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TRAINS TO TIBET

Train on a Railway in Tibet
Train on the way to Tibet

The railroad to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet was completed in 2001. It became the highest railroad in the world going over the passes at above 5,000 meters. The section of a railroad connecting China and Lhasa was further extended to Shigatse in 2014.

The train to Tibet starts climbing above 2000 meters after Xining, the capital of Qinghai province. The highest and most interesting part of the railroad begins shortly after trains are passing Golmud. If you are taking the train to Tibet to see Northern Tibet, it is better to book a train arriving in Lhasa in the evening. In that way, you can spend most of the daytime enjoying spectacular views of the Tibetan plateau.

All Tibet trains are high-speed trains, however, they cover such a large distance, that a trip from most cities will take you at least 30 hours. You will be rewarded with splendid views of the Tibetan far Eastern and Northern territories.

OXYGEN SUPPLY ON A TRAIN

Xining train platform train departing to Lhasa
Train station platform, train from Xining to Lhasa

Trains to Tibet go over several high passes, there is a system pumping supplemental oxygen on all trains going to Tibet. When you are traveling at 5000 meters, the oxygen level on a train is raised to a level approximately equivalent to 3000 meters. Even with the supplemental oxygen, some might experience mild effects of altitude sickness. To compensate for a lack of oxygen, there are individual oxygen outlets in each berth on a train. The train crew can provide you with special tubes to connect to these oxygen outlets.

Traveling through high altitude areas might help to acclimatize to Lhasa altitude (3,650 meters). Although you don’t spend enough time on a train to fully acclimatize, it is certainly better than flying directly to Lhasa.

CITIES WITH RAILROAD CONNECTIONS TO LHASA

CityDurationDistanceFrequency
Beijing40 hours3757Every Day
Shanghai47 hours4373Every Day
Xian31 hours2864Every Day
Chengdu36 hours3070Every Other Day
Chongqing36 hours3030Every Other Day
Guangzhou53 hours4980Every Day
Xining21 hours1972Several Times Every Day
Lanzhou24 hours2188Several Times Every Day

Note: trains from Xian to Lhasa don’t originate in Xian. You will be boarding the train coming from either Shanghai (Z165) or Guangzhou (Z265).

HIGH-SPEED TRAIN FROM XINING TO GOLMUD

There is a new Fuxing train connecting Xining and Golmud with a travel time of around 6 hours. You can combine train travel with a private overland tour by traveling from Xining to Golmud on a high-speed train first and then meeting your Tibetan guide to continue your journey overland.

Giant Panda in a breeding center, Chengdu,China

GATEWAYS TO TIBET

  • CHENGDU: Best for taking a flight to Lhasa with many daily direct flight options
  • XINING: Best for taking a train to Lhasa with the shortest train ride (about 20 hours) and many daily departures
  • KATHMANDU: Best for exploring Nepal and Tibet in one trip

TRAIN SLEEPING CLASSES

SOFT SLEEPER BERTH

A soft sleeper or first class is the most comfortable option on a train to Tibet. It is a compartment with a door that locks with 4 sleeping berths: 2 on the lower level and two on the upper level with a small stair leading to it. The beds are narrow, but they are soft and come with bedding. Upper beds might be priced cheaper than lower ones. There are power plugs and you can charge all your devices. 

Inside the train going to Lhasa
Hard sleeper car

HARD SLEEPER BERTH

The budget option. It is a compartment with 6 berths in each. There is no door. It is generally 30% cheaper than a soft sleeper berth. Contrary to the name, the beds are not hard, but the overall berth layout is more simple compared to soft-sleeper carts.

Since there are no doors, there is very little privacy. And as there are 6 beds per berth, more people are using bathrooms. It is a great budget option but be prepared.

HARD SEAT

There are cars with hard seat options. The seats are not hard. However, we advise you to book the hard seat only if you are traveling a short distance, for example from Golmud to Lhasa or from Lhasa to Shigatse.

BOOKING TRAIN TICKETS

Train on Qinghai Tibet Railway views in the Plateau
Train on Qinghai Tibet Railroad

The booking of train tickets begins 30 days before the departure date. During the peak season, trains to Tibet sell out fast and it might be difficult to get a ticket. We highly recommend to plan it in advance and book your tickets as early as possible.

There are usually only two cars with soft sleeper beds, and if you are interested in it, book as soon as you can. The hard sleeper beds are easier to secure.

The hard seat option is the least popular, especially on the longer routes. Sometimes, during the peak season, you can only buy the hard seat ticket. On the positive side, many Tibetans prefer traveling in the hard seat cart, and it could be a great experience.

Most of the widely available online ticket reservation systems are not reliable as they don’t guarantee ticket reservations and your reservation might get canceled after the train tickets are released. You can purchase tickets through the travel agency. If you book your tour with us, we can help you reserve train tickets through a reliable service that charges a small fee. Contact us for details about ticket prices.

FOOD AND WATER ON A TRAIN

Train running on Qinghai-Tibet Railway
Qinghai-Tibet Railway

There is hot water in every car. We recommend bringing your own thermos or stainless steel water bottles because water is too hot for most of the plastic bottles. If you want cold water, you can buy it in advance or cool down the water to room temperature.

Every train has a dining car. It offers 3 meals a day, but it’s only Chinese food and a Chinese menu. In addition, a person with a cart is walking through all train cars offering hot boxed meals (usually CNY25).

Most of the tourists prefer bringing their own food and snacks. You can also prepare instant cup noodles using hot water.

CONTACT US FOR MORE DETAILS

Five Railways to Tibet Project

There is an ongoing project designed to connect all Tibetan areas. The construction of many sections of these train lines is ongoing:

  • Qinghai – Tibet Railway: open and operating
  • Sichuan – Tibet Railway: only one section is open from Nyingchi to Lhasa
  • Yunnan – Tibet Railway: connects Shangri-la (Dechen) with Lijiang. The section connecting it with Kunming is set to be completed by 2030.
  • Gansu – Tibet Railway: construction underway
  • Xinjiang – Tibet Railway: construction underway

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