Seven great rail journeys

Railway construction, especially of high-speed lines, has boomed exponentially in China in recent years. Every year more and more kilometres of track are opened, shortening the distance time for journeys between cities and opening up more of the vast hinterland of China. Here are seven must-do rail journeys that will enthrall the committed traveller.

With more and more state-of-the-art daytime trains, with comfortable seats in both first and second class, rail provides an ideal way to tour the country as an alternative to internal flights.

High-speed train


Beijing to Lhasa
The "Sky Road" to Lhasa in Tibet is one of China's great engineering achievements as the line crosses the high Qinghai plateau, battling the elements and crossing the permafrost. It takes some 40 hours to travel the whole distance, reaching an altitude of 5,000 metres above sea level at its highest point.

Lanzhou to Urumqi
The high-speed line in the far west of China, linking Lanzhou to Urumqi in Xinjiang province, follows the route of the old Silk Road to the west. The fast trains passes desert oasis and outposts, with views of the snow-capped Tianshan mountains and dusty expanses of desert.

Beijing to Shanghai
The train to linking the capital Beijing to the economic centre of Shanghai runs through the populous east of the country, but the high-speed line avoids too many built-up areas and gives you a good view of China's scenery. Fast trains travelling at up to 350km/h have cut the journey time to 4 and a half hours.

Beijing to Ulan-Bataar
The Trans-Mongolian railway links into the longer Trans-Siberian railway at the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bataar. To get there from Beijing means passing through the mountains ringed by the Great Wall and out into the grass steppes and dry dustry reaches of the Gobi desert. At the border the Chinese rolling stock is jacked up and the bogies changed to fit the Russian gauge line.

Nanning to Guilin
Not an obvious choice, but one of China's most scenic railway journeys, making its way through Guangxi provice, with its karst limestone hills, river valleys and green rice paddy fields.

Xi'an to Chengdu
The new high-speed line between the ancient capital of Xi'an, home of the Terracotta Army, and the city of Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province and home of the panda, cuts the journey time between the two from 11 hours to just 3. A spectacular line wends its way through the Qingling mountain range, with numerous tunnels and bridges.

Beijing to Hong Kong
Although it currently takes nearly 24 hours to travel by train from Beijing to Hong Kong, you can enjoy the varied countryside from north to south, both teeming cities and green countryside, from the comfort of a soft sleeper compartment.

Tibet landscape

Train carriage

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