How to Kill Time While Taking Long Hours Tibet Train Travel?
Traveling to Tibet by train can be an epic journey, especially if you are departing from Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou. With an extended travel time of up to 55 hours, spending that much time on the train could get a little boring, especially for the first part of the journey, which crosses the Chinese countryside. While it is pretty in its own right, it is much the same as countryside all over the world; fields, crops, rivers, trees, roads, villages, towns, etc.
Most of China is the same, and the really spectacular scenery does not start until you get past Xining, and are in the area of Golmud. This is where the train starts its major climb up to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, and where the scenery turns from grassy fields and sleepy villages to viciously high mountains, crystal clear lakes, and lush prairies that seem to go on forever. If you are planning on taking the slow train to Tibet (which is not really slow!), then here are a few handy tips on traveling to Tibet by train.
Whatever your tastes in food, you should at least try the local cuisine. The trains all have a dining car, with nicely laid tables and proper meals cooked by local chefs on the train itself. The meals consist of a mixture of Tibetan and Chinese dishes, with a few western dishes on occasion. If you already like normal Chinese food, then there should be no problems. While it can be a little more expensive than in a normal town, the food is palatable, and relatively cost-effective.
Tibetan food can often seem a little bland and tasteless to most western tourists, but you should try it. What is the point in visiting a new country if you do not try the local cuisine? Tsampa - dough made from barley flour and eaten by Tibetans at every meal, as well as when traveling - is bland, but substantial and the momos are delicious. Similar to Japanese gyosa, they are a popular snack.
If you are not a fan of trying new foods, it is a good idea to take some packet and canned foods with you. Pot noodles and packet soups are ideal, and boiling water is available 24 hours.
There is a food trolley that comes to the cabins at every mealtime, which normally contains a selection of boxed Chinese food in Styrofoam containers. They also sell packet foods, pot noodles, and snacks, though the prices are again a little higher than normal.
For those little times when you fancy a nibble, or if you are feeling a little low on energy, a snack can be a good energy boost. Crisps or chips, nuts, biscuits, dried fruit, and chocolate are ideal for a snack on those long train journeys.
After the climb up to the plateau you will find plenty of sights outside the window to keep you enthralled and entranced for the rest of the trip to Lhasa. For the other parts, you can make a little entertainment of your own.
An iPod, MP4 player, or just your smartphone and headphones mean you can listen to your favorite tunes while you watch the world go by. Download plenty of music so you have a good selection to choose from.
Iphones, smartphones, and tablets can hold a large amount of data, so you could always load a few movies on your device to while away the hours, and catch up on the latest downloadable movies. Television on the train is limited, and only local channels are available.
Taking a book or a kindle reading device along with you can help to pass the time, and you can put it down and pick it up anytime. Evenings are good for reading, as there is nothing to see in the dark.
Comfortable shoes are a must aboard the train. It is not advisable to wear slippers on the train, especially in the toilets, so take a pair of soft, easy shoes or trainers with you to wear on the train. They can also be used when you get to the hotel.
Wet Wipes and Toilet Paper
The toilets on the train are kept fairly clean by the staff, but they may run out of paper at times, so take your own. Wet wipes are handy for wiping your hands and wiping down the toilet seat (in the western style toilets).
There are washing facilities on the trains, but they are shared by all the passengers in each carriage. If you want to avoid the queues, get there early in the morning to wash your face and hands. There are no shower facilities, so washing is your only option.
The berths on the train are comfortable, albeit a little small. In China they are considered luxurious, but to most western travelers it would still be considered as roughing it. Soft sleeper cabins are a little more spacious than hard sleepers – only four berths in soft sleepers and lockable doors, against six in the hard sleeper and no door – so if you can get the soft sleeper cabin it is a little better. An eye mask is useful to help you sleep as well.
Mobile devices and laptops are useful for when you want some entertainment, but for the main part of the trip, there is much to see outside. Unplug from your phone or MP4 and take in the spectacular scenery.
Blanket or Jacket
Some of the trains have air-conditioning aboard, though most do not, and while they may have a heating system to try and keep the temperature level most of the time, it can still get a little cold, especially at night. A blanket or jacket can help to stave off the cold.
Stretch Your Legs
One of the hazards of traveling long-distance on a train is the risk of swollen ankles and calves due to long periods sitting in one position in a cramped seat or cabin. In extreme cases there can even be a risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), where clotting occurs in the legs. Get up and move around the train frequently, and try to avoid overly cramped situations. The risk of DVT is increased by the increase in altitude on the plateau.
While you may have a nice soft sleeper cabin to rest in, the cramped berths mean you could be sleeping in the same position, causing neck aches and other problems. An inflatable neck pillow will make sure your head and neck are supported in the right position when sleeping.
There are medications that are available to help combat altitude sickness (Diamox), and you should discuss them with your local doctor before leaving. Other medications it is advisable to have are: headache tablets (ibuprofen, aspirin, and paracetamol), something for stomach aches and diarrhea (such as Imodium), plasters and bandages, alcohol, and any regular medications you take as prescribed by your doctor. The trains do have medical facilities and staff, but they are limited in what they can do.