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Tibet Train Travel [2024]

Many, many travelers ask us about Tibet train travel. If you are planning to begin in Lhasa on your visit to Tibet, is it better to fly or take the train?

Tibet train travel — View from train between Xining and Lhasa.

2024 Travel Advisory: 

China is piloting visa-free programs for certain countries for entry to China, but all international travelers to Tibet also require a special Tibet permit.

US travelers must have both a Chinese visa (which you get on your own in the US) and a special Tibet travel permit, which you must get from an official Tibet travel agency. Starting January 1, 2024, China is simplifying the visa process for Americans, removing required proof of round-trip flights, hotel reservations and itinerary.

If you need help traveling to Tibet, ask us for an introduction to a reliable Tibetan travel agency here, at no cost to you.

For most people we recommend taking the train. The Tibet “sky” train — the highest train route in the world — is worth taking as a visual introduction to the immense, impressive spaces of the Tibetan Plateau.

Traveling to Tibet by train can also help you acclimatize — just a little — to Tibet’s high altitude.

But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that the train journey by itself will by itself keep you from getting altitude sickness.

Here’s a video walking through 10 lessons we’ve learned to improve the Tibet train experience:

Here are some FAQs about what is officially called the the Qinghai-Tibet Railway and some our most popular Tibet train travel posts.

Tibet Train: FAQs

Tibet train panorama

Is oxygen pumped in?  Yes, after a certain altitude is reached, and you can also use an individual air supply as well, but on one of our trips only one of four oxygen supplies in the train carriage actually worked! This makes us doubt if the oxygen that is pumped in works properly.

Are the train cars pressurized? No, that’s a myth.

Are there doctors on the train? There are supposed to be but we saw zero evidence of any medical personnel.

Best departure point for Tibet train travel? Xining (for views and acclimatizing purposes)

Best time to take the train from Xining for the best views? We recommend the later trains, to see more of the TAR in daylight, but you will thus miss Qinghai Lake.

View from the Tibet train

How to buy tickets?  We recommend buying through an agency, as the tickets are hugely in demand for much of the main tourist seasons, and the agencies have connections and better chances. You can ask us here to put you in touch with a reliable, Tibetan-owned agency.

When to buy tickets? Tickets generally go on sale 30 days in advance and will often sell out right away.

Dates to avoid Tibet train travel? Avoid the Chinese national holidays in May and October. July, August and September are also very busy, and difficult to get good seats (or any seats at times).

Best chance to get seats? Lowest season: November to January

How long to get to Lhasa? From Beijing, 3 days. From Xining (recommended) about 24 hours.

Tibet train travel: Biggest mistake about Tibet train.

The Biggest Mistake People Make about the Tibet Train

Almost all travelers have the same mistaken perception of the Tibet train (the Qinghai-Tibet Railway) as a way to travel to Lhasa. Read this post to avoid making this common mistake travelers make when taking the “sky train” to Lhasa, that leaves them feeling rotten when they arrive. Read more >>

View from Tibet Train: Itineraries for Preventing Altitude Sickness in Tibet

Top 10 Tips for the Beijing to Lhasa Train

A little preparation can go a long way to making your Tibet train experience an easy, peaceful journey that helps you acclimatize to Tibet while you get the first taste of her vast, beautiful vistas. Here are ten tips for your Beijing to Lhasa train trip. Read more >>

Roof of Potala

How to Make the Most of Your Time in Lhasa

Many of the travelers who contact us for trips in Tibet have wanted to go to Lhasa for a long time. But most folks don’t know what to expect in a Lhasa tour, or what is possible to do in a short amount of time.  Read more >>

Lhasa Highlights: Sara Monastery

7-Day Lhasa Highlights via Xining by Train

If you only have a very short time in Tibet, you could take this tour rather than the high-risk fly in to Lhasa. (To tell the truth, if you think you can only get to Tibet once in your life, it’s worth saving up the time and money to make a longer trip of at least two weeks.) Read more >>

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