7 Useful Things to Know Before Traveling to Tibet

  • Last Updated: 2020-11-11

Tibet is located on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau known as the "Roof of the World", with an average elevation of more than 4,000 meters. It is famous for its plateau landscape, Tibetan Buddhism culture, and towering snow-capped mountains, as well as many historical sites. Tibet is a pilgrimage site for countless travel enthusiasts, and is known as "a place that must be visited once in a lifetime". However, it’s not as easy as other places in China for foreigners to travel due to its special geographic and political situations. Hence, here we list the 7 useful things you need to know before traveling to Tibet based on our over 15 years’ experience of running the Tibet trip business.

Deal with Altitude Sickness

Although Tibet is beautiful, after all, it's a high altitude area. For those who want to go, there are indeed many worries. The first and biggest concern is about altitude sickness.

Altitude sickness is a natural physiological reaction of the body due to pressure difference, low oxygen content, and dry air after reaching a certain altitude. Common symptoms include headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest tightness, insomnia, vomiting, purple lips, loss of appetite, general fatigue, muscle aches, etc.

A group of our travelers at Potala PalaceMost people can adapt to the altitude in one or 2 days.

How to avoid altitude sickness?

Most people will experience mild altitude sickness when they first arrive at the plateau. Therefore, maintaining a good attitude is a prerequisite before going to Tibet. It is recommended that you do not walk fast, run, or do vigorous exercise when you first arrive in the plateau area. Do not overeat to avoid burdening the digestive organs. Do not drink or smoke. Eat more vitamin-rich foods such as vegetables and fruits. Drink lots of water. Pay attention to keep warm. Especially on your first arrival day in Tibet, don’t do strenuous exercises and don’t take shower. Don't take oxygen at the beginning, try to adapt to it yourself, otherwise, you may keeping using oxygen at the plateau.

Also, you may take some cold medicine, American ginseng lozenges, headache medicine, diarrhea medicine, digestive aid, etc.

For most people, the symptoms may disappear within 1-2 days. So please don't worry about it too much.

When is The Best Time to Travel?

The best time to travel to Tibet is during summer and autumn when the scenery is the best, the oxygen content is sufficient, and the climate is pleasant. However, there is a big temperature difference between day and night in the plateau area, especially morning and night. The temperature in Tibet during the day is around 25℃ in summer, and it will drop to 10℃ at night. Tibet is relatively cold in the two seasons of spring and winter. Tourists who travel in these three seasons should pay attention to the cold and warmth, bring enough cold-proof clothing, take baths and wash hair as little as possible, and strictly prevent colds. Ultraviolet rays on the plateau are very strong, so please pay attention to applying sunscreen. Sunscreen recommends SPF50+. In addition, don't forget to use physical sun protection by taking your sunglasses, hat, etc.

Necessary Documents

Tibet lies within China and hence the valid passport, Chinese Visa and Tibet Travel Permit are requisite when you enter Tibet (unless you travel to Tibet from Nepal). You need to apply for a Chinese visa in the local Chinese Embassy or consulate in advance. If you enter Tibet from Nepal, you need to obtain the China Group Visa from Kathmandu`s Chinese Embassy.

Tibet Travel Permit is the most important permit.

Tibet Travel Permit (TTP) is an entry permit for entering Tibet. TTP must be applied for through a local travel agency in Tibet. Without TTP, foreign travelers cannot board trains or flights to Tibet. The permit indicates all the destinations and attractions you will visit during the travel, which cannot be changed. Therefore, you must confirm the travel itinerary with your agency before the application.

If you plan to travel to Mount Everest Base Camp or Mount Kailash, you also need to apply for an Alien's Travel Permit (ATP) and Military Permit through a local travel agency. Your Travel agency will handle all the permits for you.

How to Get to Tibet?

Generally speaking, there are two means for foreign travelers entering Tibet. One is to fly into China and take a flight or train to Lhasa and the other is to fly to Kathmandu, Nepal and then get to Lhasa by air or by car.

Traveling to Tibet via mainland China, you can fly to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Xi'an and other Chinese cities, and then transfer to Lhasa. Chengdu and Beijing are both popular departure cities to Lhasa, with regular direct flights every day. Or you can choose a cheaper stopover flight. If you want to enjoy the magnificent scenery along Qinghai-Tibet Railway, you can choose to take a train to Tibet. There are 7 gateway cities that provide trains from mainland China to Tibet, including Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Lanzhou and Xining.

Qinghai Tibet Railway

Enjoy the magnificent plateau scenery along Qinghai-Tibet Railway, known as the sky road.

If you plan to enter Tibet from Nepal, you need to take a flight to Kathmandu. Once you arrive in Kathmandu, you can choose different ways to get to Tibet. You can fly to Lhasa directly because Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu is the only international airport with direct flights to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. However, the best way to get to Lhasa is to travel by land. 

What to See and Things to Do in Tibet

As the roof of the world, Tibet is a dreaming place for travelers. It attracts countless tourists to explore the mysterious religious culture and stunning natural landscape.

Potala Palace is a must-see Tibet tourist attraction for almost all travelers. It is the center of Tibet and the highest and grandest palace in the world. 

In Lhasa city, you can admire monasteries and artistic buildings while strolling, appreciate exquisite handicrafts and Thangka productions in the workshops,  watch lively Tibetan operas,  feel the life of Tibetans and taste a cup of buttered tea in Barkhor Street. If you are coming during festivals, you will have an opportunity to participate in Tibetan traditional activities.

Outside of Lhasa, you can wander among countless Buddhist monasteries and temples, walk along the majestic alpine lakes, or enjoy the breathtaking Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon. There are three holy lakes with mysterious legends in Tibet: Lake Manasarovar, Lake Yamdrok, and Lake Namtso. 

Mount Everest Base Camp is the best place to have the whole view of Mount Everest. If you are lucky, you can see Mount Everest shining like a diamond in the blue sky of Tibet.  Rongbuk Monastery is also one of the must-see attractions as it's the highest temple in the world.

Mount Kailash in Ngari is considered the world’s center by four religions. The mountain is so sacred that no one is allowed to climb it. What’s more, Mount Kailash Kora is a famous trekking route. It is said that walking around the mountain can eliminate lifetime sins.

Mount Kailash

Mt.Kailash is regarded as the center of the world.

What to Take

Strong ultraviolet ray, excessive temperature differences between day and night, and dry weather is the main features of Tibet.

To keep warm during the night, especially in alpine areas, you should bring some thick clothes, such as coats and sweaters. A pair of gloves and a scarf will also be helpful. A pair of warm and comfortable shoes are also indispensable.

Known as the “city of sunlight”, you can enjoy a pleasant afternoon with a cup of coffee in the sunny Lhasa. But protecting yourself from ultraviolet rays is important, so please take sunglasses or sunscreen to avoid being hurt by the sunlight.

Tibet is dry and windy. Bring a lip cream and a lotion to moisturize your skin, and do drink enough water during your journey in Tibet.

Bring some snacks and drinks in your bag is important. Many scenic sites are located in remote areas and it takes much time to get there. The long journey may make you hungry and thirsty, and your food will be helpful.

Travel Taboos in Tibet

There are indeed many taboos when traveling to Tibet. To avoid causing unnecessary troubles, you’d better know about it before going.

Photography: In most of the monasteries, taking photos of Buddha statues is forbidden. If you want to take a photo of other people, such as local Tibetan in traditional costumes, you should ask for permission in advance.

Monasteries: When you are visiting a monastery, you should dress properly and behave properly. Don’t smoke, drink alcohol, make noise, or touch religious items in the monastery. If you are going to a monastery, please take off your hat and sunglasses, otherwise, you may not be allowed to enter them. When you enter a hall, don’t step on the threshold. And always walk clockwise around religious items, such as shrines and prayer wheels. If you offer some money to the monastery during your visit, you’ll be considered proper.

Customs: Don’t watch the celestial burials and don't touch the head of Tibetans, even kids.

Etiquettes: If you’re presented with a Hada, you should use both of your hands to accept it and show your gratitude. When you meet a venerable monk, you can call him “Rinpoche”, which means “precious” and be used as the most honorific title. And when you meet local Tibetans, always add a “La” after their name to show your respect.

Travel Taboos in TibetTibet owns unique traditions and religions. It's better to respect the local customs.

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