How to Visit Tibet?
- Last Updated: 2021-08-10
Tibet, as long as the sight of these two words, the pronunciation of the two sounds, the heart will have a kind of sacred feeling. Renowned as the roof of the world, here you can see the highest mountain and deepest canyon in the world. Standing on the Tibet Plateau, you will feel it’s the nearest place to the sky, you can see endless snow-capped mountains, enchanting turquoise lakes, century-old monasteries, glistening glaciers, as well as hundreds of pilgrims doing a Kora around the different sacred sites of Tibet, etc. So visiting Tibet is regarded as a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most tourists.
As a reputable local Tibet travel agency with more than 16 years of experience, we have summarized tips about how to travel to Tibet before you plan your Tibet trip.
Here are the main threads you may interest in this post
Necessary Documents Before Your Trip
According to the rules, There are several documents required to be processed before you visit Tibet. So, give yourself at least a 10-30 days leeway when you plan your trip to Tibet.
First, you will need a Tibet Travel Permit which is mandatory for all foreign travelers to Tibet because you need to present this permit when boarding a plane or train to Tibet Autonomous Region. The only way to get such a permit is to book with a local Tibet Travel Agency. The processing of this permit usually takes around 10 days, according to your destinations in Tibet. However, if you are going to Mount Kailash, getting the related permit takes about 30 days.
You will also need to process a Chinese Visa if you get to Tibet via mainland China. Make sure you can process this visa at least a month before you travel to Tibet. As you apply for a Chinese Visa, you should refrain from stating the fact that you are traveling to Tibet. Moreover, journalists and embassy staff won't be able to get a TTB permit as a tourist.
Since Tibet travel Permit is the official document, which can’t be sent overseas by express, please book a hotel in mainland China prior to receiving your Tibet Travel Permit then you can board the plane/train to Lhasa.
If you intend to visit Tibet from Kathmandu, Nepal, then you need a China Group Visa instead of a Chinese Visa. Simply email us, and we will be more willing to facilitate everything for you. One more thing, you need to arrive in Kathmandu three working days before your Tibet trip for a China Group Visa.
When to Visit Tibet?
You can visit Tibet at any time of the year, yet there are months that are most suitable for tourist visitations. The best months to visit Tibet are from May to October, during which you can enjoy mild weather, warm sunshine, pure sky, and a clear view of landscapes. Summer is the best time for photographers while Autumn is the best time for trekkers. However, the downside of visiting during summer and autumn is the larger number of tourists who flock to Tibet.
Thus, you may also consider touring Tibet during the low/ordinary season to avoid the horde of visitors during the high travel season. Winter of Tibet owns strong sunshine, which makes the weather not as freezing as you imagine. Visiting Tibet in winter means fewer travelers, lower costs, and unique sceneries. Although some roads and scenic sites such as Mt.Kailash, lake Namtso, etc. in remote areas are blocked because of the snowfall, Lhasa, Shigatse (Everest Base Camp), and Nyingchi are always available during the whole year.
If you plan to visit Tibet in spring, it’s highly recommended to have a trip to Nyingchi. Known as the “Switzerland of China”, Nyingchi is blessed with mild weather and beautiful scenery. Especially when peach flowers bloom in spring, the famous Peach Flower Festival really worth a visit.
What to Prepare?
It is important that you keep yourself physically conditioned when traveling to Tibet. Tibet is not an ordinary place to visit because it is around 4,000 meters above sea level. This means you are likely to experience altitude sickness which can be mild or worse. If possible, you can take some necessary medicines such as Nuodikang Capsules, Nifedipine, and Suoluomabao Capsules. Avoid catching a cold before your go for it may surely affect your travel.
If you ride a train to Tibet, you will be given a health waiver form that you have to fill out. In addition to filling in some basic information on the form, there are two important reminders: the first is that I have known and understood the content of "Highland Travel Tips", and the second is that my health can adapt to more than 3000 meters. That means you are entering Tibet voluntarily, at your own risk.
To avoid catching a cold, you also need to carefully choose the clothes that you will bring with you to Tibet. Bring warm clothes such as sweaters and jackets for even if it is summer, the temperature in Tibet may abruptly drop at night. And if you will visit Everest Base Camp, you should bring with you a heavy winter coat.
You should also never forget your sunglasses and sunscreen as well as your lip cream. You should also bring with you comfortable walking shoes because you would surely have steep staircases and paths to climb when you are in Tibet. Lastly, you can prepare some snacks as there might be some long time driving during your Tibet trip.
How to Get to Tibet?
Access Tibet via mainland China (Recommended!)
Getting to Tibet by train is the most popular way. Since the Qinghai-Tibet Railway opened in 2006, traveling to Tibet is more convenient and flexible. You can board the train from Xining, Xian, Chengdu, Chongqing, Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Train travel from these cities takes 21 to 52 hours. Hence, you have enough time to enjoy the scenery along the way. Especially, the landscapes from Xining onwards - the start point of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. You will see the breathtaking scenery of snow-capped mountains, crystal lakes, peaceful pastures, huge wilderness, and blooming flowers. The train is equipped with modern facilities, such as the oxygen system. Traveling to Tibet by train will also offer you a lower risk of suffering from altitude sickness because you can accommodate to the altitude little by little.
For a more comfortable and time-saving journey, you also can get to Tibet by plane. In major cities of China, you have many options for domestic flights to Lhasa. There're direct flights to Lhasa from major gateway cities such as Chengdu, Xián, Chongqing, Kunming, Beijing, etc. You can check the flight schedules and choose the flight which meets your requirements.
Access Tibet via Kathmandu
There is only one international flight to Lhasa and that flight is coming from Kathmandu, Nepal. Getting to Tibet by flight will enable you to see majestic Mt.Everest if you happen to sit on the left by the window. You can also go to Tibet from Nepal via land travel. In this way, you can witness the beautiful scenery of the Sino-Nepal highway.
What to See in Tibet?
Tibet showcases a blend of both cultural and historical sites and natural wonders. So, you will see in Tibet both awesome historical architecture from the past and tantalizing natural wonders that are untouched in their pristine beauty. Here are the best places that you should visit in Tibet:
- Potala Palace—The winter palace of Dalai Lamas is a majestic structure that comprises around 1,000 rooms and many other artifacts and scriptures, mandalas, paintings, stupas, and many more.
- Jokhang Temple—a 7th-century temple in the very heart of Lhasa that houses the most sacred and important Buddha statue in the world, a statue of a 12-year old Shakyamuni Buddha.
- Sera Monastery—One of the largest and most beautiful Buddhist monasteries in Lhasa. It consists of three colleges wherein monks study Buddhism. You'll see here how monks debate philosophical and theological ideas.
- Drepung Monastery—once the largest Buddhist monastery in the world with more than 10,000 monks inhabiting the place. You'll need a day to completely see the whole place.
- Barkhor Street—Lhasa's main street. You'll see thousands of pilgrims walking in a clockwise direction. It's also a holy path that surrounds the Jokhang Temple. You'll see stores, local tea houses, restaurants, and small temples along this street.
- Norbulingka—is the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas. It's a typical Tibetan-style garden.
Lhasa - Shigatse Route
This scenic route affords you an awesome view of the Tibetan wide plains planted with tawny barley, turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountains, ochre stupas, and rural villages. The best stops along this route include the Yamdrok Lake, the Karo-La Glacier, and the Pelkor Chode Monastery.
Shigatse - Everest Base Camp
If you move further from Shigatse, you can visit Everest Base Camp (EBC). For most travelers, EBC is a Tibet tour highlight simply because it lets you view the highest mountain in the world in all its majesty. Tourists visit EBC because they want to get a feel of how to be literally at the very top of the world.
Everest Base Camp - Mt.Kailash
Keep driving northwest for 2 days from Everest Base Camp, you will arrive at Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash, renowned as "Sacred Mountain and Holy Lake". It is said that one circuit around Mt. Kailash can vanish your lifetime sin. The average altitude of the Kailash Kora is close to 5000m, which is a great challenge to the spirit and perseverance of the hikers.
Dos and Don'ts for Traveling to Tibet
As an ethnic minority with a long history, Tibetans have lived on the solo Tibet plateau with little contact with the outside world. In such an isolated social environment, they formed some unique customs and taboos. Therefore, to travel to Tibet, it is particularly important to follow the customs.
- Offering a Khata is the most common etiquette of the Tibetans, and it expresses welcome, sincerity, and loyalty to people. After receiving the Khata, don't place it at will if you are not accustomed to wearing it. You can fold it and put it away, or hang it on the stone when you go through a mountain pass or present it to the Buddha when entering a monastery;
- Tibetans stick their tongue out to show respect or embarrassment instead of ridicule. And namaste is a kind of etiquette;
- Do not enter the temple in shorts, skirts, or overly revealing clothing;
- Buddhist temples are not allowed to take pictures or video;
- Visit the Buddhist temple in a direction from left to right;
- Do not make rash discussions on sensitive issues such as the "Dalai Lama" in monasteries;
- When the host pours the tea, the guest must hold the tea bowl with both hands and lean forward to show respect;
- Don't touch someone's head with your hand.
Where to Eat in Tibet?
Tibetan food is a general term for Tibetan cuisine, with light and gentle taste. Except for salt, shallots and garlic, spicy seasonings are generally not used. For the first-time comer, please lower your expectations about Tibetan food because many people are not accustomed to it at the beginning. You can try the tea house to have some butter tea or sweet tea to relieve the symptoms of altitude sickness.
These teahouses usually serve dishes like Tibetan noodles and vegetables with rice. They also serve “yak momo”—a typically steamed dumpling that comes with yak meat. You'll also get to eat in restaurants that serve non-indigenous cuisines such as Western food, Sichuan food, Nepalese food, or Indian food. And of course, there're some Tibetan restaurants that provide exquisite Tibetan cuisine, which is improved based on international tourists' tastes. For your convenience, you may check out these restaurants: Tibetan Family Kitchen, House of Shambala, and Po Ba Tsang Restaurant.
Where Should You Stay in Tibet?
Accommodation in Lhasa includes everything from five-star hotels to youth hostels to family inns. The price ranges from dozens of yuan to thousands of yuan. You can choose the right accommodation according to your needs. Usually, your Travel agency will include your accommodation, so you don't have to worry about it. For travel agencies in Tibet, most know how to find the best-value hotels for their guests. You’ll be provided with hotels that will offer you the necessary amenities and convenience. If you want to stay overnight in a 5-star hotel to enjoy sophisticated and luxurious services, please let your agency know.
Of course, there are known hotels in Tibet that are frequented by tourists and travelers. Here are some of these popular hotels:
3-star: House of Shambala, Lhasa GangGyan Hotel, Lhasa Yak Hotel;
4-star: Four Points by Sheraton Lhasa, Dekang Hotel, Lhasa Hotel;
5-star: St. Regis Resort Lhasa, InterContinental Lhasa Paradise, Shangri-La Hotel, Lhasa.
How Much Would It Cost?
Traveling to Tibet is not cheap. The cost may vary depending on how long you will stay in Tibet. If you intend to have a week-long tour, you could expect to spend more than $900.
Most tour packages are within that price range and these tour packages basically include everything that you will need to complete a tour, including your Tibet Travel Permit, accommodations, transportation expenses, daily breakfasts, entrance tickets, and tour guide fees.
The cost of touring Tibet generally changes from season to season. Summer is the most expensive season and winter is the cheapest time. The perks of traveling in winter include the many things that are discounted during winter. For example, flight tickets are less expensive and hotel accommodations are cheaper in this season. In the summer months, however, the number of travelers increases drastically; hence, the prices of everything increase due to high demands.
You need to pay in advance for the pre-booked tour. For the required documents, you don’t need to pay for the Tibet Travel Permit because it is free. It's understandable that some travel agencies charge a fee for the processing of the Tibet Travel Permit. However, you need to pay for your China Visa. Here is a rundown of the cost of processing a China visa in different countries:
- Australia AUD 109.50
- Canada CAD 142.00
- France EUR 126.00
- United States of America USD 140.00
You also need to pay for your own flight/train tickets to/from Tibet. You can save on your travel expenses if you travel by train from mainland China to Tibet as compared to plane travel. Train fares depend on which city you will depart from. If you start your train travel from Xining, you will get a fairly less expensive ticket with the lowest price at starting at US$80(net price); while if you are coming from Shanghai or Beijing, you will pay more for your ticket.
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