Train to Tibet

Updated 7 May 2016: Taking the train to Tibet is a great way to see the remote and isolated Northern Tibetan Plateau. This post explains more about the train and how to book tickets for the world’s highest railway.

train to tibet

A train bridge crossing a frozen river on Tibet’s high northern plateau

Updated 7 May 2016

For information on how to purchase train tickets as well as recommendations on which travel agency to use when traveling to Tibet, please email me at: thelandofsnows@gmail.com

Train to Tibet

The 1972 kilometer/1233 mile Tibet Railroad connecting Xining to Lhasa opened to travelers in July 2006. It is now possible to take the train to Tibet from Beijing and even from far away Shanghai. was fortunate to be one of the first foreign travelers to take the train from Lhasa to Xining shortly after it opened. Since then, I have taken the train to and from Lhasa more than a dozen times. I enjoy taking the Tibetan Railway. The scenery is quite amazing. Most of the route past Xining is complete wilderness, which is quite spectacular.

The Tibetan Plateau viewed from the train to Lhasa

A peak above the clouds near Damxung, a few hours north of Lhasa

Snow-covered peaks in western Qinghai

The Tibetan Railway

The first section of the Tibetan Railway, the 815 kilometer/510 mile section connecting Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, with Golmud, was completed in 1984. The remaining 1157 kilometers from Golmud to Lhasa began being constructed in June 2001. The construction of the railway to Lhasa finished in October 2005. It took another 8 months for track signals and testing to be finished. The railway was inaugurated on July 1, 2006. Since then, many millions of tourists have taken the train to Lhasa. The total cost of building the train line from Golmud to Lhasa was just under $4 billion USD. In the summer of 2014, the Tibetan Railway was extended to Shigatse. Future plans have the railway going all the way to Zhangmu on the Tibet-Nepal border.

Qinghai Tibet Railway

Train traveling on the Tibetan Plateau

The vast grasslands and high peaks of southwestern Qinghai

Trains going to Lhasa

There are 5 trains per day that arrive to Lhasa. The trains originate in the following cities:

  1. Beijing (Daily)
  2. Shanghai (Daily)
  3. Guangzhou (Daily)
  4. Chengdu (Every other day)
  5. Chongqing (Every other day)
  6. Lanzhou (Every other day)
  7. Xining (Every other day)

Contrary to popular belief, there are no trains going to Lhasa that originate in Golmud or Xi’an. All trains going to Lhasa pass through Golmud and make a stop there for a few minutes. The trains from Shanghai and Guangzhou both pass through Xi’an. **It is better to take the train to Lhasa from a point in which the train originates in order to have a better chance of getting tickets. Tourism in Tibet is now big business. In 2014, there were 9.25 million tourists to Lhasa and 15 million total tourists in Tibet. Getting train tickets to Lhasa during the high season, which is from early June through early October, can be very difficult as many of these millions of travelers to Tibet want to take the train there. The train to Tibet from Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou all require 2 days or more. A shorter option is to take the train from Xining.

Tibet Train Tour

A Tibet train tour, specifically the train to Lhasa Tibet, is very popular. During the high season (early June through early October), travel agencies often will have to add a surcharge to train tickets due to the difficulty of obtaining tickets. This is why the price you pay for the Tibet train tour may be more than than face value of the ticket. Travel agencies are not trying to extort you…they simply are having to charge more because they also had to pay more than face value for the ticket. Starting in February 2015, train tickets in China began going on sale a full 60 days before departure….far more than the previous 20 days before departure. This should make it easier for travel agencies to get tickets at the face value cost. If you plan to take a Tibet train tour, I recommend contacting a local, Tibetan-owned travel agency at least 2 months before you plan to arrive in order to have the best chance of getting train tickets.

Tibet Train Tour

Stops Along the Tibetan Railway

There are officially 45 train stations between Xining and Lhasa, however, almost all of these are unmanned and the train does not stop at them. Most of the trains between Xining and Lhasa only make 4 or 5 stops in between. The main stops between Xining and Lhasa are Delingha, Golmud, Amdo, Nagchu and Damxung. Delingha is a permanently closed region of northern Qinghai. It is not possible to take the train to Lhasa from here. Golmud is open, but relatively few people take the train to Lhasa from here. The main reason is that the 1 or 2 travel agencies in Golmud charge an outrageous fortune for Tibet tours. Taking the train from Xining is a better option in my opinion. You can get off the train at the platform stations at Golmud, Amdo, Nagchu and Damxung, however the train only stops in these places for a few minutes. You will then have to board the train again.

Mt. Yuzhu, located just south of Golmud. This peak rises to over 6000 meters.

Tibet train tour

Tso Na Lake located in Nagchu prefecture in northern Tibet

Train Schedules to Lhasa

Xining—Lhasa: Train Z6801  This train departs every other day (opposite the days the Lanzhou train operates) at 2:56pm from Xining and arrives the following day in Lhasa at 1:39pm. Total time is 22 hours, 43 minutes. Total distance covered is 1972 kilometers.

Lanzhou—Lhasa: Train Z917  This train departs every other day (opposite the days the Xining train operates) at 12:19pm from Lanzhou and arrives the following day in Lhasa at 12:05pm. Total time is 23 hours, 46 minutes. Total distance covered is 2188 kilometers.

Chongqing North—Lhasa: Train T223  This train departs every other day (opposite the days of the Chengdu train) at 8:23pm from Chongqing and arrives 2 days later in Lhasa at 2:22pm. Total time in 1 day, 17 hours, 59 minutes. Total distance covered is 3641 kilometers.

Chengdu—Lhasa: Train T23  This train departs every other day (opposite the days the Chongqing train operates) at 8:45pm from Chengdu and arrives 2 days later in Lhasa at 3:28pm. Total time is 1 day, 18 hours, 43 minutes. Total distance covered is 3360 kilometers.

Beijing—Lhasa: Train Z21  This train departs every day at 8:10pm from Beijing and arrives 2 days later in Lhasa at 1:08pm. Total time is 1 day, 16 hours, 58 minutes. Total distance covered is 3757 kilometers.

Shanghai—Lhasa: Train Z165  This train departs every day at 7:16pm from Shanghai and arrives in Lhasa 2 days later at 6:57pm. Total time is 1 day, 23 hours, 41 minutes. Total distance is 4373 kilometers.

Guangzhou—Lhasa: Train Z265  This train departs every day at 11:42am from Guangzhou and arrives 2 days later in Lhasa at 5:43pm. Total time is 2 days, 5 hours, 59 minutes. Total distance is 4980 kilometers.

For information on a Tibet train tour or for a recommendation on a reputable, Tibetan-owned travel agency to use, send me an email at: thelandofsnows@gmail.com

The Lhasa train station

Taking the train from Xining to Lhasa

Xining is the official starting point of the Qinghai Tibet Railway. Of all the places to take the train to Lhasa from, Xining is the best in my opinion. There are several reasons why. The first is for acclimatization purposes. Xining sits at 2300 meters/7500 feet and is a good place to spend a night or two to prepare your body for Tibet’s higher elevation. Don’t underestimate what high altitude (3650 meters/12,000 feet and higher) can do to your body. If professional mountaineers take time to acclimatize, so should you!

The next reason why I think that Xining is the best place to take the train from is scenery and time on the train. The trains originating from far away places like Guangzhou take nearly 2 1/2 days to reach Lhasa. Trains from Chengdu, Chongqing, Beijing and Shanghai all take 1 1/2 to 2 full days to get to Lhasa. That is a lot of time to be on a Chinese train! In addition, the scenery from east coast China to Xining is quite bland in my opinion. The scenery becomes quite amazing from Xining onward.

Lastly, Xining is a good place to take the train to Lhasa from because there are 5 trains per day that go to Lhasa from there. In addition to the daily train that goes to Lhasa from Xining or Lanzhou (these trains operate on opposite days from each other), the trains from Beijing (daily), Shanghai (daily), Guangzhou (daily), Chengdu (every other day) and Chongqing (every other day) also stop in Xining to add passengers. Your chances of getting train tickets to Lhasa from Xining in the high season is much greater since there are 5 daily trains to Lhasa compared to only 1 or 2 in other locations.

Here are all the trains going from Xining to Lhasa:

Train Z6801 Xining to Lhasa (originates in Xining, departing every other day): Leaves Xining at 2:56pm and arrives in Lhasa the next day at 1:39pm. Total time: 22 hours, 43 minutes

Train Z917 Xining to Lhasa (originates in Lanzhou, departing every other day): Leaves Xining at 2:56pm and arrives in Lhasa the next day at 1:05pm. Total time: 22 hours, 9 minutes.

Train Z21 Xining to Lhasa (originates in Beijing, departing every day): Leaves Xining at 3:30pm and arrives in Lhasa the next day at 1:08pm. Total time: 21 hours, 38 minutes.

Train T23 Xining to Lhasa (originates in Chengdu, departing every other day): Leaves Xining at 4:41pm and arrives in Lhasa the next day at 3:28pm. Total time: 22 hours, 27 minutes.

Train T223 Xining to Lhasa (originates in Chongqing, departing every other day): Leaves Xining at 5:01pm and arrives in Lhasa the next day at 2:22pm. Total time: 21 hours, 21 minutes. NOTE—This is the fastest train from Xining to Lhasa.

Train Z265 Xining to Lhasa (originates in Guangzhou, departing every day): Leaves Xining at 7:48pm and arrives in Lhasa the next day at 5:43pm. Total time: 21 hours, 55 minutes.

Train Z165 Xining to Lhasa (originates in Shanghai, departing every day): Leaves Xining at 8:10pm and arrives in Lhasa the next day at 6:57pm. Total time: 22 hours, 57 minutes.

untitled20150016

Which Train is the Most Scenic to Take

Once the trains to Lhasa reach southern Shaanxi Province, all of them follow the same route the remaining 2400 kilometers or so to Lhasa via Lanzhou, Xining, Golmud, Amdo and Nagchu. So the scenery is all the same along the Tibetan Railway, which officially begins once you reach Xining. However, with trains leaving at different times throughout the day, some trains are more limiting in what you can see. In my opinion, the trains that leave Xining later in the day, such as Z265 from Guangzhou (leaves Xining at 7:48pm) and Z165 from Shanghai (leaves Xining at 8:10pm) allow you to experience more of the high Tibetan Plateau during daylight hours.

Tibetan Railway

Looking out the train window as it passes the snow-covered grasslands of the northern Tibetan Plateau

Train Schedules from Lhasa

Getting train tickets departing Lhasa can be easier than getting train tickets to Lhasa. The reason is that many Chinese travelers, who make up over 96% of the total travelers to Tibet, often want to take the train to Lhasa, but prefer to fly out of Lhasa. So, if you cannot get tickets going to Lhasa, check with the travel agency you use about getting tickets departing from Lhasa. Here are the train schedules departing Lhasa:

Lhasa—Xining:  Train Z6801 This train departs Lhasa every other day (opposite the days the Lanzhou train operates) at 10:10am and arrives the following day in Xining at 7:30am. Total time is 21 hours, 20 minutes. Total distance covered is 1972 kilometers.

Lhasa—Lanzhou: Train Z918  This train departs Lhasa every other day (opposite the days the Xining train operates) at 10:10am and arrives the following day in Lanzhou at 10:14am. Total time is 24 hours, 4 minutes. Total distance is 2188 kilometers.

Lhasa—Chengdu: Train T24  This train departs Lhasa every other day (opposite the days the Chongqing train operates) at 11:10am and arrives 2 days later at 8:19am. Total time is 1 day, 22 hours, 36 minutes. Total distance is 3360 kilometers.

Lhasa—Chongqing: Train T224  This train departs Lhasa every other day (opposite the days the Chengdu train operates) at 11:10am and arrives 2 days later at 8:20am. Total time is 1 day, 21 hours, 10 minutes. Total distance is 3641 kilometers.

Lhasa—Shanghai: Train Z166  This train departs Lhasa every day at 12:15pm and arrives 2 days later at 11:28am. Total time is 2 days, 1 hour and 3 minutes. Total distance is 4373 kilometers.

Lhasa—Guangzhou: Train Z266  This train departs Lhasa every day at 1:10pm and arrives 2 days later at 7:26pm. Total time is 2 days, 6 hours and 16 minutes. Total distance is 4980 kilometers.

Lhasa—Beijing: Train Z22  This train departs Lhasa everyday at 3:30pm and arrives in Beijing 2 days later at 8:20am. Total time is 1 day, 16 hours and 50 minutes. Total distance is 3757 kilometers.

When leaving Lhasa, the best views will be on the earlier trains that go to Xining, Lanzhou, Chengdu and Chongqing. 

The snow-covered mountains along the way from Lhasa to Xining

How to get train tickets to and from Tibet

You have 2 options in getting train tickets to and from Tibet. The first option is to get them yourself. It is not very easy to get tickets on your own for 2 main reasons. The first is that tickets on the Tibetan Railway sell out fast…especially during high season. To get them on your own will likely require you to wait in line for long hours and possibly for multiple days in a row. The second difficulty is that you must first have your Tibet Travel Permit for you to get your tickets on your own. Tibet Travel Permits normally are not issued until 10 to 14 days before your journey to Tibet starts. This means that most likely, the train tickets to Lhasa will already be sold out by the time you try and buy them since they now go on sale 60 days before departure. Again, it is possible to get train tickets to Lhasa on your own, but it likely will NOT be easy.

The second option is much easier. Simply have the travel agency you are using for your Tibet journey arrange them for you. They can get the tickets before your travel permits are issued. While the agency will charge a  service fee, it is so much easier to have the agency get them for you.

If you have any other questions about the train to Tibet, or need a recommendation on a reputable and safe travel agency to use while in Tibet, please email me at: thelandofsnows@gmail.com

Extending the Train to Nepal

In August 2014, the 270 kilometer extension of the Tibetan Railway reached Shigatse, Tibet’s second largest city. The Chinese government has announced that it plans to extend the railway from Shigatse a further 540 kilometers to the Nepal border by 2020: Railway to extend to Nepal. It is hard to say at this point what it will look like in regards to foreigns taking the train to Nepal, but it certainly seems possible.

10 thoughts on “Train to Tibet

  1. Fanny Haidaloup

    Hello !
    I have some questions…
    I assume it’s possible to go from Xining to Golmud without the tibetan permit, but is it possible to go further. A few years ago, I took the train from Lanzhou to Xining and really enjoyed. Next time, I’d like to go further, but until where is it possible to go without the tibetan permit ? And are the landscapes beautiful ? I think so cause Qinghai is really beautiful, but what is your opinion ?
    Cheers,
    Fanny.

  2. Pingback: City Nomad Guesthouse in Xining, China | The Land of Snows

  3. Pingback: How to get to Tibet | The Land of Snows

  4. Pingback: Nam Tso, Gyantse and Shigatse | The Land of Snows

  5. Pingback: How to go from China to Tibet | The Land of Snows

  6. Tdogy

    Hello. I will be arriving in Chengdu on the 11th of september. Do you think I will still be able to buy (hard sleeper) train tickets to Lhasa for the next week (lets say september 18/19/20/..)? Or are they sold so much longer in advance?

    1. Lobsang བློ་བཟང་ Post author

      Hello…Train tickets to Lhasa go on sale 60 days before departure. You are wanting to take the train on 18/19/20 September, correct? This means that train tickets for that date have been on sale since 18 July. If you wait until September 11 to buy the tickets, there is a HIGH change the tickets will be sold out. The agency arranging your Tibet tour can easily get your train ticket for you today. I suggest contacting them and having them do it.

      Lobsang

  7. RLR

    Hi Lobsang,

    I notice this has been posted in 2015. I have found another site (May2016 post) that states that the departure time for the Lhasa-Chengdu train is at 18:30 and arrives in Chengdu at 14:36 on the 3rd day. I may find more diff timings if I continue to search online which is quite confusing. Is there an official site where I can get the most updated train schedules out of Lhasa?

    Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *