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You can’t imagine how magnificent Tibet train travel is unless you experience it personally.
“The Kunlun Range is a guarantee that the railway will never get to Lhasa. That is probably a good thing. I thought I liked railways until I saw Tibet, and then I realized that I liked wilderness much more.”
So said Paul Edward Theroux, a famous American travel writer, in his well-known work Riding the Iron Rooster: by Train through China. Trains from Beijing to Lhasa began operating on July 1, 2006, leaving Paul’s words in the dust.
There is one train service that travels from Beijing to Lhasa everyday: T27, and the journey time is 43 hours and 40 minutes. See the train schedule below:
|Shijiazhuang North||石家庄北||22:33||22:39||6 minutes|
|Xining West||西宁西||15:50||16:10||20 minutes|
The Beijing–Lhasa rail journey covers a distance of 3,753 kilometers, running through seven provinces: Hebei, Shanxi, Shaaxi, Ningxia, Gansu, Qinghai and Tibet. The construction of the railway in Qinghai and Tibet lasted five years, creating the longest and highest highland plateau railway in the world. 960 kilometers of the railway has an altitude over 4,000 meters, and its altitude reaches 5,072 meters at Tanggula Mountain. Oxygen is available on the train for passengers who get altitude sickness or who are uncomfortable at high altitude.
For this long journey, a soft sleeper is recommended. It is the most comfortable accommodation on the train and is often sold out, therefore when booking a ticket the earlier the better. The price of a soft sleeper on T27 is $200, one of four bunks in an enclosed compartment.
The scenery along the railway is marvelous and breathtaking, especially from Golmud to Lhasa, which is called “the Route to Heaven”. The train stops over than 15 minutes at most stations with sightseeing platforms, from Zhongwei Station. You can get off the train to breath fresh air, stretch yourself, take photos and taste some special snacks.
The train departs from Beijing at 20:00. The lights will go out for sleep time two or three hours after you board the train for sleep time. Bring things to do to kill the time on the long journey. You could surf the internet with our China Portable 3G Wi-Fi package.
The first scenery you will see the next morning will be in Shanxi Province. The mountains and terraced fields in this region are picturesque. At 07:36 you will arrive at Zhongwei in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The rainbow mountains (a Danxia Landform) are worth looking out for.
The next station is Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu Province. You will see the Mother River of Chinese Civilization: the Yellow River.
In the afternoon, you will begin the climb from Xining to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Extensive grasslands, native people herding yaks and lots of snowy peaks and deep valleys may be seen by sundown. Be ready to be breathtaken. Qinghai Lake, China's largest inland salt water lake in Xining will be a feast for your eyes.
The next morning you will be amazed by the extensiveness of Hoh Xil or Kekexili (at about 06:00), China's least and the world's third-least populated area, where you may see Tibetan Antelopes. Then the train will pass Tanggula Mountain Station (no stop), the station with the highest altitude in the world, at about 09:00 before entering Tibet. The beauty of Tsonag Lake (错那湖 Cuona Hu) one of the world's highest fresh water lakes, 4,594 meters above sea level, will be before your eyes at about 10:00. The train will reach Nagqu at 11:08 and Lhasa at 15:40.
Beijing is undergoing great development, but it remains the epicenter of Chinese tradition, with countless historical relics and things to discover, including China's foremost ancient imperial palace, imperial gardens, temples, altars, mausoleums of the emperors and royal families, and ancient towers and pagodas.
For a different and “cool” way to explore Beijing City in a short time try our Daily VIP Beijing Essential Tour with Great Wall Hiking at Mutianyu .
The Badaling Section of the Great Wall and the Ming Tombs, located north of Beijing, are world famous. Take our Great Wall at Badaling and Ming Tombs Beijing Day (Group) Tour to spend a day on two must-see attractions.
The numerous quadrangle courtyards, small hutongs, and scenery around the imperial walls are the charm of this colossal city. Our Three-Day Beijing Discovery Tour is highly recommended.
Taiyuan is the capital and the largest city in Shanxi Province, with the second largest branch of the Yellow River, Fen River, passing through the city. It is a famous historical city, with a history of over 4,000 years.
Renowned attractions in Taiyuan include Liu Xiang Lane, which contains a heritage of ancient Chinese houses, and several temples, such as Chongshan Monastery, Jinci Temple, and Yongzuo Temple, and Longtan Park and Yingze Park.
Zhongwei, a city located in the central-west of Ningxia Province, is praised as “the pearl in the desert”. It is at the intersection of three provinces: Ningxia, Gansu, and Inner Mongolia. Though north of Zhongwei are arid mountains and deserts, the Yellow River valley plain in central Zhongwei endows the city with fertile lands and easy access to irrigation. Therefore farm products are very rich in Zhongwei.
The complex landforms of Zhongwei make its scenery colorful and interesting, combining deserts, oases, and “rainbow mountains” (a Danxia landform). Famous attractions include Shapotou Desert Area, Gaomiao Temple, which hosts Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist ceremonies, and Shikou Scenic Area, renowned for the Rainbow Mountains.
Lanzhou, located in northwest China, is the capital city of Gansu Province. With its history of over 4,000 years and being a key stop on the Ancient Silk Road, Lanzhou has plenty of relics and attractions. Among them Five Spring Mountain Park, known for its five springs and ancient temples, Yellow River Bridge, and Baita Mountain Park are the most famous. Situated in the middle reaches of the Yellow River, Lanzhou is a city surrounded by mountains, on the banks of the Yellow River, which passes west–east through the city.
You will see the Yellow River in Lanzhou City. The Yellow River, the second longest river in Asia and the sixth longest river in the world, is considered as the “Cradle of Chinese Culture”. The large amount of silt the Yellow River carries makes it yellow.
Qinghai, China's largest inland salt water lake, is 3,200 meters above sea level, situated in the east of Qinghai Province, around 2½ hours' drive from Xining.
The lake occupies an area of 4,456 square kilometers, having a perimeter of more than 360 kilometers, and is more than twice the size of the famous Tai Lake in China's Jiangsu Province. The ellipse-shaped lake looks like a huge poplar leaf sitting on the alpine prairie. The scenery of Qinghai Lake varies according to the seasons. Summer and autumn are the most comfortable weather conditions, and the lake's scenery is most beautiful during these seasons.
The Bird Island
It is interesting and charming on the western shore of Qinghai Lake. The island there is a paradise for many species of birds. The protection policy of the local government makes it a haven for the birds. Each March and April, when the ice covering of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau begins to melt, more than 20 kinds of migrating birds come to the island to breed. Flocks of birds cover the whole island and bird eggs can be found everywhere. Visitors can hear the birds' songs from far away.
Cha'erhan Salt Lake
The Chaka Salt Lakes (Chaka Yanhu) were originally thought to be part of the ocean in primordial times formed during the intense tectonic uplift that resulted in the formation of the largest plateau in the world, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. As the waters of the ocean receded into the Indian and Pacific oceans, depressions in the plateau retained water, forming the region's famous lakes. There are a total of thirty lakes ranging from large to small. The largest is Cha'erhan Salt Lake (Cha'erhan Yanhu). The total surface area of the lakes is around 105 square kilometers.
The highlight of the lakes are their reflective surfaces that mirror the passing clouds, the distant mountains, and the nomads' tents and herds that can be found all around the area. Distinctive in this region is the salty smell that comes from the lakes and surrounding ground. The area is called “a world of salt”. Locals make a living from dredging the salt and from tourist-related industry. For those into hiking, a walk along the Salt Bridge that crosses the lakes, running a total of 60 km, is an interesting experience, as is a look into the salt houses that can be found beside the main lake. The lakes are probably best seen as a side trip for those after an extensive camping or hiking experience.
The Kunlun Mountains are the largest mountain system in China. The range extends a distance of 2,500 kilometers at an altitude of between 5,500 and 6,000 meters above sea level. The Kunlun peaks are perennially snow-covered, and within the mountains are springs that flow all year round.
Kunlun Mountains Pass
The Kunlun mountain pass is 160 kilometers south of Golmud, where the altitude rises abruptly from 2,800 meters to 4,700 meters and the temperature and air pressure drop accordingly. You may be suddenly transferred from hot summer to severe winter conditions, with the magnificent snow white Kunlun Mountains surrounding you. Kunlun is not only famous for its grandeur, but also for the jade it produces. It is called Kunlun Jade. Rare animals can be seen leaping and skipping among the snow of the grassland, presenting a beautiful picture of nature. The pass, 4,767 meters above sea level, is in the middle section of the mountain range, an obstacle that must be negotiated on the route between Qinghai and Tibet.
Hoh Xil (Kekexili) Depopulated Area
Hoh Xil Depopulated Area is the largest depopulated area in China (4,500 square kilometers). The average elevation there is above 4,000 meters. Since the climate there is cold and the air is thin, though habitable by human beings, conditions are some of the harshest on the planet. This area is however a paradise for animals. Flocks of rare animals including Tibetan antelopes, Tibetan wild donkeys, wild yaks, white-lip deer, snow leopards, Tibetan snow pheasants, and black-necked cranes inhabit this land. You may be lucky to glimpse the elegant posture of the Tibet antelope as the train passes by.
The Tanggula Pass
This is the highest point along the railway with an elevation of 5,072 meters.
The Source of the Yantze River
Qinghai-Tibet highland is the source of China’s three largest rivers: the Yangtze River, the Yellow River, and the Langcang River; and the source of the Yangtze is not far north of the Tanggula Pass in the Tanggula Mountains.
The Tuotuo River
China's longest river, the Yangtze originates as the Tuotuo River. Natural scenery around this area is unique and amazing, with bamboo-shaped ice bars, ice bridges, icy lakes, and other features of glacial landscapes.
The Changtang Grassland
As one of the five biggest grasslands in China, the Changtang Grassland is surrounded by the Kunlun, Tanggula, Kangdese, and Nyainqentanglha mountains. The Changtang Grassland is a culturally rich land, as well as a paradise for wild animals and plants. On the vast grassland yaks, sheep, and nomadic peoples' camps can be seen everywhere. The colorful long-standing nomadic culture of the nomadic people can be appreciated there. The vast fertile grassland always evokes an ambience of relaxation and refreshing. The region's annual horse racing festival is held on this grassland, when the whole community converges there to celebrate their traditional festival.
The Eight Pagodas on the North Tibet Pasture
The Eight Pagodas on the North Tibet Pasture are in Wuma County, about 60 kilometers from Damxung. It is said that King Gesar once led his troops galloping across a battle field on the North Tibet Pasture. General Shabadang Mashangca, who was under King Gesar’s command, died in the last ditch in Wuma. To commemorate him the local people built eight white pagodas there, which are still in good condition today.
The Eight Pagodas are located by the Qinghai-Tibet Road from Damxung to Nagqu. Every 15th and 30th of a Tibetan Calendar month the local herdsmen come there to worship, pray, and spin the sutra tubes to wish the heroes rest and good luck in the afterlife.
Tsonag Lake is one of the world's highest fresh water lakes, 4,594 meters above sea level. The lake is very clear and limpid. With the lake surface assuming a sky blue, the lake and the sky seem to be one and undivided, which can make visitors feel themselves to be in a dream land if they have a stroll by the lake.
Yambajan Hot Springs
Tibet boasts the most hot springs of anywhere in China. Yambajan is world-famous for its spectacular phenomenon of hot springs boiling out on the cold plateau. It features all kinds of hot springs, including super-high-temperature springs, boiling springs, and geysers, as well as common hot springs. The area totals more than 7,000 square meters.