Lhasa is perched 3650 meters above sea level on the southern part of the Tibetan high plateau and is surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks that stretch 5300 meters into the sky. For almost a thousand years, Lhasa has been an important cultural and administrative center, serving as the capital of the Dalai Lama’s government from the seventeenth century onwards and later as the capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region under Chinese rule.
Lhasa continues to fascinate and attract the intrepid traveler. However, getting to Lhasa is no easy or cheap feat. Borders are shut to foreigners at least once a year, a one-way trip by train takes up to three days, special travel permits must be secured before travel, flights are notoriously expensive and most people suffer from altitude sickness once they’re there. But the determination, effort and funds to get there are worth it and those who want to immerse in traditional Tibetan culture or admire ancient Buddhist relics best go there sooner rather than later. Here’s a guide on how to get to Tibet via train and airplane from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Xining.
Please note: all prices and schedules mentioned below were accurate at the time of writing but may be subject to change. To book train tickets via phone or online, call 9510 5105 or go to www.12306.cn. For more info on buying train tickets in China, read this article.
Getting to Lhasa from Beijing
Only one direct flight, operated by Air China, flies from Beijing to Lhasa at present. Flight CA4125 departs every morning at 7:40 from Terminal 3 in Beijing Capital Airport. It arrives at 12:10. Other carriers also operate flights from Beijing to Lhasa, although these are not direct and therefore add a couple of hours to the journey time. Flight CZ3183 by China Southern departs from Terminal 2 at 07:20, stops over in Chongqing and arrives at 14:00; Air China also operates an indirect flight (CA4112) to Lhasa via Chengdu that departs from Terminal 3 at 09:00 and arrives in Lhasa at 15:00. One way tickets usually cost over 2000 RMB during the peak season. To search for flights go to http://www.airchina.com.cn/, http://www.csair.com/cn/ or http://www.qunar.com/.
Many travelers claim that train travel is the best way to get to Tibet, not only because the 3-day journey allows you to acclimatize to the altitude more gradually, but the trip itself offers stunning vistas of one of the world’s most remote landscapes. One train – the T27 – operates between Beijing and Lhasa per day, departing from Beijing West Station at 20:00 and arriving in Lhasa on the third day at 15:40. The journey takes a whopping 43 hours 40 minutes. Hard seat tickets (only recommended for the really hard-core traveler) cost 360 RMB, hard sleepers currently go for 763 RMB and soft sleeper tickets cost 1186 RMB. All prices quoted are for one-way trips and are subject to change. For more info on this particular route visit http://www.chinatibettrain.com.
Getting to Lhasa from Shanghai
There are no direct flights between Shanghai and Lhasa. However, China Eastern flight MU2335 operates a flight to Lhasa from Shanghai via Xi’an. This flight departs from Pudong Airport’s Terminal 1 at 07:50, stops in Xi’an and arrives in Lhasa at 14:30 on the same day. Alternatively, Tibet Airlines flight TV9802 will also get you there. This flight dparts from Hongqiao Terminal 2 at 14:15, stops over in Chongqing, and arrives in Lhasa at 20:10. Peak season tickets usually cost over 2200 RMB one-way. To book, go to http://www.tibetairlines.com.cn/.
Only one daily train departs from Shanghai to Lhasa: T164 train departs at 19:36 from Shanghai Railway Station and arrives on the 3rd day at 20:15 – a 48 hour 39 minute journey. Hard seat tickets currently sell for 420.5 RMB, hard sleepers cost 841.50 RMB and soft sleeper tickets are priced at 1310.50 RMB.
Getting to Lhasa from Guangzhou
Like Shanghai, there are no direct flights from Guangzhou to Lhasa. However, China Southern does operate a transfer flight via Chongqing. Flight CZ3463 departs from Guangzhou Baiyun Airport at 09:00, stops over in Chongqing, and arrives in Lhasa at 14:20. Flight tickets generally cost around 2200 RMB one-way. To book, go to http://www.ceair.com/.
The T264 train is currently the only route that operates between Guangzhou and Lhasa. The train departs from Guangzhou Railway Station daily at 11:19 and arrives in Lhasa at 19:20 on the third day. The journey is a long one: 55 hours and one minute. Hard seat tickets (not recommended for such a long journey) cost 447 RMB, hard sleepers 919 RMB and soft sleepers 1526 RMB.
Getting to Lhasa from Chengdu
Chengdu is a popular stepping stone to Tibet among travelers because of the large number of flights that operate between the two destinations each day. The earliest flight from Chengdu to Lhasa departs at 06:10 and the latest leaves at 12:50. The main airlines operating these flights are Air China and Sichuan Airlines and one-way flights cost around 1000 RMB on average during peak season. Visit http://www.airchina.com.cn/ or http://www.scal.com.cn/ for more info.
There is only one daily train between Chengdu and Lhasa: the T22. The train departs at 20:55 from Chengdu Railway Station and arrives in Lhasa at 16:35 on the third day – a total journey time of 43 hours and 40 minutes. Hard seat tickets cost 328 RMB, hard sleepers 709 RMB and soft sleepers 1101 RMB.
Getting to Lhasa from Xining
There are two daily direct flights between Xining and Tibet, operated by Sichuan Airlines and Tibet Airlines. The Sichuan Airlines flight 3U8687 departs at 10:00 from Xining Caojiabao Airport and arrives in Lhasa at 12:30. The Tibet Airlines flight TV9826 departs at 19:25 and arrives in Lhasa at 21:55. Tickets for these flights during peak travel season average at around 870 RMB one-way. To book visit http://www.scal.com.cn/ or http://www.tibetairlines.com.cn/.
Xining is a popular gateway to Tibet because of the frequency of trains that connect the city to Lhasa. At present, there are six daily trains between the two cities, more than any other city in China. However, all six of these routes depart in the afternoon or at night. The earliest train, the K9801, leaves from Xining West at 15:05 and arrives in Lhasa the next day at 14:35. The latest train, K9811, departs from Xining West at 22:00 and arrives in Lhasa the following night at 21:40. Hard-seat tickets cost 214 RMB, hard-sleepers 511 RMB and soft-sleepers cost 794 RMB.
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