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 railroad starts climbing above 2000 meters after Xining, the capital of Qinghai province. And 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 the 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 trains are high-speed trains, however, they are covering such a large distance, that a trip from most cities will take you at least 30 hours. You will be rewarded by splendid views on the Tibetan far Eastern and Northern territories.
Oxygen Supply on a Train
Since trains 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 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. Train crew can provide you 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 Connection to Lhasa
|Beijing||40 hours||3757||Every Day|
|Shanghai||47 hours||4373||Every Day|
|Xian||31 hours||2864||Every Day|
|Chengdu||36 hours||3070||Every Other Day|
|Chongqing||36 hours||3030||Every Other Day|
|Guangzhou||53 hours||4980||Every Day|
|Xining||21 hours||1972||Every Other Day|
|Lanzhou||24 hours||2188||Every Other Day|
Note: trains from Xian to Lhasa don’t actually originate in Xian. You will be boarding the train coming from either Shanghai (Z165) or Guangzhou (Z265).
Soft sleeper berth
Soft sleeper or first class is the most comfortable option. It is a compartment with the door that locks with 4 sleeping berths: 2 on the lower level and two on the upper level with 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.
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 soft sleeper berth. On the contrary to the name, the beds are not really hard,
Since there are no doors, there is very little privacy. And as there are 6 beds per each berth, there and more people using bathrooms. It is a great budget option, but be prepared.
Hard Seat Car
There are cars with hard seat option. The seats are not really hard. Although we advise you to book the hard seat only if you are traveling on a short distance, for example from Golmud to Lhasa or from Lhasa to Shigatse.
Booking a Train Ticket
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.
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.
You can purchase tickets through the travel agency. If you book your tour with us, we can book tickets for you at no additional cost.
Food and Water on a Train
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 the room temperature.
Every train has a dining car. It offers 3 meals a day, but its only Chinese food and 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 the hot water.