Visiting Tibet is one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences. However, even seasoned travelers can feel a little daunted by poor communication or unfamiliarity with local rules and customs. Here're some things to know in advance and practical tips for traveling to Tibet to make your visit an amazing experience.
- About High Altitude Sickness
- About Permits
- About Safety
- About Tour Tips
- About Travel Time
- About Transportation
- About Accommodation
- About Culture
- About Food
About High Altitude Sickness
What can I do if I get altitude sickness in Tibet?
Getting adequate rest and taking oxygen can help alleviate some of the symptoms of altitude sickness. The main form of treatment for all kinds of mountain sickness is to descend the elevation to a lower place as rapidly as possible. If the tourist doesn't show any signs of improvement after 3 to 4 hours, he/she should go to a hospital for treatment.
How to prevent altitude sickness/acute mountain sickness?
- Visitors with a severe cold, a high fever, acute or chronic pulmonary diseases, severe cardiovascular diseases, women with advanced pregnancy, and children under three years of age should avoid traveling to regions with a high altitude.
- To prevent the occurrence of altitude sickness, visitors should have a proper rest and avoid strenuous activities days before going to Tibet. After getting off the plane, you should try not to carry heavy things or run. Instead, you should have some rest.
- Diamox, Nifedipine, Nuodikang Capsules, and Suoluomabao Capsules (known as Hongjingtian Capsules in Chinese) may help some people prevent the occurrence of acute altitude sickness. For Suoluomabao Capsules, please take it three days before your arrival to a highland. Note: Acetazolamide (Diamox) is a drug used to stimulate breathing and reduce mild symptoms of mountain sickness. This drug can cause increased urination, so when taking this medication, make sure you drink plenty of fluids and do not drink alcohol; if you don’t drink enough water, it may result in severe dehydration, which can worsen AMS.
- Insist on High Carbohydrate Diet--Carbohydrates can provide heat quickly, increasing the amount of the exchange of oxygen, while too much fat and animal protein may aggravate high altitude sickness. Smoking does not only consume the oxygen in the air but also the carbon monoxide generated by the cigarette could be absorbed by the hemoglobin. So smoking shall aggravate high altitude sickness. Also, drinking is prohibited.
If we plan to fly from Kathmandu to Lhasa, what documents do we need to send to you for the Tibet Permit?
You just need to send us your passport copy after you confirm with us your itinerary. When we apply for your permit, we need to arrange your China visa invitation letter first. According to the memo between Nepal and China, all the travelers entering Tibet from Nepal have to apply for a China visa, whether he/she has a china visa or not. And this china visa is called the China Group Visa even if there is only one person on the list.
How can we get the Tibet Entry Permit if we plan to fly from mainland China to Lhasa? How about taking a train?
If you fly to Lhasa, you have to show the original Tibet Permit to board the airplane. Please tell us your hotel details (name, phone number & address) then we'll deliver your original Permit accordingly. Please do check with the staff at the front desk of your hotel to get your permit. In case of any problem, please contact your travel advisors at once. If you take the train to Lhasa, usually you need to show a copy of the Tibet Permit, and you can pass the check-in. We'll send the Permit's copy to you by email as soon as we get it. Just print the Permit (3 copies are highly recommended) out and bring it with you to the railway station. But please note Chongqing, Xi'an and Lanzhou train stations require the original permit.
How long can we get the Tibet Entry Permit after sending the documents to you?
Usually, it takes 12 days, at least 7 days if you only travel to Lhasa city. The permit application is not only related to Tibet Tourism Bureau, but also to other departments of government, such as the Public Security Bureau, Foreign Affairs office, and Frontier Defense office. If you want to visit western Tibet like Mt. Kailash and the Guge Kingdom, the application for getting your Military permit should be submitted to the Military Office at least 1 month before your arrival. Only the documents passed the check-in can Tibet Tourism Bureau issue the permit.
What documents do we need to provide in order to get the Tibet Entry Permit?
A settled itinerary including the day-by-day arrangements and ENTRY CITY to Tibet will be printed on your Tibet Travel Permit. Please make them the right date and the only city you can enter Tibet. It will take extra time & fee if later you want to change them. And a color copy of the valid PASSPORT photo page and CHINA VISA page (the application for your Tibet Entry Permit can be started first without your China Visa but later we need it). Except for L Visa(tourist visa), any other type of China Visa need an additional certificate letter from your Chinese school/company's stamp. In the letter, your full name, passport No., position, company adds & Tel, etc. should be stated.
What permits do I need to take the flight to Tibet?
Of course, your original passport is the first important document.
Secondly, you must get some necessary permits for your Tibet tours, such as Tibet Travel Permit, Alien’s Travel Permit, Tibet Military Permit, etc. Except for the Tibet Travel Permit, which is a basic document, the other permits depend on your travel destinations. For Tibet Travel Permit, the request is different from the place where you enter Tibet. To obey the regulation of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), foreigners must provide the original Tibet Travel Permit when boarding domestic flights to Tibet. But the scanned copy of the Tibet Travel Permit is acceptable when taking a flight from Kathmandu. Your Tibetan tour guide will bring the original one to get you released from the Lhasa airport.
Thirdly, Chinese Visa. Here are two situations as well. One, flying to Tibet from inbound China, you have to apply for a Chinese Visa in your country. Two, flying to Tibet from Kathmandu, in this case, you don’t need to apply for a Chinese Visa by yourself but a China Group Visa. Because according to the government’s policy, you have to get a China Group Visa issued in Nepal to enter Tibet. Even if you have already obtained China Visa, it will be canceled in Nepal. What you should do is to give your passport to the Nepali agent when arriving in Kathmandu and wait for 2-3 days to get the China Group Visa.
If I only have one entry China Visa, can I travel to China and Tibet?
Yes, there's no problem.
What if I buy a flight into Lhasa, but don’t have the related travel permit? What's going on?
Tibet Permit will be checked at airports in China. Even if you have booked and paid for your flight tickets to Tibet, without Tibet Travel Permit, you still won’t be able to board the flight to Tibet.
Is there a risk of attacking by animals?
Be aware of an attack from animals. Wild yaks and dogs often attack the Tibetan people. When you are traveling in Tibet, do not approach it or play with it.
Is traffic safe in Tibet?
Nowadays, most roads are paved well and broad. And we only use experienced drivers and safe cars to make sure of your safety.
Is there crime in Tibet?
Overall Tibet is a safe place where you will meet friendly, honest, and trustworthy people. Tibet has a low crime rate. But for travelers, you need to take care of your belongings and be on your guard against pickpockets. You should take particular care when traveling after dark, especially if you are alone.
About Tour Tips
What are the top three sacred lakes? Where are the top four Tibetan holy mountains?
There are three major sacred lakes in Tibet: Lake Manasarovar, Lake Namtso, and Lake Yamdrok, respectively. Lake Manasarovar is regarded as the top one. >>See more about sacred lakes of Tibet
The top four holy mountains are the Meli Snow Mountain located in Deqin County, Yunnan province; the Mt. Amnye Machen, situated in Maqin County, Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai province; Mountain Kailash, located in Burang County, Ngari, Tibet and Gaduojuewu Snow Mountains, situated in Gaduo County, Yucarhu Prefecture, Qinghai Province. Meli Snow Mountain is a multi-peaked range with an average altitude of over 6000 meters. The highest peak is called Kagebo, with an altitude of 6740 meters. Every year in the fall, Tibetan pilgrims will trek to the scared Meli Snow Mountain and make a pilgrimage around. Amnye Machen Peak is the highest point with an altitude of 6282 meters. And the area around Mt. Amnye Machen is cold, even in summer, for being full of glaciers, so it's been treated as a dangerous trekking route. Mt. Kailash is a holy mountain both for Tibetan and Indian pilgrims. Every year in summer, devotees from India will travel thousands of miles to this sacred mountain for making a pilgrimage trekking. Gaduojuewu Snow Mountains are the king among the sacred mountains in the Yangtze River Valley, with an average altitude of 4900 meters. Its gorgeous and precipitous main peak (5,470 meters above sea level) leaves countless beautiful legends. >>See more about sacred mountains of Tibet
What are the interesting sites in Nyingchi?
The main scenic spots in Nyingchi are Basum Lake, Lulang forest, Yarlung-Zangbo Grand Canyon(not available for international travelers currently), Namcha Barwa, etc.
It’s said that there are abundant hot spring resources in Tibet. Which one is the best?
There are three well-known hot springs in Tibet, namely, Yampachen Hot Spring, Dezong Hot Spring Resort, and Riduo Hot Springs. Among them, Yampachen is the most famous one. Located 90 kilometers away from Lhasa, Yampachen is regarded as the best one for the most extensive range of pools and the highest temperature springs in China, and tourists can choose to take a bath in an indoor pool or outdoor pool.
Why can’t I go to Tibet if I have a cold?
A cold can lower your resistance to disease, and your trachea and lungs would be inflamed due to this reason. If you go to Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at that time, the cold may deteriorate into bronchitis, pulmonary edema or pneumonia as the oxygen content is much lower in the high-altitude areas. Besides, it takes a long time for you to get recovery from the cold in the highland. So please keep yourself warm.
Should I take exercise before traveling to Tibet?
Most tourists are worried about the impact of high altitude, so they always have to think about physical exercise before their tours. Altitude sickness has no business with being strong or not. Generally speaking, you don’t have to work out deliberately, but if you are still worried about this, you can jog a month early. And remember, stop taking excise a week before your departure!
Where can I buy some traditional Tibetan items?
There are lots of groceries on Barkhor Street. You can buy many Tibetan items such as Hada, cappa, traditional clothes, snow lotus, Tibetan incense, Beef jerky, Saffron crocus, Tangka, etc.
Can I take a photo of the pilgrims?
Lots of travelers will be stunned by the pious pilgrims in front of the Jokhang Temple. Thus, they want to take a photo of those pilgrims as a memory. However, most Tibetan Buddhists are not willing to be recorded by the camera. You should get permission before taking a photo of them.
Can I take photos in Potala Palace? What should I notice when visiting Tibetan monasteries?
You are not allowed to take photos when visiting Potala Palace. Taking pictures is also being banned in some monasteries in Tibet, or it is not free. You should avoid smoking, touching Buddhism statues, lection, bells, amulets, religious objects, etc. You also need to keep silent and visit the monastery in a clockwise direction. You cannot sit on the seats of living Buddha. Do not wear sunglasses, hats, make a big noise, etc. in the monasteries.
Can I withdraw money from local banks in Tibet? Or can I use my credit card in Tibet?
Yes, you can withdraw money from the Bank of China or ATMs in Lhasa. But please be aware that there aren’t as many ATMs as you used to meet. Plus, Lhasa city is big, a run to a bank often takes up lots of time, especially when there is a queue.
You can use your credit card at 5-star hotels, fancy restaurants, big malls, etc., but it is not widely accepted. And it charges a service fee.
To sum up, it’s neither convenient to withdraw money nor to pay with a credit card in Tibet, so please prepare enough cash before you enter Tibet.
Can the elderly and kids travel to Tibet?
There is no age limitation for people to travel to Tibet. Still, theoretically, kids who are under three years old are not recommended to go to Tibet because the parents sometimes can’t tell if their children suffer from symptoms of altitude sickness. Meanwhile, traveling to regions with quite high altitudes such as Mt.Kailash or Everest Base Camp is too risky for young kidst. But in Lhasa and surrounding areas are perfectly fine for kids to grab a rough idea of Tibetan culture and history.
As for the seniors, it's also hard to define the boundary of age. Things are not always absolute, especially considering the age of traveling to high-altitude places. Previously, our oldest client, who came from the US, even made an Everest Base Camp trip at the age of 81 with his 76-year-old wife. So we suggest you consult with your doctor first. Staying physically strong and healthy is a must before deciding to visit Tibet.
About Travel Time
Can I travel to Tibet in winter? Is it cold?
Although winter is the slack season for Tibetan tourism, a lot of travelers still travel to Tibet during this season. The holy snow mountains, warm sunlight, and sacred spots attract them. Lhasa is the ideal place for Tibet tours in winter. The temperature in Lhasa varies from -10°C to 10°C. It is not cold before the sunset, but it is freezing at night. Therefore, you should bring some warm clothes before traveling to Lhasa. However, the average temperature in remote areas outside of Lhasa, such as Ngari and Nagchu, is very low, nearly about -20°C.
When is the best time to travel to Tibet?
Based on years of our tour operating experience, from April to Oct is the best time to travel to Tibet, but choosing the best season to travel to Tibet mainly depends on the tour you are interested in, eg. if you are interested in the Mt.Everest tour, the best time would be May, June, Sept and early Oct, as EBC is relatively less windy and clear during these months. From the blue sky, you could view the peak of Mt. Everest from the Everest Base Camp. If you are interested in the western part of Tibet like Mt. Kailash, from May to later Sept is the best time to visit there due to the warmer climate and less rain. You would also have the opportunity to see local pilgrims during doing a trekking tour around Mt. Kailash. Aug is the best time to witness local popular festival celebrations in Tibet. In a word, you will have different experiences in different months.
How is the weather in Tibet?
Generally speaking, Tibet is cold and dry all year round. Most Tibetan areas experience frost at least six months of the year. Some high lakes get frozen from October to March. Because Tibet is vast, the topography and altitude vary significantly from the eastern part to the western region. Thus the temperature varies greatly in different areas, even within a single day at the same place. The weather change is enormous in mountain areas. In downtown, the difference is not so big. In winter, from November to next March, of course, you need to bring down jackets, warm sweaters, gloves, warm pants, woolen hats, etc. It is freezing in the morning and evening. In summer/spring/ autumn, wearing a long-sleeve T-shirt and coat in the daytime but a jacket is necessary for the morning and evening.
Is it better to take the train vs. fly to Tibet to avoid altitude sickness?
Not really. Inside the Tibet train, the air is filled with manmade oxygen starting from Xining Station, which can't really help you acclimatize to the high altitude gradually as you are being led to believe.
Do I need to book air tickets in advance?
The answer is no doubt a YES. With the development of tourism, Tibet has become a hot destination for travelers. The demands of marketing have been increasing a lot which makes the tickets hard to buy, even if the price is relatively high. Therefore, you'd better book the flight tickets in advance, especially during the peak season, generally from July to October. Great Tibet Tour will help you book flights once you are engaged with us. Please do not hesitate to contact us for flight information.
Why did more and more people choose to take a flight to Tibet?
Compared with taking a train, saving much time is the biggest advantage of taking a flight to Tibet, especially for those travelers who have a tight schedule. Nowadays, “time is money”, is true for most people. After working ass-off for only a one-week or 10-day vacation, you want to get to Tibet directly rather than spending much time on the way. Taking a train to Lhasa usually takes 21~40 hours from a Chinese gateway city. In response to market demands, 18 cities in China have offered direct flights to Tibet. Most of them are the mighty gateways of China, such as Beijing- the capital of China, Shanghai- the financial center, Chengdu- the land of abundance, Xi’an- the starting city of the Silk Road, etc. There're many direct flights per day to Tibet in those top cities. So, it’s convenient to reach Tibet by air wherever you are in China. And if you travel to Tibet from Nepal, you can also take the direct flight from Tribhuvan International Airport, which is 6km away from downtown of Kathmandu. There are 1 or 2 direct flights to Lhasa each day.
Can I book a Tibet train ticket by myself after I arrive in China?
Highly unlikely. Trains in China usually start to sell about 30 days in advance, and trains related to Tibet are always in high demand and sold out very fast. Even a local Lhasa travel agency like Great Tibet Tour has to buy the train tickets for our clients from scalpers at peak season.
How do I get the train ticket from you? Would you send it to my home or hotel?
After we purchase your train tickets, we will provide you with an eTickets, along with your passport and a copy of your Tibet Travel Permit, you can exchange the paper tickets at most railway stations in China except Chongqing, Lanzhou, and Xián, where your original Tibet Travel Permit is required.
How to get to Tibet? by train or by air?
Based on years of experience, Great Tibet Tour would recommend you fly rather than take a train to Tibet. First of all, the Tibet train is always in high demand, so not very easy to purchase unless you can book months in advance with us to guarantee it. Secondly, a train ride usually takes long hours, e.g., 21-hour is the shortest duration from Xining to Lhasa, and the trip itself is tiresome. Thirdly, the train cabin is filled with artificial air, which doesn’t really help you acclimatize to the altitude, whereas the flight takes about 2hrs usually. After you land in Tibet, there is still a lot of oxygen in your system.
Does the hotel room have access to the internet?
This actually depends on the area, in most of our 3-star hotels, and all 4-5 star hotels in major cities have access to the internet in a hotel room. But you could only find internet access in lobbies of most guesthouses & 3-star hotels in the remote place, some even don't have it.
Do hotels have hot water for showers 24 hours a day?
You will be able to enjoy a 24 hours hot shower at 3-5 star hotels that we choose for you but not guaranteed for the guesthouse accommodation.
What kind of hotel do you provide on the trip?
Due to the rapid development of the tourism industry in Tibet in recent years, the number of hotels & hostel levels ranging from the budget guesthouse to luxurious 5-star hotels has increased a lot. So, you have many choices for lodgings. And the hotels we provide have a good location and reputation. But frankly speaking, the service quality in Tibet is not as same as it is in big cities such as New York, London, Beijing, Shanghai, etc.
What are the biggest festivals in Tibet?
There are three major festivals in Tibet, including Losar, Shoton Festival, and Saga Dawa Festival.
The Losar is to celebrate the new year and make good wishes.
The Shoton Festival is also called the “Tibetan Opera Festival”, “Buddha Exhibition Festival", or “Yogurt Festival”, which is a kind of religious activity at the beginning but now it becomes a famous Tibetan festival. During the festival, people will have garden parties, watch Tibetan opera, eat Yogurt and watch yak racing.
Saga Dawa Festival is to commemorate the birthday, enlightenment, and death of Sakyamuni.
What about Tibetan Taboos?
Donkey, horse, and dog meat are prohibited in Tibet, and fish is prohibited as well in some areas; when drinking buttered tea, you can't take the cup until the master lifts it in front of you; turn the prayer wheels in a clockwise direction; do not touch the heads of Tibetan people, even a kid; do not accept or deliver articles with one hand; do not use the paper with Tibetan characters to wipe anything; when visiting tents of nomads, men should sit on the left and women on the right.
What is the Tibetan Buddhism debate?
Tibetan Buddhism Debate is a kind of activity which monks gather together to debate Buddhism doctrines. They are generally divided into pairs, one person is standing and another person is sitting. The sitting one puts forward one opinion, then the standing one counters with his argument. They will have countless debates to figure out the truth. Buddhism debating is the daily work of monks to test what they have learned usually.
Can Lama get married?
We know Tibetan Buddhism can be divided into five denominations, Gelugpa, Nyingmapa, Kagyupa, Sakyapa, and Bon. A great number of people hold the view that all the denominations can get married, except the Bon. But this view is not the truth. There are two kinds of Lamas in Tibet. The first kind of Lama is to study in Tibetan monasteries. The second kind of Lama is to live at their own home. The former should study Buddhism and obey the rules at a young age, while the latter have no responsibility to follow the Buddhist rules. Therefore, the monks who are at home can get married and raise babies.
Is the Butter tea tasty?
Generally speaking, most travelers have no good impression of butter tea. But it is a good tea to relieve high altitude sickness. Butter tea is most favored by Tibetans, and tourists cannot miss it. >>See more about butter tea
What's Tibetan food like?
Tibetan people have unique food and drink due to the high altitude, their religious beliefs, and ethnic customs, their diet mainly consists of beef, milk and other high protein food such as yak meat and mutton to help them fight the cold. Tsampa is also the staple food in Tibet, which is a dough made with roasted barley flour and yak butter. Tibetan people eat this at every meal and bring it as ready-made food when traveling. >>See more about Tibetan food
What can we eat in some remote areas such as Mt.Everest & Mt.Kailash?
The food in some remote areas is fundamental, with fewer choices. You could only find some small restaurants that serve noodles, fried rice, and some simple dishes to order. For breakfast, they can make pancakes and omelets. So you'd better buy some snacks, milk, and coffee, etc. in Lhasa city in advance and bring them along.
Are there any restaurants available for vegetarians?
Yes, you can find good vegetarian restaurants in cities like Lhasa and Shigatse. In small towns and villages, you can order vegetable noodles or dishes at local restaurants.
Is it easy to find western restaurants in Tibet?
Yes, you could easily find western restaurants in some big cities such as Lhasa, Shigatse, Tsedang, etc. Just tell your interests to your tour guide, s/he will help you find your suitable one. But in the small counties/towns, it is hard to find western restaurants.
How much does it usually cost per person per day for food?
The cost of food is different in each region of Tibet. In general cities like Lhasa and Shigatse, it usually costs about USD10-USD15/person/day for Chinese, Tibetan, or Nepal food, a little bit higher for western food but not much.