Washroom and Toilet Facilities on the Tibet Trains
Traveling to Tibet on the train is an adventure in itself. Trains can take anywhere from 22 hours to 55 hours, and many cross from east to west of China to get you to your destination. Facilities on the trains are average by many western standards, but are good enough for the trip to Tibet. Roughing it along the way is all part of the unique charm of the journey, and indeed any experienced traveler will be more than used to this kind of travel. For those who are outside the western countries for the first time, it may come as a bit of a shock, but you will soon get used to it.
Tibet train toilets
The toilet facilities on the train are not as bad as many people expect them to be in Asia. With a minimum of 24 hours on the train, you are going to need to use this facility at some point. Fortunately, for those who have never traveled in Asia before, they do have western-style toilets on all the trains.
At each end of every carriage, there are two types of toilet. On one side you can find the classic, western-style toilet, complete with seat and lid, and on the other side is the Chinese-style toilet, which is of the local “squat” variety. Both toilets have the same facilities inside, so it is up to your personal choice which of them you want to use. Trying the squat toilets for the first time is one way to experience a small part of Asian cultures.
The western-style toilet is of the same type that can be found in every western country in the world, and several others, and the room itself has a sink with cold running water, a dispenser for liquid soap, a waste bin, and toilet paper dispensers. While the paper dispenser may be fully stocked at the start of the journey, you could be on this train for up to three days, so it is likely that it will run out of paper before you get to Tibet. It is advisable to take your own toilet paper, and enough for the entire trip, in case the stock in the washroom runs out.
Once you have completed your “business” in the washroom, just press the GREEN button on the wall to flush the toilet. Toilets on the Tibet trains are all environmentally friendly. Trains all have a Toilet Waste Collection System, which collects the waste products in hermetically sealed containers for easier handling and disposal once the train reaches the terminal.
For those traveling who have a disability, the trains also have disabled access toilets. These disabled access toilets are much bigger than the normal ones, and can fit a wheelchair inside quite easily. Inside all the toilets there is also a RED emergency button, that can be used if you need assistance while you are inside.
Outside each toilet, you will find either a light above the door, or a small “lock” window above the handle. When the light or window is green, the toilet is empty and free for use. When red, it means that there is someone inside using it. It should also be noted that all the toilets on the train are automatically locked when the train is in a station, as there are times when the waste collection containers will be changed during the stop.
Public washing facilities
Outside the toilets there are washing facilities for public use while you are traveling. The facilities consist of three sinks with running water at room temperature, and each is fitted with a liquid soap dispenser. Mirrors are fitted above the sinks, and the area is well lit. While the public sinks are available at all times, it is best to get there early in the morning if you want to avoid the queues. With hundreds of people on each train, there is going to be a lot of people wanting to wash first thing in the morning, and in Asia, it is normal for people to get up very early in the morning, often before the sun comes up.
What to bring with you
While liquid hand soap and toilet paper is supplied when the train first departs, it is likely that both may run out before you get to your destination. There is no shower on the train, so you will only be able to wash your face, and possibly limbs, so there are things that you will need to bring with you, for washing, hygiene, and sanitization. It is also recommended that you do not wash your hair during the train journey, as this may cause a mild fever due to the colder temperatures and taking longer to dry. The main things to remember are:
• Toilet paper – bring enough for the entire trip, both ways
• Soap – especially if you have sensitive skin for hand washing
• Washing cloth
• Quick-drying towel – you can hang it in your cabin after use to allow it to dry for the next time
• Hand sanitizer – with hundreds of people on the train it is a good idea to have a hand sanitizer or alcohol
• Wet wipes – while the toilets and washing facilities are cleaned daily, they may get a bit messy before the next cleaning, so wet wipes would be a good addition for wiping the toilet seats
• Toothbrush and toothpaste – keep your toothbrush in a sealed travel container, for hygiene reasons
• Face and/or hand moisturizer – the trains are all air-conditioned, which can sometimes dry the skin if you are not used to an air-conditioned environment
• Face mask – throughout Asia, it is considered rude to walk around with your nose and mouth uncovered if you have a cold or illness, and it will also help keep other germs away if you are prone to easily catching a cold
Tips for traveling Tibet by train
When you first aboard the train, the washrooms are clean and sanitary. After one day of travelling they become quite dirty. Washrooms have their own sinks. But remember to bring your own soft toilet paper!
There are separate "sink areas" and are usually busy in the morning and after dinner. These are used to wash hands, clean dishes, and brush your teeth. Both the public sinks and the sinks in the toilets are for washing only. Unlike most western countries, the running water from the taps is not drinkable. If you need water to drink, it is freely available from the water dispensers opposite the washing sinks, or you can buy bottled water from the dining car or the food trolley.
The washrooms are blocked when the train stops at a railway station. The toilets onboard are shared and there is no private washroom in any soft sleeper cabin.
Soft sleeper washrooms and toilets are often cleaner than in the hard sleeper and hard seat carriages for there are fewer passengers in the first-class soft sleeper cars. So it is best to try to get the soft sleeper tickets if you want cleaner facilities.
Signs in the washrooms and toilets are also in English, so you can see which button to push to flush the toilets.
Once you get onto the train, you will see that the facilities are not as bad as some people expect. And if you remember to clean up after you have used them, and always flush the toilet when finished, it will help to keep it all clean for the next users.