Chinese Culture: Getting Around In Wuhan

A Guide to Help You Handle the Stresses of Travelling around Wuhan.

Catching a Taxi

Getting a taxi is one of the easiest and most comfortable ways to travel in the city, and is far cheaper than back home. I would never dream of catching a taxi in the UK, purely because of the high prices, but in Wuhan a 30-minute ride will only cost you around 25 RMB if there’s no traffic. However, catching a taxi can get competitive, especially during rush-hour times and the process can harbour its own difficulties.
When waiting for a taxi try to wait at a convenient area for the car to pull in, rather than at a junction or a crossing, and make sure you’re on the right side of the road for the direction in which you want to travel, as many drivers get annoyed if they’ll have to find a place to turn around. Make sure to look out for taxis with a red metre block in the windshield and a green light on the roof, as an orange light or white metre block means the vehicle is already occupied.

A fleet of new taxis ready to go in Wuhan.

Some drivers will pick you up even if they already have someone in the car, but watch out as sometimes you can end up paying for the first part of the other persons’ journey as well as your own. When you see a taxi with a red and green light simply put out your arm to flag it down.
During busy times you’ll need to get a little aggressive to get a taxi, as others will run in front of you and hop in even if you were obviously waiting. When I first arrived in Wuhan I would politely let others in front of me and wait for the next taxi, but quickly learnt that this tactic left me stranded for long periods of time.
One last thing to mention is the areas of the city. For example, sometimes taxi drivers in Hankou don’t want to go across to Wuchang, and vice versa, so if you’re trying to get to a different district of the city or out to Hanyang the metro is sometimes the best option. If you find it difficult to get taxis on your street or in your area it’s good to get the Didi or Uber apps so you can request a car.

Talking to the Driver

Often when a taxi stops the driver will ask where you want to go before deciding if they’ll take you, so make sure to have your phone with the address of where you want to go to ready to show, as many drivers will say no and drive off if you’re not quick to show them your destination. It’s also a good idea to learn how to say your address as some of the drivers I’ve encountered in the city have trouble reading small printed addresses.
Once you’re in the taxi make sure to sit in the back, especially if you’re travelling alone, as some taxi drivers will lean over and try to do inappropriate things if you’re in the front seat next to them. This usually isn’t a problem, and I’ve had great times with a lot of taxi drivers chatting to improve my Chinese and talking about where I’m from, but I did once have a strange driver lean over and try to kiss me when I was in the front seat so I think it’s best to err on the side of caution!  Also, insist that the taxi driver puts on the metre if they try to avoid it or tell you a set price.

Red block on the dashboard flicked down to show that the taxi metre is on.

Try to use your Chinese and have a short conversation with the driver, as this not only helps you practice but will show the driver that you’re not a tourist and they’ll know they can’t try to scam you. If the driver takes you on a much longer route than necessary and you know a more direct way make sure to question them, as if they think you don’t know the city they’ll try to make more money by taking you a longer way. It’s also good to use the word “shifu” when you give your destination (which roughly translates as “master” or “qualified worker”), as this respectful form of address can make drivers happier to pick up a foreigner.
If you don’t have cash on you, you can also ask the driver if you can pay by WeChat or Alipay, which most will accept, and remember that all taxi rides begin at 10 RMB so take that into account when working out how much your journey will cost. When you get to your destination tell the driver “daole” (“arrived”), which may need to be repeated for them to stop.

Getting the Metro

Wuhan Subway map.

The Wuhan Metro is really good to use. Being relatively new, it is clean and efficient and has a much smoother ride than the older subway systems in other cities around the world. The stations are marked and announced in English as well as Chinese, and as there aren’t too many lines yet the subway map is easy to understand and follow. You can use your Wuhan travel card (which you can buy and top up at any station) for all subway journeys, or you can get a token ticket for single journeys from machines at all stations.
Wuhan Metro ticket token.

It’s a great way to do long journeys cheaply, as a ticket from one side of the city to the other only costs a few RMB.

In off-peak times the subway trains are really comfortable, and have good seating, but during rush hour (especially around 5 o clock) it can be a bit of a nightmare. People will continue to crush on to already-packed trains, and you need to make sure you have a good hand-hold on a pole to avoid being pushed over. Also, it’s important to keep an eye on your bag on the metro, as in the crush you wouldn’t notice someone going into your backpack or taking something from your pocket. Before getting on to the subway you have to put your bag through a security scan, so make sure you’ve got it all zipped up ready to put into the machine.
Inside a Wuhan Metro train.

When queuing to get on to a train you should stand to either side of the doors, and allow the other passengers off before trying to get on. However, many people break these rules in a rush to get on which can cause huge crushes of people. When I see people standing in the middle section in front of the doors I find it’s good to remind them to go to the back of the side queues to avoid a scuffle when other passengers are trying to get off. Once you’re on a packed train you need to be eagle-eyed to spot the people getting ready to disembark if you want to grab their seat, as people in Wuhan are adept at jumping into free seats in a flash!
Hankou Railway Station Metro Station, Wuhan.

Inside a Wuhan Metro station.

Catching a Bus

I find the little buses in Wuhan really convenient for getting around, especially to areas that don’t yet have a metro stop. The bus routes are a little more difficult to figure out, since the timetables at bus stops are only in Chinese, but I usually find someone at the bus stop who’s happy to tell me the right number bus for where I want to go. There are lots of little convenient bus routes around the city, and you can either swipe your travel card as you get on to pay, or just drop a couple of RMB in the slot – it’s a good way to use up the coins you’ve got lying around!

One of the more common small green buses in Wuhan.

Inside a bus in Wuhan.

However, just like the metro, the buses can get extremely crowded. At busy times or in popular areas it’s common to see bus after bus go by that couldn’t even fit another person, and as the number of passengers on each bus isn’t limited (as in other places) it can sometimes get dangerous. I tend to avoid buses in the summer months as they are usually very full, and with no AC it can feel like you’re sitting inside a furnace (especially with everyone crowded in around you).
If you’re on a packed bus and your coming up to your destination you should also make sure to get to the back doors before the bus stops, as you only have a few seconds before the doors close to get off and if you are trying to push through the crowd the doors can close before you make it.
A transport crush in China.

One other thing to note is that people here will often take the aisle seats (again to make sure they can get up and to the doors quickly), and won’t stand out of the way or move over so you can sit in the window seat. So, if you’re trying to get to a seat just point and people will swing their legs out the way so you can get past.
A bus stop in Wuhan.

Getting the Train

Wuhan Railway Station.

Trains in China are great for weekend trips – with the high-speed rail system you can go for a visit to cities far away in only a couple of hours, and from Wuhan it’s easy to get to many historic places like Xian and Yichang. You can also get overnight trains and do your journey while you sleep! It’s much cheaper to get a train than fly, and you can get tickets to places as far away as Beijing for a as little as 40 RMB.
Inside a high-speed train in China.

Unlike catching the train back home, the train stations in China are more like airports. You need to arrive at the station at least an hour before your train, as you need to queue to get your ticket and go through security checks. Also, you have to wait at the gate for your train and can only be let through on to the platform at a specific time, just like catching a plane.
Inside Hankou Railway Station.

In Wuhan there are three train stations – Wuhan Railway Station, Wuchang Railway Station, and Hankou Railway Station, so make sure you find out which station you’re train is leaving from before you leave. All the railway stations have taxi ranks so it’s easy to get home once you arrive back in the city, and have information boards with your train’s code so you can easily find which gate to leave from.
Hankou Railway Station.

Once on the train you’ll encounter usual annoyances, like litter and a lot of noise in busy times, but generally the trains are very comfortable and have toilet facilities and a place to buy food for long trips. It is much easier to buy a ticket online rather than at the station, and it’s important to buy tickets well in advance for holiday times as the trains get booked up pretty fast. You also need to take your passport with you for any train trips.
I hope this advice is useful for any newcomers to Wuhan (as well as those travelling around the city every day), and if you ever find yourself in a situation where you can’t find a taxi, don’t know the right bus number, and there’s no subway stop nearby, you can always find someone with an e-bike who’ll take you on the back – just be sure to agree a price before you get on!
A man rides an e-bike with a passenger on the back.