Lhasa to Beijing by Train

The last part of our tour was to get a train from Lhasa to Beijing. It takes 3 days to get to Beijing which means spending 2 nights on a train.

Day One: Leaving Lhasa

After buying some last minute presents we met up with our tour back at the hotel. In preparation for the long journey ahead of us we bought as much ramen, bread and beer as we could find. I wasn’t too worried as there would be food available on the train.

We were split up onto two different trains: Yi, myself and one other were on one train, and the rest of the tour shared a room on the next train along. It wasn’t until the train started moving that we were allowed to move between carriages. As soon as this happened we moved to the next train to join the others and crack open the beers.

When we got there we found that one of our tour were actually in the cabin next door, and an old Chinese lady was sharing the cabin with the rest of them. They were attempting to get her to swap, but she didn’t seem to understand. They asked Yi to talk to her about swapping beds so that we could all be together. She adamantly refused and wanted to stay in her bed. We were a little stunned by this – she clearly wanted to sleep for most of the journey, yet also wanted to stay in a cabin full of Westerners slowly getting drunk.

The view from the train was astounding. This is the most beautiful place I’ve seen in China, perhaps even in the entire world. I felt a little sad that I would probably never see it again.

After a couple of hours of talking and taking in the view we decided to get some lunch. There’s a thing I’ve found about Chinese food: when it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, it’s awful. The food we had on this train was bad even for bad Chinese food. I ate as much as I could because we didn’t have enough food to last us three days, but I started to think I may end up going hungry for the last day.

When we got back to the cabin we found someone sleeping in one of our beds. We woke him up and after the initial confusion where we tried to explain that he was in our bed, he showed us his ticket. Sure enough it was the correct ticket. We found the ticket that had been left behind, and it had a different bed number on it. We decided to ask him if he would swap beds and he kind of sat there, not seeming to understand. Eventually he just got up and ran, taking nothing with him.

Later I asked one of the train crew where the bed was that was on the other ticket. He said that there is no bed with that number. We figured the guy we found in the bed must have gotten on board with a fake ticket, and had taken the opportunity to switch tickets with one of us.

There were several stops along the way on this train, and at each station people had set up stalls to sell food and beer. We would ask for cold beer, but they would always want to charge us more.

Eventually we just settled down in the canteen and drank until it closed. Afterwards we all sat around the beds in our cabin together and finished most of the beers we had. Unconsciousness followed shortly and we spent our first night on the train.

Day Two: Hoarding Food and Beer

The next day I woke early, so I took in the view and read a little more of my book. After everyone was awake we got together and started drinking again. Someone (there’s always one) had bought Baijiu – a Chinese alcohol that you don’t like and cannot handle. That got passed around and we downed some and retched afterwards.

Back in Lhasa, one of our tour had bought some small singing bowls. They work by running a stick around the edge of the bowl and creating a resonance that makes the bowl ring. We spent a lot of today playing with these, and when people got curious with what we were doing, ended up teaching several other passengers how to play them.

Food had started running out so the train stops became a method of survival. We would rush out, grab what food and beer we could and rush back on. In the end we would give each other a task – food, beer, cigarettes – and each rush out to grab the assigned necessity. It was meticulous. I was surviving on crisps and ramen for the morning, but I found heaven when I noticed that our tour leader had manage to find a roast duck. And I mean a WHOLE roast duck. I rushed out and grabbed one for myself, and devoured it as soon as I got back on the train.

We were no longer in Tibet so were now seeing the Chinese countryside. One part that really stood out for me were the caves. it turns out that there are millions of people in China that live in caves. I was fascinated and made a note that I would have to come back and see how these caves looked up close.

Eventually the sun set and we drifted off to sleep. I was almost getting used to living on a train. I wondered if there’s a way I could spend a month doing nothing but living on a train.

Day Three: Arriving at Beijing

It was our last day on the train. We were now extremely close to Beijing. This morning was the first time I ever saw the Great Wall – a place I still haven’t gotten around to visiting despite having been to both Beijing and Dandong.

We arrived in Beijing a bit later than we were supposed to. We had to rush to a taxi to make sure we got our connecting flight to Shanghai. Other than that the final day was pretty uneventful. It was time to go home and go back to the day job.

Author: Bok McDonagh

I am Bok, a British-born expat living in China. I was born in Lancashire but identify as a 'plassie-Scouser'. I spent my youth growing up in Cumbria. Here I developed a great taste for exploration, climbing mountains and camping in the wilderness - a taste for travel that has defined my life.