Since its opening in 2006, Tibet train (Qinghai-Tibet Railway) became one of the most popular and cost-effective ways for Tibet travel. You can take a train from major Chinese cities like Shanghai and Beijing and from Xining to Lhasa part of the ride is crossing almost entire central Tibet.
Why you should take Tibet train to Lhasa
Tibet train has many advantages over taking a flight to Lhasa. First, this train ride itself is a once in a lifetime experience. Dubbed as “Sky Train to Tibet”, the railway between Xining and Lhasa crosses entire Tibetan Plateau from North to South and takes the passengers to a journey at an average elevation of 4,000 plus meters. The view outside is spectacular with the vast wilderness of Tibet Plateau, the blue sky and white clouds, the grasslands with flocks and herds, snow-covered mountains and snow cape mountains. It also offers many unique experiences like Tanggula Pass. This wide mountain pass over 5,072 meters’ elevation is the world’s highest point on a railway.
Second, the train travel from a Chinese city to Lhasa is usually cheaper than taking a flight. A hard sleeper class ticket will cost around one third or half of the Lhasa flight ticket prices. And third, in the peak season, you may not be able to find a plane ticket to Tibet and this is your only way out. Or you can use both flight and train to Lhasa. Let’s say take Beijing-Xining flight and then board Xining-Lhasa train to Tibet.
There are several classes of facilities in Tibet train starting from the “relatively VIP” soft sleeper going down to hard seat.
Soft sleeper facilities
Soft sleeper facilities offer the most comfortable journey on the Tibet train. Although the tickets for this class are expensive (sometimes they can cost as high as a plane ticket to Lhasa), this is the best and most comfortable class and is the only option with privacy.
The soft sleeper berth cabin doors can be closed and provides a more private environment. Although this is the best class on the train, soft sleeper facilities are still basic. The space in the berth is minimum but comfortable and still larger than the hard sleeper. Each soft sleeper berth is 75 cm wide and 190 cm long and there is a 50-cm wide space between left and right berth.
Soft sleeper facilities are very popular and very difficult to find. There are only two soft sleeper cars with 64 cabins. In each compartment, there are 4 beds (2 lower berths and 2 upper berths). Things like TV, oxygen outlet, clothes hanger, socket for battery recharge, lamp, etc.
Hard sleeper facilities
Hard sleeper tickets are cheaper and easier to find compared to soft sleeper. There are 8 hard-sleeper cars with 10 open compartments. In each hard sleeper compartment, there are 6 beds (2 upper berths, 2 middle berths and 2 lower ones). In total, there are 480 hard seat beds available in each Tibet train.
Don’t let the name fool you, the hard sleeper beds are not that hard. But there is an important difference between hard sleeper and soft sleeper facilities. There are no doors between hard sleeper “cabins” and the corridor. Each hard sleeper berth has 6 beds (compared to 4 beds in soft sleeper) and since there is no door, each hard sleeper car is like a dormitory. Hard sleeper classes are also usually crowded. Hard sleeper berth is 60 cm wide and 180 cm long.
Hard Sleeper Train Tickets is approximately 35% cheaper than soft sleeper train tickets (but still more expensive than the hard seat class).
Hard seat facilities
Hard seat ticket is the cheapest of all classes on Tibet train. This is basically a classical train seat. But this is not your ordinary train ride: it can take anything between 36 to 52 hours from a major Chinese city to Lhasa (even from Xining it takes 24 hours to Lhasa) and having all this journey on a seat will be a super tiring experience. In Tibet train, there are usually five cushioned hard seats in a row: two on one side and three on the other side.
Other travel tips
You have several dining options on the Tibet train. There is a restaurant which serves 3 meals a day. Each dish here costs around 25 Chinese Yuan (around 3.7 US Dollars) and a typical dinner for two costs around 100 Chinese Yuan (around 15 US Dollars). All the meals are Chinese and Tibetan style. The breakfast includes food like milk, eggs, bread and pickles.
There is also a food cart on Tibet train which is constantly pushing up and down the aisles of the train. You can buy packaged snacks, such as potato chips, soft drinks, instant noodles and fruit from this food cart.
In major stations, there are also food sellers on the platform and you can buy food from there if you move fast. If you are not used to Chinese dishes, you may want to get some food with you before taking the Tibet train.
Tibet trains are quite safe. No one without tickets are allowed in the train cars. The sleeper cars are also separated from the seater cars in the night and people without seater tickets are not allowed into sleeper cars.
If you are traveling with valuables and want to have the safest option, prefer the soft sleeper facilities where the berths have doors so no one can go in. Although hard sleeper cars are like large dorms (there can be 108 passengers inside) and no one can guarantee that they are free of weird people, you are still pretty safe since policemen serve in these cars around the clock. Stealing on Tibet train is also very rare.
One of the most frequent problems you may face on Tibet train is the altitude sickness. High altitude sickness occurs when one cannot get enough oxygen from the air. Air is thinner at high altitudes and if you go fast from low to high altitude, your body cannot get enough oxygen. The common symptoms are headache which is usually throbbing, loss of appetite, feeling sick in stomach (may cause vomit), feeling weak and tired, feeling dizzy and sleeping difficulties.
The carriages on Tibet trains are specially built and have an oxygen supply for each passenger (and every passenger train also has a doctor) to reduce altitude sickness. For emergencies, there are also oxygen supply tubes and outlets for the passenger. These private oxygen supplies are provided for all classes of passengers and it is important to know how to use them, where they are installed and when to use.
Major routes of Qinghai-Tibet train to Lhasa
You can take direct trains to Lhasa from seven Chinese cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Xining and Lanzhou. But the train passes through cities like Nanjing, Zhengzhou, Xian, Changsha and Taiyuan. They all come to Xining and from here continue on Qinghai-Tibet railway.
The train passes through Qinghai Lake, Delingha, Chaidamu Basin, Golmud, Yuzhufeng, Qumar Heyan, Tuotuohe, Buqiangge, Tanggula (infamous Tanggula Pass), Co Nag Lake, Nagqu, Nam-tso Lake (a surrealistic, beautiful and sacred lake), Damxung, Yamgbajain and arrives to Lhasa.
If you can choose, you should definitely take Tibet train to Lhasa. It is the best way to travel to Tibet as it offers the best prices and best journey experience. The train is safe and offers different facilities option from sleeper to seater. The train route is long but the view is just fantastic and the train provides all the basic facilities which will enable a comfortable journey.