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Tibet Transportation — Getting to Tibet and Traveling Around

Tibet's transportation is not as convenient as popular domestic cities like Beijing, Xi'an, or Shanghai. But with the increase of transportation networks, it is easier to get to Tibet by different routes. Rail, road, and air all are very convenient.

For foreign travelers, there are some restrictions on traveling to Tibet. Your vehicle has to be arranged by local travel agency. We have listed some useful information about Tibet transportation and suggestions for you below.

Getting to Tibet — by Air, Train, Road

Getting to Tibet by Air

  • Lhasa Gongga International Airport: 6 kilometers southwest of Lhasa city center, about 1 hour's drive
  • Altitude: 3,600 meters
  • Direct flights from/to: Beijing, Xi'an, Chongqing, Chengdu, Kunming
  • International flight: Kathmandu (Nepal)
  • The time needed: 2–4 hours

Usually, Tibet won't be the first landing port for your international flights to China. You need to fly to other major cities first, such as Beijing, Xi'an, Chongqing, Chengdu, or Kunming, then head to Tibet.

Qinghai-Tibet railwayQinghai-Tibet Railway

See the approximate time needed to travel by air from/to other destinations:

Flight from Duration
Beijing 4½ h
Xi'an 3½ h
Chongqing/Chengdu 2½–3 h
Xining/Lanzhou 2½ h
Kunming 3 h
Kathmandu (Nepal) 2 h

Good to know: It is forbidden for tour guides to meet customers inside the airport in Lhasa. When the flight arrives at Lhasa Airport, you need to walk out of the airport and go across the zebra crossing where your tour guide will be waiting to meet you.

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Getting to Tibet by Train

  • Lhasa Railway Station: 8 kilometers southwest of Lhasa city center, 15–20 minutes drive
  • Altitude: 3,641 meters
  • Trains from/to: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Chongqing, Lanzhou, and Xining
  • The time needed: 20–40 hours

A bullets train to Tibet — coming Soon! The Lhasa-Nyingchi HSR is due to commence operation in July 2021. They will be the first bullet trains on the Tibetan Plateau and the highest bullet trains in the world.

Xining is the best place to start a Tibet train journey for the Qinghai-Tibet railway, rather than from Beijing to Tibet etc., because it saves time, allows some altitude acclimation, avoids a train change, and offers most departures per day.

Train Station along the Qinghai-Tibet RailwayTrain Station along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway

China Highlights Suggestion: Fly in and Take a Train Out

It is hard to purchase train tickets to Tibet in the peak season from May to October as the demand is huge.

We suggest you fly into Tibet and leave by train. This allows you to enter Tibet more smoothly and you can also experience the "highest" train route when leaving.

If you really want to take a train to Tibet, China Highlights can take care of booking a Tibet train journey for you. A soft sleeper berth is recommended.

Train facilities:

  • There are oxygen outlets on the trains so you can reduce altitude sickness.
  • There is a restaurant carriage.
  • There are no Western-style toilets on Tibet trains, and bunks are relatively cramped.

In addition, the train journey passes the Tanggula Mountain Pass, which is around 5,000 meters above sea level. Most travelers feel altitude sickness at that point.

Continue to read more about >>What is Tibet Train Like

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Getting to Tibet by Road

There are three popular Chinese land travel routes to Tibet from Xining, Chengdu, and Kunming. Another international land travel route from Nepal has been closed since the earthquake in 2015.

1. Qinghai–Tibet Highway: It runs from Xining – Golmud – Lhasa and is 1,214 kilometers long. The average elevation of the highway is above 4,000 meters. It takes the quickest time to get to Tibet with the best and safest road conditions compared to others.

2. Sichuan–Tibet Highway: It starts from Chengdu and ends in Lhasa, being a total of 2,330 kilometers long. On the way, it passes Ya'an and Kangding. This is the most popular driving route to Tibet among Chinese travelers.

3. Yunnan–Tibet Highway: This road begins in Xiaguan City, Yunnan Province, passes through Shangri-La, and then reaches Markham County, Tibet. It is 800 kilometers long.

Chaerhan Salt LakeChaerhan Salt Lake on the Qinghai-Tibet Highway

China Highlights' suggestion: Road trips to Tibet are long and rough. For foreign travelers, we don't recommend that you travel to Tibet via a long and hard car journey. But if you are an adventurer, we are still happy to help you make it work.

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Traveling Around Tibet

When you arrive in Tibet, there are restrictions on traveling. You are not allowed to travel in a vehicle or visit a monastery without your tour guide. The transportation to the train station/airport will be arranged by your travel agency.

So be aware of the transportation conditions when traveling in Tibet.

Tibet RoadTibet Road

Road Transportation Speed Control: 30/60 Kph

Vehicles in Tibet have to control their speed, even on highways. The fastest speed on the roads is 60 kph (40 mph). When driving through villages, the speed has to be less than 30 kph (20 mph).

Therefore, when you are heading to an attraction, you will find the driver travels at a slow speed, even on a highway.

Experience the Lhasa to Shigatse Train

The Lhasa–Shigatse Railway is now open to the public. The journey between Lhasa and Shigatse takes about 3 hours, as opposed to 6 hours by road. You can ask your travel agency to arrange this train journey during your Tibet tour.

Fantastic Scenery between Lhasa and ShigatsFantastic Scenery between Lhasa and Shigatse

See the Lhasa–Shigatse train schedule below:

Route Train  Departure Arrival
Lhasa–Shigatse Z8801 08:30 11:25
Z8803 15:20 17:59
Shigatse–Lhasa Z8804 12:05 14:40
Z8802 18:40 21:33

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Take A Plane or Train

It's up to you which transportation you take, and either way will do since the transportation systems develop quickly in Tibet.

But for a more comfortable and smooth trip in Tibet, we recommend you take a plane. 

Guarantee a Smooth Booking for Transportation

Many customers want to get into Tibet by train. But it's good to know that it is difficult to get train tickets to Lhasa, especially in July and August, and the service charge for booking tickets might be even higher than the cost of the tickets during the peak season.

A flight ticket to Tibet is easier to get than a train ticket. Usually, there are discounts for flight tickets to Lhasa.

For a More Comfortable Experience Before Exploring Tibet

Some people think that taking a train to Tibet will gradually help their body get used to the high altitude. Actually, no matter whether you take a plane or a train to Tibet, it's hard to avoid high altitude sickness.

And in truth, the train can go to a high altitude of 5,000 meters. Lack of rest on the train may make you prone to altitude sickness when you arrive in Lhasa.

The train ride to Lhasa takes 24 hours from Xining, or more than 48 hours from other cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai. In addition, much of the train ride is completed during the night. It's hard to sleep well at night on a train.

You might like to know How to deal with Altitude Sickness

Should you take the train in or out of Lhasa? check more

Explore Tibet with China Highlights

Tibet is still a holy and mysterious destination for travelers. Because of the government's policy, foreign travelers are not allowed to travel independently and Tibet travel permits are needed.

China Highlights has Tibetan local tour guides who speak good English and take you deep into the Tibetan culture. We guarantee to arrange your Tibet travel permits and take care of your tour. If you are planning a Tibet tour, please see our popular itineraries below for inspiration:

If you have any ideas or want to customize the above tours, just tell us your interests and requirements, and we will help you create your Tibet tour.

Start planning your tailor-made tour with 1-1 help from our travel advisors. Create Your Trip

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