Getting there & away
The arrival of the train has pushed the sleeper buses into irrelevancy. There are still daily sleeper services to Golmud (Y150 to 200, 20 hours), Xining (Y340, 2½ days) and even Chengdu (Y500, three days and four nights, via Golmud) but these must surely be an endangered species.
With the twice-weekly Lhasa–Kathmandu bus off limits to foreigners, you’re left with hiring a Land Cruiser or looking out for the occasional advertisements posted around the Tibetan quarter for seats in non-stop minibuses or Land Cruisers to Zhangmu. Seats cost around Y350 to 450 for the overnight trip.
After years of waiting, it’s now possible to do the hitherto impossible; take a train up onto the Tibetan plateau all the way to Lhasa. There are daily trains to/from Beijing, Xining/Lanzhou and Chengdu/Chongqing, and services either daily or every other day to Xi’an, Shanghai and Guangzhou. All trains from Lhasa depart in the morning and all trains to Lhasa arrive in the evening. The train station is 4km southwest of town. A service to Shigatse is due to begin in 2009.
You can buy train tickets up to 10 days in advance at the Lhasa train station ticket office (7am-10pm) or the more centrally located city ticket office (Luobulinka Lu; 8am-6pm) next to the TTB office.
To get from the train station into town take bus 89 to the centre or take bus 91 over the Lhasa Bridge to the terminus near the Eastern Bus Station and then hop on bus 97 to Beijing Donglu. To get to the station catch bus 89 just south of the Barkhor on Jiangsu Lu or take bus 91/97 in the opposite direction. Buses run every 20 minutes from 6.30am to 10.30pm. A taxi costs around Y30.
Flying out of Lhasa is considerably easier and cheaper than flying in. No permits are necessary – just turn up to the Civil Aviation Authority of China office (CAAC; Zhongguo Minhang; 683 3446; 1 Niangre Lu; 9.30am-8pm) and buy a ticket. In August and around national holidays, you’d be wise to book your ticket at least a week in advance.
To book a ticket you need to complete a form, get a reservation and then pay the cashier (cash only). You can buy onward tickets from Chengdu here, but not at discounted prices.