I always want to do it out in Mainland China. It is also one of my dreams – to drive in the vast areas of China by myself. This has been made much easier nowadays with the advance of GPS and many companies providing handy car rental outlets throughout almost every airport and major cities at very reasonable price. Below are some experience sharing which are both interesting and may be helpful to your next trip…Here is a step by step guide:-
- Plan your trip- this is very important and this may determine if you do want to self-drive at all. I always avoid self driving in major cities due to congested traffic and complex ever-changing traffic regulations. E.g. in Shanghai, one cannot drive a car registered outside on elevated roads in rush hours, and the rush hour durations have been extended just a couple of months ago! I usually pick up the car when exiting the city for rural areas. Planning the trip would also allow you to choose less back-tracking by requesting for one-way car rental. This is available in China and offered by several rental companies, e.g. the Shanghai based 一嗨, you can return (they meet and pick up) your vehicle in many high speed train stations (allowing you to save driving into major cities). And the drop off charge is quite reasonable.
- Book it online- there are many rental companies to choose from, including Avis- 安飞士租车, Car Inc (powered by Hertz)-神州租车 with over 720 outlets throughout China, etc. Normally, you don’t need to pay anything until you pick up the car at their outlet. The rental charges are rather reasonable starting from less than RMB70 per day for small cars. However; on top, you have to add insurances (I’d go for the top zero excess CDW extra insurance) which would set you back for another few hundred RMB per rental. Remember to get clear instructions and their phone no. as how to find them; but if you prefer, some offer to hold your name placard to meet you at the airport/train station for a nominal charge.
- Pick up the car and GPS if they have a good one. In many cases, they may not have a good one as nowadays people just use their mobile phone for navigation which I often find more accurate and handy. Just make sure you install the app – I recommend Amap.com (高德地图) – see my previous and my next post (Part 3), (Part 5). It gives you very detailed voice navigation and highly detailed map info. with options for offline map too. Just make sure you got your mounting device to mount your phone on the car windscreen. The car rental company should also have one you can borrow, hopefully- cannot guarantee though as service quality in China vary greatly.
- Get set and go – that’s it. Just drive carefully and remember it’s on the right side of the road and you cut lanes when turning left. Watch out for the motorcycles streaming constantly on your right side and cars coming out from smaller side streets, as they don’t give way at all – I’m not joking, that’s the driving practice in Mainland China!
A few more things to note –
- they would hammer their horn loudly at you all the time- don’t worry as that doesn’t mean you’re driving badly or not according to rules. As a matter of fact, in most cases, you’re and they don’t. The Chinese drivers have much to learn in terms of driving etiquette and politeness, and they are ever soo impatient – they would shout with their horn at least if you’re not moving within the first 0.5 sec after the traffic light turns green. And in most roads, you can RTOR (right turn on red) like US and they expect you to do so. But again, just ignore them and safety always comes first – you and the other road users in all directions.
- Car parking is not easy in the mid of cities or in residential areas as more and more Chinese becomes car owners, but there seems always a way to squeeze in somewhere. Parking outside cities and at sights are readily available so long you don’t jam together with million others in peak Chinese holidays.
- so as you can see, it seems not much fun driving in China (I mean for the sake of driving). But yet it gives you all the flexibility of going exotic places at your leisure time and plan which package tours will never let you.
- Once off the city limits and major busy arterial routes, roads and highways in China are now superb – very high standard and nice riding quality, and best of all road side and dividers landscaping are excellent – I rate it as amongst the best in the world. And yes, you have to pay tolls, but they are very reasonable (typically less than RMB100 per day even for long trips) especially compared to places like Japan.