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World's Top 25 Trains

Train: Shangri-La Express

Train Type: First-Class

Shangri-La Express
The Shangri-La Express travels between Lanzhou and Golmud, China. (Photo by Angela Walker)

Shangri-La Express
Private compartment on the Shangri-La Express. (Photo by Angela Walker)

Shangri-La Express
Table set for lunch in the dining car of the Shangri-La Express. (Photo by Angela Walker)

Shangri-La Express
The Shangri-La Express pauses in a station. (Photo by Angela Walker)

Journeys on this Train

The Silk Road: Beijing to Moscow by Private Train


The private Shangri-La Express (formerly China Orient Express) is not a luxury train, despite its name, but it is the best way to see this fascinating country. It is at this writing the most modern hotel train in China and far surpasses regular train service in every aspect. The Shangri-La Express is modern, air-conditioned and has first-class sleeping compartments with two bunk-style twin beds. The luxury Tangula Express, which was supposed to launch in 2008, continues to be postponed. (We will keep you posted.) Thus the Shangri-La Express is currently the best private touring train available in China. This of course could change, but for the forseeable future, Shangri-La Express reigns on the rails in China.

Latest News: Click here for Track 25, our blog, for the latest news on the Shangri-La Express and other of our World's Top 25 Trains™.

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The Shangri-La Express is modern and air-conditioned. Its first-class sleeping compartments have bunk-style twin beds, small table and armchair. A small washroom with sink is shared between compartments. Two toilets are down the hall: one is a chemical toilet which can be used when the train is stopped.

The shower car in the middle of the train has large individual compartments. Each has shower, mirror, sink, hair dryer, easy chair and changing area. Robes, towels and slippers are provided.

Service on board is cheerful; each car has its own attendant who cleans the cabins, makes the bed and is on call to serve tea and coffee 24 hours a day. (Golden Eagle adds extra cleaning staff to assure its high standards are maintained.) The young staff speaks little English, but they are pleasant and, for the most part, attentive (a translation card in the cabin helps).

Silk Road couples booking Gold accommodation get two adjoining cabins on the Shangri-La Express, so they can spread out; each person has a lower bed and shares the washroom in between.


Cereal, fruit, eggs and toast are served for breakfast in the dining car, while the Chinese chefs offer local dishes at lunch and dinner. (IRT Society owners Eleanor and Owen Hardy found the food quite tasty on their 2013 trip.)

Wine and beer are included with lunch and dinner, along with soft drinks, tea and coffee. Alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages are served in the bar car. (Alcohol not included outside meals.)

Lounge Cars

The train’s lounge/bar car serves alcohol and non-alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is chargeable outside of meals.


The Society of IRT recommends upgrading to two adjoining cabins so couples can double their living space, each have a lower bed and share the washroom with one another. IRT travelers have said this upgrade was a huge boost to their on-board comfort and were grateful for this recommendation. 

Who should take this train? Those who are more focused on the destination, adventure and the incredible sights outside the window and the sightseeing at the frequent stops. If you remember to compare your experience with that of the regular Chinese trains throughout––you will have a memorable journey.  Do not take this train if you think -- because of the name -- that it is a Chinese version of the Royal Scotsman. You will be sorely disappointed.

On Shangri-La Express tours that include Tibet, the day-long, 15-hour trip between Lhasa and Golmud is by regular-service, purpose-built train equipped with special reinforced windows and additional oxygen pumped into the cars. This line reaches a height of 16,640 feet at the Tangula Pass. The tour operator reserves an entire car on the train, which has 2 and 3 seating. Be prepared for a Eastern-style toilet in one car; a Western-style toilet is in another, dining a few notches below that of the Shangri-La Express for lunch and dinner. Again, choose this for the adventure. "The ride is spectacular," said our most recent traveler, W. Osborne, who took the Hong Kong to Lhasa journey, October, 2010.

To view a recently published story and photos of the Silk Road tour, which uses the Shangri-La Express as one of its two trains, click here.

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