Travel to Tibet by train

train to tibet

Why visit Tibet?

Visiting Tibet is one of those “once in a lifetime” trip.

Tibet is the highest region on Earth, with an average elevation of 4,900 m (16,000 ft.). The highest elevation in Tibet is Mount Everest, Earth’s highest mountain, rising 8,848 m (29,029 ft.) above sea level. Tibet is located on the northern side of the Himalayas. It’s nicknamed the “Roof of the World” for its towering peaks. It shares Mount Everest with Nepal

Travel restrictions

In addition to your travel visa, you need a special permit issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) to visit Tibet. The permit must be in your hands in order to board your flight or train to Tibet (but we don’t need it to book your tickets). In order to travel to Tibet, you MUST join a tour and stay with this tour at all times. You cannot travel independently in Tibet. The tour operator that you choose will secure your Tibet permit. We cannot secure your Tibet permit. The tour operator will arrange to have your permit delivered to your hotel somewhere in China.

Note that the area is often totally closed to tourists. Since an uprising in March 2008, the area is usually closed to foreign tourist for the whole month of March every year.

Trains to Tibet

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway that is known as the highest railway on earth and the first railway to Tibet. At present, there are several trains to and out of Tibet each day. The train has become the major way to get to Tibet for travellers. Since the railway was built in an area with an altitude over 4,000m, low oxygen content and harsh climate, the trains to Tibet were custom-made, in order to make passengers travel comfortably. The train is equipped with air-conditioning, oxygen supply system and anti-radiation sightseeing windows.

Tibet trains timetable

DepartureTrain #Dep. timeArr. timeArr. dayDurationFrequency
Beijing Z21 20:00 12:10 3rd day 40 h 10 min Every day
Shanghai Z164 Z164 20:10 3rd day 47 h 10 min Every day
Chengdu Z322 14:48 9:55 3rd day 43 h 07 min Every 2 days
Chongqing Z223 Z223 15:42 3rd day 42 h 13 min Every 2 days
Guangzhou Z264 Z264 11:45 3rd day 53 h 20 min Every day
Lanzhou Z917 11:16 11:10 2nd day 23 h 54 min Every 2 days
Xining Z6801 14:01 11:10 2nd day 21 h 09 min Every 2 days

All the trains above, except the train from Xining, also stop in Lanzhou. All the trains above, including the train from Lanzhou, stop in Xining. So it is possible to board all these trains in Xining. We strongly recommend joining any of these trains in Xining for 2 reasons. Firstly, it is easier to get tickets for trains departing from Xining. Secondly, spending time in Xining help you to adjust to the high elevation. We expand on these two factors below.

Fares for Tibet trains

DepartureSoft sleeperHard sleeperHard seat
Beijing ¥1144.0 ¥720.0 ¥360.0
Shanghai ¥1262.5 ¥793.5 ¥402.5
Chengdu ¥1062.0 ¥668.0 ¥328.0
Chongqing ¥1079.0 ¥680.0 ¥335.0
Guangzhou ¥1468.0 ¥865.0 ¥447.0
Lanzhou ¥823.0 ¥522.0 ¥240.0
Xining ¥781.0 ¥495.0 ¥224.0

Due to the difficulty in securing tickets for the trains to Tibet, our fee is US$25 per ticket or $35 in Australian or Canadian currency.

Tickets for Tibet trains are very difficult to secure

Many of the tickets never make it to the market as they are set aside by the railway company. Based on our experience, we can rate the level of difficulty in obtaining tickets according to the departure city as follow:
Beijing Impossible
Shanghai Very difficult
Guangzhou Very difficult
Chengdu Quite difficult
Chongqing Quite difficult
Lanzhou Difficult
Xining Difficult
We strongly suggest to travelers to plan to start their trip from Xining as the chances to get tickets are much better. It is also extremely important to plan ahead and place your order early (30 days + ahead of travel).

Altitude sickness

Some people believe that since the train from Beijing takes two days to reach Lhasa at an altitude of 3650 meter / 11, 975 feet, that taking this train from Beijing is a good way to acclimate to the high elevation. This is a misconception. Over two-thirds of the trip is actually spent at low altitude. Spending one day (two is better) in Xining is a safer strategy. We strongly suggest that you read this article.

Important: change and cancellation of Tibet train tickets

The railway company has a totally different policy when it comes to cancelling or changing Tibet train tickets. Essentially, we cannot cancel or change these tickets online after they have been purchased. The owner of the tickets must present himself in person at a train station in China with his passport to have the tickets cancelled or changed. This policy was put in place to address an issue with ticket scalpers. Also, as we cannot cancel these tickets, we ask for full payment prior to purchasing.

May 2017

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