Safety and Security on Tibet Train: Is it Safe to Take a Tibet Train Tour
Foreigners on holiday abroad can often be targeted for their passports, laptops, mobile phones, purses and handbags. Major tourist sites and areas frequented by foreigners regularly attract thieves and pickpockets. However, in China and Tibet, and especially on the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, serious crimes against foreign travelers are extremely rare.
Don’t Worry about the Altitude Sickness onboard
Visiting the roof of the world, the high altitude sickness caused by decreasing availability of oxygen is the biggest challenge for the new-comers. It is a normal phenomenon to get high altitude sickness in different degrees on the arrival days in Tibet. Symptom includes sleeplessness, loss of appetite, lacking in strength, restlessness, and a general feeling of malaise. After 2-3 days, the discomfort will normally subside. However, very few people have ever suffered from a serious case of altitude sickness on the train.
Altitude Changes along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway
The altitude of Qinghai-Tibet railway changes from almost sea level (in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou) to over 5,000 meters at the highest point of the railway. The first major altitude change is at Xining, which sits at 2,275 meters above sea level, and is an ideal place to stop for a few days to acclimatize to the increased altitude.
From Xining, the train starts to climb gradually until it reaches Golmud, at 2,809 meters. From there is climbs steeply to reach the level of the plateau, after crossing the Kunlun Mountain Pass at 4,800 meters. After Kunlun, the track levels out for a few hours, before climbing to its highest peak altitude of 5,072 meters at the Tanggula Pass. Tanggula is also the highest railway station in the world, although it is unmanned, and passengers rarely get on or off the train there.
From Tanggula, the train starts its descent as it crosses the prairies of Nagqu, and heads down past Lake Namtso on its journey to Lhasa, where it terminates at an altitude of 3,658 meters.
Oxygen Supply System on Tibet Trains
There are two oxygen delivery systems on Tibet trains, designed for a controlled environment and for emergency personal use. The main system is a dispersion system that kicks in after Golmud, as the train starts to reach higher elevations. Oxygen is pumped into the train in a steady, constant stream through wall and ceiling vents, to keep the oxygen level at roughly that of Lhasa. This can actually help a little with acclimatizing, as you can get a little used to the oxygen level while on the train.
The other system is a personal system that consists of single-point oxygen outlets that can be found all over the train. In the cabins, they are situated above each bunk, and are also set into the walls in the corridors. In the hard seat carriages, they are found under every seat, and can be used for personal oxygen therapy as a treatment for the mild symptoms of altitude sickness.
Oxygen tubes are distributed by the train staff as the train approached Golmud, and are very simple to use. Just remove it from the plastic packaging and plug the connector end into the outlet socket on the wall or under the seat. Then just slip the other end around your ears, so that the twin tubes are just below your nostrils. Oxygen will be constantly pumped through the tubes and into your nose to help you with breathing, and to help treat the mild symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS).
Medical Service onboard
Every train is equipped with a small medical car, which is normally staffed by a resident doctor, and a nurse. If you start to feel more serious effects of AMs, the staff will help you to see the doctor, who can treat the symptoms so that you feel better. It is advisable to see your own doctor before leaving your home country to ask about possible medication for AMS and the symptoms of altitude sickness, for both prevention and treatment.
Luggage Security in Train Stations and onboard Tibet Trains
Your luggage while traveling is your responsibility, and while your larger cases are pretty safe on the train, it is best to make sure they are locked with a good padlock, or their own internal locks. Expensive and personal items should be kept on your person, and a small bag or backpack is ideal for this, and leaves your hands free to handle other things. Do not leave valuable items alone in plain sight, and ideally, take them with you wherever you go, to be on the safe side. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway will not accept any liability for your missing or stolen items. It is best to book a soft sleeper cabin for your trip, as the door is lockable, and can prevent unwanted entry. For increased security, you can book and pay for all four berths in the cabin, so you can have increased privacy and security.
Security Check in Stations
Security at train stations has increased over the years, and every station you come to (except the unmanned ones on the Qingzang Line) has a heavy police presence. Security checks occur at several checkpoints on the way from the station doors to the train itself, and roaming security can ask to check your bags and person at any time. This is normal in China and Tibet, and is often nothing to worry about.
Take Care of Your belongs both in Stations and Whilst Travelling on the Train
While waiting for your trains, please do not leave your luggage unattended, as it may be stolen or moved by security, or at worst, suspected to be a dangerous package. You do not want to spend your tour in Tibet without your luggage.
Luggage Policy on Tibet Trains
The Tibet Train does not provide a luggage check-in service, like an airport does. All your luggage must be taken onto the train and stored yourself. There are also some restrictions for carry-on luggage. Passengers are allowed to carry on up to ten kilograms of luggage for children and twenty kilograms for adults. The dimensions of bags should not exceed 160cm in total, and 200cm for rod-shaped items. Wheelchairs and disabled equipment is not included in the luggage allowances.
There are also some restrictions on what you can take on board with you. Lighters and matches are allowed, and beauty products and lotions are limited in their amounts. Certain items are banned on board the trains, such as:
Objects forbidden by the nation or confined to transit
Dangerous goods defined by the law, regulation or rules, ammunition or unidentifiable chemicals
Animals or any objects impeding public health including extremely odorous objects
Objects able to destroy or contaminate the train
The norm or weight beyond item 51 of the regulations.
The trains to Tibet are all equipped with disabled facilities, and are only allowed to be used by those who are registered as disabled in their home country. The train staff are all trained in aiding disabled passengers, and are always on call to aid at any time. There are also emergency buttons in the toilets for disabled passengers, and in case of emergency, just push the red emergency button, and the train staff will come to your aid.
Is it safe to take the Tibet train from Lhasa alone single woman travelers?
Tibet is one of the safest places in Asia to travel, especially for women. One of the main reasons is Tibetans believe in Buddhism, which has a deep respect for women as equals. Similarly, safety on the train is paramount for the Chinese authorities, as attacks on foreign visitors would severely damage the blooming tourist industry in both China and Tibet.
All trains to Tibet have police officers on board, and for added safety, you can request from the ticket office to be placed in a cabin with only other females. The ticket officers and guards respect women’s rights when traveling on the train, and rarely ever deny the request, unless there is no other option.
While it is very safe for women to travel on the train, there are some rules that you should be aware of when traveling to Tibet, even on the train. Women in Tibet do not wear revealing clothes, and it is deemed improper to do so. Women should be mindful of this and wear long pants or skirts and shirts when in public places, and pants and long sleeved shirts in temples and monasteries.
Is it safe for kids and seniors to take a train to Tibet?
Just as it is safe for women to take the train, it is just as safe for children and the elderly. Ideally, elderly passengers should travel with company, in case of any emergency, and children should be kept with their parents at all times. Please do not let your children run around on the train, as this disturbs other people’s enjoyment of the trip, and is considered offensive to many passengers.