Getting a train is the cheapest option in China. You can get either standing ticket 无座, hard seat 硬座, soft seat 软座 or hard sleeper 硬卧 ticket, where standing ticket is the cheapest one but the least comfortable. Nevertheless, if you are a foreigner and you buy a standing ticket, you will actually never stand as Chinese will not let you. I did it a few times and they always gave up their seats for me :). The distance between one destination and another in China is pretty far. For example, it might take you up to 20 hours to get from one province to another. My longest journey took about 28 hours and I was sitting. The most comfortable option is to buy a hard sleeper ticket and go to sleep, but it’s usually 3 times more expensive than, for example, a hard seat ticket. It all depends on your budget and how you travel. I do it cheaply so I don’t really care if I stand, sit or sleep as long as the price is not high. When you buy a train ticket, you must show your passport and the best option is to book it in advance (at least one day) because of the imbalanced ratio between the rail capacity and population. There are no ticket discounts so the price is still the same no matter if you are a student or book your ticket in advance. You can get your ticketonline, at the railway station or in the ticket office (there are plenty of them around). Trains are mostly overcrowded, loud and dirty. Don’t be surprise when you see people smoke, wash their faces, brush their teeth or change their clothes while being on the train. It’s kind of normal :).
Local buses are extremely cheap but long distance buses might be sometimes more expensive than trains, however they are comfortable and nice so you can watch a movie or surf the Internet. You can get a ride anywhere in a town or a city for RMB1 when the taxi costs RMB5.
The cost of subway is also very cheap. For example, you can take a subway in Beijing and go anywhere in the city for only RMB2. Shanghai is more expensive but still cheap, compared with Europe. Subways in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are the cheapest and the most comfortable options there as you can quickly get almost everywhere and you don’t pay much.
Taxis are pretty good option when you share the ride with other tourists. Make sure to ask for price before you get into the cab as the taxi driver might quote the price, especially when he/she doesn’t run the meter. Taxis are unbelievably cheap in small cities and town. The price is almost the same, for example in Huayuan it’s RMB2 for a ride and you can get anywhere in Huayuan. Keep in mind that “black taxis” are illegal in China and the safety is often not guaranteed.
You can also fly from one place to another, however, the prices of flights, in comparison to these 4 mentioned means of transport, are pretty high. Taking into account the distance, time and travel standard, it might be worth it though… sometimes… :)