Traveling to Tibet on the Tibet train is a unique experience that can make your tour of Tibet even more exciting. The trains for Tibet leave from seven gateway cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Xining and Guangzhou, etc. across China, and are one of the most popular ways to get to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.
Tibet Train is an impressive and spectacular ride, with plenty of things to see along the way, excellent facilities on board, comfortable compartments, and soft beds to sleep in. The trains are fully fitted with all the facilities needed for a long train ride, and all have a high standard of service, with some excellent meals in the delightful dining car.
Why Tibet Train Not Flight
The train to Tibet has become one of the most important and economically viable means of traveling to Tibet, as well as being a cost-effective way of transporting goods and perishables into and out of the region. While flying may be the faster option, taking the train is the cheaper yet more scenic choice, and the views along the route are stunning. Moreover, the huge reduction in the cost of getting from inland China to Tibet since the opening of the railway means that tourists can save money on their travel expenses, and have a unique tour of the plateau from Xining to Lhasa.
Facilities on the Tibet Train
The facilities on the train to Tibet are second to none, and while on the train you can find everything you need for a comfortable and pleasant journey. There are three classes of tickets for the trains, which are: Soft Sleeper Cabins, Hard Sleeper Cabins, and Hard Seats.
The soft sleeper cabins are the first-class option, with four berths per cabin on two levels. The beds are comfortable and spacious enough even for tall foreign travelers, and all the cabins have plenty of luggage space, big windows for a good view, TV that shows local channels, and lockable doors for that added security.
The hard sleeper cabins are less secure, being open to the corridor of the train with just curtains for minimal privacy, but are much cheaper than the soft sleeper cabins. There are six berths per cabin, on three levels, and while there is a little less room, it is comfortable enough for most travelers. The name “hard sleeper” is a misnomer, and the beds are just as comfortable as the soft sleeper berths.
The hard seats are also a misnomer, as they are not actually hard, and have good padding for a comfortable ride. However, the carriages do have a lot of seats, and there is not much legroom for taller people. While they are the cheapest option for traveling to Tibet, they are not recommended for long distance travel, and are usually used by locals that need cheap tickets to Tibet and back.
All the carriages are also equipped with both western and Chinese toilets, washing areas with mirrors and shaver outlets, and boiling water for making tea, coffee, and pot snacks. Facilities are kept relatively clean, although it is advisable to use them early in the mornings, as they can get crowded and queued with the number of passengers traveling on each train.
How to Dine on the Tibet Train
The train all have a dedicated dining car, with an adjoining kitchen, where local Chinese chefs cook up a variety of delicious dishes to tempt your taste buds during the trip. All meals are served freshly cooked from the kitchen as you order, and the carriage itself is beautifully laid out, with tables situated next to the big wide windows so you can get a great view of the passing landscapes as you dine.
Meals on the train are mainly Chinese in origin, although the type of cuisine does often depend on where you depart from. Sichuan dishes are prevalent on many of the train, and there are also some Tibetan dishes for you to try, though it can be an acquired taste.
For those that do not wish to dine in the dining car, there is a trolley that serves box meals every mealtime, and travels through the train selling the ready meals for those in their cabins and seats. Box meals are all Chinese dishes, and normally include rice and fresh vegetables, so are healthy and nutritious, as well as tasty. Snacks and pot snacks are also sold on the trolleys, as well as fresh fruit, drinks such as tea, coffee, juices, and water.
There is a bar on the train, normally situated in the dining car, where you can buy local and international drinks, as well as tea and freshly ground coffee, and some light snacks to go with the drinks. Alcohol is sold on the train, though it is not advisable to consume it on the way to Tibet, as it can be detrimental to your acclimatization and increases the risk of altitude sickness.
Amazing Window View along the Ride on the Tibet Train
All of the trains have large windows in the cabins and even bigger windows in the corridors, so you will always have a great view of the landscapes as they pass you by. The corridor windows have small, fold-down seats on the wall, so you can sit by the windows and watch the stunning scenery pass by, or get yourself engrossed in a good book, such as Lost Horizon, by British author James Hilton.
The train passes through some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, such as the Kunlun Mountains, the Tanggula Mountains, and the stunning Qinghai Lake. Some of the most amazing scenery in the world passes by the windows of the trains as they make their way across the huge plateau to Lhasa.
The Kekexili Nature Reserve is one of the most beautiful stretches of grasslands on the plateau, and is the home to thousands of Tibetan antelopes, that range across the plains. The railway was actually built along this stretch of tracks with these beautiful creatures in mind, and has preserved the antelopes’ natural migration routes by building the railway over bridges and adding tunnels, so the animals are disturbed as little as possible.
The mountain pass over the Tanggula Mountains is also one of the most stunning sights along the route, as the train rides up the mountain range and crosses at the highest railway pass in the world. From the viewing platform at Tanggula Station, you get a great view of the mountains through which you are traveling, as well as being able to see the distant Kunlun Mountain range behind you, and the vast expanse of the Changtang Prairie stretching out for miles ahead of you.
As you get closer to Lhasa, you get a glimpse of the amazing sight of Lhasa River and Lhasa Valley in Tibet. You can clearly see the Lhasa plain and pass the peaceful Lhasa countryside till reaching the final destination.
Safe Travel on the Tibet Train
Traveling on the train to Lhasa is one of the safest ways to get to Tibet, and is a delightful journey. With multiple failsafes in place, there is nothing that can go wrong, and the Qinghai Tibet Railway has an excellent record of safety and security. Even your possessions are safe on the train, as there are plenty of staff around and a police presence that deters any potential crimes from happening. However, it is still advisable to keep valuables on your person.
The staff are all friendly and helpful, and are more than happy to aid in your needs and talk to you about the trains, the journeys, and the amazing sights of the Tibetan landscapes. All staff are well trained and offer excellent service 24 hours a day.
Passenger comfort on the train is a number one concern, and once the train passes Golmud Station, on the way up to the plateau, the oxygen system is turned on, pumping oxygen into the train to help abate any symptoms of altitude sickness while you travel. For those few that do suffer the milder symptoms of altitude sickness, there are personal oxygen outlets in the cabins, corridors, and under the hard seats, and you can get the oxygen tubes from any member of the train staff to help with your symptoms. The train also has a medical cabin, where you can consult with a doctor or other medical staff, and who can advise on how to overcome the symptoms of altitude sickness, and will give you a check-up if necessary, though they are not able to dispense drugs. They can also treat other minor ailments, as they arise if necessary.
The trains to Tibet are all about the passengers, and are undoubtedly the best way to travel to the Tibetan plateau. Whether you are string in Guangzhou, the furthest gateway city from Lhasa in terms of track length, or from as close as Xining, the nearest gateway city, you are guaranteed to have a wonderful and relaxing trip as you travel across the whole Tibetan plateau to the beautiful capital city of Lhasa.
Laura Lynch, creator and writer of Savored Journeys, is an avid world traveler, certified wine expert, and international food specialist. She has written about travel and food for over 20 years and has visited 70+ countries.