How to travel from China to South Korea by ferry

There are a couple of different options for travelling between China and South Korea by overnight ferry. We read up on them over at The Man in Seat 61 but until we took the crossing ourselves we had a lot of questions we couldn’t quite find definitive answers to online. Now that we have travelled one of the routes I thought I’d share the process we went through for anyone else that might be considering it. If you are, hopefully it will answer some of your questions. And save you from being screamed at in Mandarin by an irate cabin mate as a bonus.

Weidong Ferry

Route & schedule

We travelled from Qingdao in China to Incheon in South Korea with Weidong Ferry. This ferry only travels in this direction three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Your schedule for taking it would run something like this:

  • 06:00 – Depart Beijing accommodation and take the subway to Beijing South Station.
  • 07:10 – Train (category D) departs Beijing South Station.
  • 12:22 – Train arrives at Qingdao Station (terminus).
  • Transfer to Qingdao Port Passenger Station. It’s about 2.5km but there are no signs or directions. Your options are:
    1. Walk. We did this with the aid of preloaded Google Maps on our smart phones (GPS works even without a data connection). It takes 30 minutes if you don’t get lost on the way.
    2. Bus. According to Google Maps you can take the 8路 bus towards 康宁路 from the front of the train station. The bus itself takes about 11 minutes (3 stops) then it’s a 5 minute walk to the port.
    3. Taxi. You may want to have the address ready in Chinese if you take this option: 山东省青岛市北区新疆路6号.
  • 14:30 – You need check in before this time and be ready to board.
  • 16:00 – The ferry’s scheduled departure time. (Ours didn’t depart for another 2 hours.)
  • 11:00 (following day, Korean time) – The ferry’s scheduled arrival time at Incheon. (Ours was about 1 hour late.)
  • Transfer to Incheon Metro Station (a short walk or a very short taxi ride). Incheon is on the outskirts of the Seoul metro system and it takes about 1 hour to travel into the city centre.

Booking tickets

The train is more likely to sell out than the ferry so definitely book your ticket to Qingdao in advance. We used China Trip Advisor and had the tickets delivered to our accommodation in Beijing. (China Travel Guide was also recommended to us for this service.) This seems to be a pretty common procedure but you should give your hotel a heads up in advance as a courtesy. (Or you can have a go at buying the tickets yourself.)

Unless you’re travelling during Golden Week you most likely won’t need to book the ferry in advance. By the the few accounts we found online it’s fine just to turn up at the port and buy your tickets on the day. However, we booked ahead because I just didn’t want to risk it. To make a reservation (we did this 2 days before we wanted to depart):

  • Ring Weidong’s Qingdao office on +8653282803574 during business hours. It’s expensive to call from a Beijing number so we used Skype credit (using the app on a smart phone) and it cost 17p for an 8 minute call.
  • There’s at least one lady who speaks some English at this office but you may want to enlist the assistance of someone who speaks both Chinese and English (hotel staff, a friend, maybe information centre staff) to assist with pronunciation of passport names and numbers so everything is clear.
  • You will need to provide your passport number, name as shown on passport, date of birth, date of departure and desired cabin class (see note below).
  • Regarding payment: foreign credit cards are not accepted and the website talks about paying by wire transfer but we didn’t know how to go about doing that. We asked if we could pay in cash at the port and this was fine.

You won’t receive a reservation number but the booking is linked to your passport numbers so you don’t need one.

Cabin classes

You can read about the available classes and their prices at Weidong’s website but I think the prices might be out of date. Alex and I booked one way Business Class tickets and they cost 832 CNY each including Bunker Adjustment Factor (October 2012).

Note that Business and Economy Class are shared with other passengers and segregated by gender. If you want to stay with a travelling companion of the opposite sex you’ll need to book a Royal Class or Deluxe Royal cabin.

Business Class cabin

At the Qingdao Port Passenger Station

Weidong Ferry’s windows are on the left hand side inside the terminal. Show your passports at window 3 and the staff member will look up your reservation using your names and passport numbers, take your cash payment and print your tickets. (When we were there the girl that served us spoke a little bit of English.) If you get stuck you can go up the slightly dingy looking stairs in the corner and they’ll take you to the Qingdao Weidong Ferry office (that you phoned to make your reservation) and they should be able to help you.

After you buy your tickets you’ll need to pay a port tax of 30 CNY at a different window. (You’ll be pointed in the right direction.)

There are not many facilities at the port. You can buy a couple of snacks but if you want to bring your own food supplies on board it would be best to go shopping at a supermarket the day before you leave Beijing,

On the ferry

All prices are listed in Korean won. You can access boiling water from a coin machine but it only takes won. It was never very clear to us whether Chinese yuan were accepted at the shop or restaurants (they weren’t accepted at the cafe), but we later met someone who had been able to use yuan at the shop and received their change in won. If you want to be on the safe side, take some won with you or bring enough food supplies to last you for dinner and breakfast.

Important note! There is only one key per Business Class cabin. To avoid upsetting fellow cabin members (who may or may not scream at you in Mandarin like mine did), lock the door and return the key to reception whenever you’re not in the room. Normally the door is left unlocked while anyone is in the room.

Bon voyage!

Arrival in Asia: 5 days in Beijing

Leaving the safety of our final Trans-Mongolian train and stepping out into the big wide world again seemed almost daunting at first but we acclimatised quickly enough. The first thing we were struck by on our arrival in Beijing was the sheer number of people, but at least Ulaanbaatar had prepared us in part for dealing with the crazy traffic.

Beijing Railway Station

Beijing wasn’s quite what we were expecting for a city in a communist country. It’s like any other bustling modern metropolis with advertising and shops galore. Food and public transport are super cheap and admission to attractions is usually very reasonable. Public transport is especially great in Beijing! The subway is very easy to navigate, clean, airconditioned and only 20p for a one way trip. Buses are another great option once you figure out the most useful routes and they cost half the price of the subway.

Our lovely London friend Danni grew up in Beijing and armed us with loads of excellent recommendations for things to do and, most importantly, places to eat. The guy running the guesthouse we stayed at was also very helpful. As a result of all these suggestions we had a great time in Beijing, although we only really scratched the surface. And I have to admit, the crowds and the traffic did get a little exhausting by the end of the five days we had there (12-17 October).

Forbidden City seen from Jingshan Park

Places to visit in Beijing:

  • Tiananmen Square. Rich in history, surrounded by museums and offers your first glimpse of the iconic Forbidden City entrance. You can also visit Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum.
  • Forbidden City. It’s no wonder it’s called a city, it’s huge. We thought we explored half of it on our first day and later realised we hadn’t even made it through the ticket entrance! (There’s a fair walk after the famous gate with Mao’s picture on it before you reach the real heart of the city.) The audio guide is worth getting to make sense of the almost endless halls and palaces.
  • Jingshan Park. Directly north of the Forbidden City, the central of five pavilions sitting atop the large artificial hill offers a spectacular view of the Forbidden City and the greater Beijing skyline.
  • Beihai Park. West of Jingshan Park, Beihai is another beautiful oasis in the middle of the city. It features a large lake that you can go boating on, Buddhist temples and even caves.
  • Tiandi Theatre. Here you can watch a jaw-dropping performance by the China National Acrobatic Troupe. Absolutely spectacular and a really fun night!
  • Wangfujing Snack Street. Super touristy but it has an enjoyable night time atmosphere. Worth a wander just to gawp at the creepy crawly snacks on sticks such as scorpions, seahorses and starfish. Other food is available too but it’s pricey for what you get.
  • Beijing Zoo. The pandas are definitely the star attraction here. Unfortunately some of the other animals’ enclosures aren’t quite the same standard as the zoo’s main drawcard.
  • Water Cube. This place looks super cool but we didn’t have enough time to visit. Apparently the entry fee is a little steep but it sounds preeetty fun!

Panda, Beijing Zoo

Places to eat:

  • Sha Guo Ju (砂锅居), 60 Xisi South Street, Xicheng. Established in 1741 and famous for their claypots but they do lots of other dishes too. (English menu available.)
  • Hai Di Lao (海底捞火锅). Various locations, but we went to the one on the 7th floor of the Xi Dan New Wedding Center, 109 Xidan North Street, Xicheng. A super popular hot pot/steamboat restaurant. Plan for an early dinner – as in, 5pm early. Otherwise you may have to wait a very long time for a table: when we left at 6pm there must have been 50 or more people waiting! Tip: you can order half portions of the dishes which is great if you want to try lots of different things.
  • Li Li Restaurant (力力餐厅), Xianyukou Street, Qianmen. Established in 1954 and specialises in SiChuan cuisine. There’s no English but we just followed Danni’s recommendation and ordered the super cheap and tasty Dan Dan Noodle.
  • Huatian Emei Restaurant (峨嵋酒家), 58 Bei Li Shi Lu, Xi Cheng Qu. Another restaurant specialising in SiChuan cuisine. The menu doesn’t have any English but look out for 宫保鸡丁 (Kungpao Chicken) and 麻婆豆腐 (Ma Po Tofu), both of which are mindblowingly delicious!
  • There’s also a good selection of places to eat inside the giant shopping centre on Wangfujing Street. We enjoyed Chef Hung’s Taiwanese Beef Noodles and Danni also recommended a traditional hotpot restaurant called Donglaishun (东来顺).

We actually didn’t get around to having proper Peking duck in Beijing which is a bit of a shame, but I kind of got the impression it was something you might have had to order in advance… either way, we definitely ate our fair share of delicious meals in Beijing.

Qianmen restaurant

The Great Wall of China

Several sections of the Great Wall of China are accessible as a day trip from Beijing. The nearest section, Badaling, is about a 1 hour drive and the furthest section, Jinshaling, takes 3 hours. Badaling is touristy and over-restored but possible to reach by public transport. Our accommodation arranged a private driver to take us out to the Jinshaling section and while it was one of the priciest day trips we’ve taken it was worth it. It cost 1100 CNY for the car and driver but we didn’t get dragged through any tourist shops, just 3 hours drive to the wall, 3 hours to explore the wall at our own pace, then 3 hours back to Beijing. We left Beijing at 5:30am and were the first people on the cable car – we practically had the place to ourselves.

Great Wall of China, Jinshanling section

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