Train tickets to Lhasa during the high season months of June through early October can be extremely difficult to get. It seems like Lhasa is the place where all the domestic tourists in China want to go. In 2007, over 4 million tourists (average of 11,000 people per day), mostly domestic Chinese, visited Tibet and most of them took the train to Lhasa. While 2008 was a down year in Tibet tourism, it looks 2009 will be much better. Already it is becoming difficult to get train tickets to Lhasa from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and even from Xining. Most travel agencies arranging train tickets to Lhasa have to add sizable surcharge to the price of the train tickets. Here is the reason why...In Xining, train tickets to Lhasa only go on sale to the public 5 days before departure. However, large government owned travel agencies in China are able to buy up large amounts of tickets to Lhasa 7 days before departure, or 2 days before they go on sale to the public. So when the train tickets from Xining to Lhasa go on sale to the public, there are usually only a small amount of tickets available since the large government owned travel agencies have already bought up most of the tickets, which means that small travel agencies have a very hard time getting tickets. These large government owned travel agencies then sell these train tickets to the smaller travel agencies, but add a hefty surcharge to each ticket...usually between Y1400 and Y1600 per ticket for hard sleepers and up to Y4000 per ticket for soft sleepers. This is not legal to do, but it happens all across China on the trains to Lhasa.
Travel agencies usually try to get the lowest possible priced train tickets to Lhasa by buying them directly from the train station. But, since during the summer season it is extremely difficult to get them from the train station because the tickets sell out so quickly. Agencies sometimes have to adjust the price based on the difficulty of getting train tickets or by arranging flights to Lhasa instead of the train.
The Chinese government wrote an article on July 2nd, 2009 stating that they anticipate 1.1 million tourists to take the train to Lhasa during the months of July and August. This works out to nearly 18,000 people per day to Lhasa just on the trains. This does not include those who will be flying to Lhasa from Chengdu, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Xi'an. For more about it read this article.
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