Choose the Best Cabin for Your Tibet Train Journey

Last updated: August,03 2018

There are three main ways that you can get to Tibet, and each different travel method has its own merits, and sometimes more than one option. The simplest and most pleasant way to travel to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, is by train. Traveling Tibet by train across the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is an amazing way to see the landscape as you travel, and trains leave from several major gateway cities across China. While the trains may take up to three full days to get there, there is a wealth of experience to be had, and it is definitely one of the most exciting experiences of them all. It is also very practical to use the train, since it means you can get there refreshed, and well slept, having had a pleasant, relaxed journey.

 Tibet train on Qinghai-Tibet Railway The simplest and most pleasant way to travel to Lhasa is by train

Riding on the train to Tibet is also an experience in itself, and one that you would not want to miss. While the tour in Tibet will take you to some of the most amazing and spectacular places on the planet, the train is like a mini-tour of its own, with stunning views of high mountains and passes, lush, expansive plains and prairies, and some of the most beautiful lakes in the world. A return journey to Tibet by train adds several days to your tour, all filled with wondrous sights.

Three Kinds of Seats on Tibet Train

All the Tibet trains are relatively modern, and have surprisingly excellent facilities. They are both comfortable and clean, and the staff on all the trains are friendly and helpful at all times. The train to Tibet is one of those modes of transport that has different options for travel. There are three types of tickets available – soft sleeper berths, hard sleeper berths, and hard seats – depending on how much you are willing to spend, and each has its own merits.

There is also another class, which no one will actually tell you about normally – the “Unreserved” ticket. These are tickets that do not have a reserved seat, and would otherwise be classed as “standing”, although you can sit in the dining car. However, this option is not one to choose, as there is no guarantee you will get on the train you want.

Soft Sleeper Berth – The First Class Cabin of Tibet Train

For those wishing to travel in the most comfortable conditions available, the soft sleeper berth is the ideal ticket choice. With only four berths in each cabin, as well as a lockable door, these cabins give the most room and privacy of all. During the day the upper bunks are folded away, leaving the lower bunks to sit on, and relax, making the cabin very much like a western train cabin of old. Luggage can be easily stored under the lower bunks and on the shelf above the door, though it is advisable to keep your valuables close to hand at all times.

 Soft sleeper on Tibet train Soft sleeper berths on Tibet train

Hard Sleeper Berth – The Most Popular Cabin of Tibet Train

The hard sleeper berth is the next option, at a slightly lower price than soft sleeper berths. While the name is a misnomer – the beds are still soft, not hard boards that you sleep on – the cabins are a little more cramped, containing six bunks, and do not have a door to allow for privacy. The berths are on three levels, but are still large enough for the average traveler to be comfortable. Hard sleeper berths are the more popular option, as they are cheaper, and there are normally more than 400 hard sleeper berths on each train, so getting the ticket is much easier.

 Hard sleeper on Tibet train Hard sleeper berths on Tibet train

Hard Seats – Only Recommended for Short Time Journey

The cheapest way to travel on the trains in China is the hard seat option. Again, the name is a misnomer, as the seats are all padded, although they are not recommended for long journeys as they are relatively cramped and uncomfortable and the carriages are often overcrowded. Similar to western train carriages, the seats are in rows of facing seats with a small table between each pair of rows. As this is the cheapest option for traveling, the hard seats are normally used by Tibetans traveling back to Tibet for holidays or after being away working in China.

 Hard seat on Tibet train Hard seats on Tibet train

What’s the Difference Among Them?

Each kind of ticket option has its own merits, and the right one to choose depends on what you want from your journey and how much you are willing to spend.

Ticket Price

Ticket prices differ greatly from soft sleeper to hard seat, and the cost of each ticket varies depending on the season, with the highest prices being in the high season for Tibetan tourism. When you look at the prices online, those are the recommended prices, and may be higher or lower, depending on the season. On average, for the train from Xining, the start of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, to Lhasa, the different prices are:

Soft sleeper: 794 CNY (US$131)
Hard sleeper: 497 CNY (US$82)
Hard Seat: 217 CNY (US$36)

Cabin Space

The berths in the soft sleeper cabins are large enough for almost any traveler, and there is more than enough headroom above each bunk to accommodate anyone. Moreover, the space in the cabin is comfortable enough to not be cramped for the entire journey, even with three other passengers sharing.

The hard sleeper is a little more cramped, and there is very limited headroom above each bunk, with the most headroom being over the lower bunks. Moreover, the bunks do not fold away during the day, although this can be a good thing if you want to lie down at any point. However, it is normal in China for everyone to use the bottom bunks to sit on during the day, so you need to allow for this. And while cabin space is a little limited, there are pairs of seats in the corridor outside every hard sleeper cabin where you can sit and watch the landscape race by.

Obviously, the hard seats are the most cramped, with very little room to lie back and relax. Legroom may not be an issue, since the seats are facing each other, but legroom may be the only room you have. The seats are not large, so if you are a tall or big person, they are going to be even more cramped. However, they do have nice, big windows in the hard seat carriages, which are great for watching the scenery pass by.

Privacy

If privacy is an issue, then the hard sleeper cabins and hard seat carriages is definitely not your first option. There is no privacy in either of those, and the best option would be to book the soft sleeper cabins. The cabins are enclosed and have a lockable door, so you can have a quiet relaxing trip. Even though the doors are lockable, you may find yourself sharing with complete strangers. If you want to have the cabin all to yourself, or just for your party, that can be arranged as long as you are paying for all four berths in the cabin.

While there may be a huge difference between the cabins and the hard seats, there are some things that are available to all. All the cabins have oxygen outlets, in case of altitude sickness, and there are also oxygen outlets under each seat in the hard seat carriages. Electrical outlets are also available in all cabins and hard seat carriages, so charging is not an issue. And the dining car and trolley is available for everyone’s use, and has large windows to make the view better.

What is the Best Cabin to Choose?

Which cabin to choose, if you are avoiding the hard seat option at all costs, depends on what your requirements are, whether it is cost, privacy, comfort, etc.

Cheap Price: Hard Sleeper

If you are looking at the price, obviously the hard seat is the cheapest, but definitely not the best option. The hard sleeper is relatively cheap by western standards, and is comfortable enough for the price. The facilities are adequate, and as long as you do not mind constant company, then this is obviously the best option. While there is not much headroom, and the lower bunk is used as a seat by everyone, if you can get the middle bunk, then the hard sleeper can be an extremely viable option for cheap, value-for-money travel to Tibet.

More Privacy: Soft Sleeper

If privacy is your thing, then the soft sleeper cabin is the option for you. With doors that can be locked from the inside, shutting out the noise and some of the smells of the train, the soft sleeper cabin can provide all the luxuries of a private rail car anywhere in the world. If you want complete privacy from all other people, the option of paying for all the seats is available, so you, or your party, can spend your time on the train relaxing and enjoying the views of the stunning landscape of Tibet as is speeds by outside your window.

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