While there are a few options for traveling to Tibet from mainland China, there is nothing better, or cheaper, than to take the amazing Tibet Train to the Tibetan capital. Running from seven “gateway” cities across China to the capital, Lhasa, these amazing trains travel thousands of kilometers across mainland China and Tibet to get you onto the roof of the world for your lifetime tour of the Tibetan plateau.
Trains run to Tibet from seven different cities in mainland China, including Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Lanzhou, and Xining. Times of travel range from 22 hours for Xining, the shortest distance to Lhasa, to as much as 53 hours from Guangzhou, the longest. And while this may seem like a long time to travel to Tibet, it is the most cost-effective way to travel to the plateau region, and is an adventure all of its own.
Very cost-effective for budget travelers
Fares for the trains to Tibet from mainland China do vary, but are always cheaper than a flight from the same or nearby cities, which makes it a great choice for those traveling on a budget.
The train to Tibet has three classes of tickets: the hard seats, hard sleepers, and the soft sleepers. While they may say that they are hard, the hard seats and hard sleeper berths are actually quite soft and are very comfortable. Hard seats are not usually recommended for travelers taking the longer trips to Tibet from places like Guangzhou and Beijing, since they are just seats, and the carriages can feel a little cramped after a while.
The soft sleeper berths are laid out in a lockable cabin with a door, and are over two levels with just four berths per cabin. Again upper berths are cheaper, and lower berths are used during the day as seats. However, the soft sleeper cabins do have more storage and have a TV that shows local programs. Soft Sleeper cabins are classed as the first-class option for Tibet Trains, and are the most popular choice for international travelers. They are also still much cheaper than flying, even for the most expensive ticket.
Hard sleepers and soft sleepers are cabins with berths that you can sleep in on the long journey to Tibet, Much more comfortable than the hard seats, they will allow you to feel a little more rested once you arrive in Lhasa. The Hard Sleeper berths are in open cabins with no door, and are set out over three levels with six beds per cabin. The lower berths are the most expensive, with the top berths being the cheapest options, though the lower berths are the largest of the three levels. However, in China, it is common for passengers to use the bottom berths to sit on during the day, so if you like to sleep more, opt for the middle or upper berths.
Breathtaking window view from the Qinghai-Tibet Railway
If you are a fan of rail travel, then you are going to love the trains to Tibet even more. All the trains travel through Xining and onto the Qinghai Tibet Railway to get to Lhasa, and all trains pass through some of northern Tibet’s most beautiful countryside. After the trains pass through Golmud and start their climb to the plateau, the views out of the window get even more breathtaking with every passing hour.
Once the train heads up to the plateau, you will first pass over the massive Kunlun Mountain Range, part of the Transhimalaya that run across the plateau, and then onto the grasslands of the Kekexili Nature Preserve. A vast plain where wild animals roam free, this is one of the highlights of the train journey. To pass over the boundary from Qinghai to Tibet, the train crosses the amazing Tanggula Mountains, taking the Tanggula Pass through the highest railway pass in the world, stopping briefly at Tanggula Station, the highest railway station in the world.
Then you will pass onto the Changtang Grasslands, a vast open prairie that stretches for thousands of kilometers across northern Tibet. Home to many of the wild animals of the plateau, including the wild yak, wild donkeys, Tibetan antelopes and deer, and the cute pika, this awesome land is one of the most fabulous sights on the plateau.
Easy access from different inland cities in China
With seven gateway cities to Tibet for the Tibet Trains, there is no easier way to get to Tibet. Spread out across the country, no matter where you are in China, you are never too far from a city that has trains to Tibet. All of the major tourist destinations in China have train stations with trains heading for the plateau almost daily, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu, and you can even catch a train in Xi’an, though it is not a listed station. Other trains pass through on the way to Tibet, and you can get a ticket from Xi’an in the low season only.
Trains to Tibet are the ideal way to travel to the Tibetan plateau capital of Lhasa, and are the best option when it comes to cost and awesome sights. With seven cities to choose from, you can easily find your optimum departure location for Tibet, and there are plenty of options for ticket classes and prices to choose from that should meet any budget.