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About the Xining to Lhasa Train

The Qinghai Tibet Railway, also known as the Qinghai Express connects the Chinese city of Xining with Lhasa. The Xining to Lhasa train covers a distance of 1,956km and reaches a giddy height of 5,100 (14,500ft) metres above sea level. The line was completed in 2006 and sees 5 trains pass along the Tibetan plateau every day.

A World Record – Tanggula Railway Station

At 5,068 metres Tanggula railway station has entered the Guinness Book of World Records for being the highest railway station in the world. Trains to Lhasa usually only stop here for a few minutes but it’s possible to get out and stretch your legs briefly.

Why take the Train to Lhasa?

Here at thetripgoeson we are all about overland travel. Not only is it ecological and economical, but in this case it’s preferable to flying as it helps acclimatization. If you fly from sea level straight to Lhasa you risk altitude sickness because your body hasn’t had time to adjust.

Mountains of Tibet
Mountains of Tibet
Mountains of Tibet
Mountains of Tibet

Tibet Travel Permit & Tibet Tour

To visit Tibet you will need to book onto a tour as independent travel is not possible in the region. I used Experience Tibet and was very happy with their service. The Tibet tour was reasonably priced and the guides knowledgeable, helpful and friendly.

All tour packages should include a Tibet Travel Permit and you will need this to board the train (copies are accepted but if you fly you will need the original).

Altitude Sickness

As the Xining to Lhasa train travels along passes that exceed 5,000m (16,000ft) it is almost inevitable that you will feel some of the affects of altitude sickness. Oxygen is pumped into the carriages and there is an additional supply for those that suffer the effects more. You will find yourself short of breath and possibly groggy and with a headache. Taking Diamox can help alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. I took aspirin before bed and each morning and found this helped a lot. Drinking alcohol is not advised at altitude and although I usually enjoy a beer or two on most train journeys, this time I stuck to water.

Should you be worried about your symptoms on the train to Lhasa then speak to the carriage attendant who can summon the on-board doctor that is attached to each train.

You will need to sign a Passenger Health Declaration Form once on the train. The form gives the following information for those travelling on the train to Lhasa, which I have copied verbatim from the English language form:

Plateau Travel Instructions

“1. According to the sanitarian department and doctors, the passengers can travel to the plateau only after finishing their physical examination and approved by the doctors. Passengers are not suitably travel to the plateau area where above 3,000 meters when they have one of the following diseases:

a) each kind of nature heart disease, apparent heart heats abnormal or the heats are above 100 times per minute, the hypertension II, blood disease and brain vein diseases.

b) chronlcity respiratory system disease, moderate above blocking lung disease including bronchia tube asthma, bronchiectasis, pulmonary emphysema, activity pulmonary tuberculosis, dust pulmonary tuberculosis etc.

c) diabetes out of control, the hysteria, epilepsy and schizophrenia.

d) all the symptoms including catching the heavy sickness cold, upper respiratory tract infection, the body temperature above 38c or the body temperature is below 38c but the symptoms of the whole body and respiratory is obvious and should postpone to enter the plateau area until recovered.

e) once diagnosed has contracted the plateau pulmonary edema, plateau hydrocephalus, a noticeable rise of blood pressure of plateau hypertension sickness, the plateau heart disease and plateau red blood cell increasing.

f) highly dangerous pregnant women.

2. Please aware of protecting plateau ecological environment.”

How long does the Tibet train take?

From Xining to Lhasa is around 22 hours. It’s possible to take the train from Shanghai to Lhasa (44 hours) but you will change trains in Xining and board the specialist oxygenated train.

Classes

Standing – Standing in the aisle

Don’t even bother. If you can stand for 22 hours with 65% of the usual oxygen then you are clearly very brave or insane.

Hard Seat – upright seats in rows of 3 and 2

Unless you are on a real budget (unlikely if visiting Tibet in the first place) or travelling last minute, a hard seat is not going to help you arrive feeling refreshed and best avoided for long distances such as this.

Hard Sleeper – 4 berth coupe

Good option and great value. I travelled from Xining to Lhasa by hard sleeper and the bed was perfectly comfortable (save for the obvious altitude discomfort).

Soft Sleeper – open plan carriage with rows of 3 beds

If you want to travel in a little bit of luxury with more privacy then a soft sleeper is a great option but pricier (but still great value compared to train travel in Europe and the USA).

Facilities on Board the Train to Lhasa

The trains that run in this route are specially designed to provide a supply of oxygen to each carriage and additionally for each passenger. In addition to this there is a doctor on board every train. If you are feeling sever discomfort you can ask the carriage attendant for an oxygen tube which can be plugged into places by each seat, bed and along the corridors.

There is a restaurant car with kitchen supplying freshly cooked meals. Although pricey, the quality is excellent. I paid ¥95 for a meat dish (huigourou), vegetable dish and rice which is way more than you would usually pay but it was delicious!

Each carriage has two toilets (one squat and one “western”) at each end of the carriage. There is also a washroom with sinks in each sleeper carriage.

There are trolleys selling a variety of snacks like dried noodles, fresh fruit and drinks and hot drinking water is provided at the end of each carriage.

Bunks on the train to Lhasa
Bunks on the train to Lhasa
Restaurant car on the Xining to Lhasa Train
Restaurant car on the Xining to Lhasa Train
Tibet Train Washroom
Tibet Train Washroom

How to buy tickets for the Xining to Lhasa Train

You can buy a ticket at any station or ticket booking agency in China. The easiest way however is to book online with Trip.com who sell tickets for all Chinese trains on their English language website. A fee of ¥30 per ticket is applicable.

How much does the Train to Lhasa Cost?

StandingHard SeatHard SleeperSoft Sleeper
¥224 ($32) ¥224 ($32) ¥521 ($75) ¥808 ($115)

Xining to Lhasa Train Timetable 2020

Outward – Xining to Lhasa

Train NumberDepart XiningArrive Lhasa
Z19714:0111:20
Z16521:2719:35
Z32312:2609:55
Z2115:2112:45
Z26519:3116:45
Z890919:3116:45

Return – Lhasa to Xining

Train NumberDepart LhasaArrive Xining
Z16611:3009:10
Z2215:5013:20
Z22418:4016:30
Z680209:0006:43
Z891012:5510:35

What’s it like to travel on the Xining to Lhasa Train?

I took this trip in January 2020. I have traveled much of the world by rail and seen some incredible scenery along the way, but nothing compares to crossing the Tibetan Plateau. I took a hard sleeper (Z165) to Lhasa and opted for the soft sleeper (Z166) on the way back. Both were comfortable and the train was very quiet meaning I had a cabin to myself for much of the journey (this could have had something to do with the current corona virus outbreak, but this line certainly sees fewer people than connections between the busy cities in the East).

The railway line is surrounded by snow and ice fields and huge mountains on each side. At some points I felt I was on another planet or climbing Everest from the comfort of my seat as yaks grazed and eagles flew overhead.

I had lunch in the restaurant car and sat glued to the window as we passed a massive frozen lake. On the return journey I went to the restaurant car to work but they cleared my out as soon as I had eaten. Thankfully my cabin emptied so I could work at the small table next to the window.

After passing Golmud as the scenery grew more spectacular, unfortunately the effects of the altitude became more uncomfortable. I was short of breath just standing up and my head was throbbing. I didn’t use the supplemental oxygen and just sat it out as doing so would not help with acclimatization.

Arrival in Lhasa

It was still light as we approached Lhasa and the city opened up below. It is possible to see the Potala Palace from the train, but I missed this. Upon arrival at Lhasa Railway Station I was escorted by a policewoman to a building where they checked my Tibet Travel Permit and photocopied my passport before letting me on my way.

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