If Tibet is on your bucket list, you’re in the right place! The rooftop of the world is akin to a rare treasure chest laden with crown jewels you simply can’t miss! But before you take this incredible journey of a lifetime, there are a few important points to know.
1. Tibet Travel Permit
To travel to Tibet as a foreigner (or a Chinese citizen living overseas without a Chinese passport) you must have a travel permit before you arrive. Your travel agency can apply on your behalf for this. To do so, they’ll need a copy of your Chinese visa, which you can apply for at your local embassy or consulate. (Tibet is officially a province of China and a valid China visa is required to travel to Tibet, except if you enter Tibet from Nepal.)
The travel agency will also need your confirmed tour itinerary and travel guide, plus six months validity on your passport. Allow at least 20 days for this to be issued. The travel permit doesn’t cost but the visa does. You can choose to either travel with a tour group or as an individual traveler (with a guide).
If you want to visit Mt Everest, you will also need to have an Aliens’ Travel Permit which you can get once you enter Tibet, with your passport. Your travel permit will be checked whether you take the train or fly into Tibet and can be asked for at any time during your trip.
*Most importantly, travel permits are not available from late February until March 31st. And everything will be normalized from April 1st. Thus if you’re planning to visit Tibet in winter, I strongly recommend you to contact us as soon as possible to make an early booking. Tibet Vista is ready here to apply Tibet travel permit for you for free!
2. How to Get to Lhasa, Tibet
Most experts recommend you arrive into Tibet’s capital Lhasa by train and then fly out. This is to help prevent altitude sickness and acclimatize more slowly. It’s also a great way to see some spectacular scenery! You can catch a train from many of the main cities in China like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Chengdu and Xi’an and then travel on the world’s highest altitude railway from Qinghai to Lhasa. Labelled an engineering wonder, due to its construction despite economic and geographic concerns, a 960 kilometer section is more than 4000 meters above sea level and 550 kilometers is permafrost (soil, rock or sediment that is frozen for more than two consecutive years). The 2000 kilometer journey along the snow covered plateau or “Sky Road” as its known is legendary for its stunning natural landscapes.
*Note: Acclimatizing is not that straight forward and travelling by train is no guarantee. The biggest tip is to rest when you arrive and take things very slowly for the first 24 hours. Meanwhile, if you are hunting for an adventurous journey, traveling overland to Tibet is a nice try. See more details at How to get to Tibet.
3. Tibet is Not Cheap: The Best Ways to Save Money
If you join one of our small tour groups we offer the classic Tibetan itinerary which includes all of the top sights such as Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, Barkhor Street and the Summer Palace at the very least. As the pioneer of Tibet tourism for global tourists since 1984, TIBET VISTA was the FIRST TOUR OPERATOR to run join-in group tours. If you’re on a budget, you won’t miss a thing on these tightly packed tours at the lowest possible price. Travel in a group of around ten travelers with all the benefits of a hand-picked hotel, tour route, and fixed departure date. From four days to fifteen days, we have something for everyone.
4. Travelling Overland from Nepal to Tibet
If you are not coming via mainland China, time permitting, travelling overland from Nepal to Tibet by car is another excellent option. Following the 2015 earthquake which permanently damaged the Zhangmu Border, the government has now opened Gyirong Port as the official gateway for commuters from Kathmandu to Lhasa. The drive is around 1000 kilometers which can be done in 12 hours but we recommend you take a week to get there along the “Friendship” Highway and enjoy the amazing scenery, including the majestic Himalayan Ranges and a spectacular roller-coaster ride down into the Kathmandu valley. Along the way, experience exotic Tibetan culture and spectacular lakes and mountains. Check out our incredible Tibet Nepal tours here!
5. Mt Kailash the Place to Go
A giant mass of black rock that reaches over 22,000 feet, Mt. Kailash which means “precious jewel of eternal snow” remains a place shrouded in mystery and legend, as the world’s most venerated holy place. It is also the least visited because of its location in far western Tibet. In the unusual shape of a pyramid, according to ancient beliefs, the mountain represents the axis of the world or the stairway to heaven, and only a few thousand pilgrims are lucky enough to see it every year.
Tibet Vista is the biggest tour operator and renowned as one of the most reliable to take travelers to Mt Kailash. Choose from small group tours or a private service based on your personal interests and budget. For more information on our tours to this majestic Mt. Kailash once in a lifetime spot click here.
6. Travel Insurance
Tibet is a remote location, and if you become seriously injured or very sick, you may need to be evacuated by air. Under these circumstances, you don’t want to be without adequate health insurance. Be sure your policy covers evacuation.
7. Banking and Foreign Exchange
As in the rest of China, Renminbi (RMB) is the legal currency in Tibet. Only the Bank of China offers foreign exchange services. Chinese banks in Lhasa include Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China. Additionally, some 4/5 star hotels also offer exchange services. Tibetans do not use and accept coins. You are also advised to carry enough cash if travelling to remote areas in Shigatse, Shannan, Ngari, Nyingchi, and Nagqu where banking services is limited.
In Tibet the power sockets are of type A, C and I. The standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. If the standard voltage in your country is between 220 – 240 V (as in the UK, Europe, Australia and most of Asia and Africa) you can easily use your electric appliances it Tibet.
However, if the standard voltage in your country is in the range of 100 V – 127 V (as in the US, Canada and most South American countries), you need a voltage converter in Tibet. You can bring your own voltage converter as you might not find them in Tibetan stores. Alternately, you can also buy them in Kathmandu (if travelling to Tibet via Nepal).
If the label in your electric appliance states ‘INPUT: 100-240V, 50/60 Hz’ the appliance can be used in all countries of the world. This is common for chargers of tablets/laptops, photo cameras, cell phones, toothbrushes, etc.
9. Drinking water
It is not wise to drink tap water or ice made from tap water. Most hotels in urban areas including Lhasa boil the water first before serving them hot or cold. However, when trekking in the more remote areas you should boil your own water or treat it with water-purification tablets. Tea is always safe to drink but you are advised to refrain from locally brewed alcohol as it’s often made with contaminated well water. Large 5 liter bottles of drinking water are available in most supermarkets.
The water in Tibet is ‘hard water’ so you need to boil it at least for 10 minutes to purify it. Consider purchasing a water filter for a long trip (often more economical than buying bottled water). Total filters take out all parasites, bacteria and viruses, and make water safe to drink.
Chlorine tablets (eg Puritabs or Steritabs) will kill many pathogens, but not giardia and amoebic cysts. Iodine is more effective for purifying water and is available in liquid (Lugol’s solution) or tablet (eg. Potable Aqua) form. Follow the directions carefully and remember that too much iodine can be harmful.
10. Best Time to Visit Tibet
May to September is the most popular season to visit Tibet. The weather is warm with clear skies. The snow/ice starts melting from April clearing the blocked roads and making it easier for you to visit various Tibetan townships. However, since this is the peak season, the prices are at their highest.
If you want to save around 20% of your money you can visit Tibet in either April or between Octobers to November. The weather is cold but there are not a lot of tourists visiting so you get more options for hotels and vehicles.
The lowest tourist season in Tibet is winter (Dec–Feb). The weather is very cold but you have all the attractions to yourself. The hotels and transport are considerably cheaper which means you can get hotels and vehicles in half the price you would pay during the peak tourist.