55 Hour Train Trips To Tibet With Kids: How to Survive

We traveled from Beijing to Xian to Tibet during the summer with our son. It took three days to get there on a very packed train and another eight to get to the Holy Lake. Over some very bumpy roads. Luckily, we’ve traveled in China for many years so know what to expect. Here are some do’s and don’ts if you plan to travel in Asia, especially if you’re bringing kids.

If you plan to travel in China with Kids

China is not the US. Or France. Or England. Or wherever…

If you keep comparing it to where you’re from, your trip will be ruined. Like most of Asia and Africa, you have to accept things on their own terms. Otherwise, stay home.

So, when things get rough, instead of saying, ‘this would never happen at home because…’ and going on a rant….

Think, ‘well, isn’t this interesting. I wonder why?’

A different mindset opens many doors.  Ok, that’s the fluffy stuff out of the way 🙂

Now, how do you travel around China with Kids?

Before you leave

  • Ask the kids – Ask your son or daughter want they’d like to bring on the trip. If you’re traveling in Asia, you can get computer games very easy. Get some new ones and keep them for those difficult moments when the kids have had enough.
  • Books – Beijing has one really good bookstore in WangFuJing street. Go to the third floor (not the ground floor) and get a bunch of books. Get some for yourself as well.
  • Medicine – maybe the most important thing. If you’re traveling to Tibet, get tablets to help against the altitude sickness. You need to start taking these the week before you leave. Again, you can get these in most places in Beijing, though there is a great medicine shop halfway up WangFuJing street on the left. And Yes they speak English.
  • Clothes – if can get very cold in Tibet so bring a good warm jacket and one heavy jumper. Don’t worry too much as you can also buy clothes there at a reasonable price.
  • Food – the food on the train is… bring your own. Bring tinned foods, fruit, instant coffee, snacks and so goodies for the kids. There is a restaurant on the train but it’s hell to get to. Really, you have to wade through hundreds of students to get there. And the food is not great, though the fried eggs and toast were a nice treat.
  • Tissue Paper – whenever you travel in China, bring your own tissues. Most toilets don\t supply these and… well, bring them.
  • Power Adapter – bring a ‘swiss army’ power adapter so you can charge your phone in Tibet. You can also charge it on the train as they let you use the power supplies for free.
  • Train Tickets – get these in advance or through an operator. You don’t want to queue for tickets at the last moment. Get them in advance, check that the carriage numbers are correct. If you’re traveling as a family, make sure all seats are together.
  • Tour Guide – Contact a tour guide to show you around. These are not expensive and will save you time (and money) while showing you around Lhasa. I know a very reliable tour guide in Tibet. Let me know if you want her contact details. Don’t go cheap. It’s the only time in your life you’ll visit there, so pony up and get a guide.

On the Train to Tibet

You can get the train from different starting points but we went from, I think, Beijing West Station. A word of warning. This place is one of the busiest in China. It’s bedlam. So, take a deep gulp and be prepared.

The station is well-run but crazy busy.

Things to watch out for:

  • Toilets – These are very crowded, smoky and wet. As the floors are always getting cleaned, the floor gets really horrid. Also, the toilets are basically holes in the ground, so don’t lose your balance and fall in.
  • Toilets Part 2 – They often get blocked so use common sense. If you keep drinking coffee, you’ll suffer when they’re locked, broken or out of service. Tip: they lock the toilets before entering stations.
  • Be Early – Get a seat near the entrance to the trains to you can beat the crowds. It’s worth the effort, believe me.
  • Food – stock up on last minute supplies, like coffee, noodles, and other foods that are easy to carry.
  • Laptops – you need to get these scanned as you enter Beijing Train Station, so don’t bury it somewhere. On the train, keep an eye on it at all times. Don’t go tempting people!
  • Travel Sickness – if you feel unwell from the bumpy train, sip water slowly and avoid coffee etc.  It can get very stuffy on the train. If you’re traveling in the summer, bring a small electric fan that you can plug into the mains.
  • Altitude Sickness – on the train, keep taking your medicine. It really works against the altitude. Also, they change the air pressure over the two days so your body slowly gets used to the change.
  • Bunk Beds – most of these are three high, so I went on top. This has the smallest space so don’t bang your head. If also gets very stuffy up here so don’t overdress. Most families ‘share’ the lower bunk during the day and, as you’re a foreigner, you can expect people to drop over to say hello
  • Farmers – They’re very curious and often will come over just to watch. If you have kids that are blonde or red-headed, expect lots of farmers to take a peek. These things are very rare in China where (almost) everyone has black hair and brown eyes.
  • Cards – of all the things we brought, the deck of cards was the best. It is easy to carry, passed the time AND was something we could play with other Chinese travelers.

This is a wonderful way for your kids to interact with others, especially if there are other kids on the train. Kids seem to communicate very easily with each other and cards was one way they did this.

Ok, that’s it for now. Please take a look at the video as I may have overlooked some points. I took about thirty videos in Tibet. Let me know if you want me to put up some more.

And if you have any tips for traveling with kids, especially on long distances, please share them below.

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