Traveling to Tibet is almost everyone’s dream and are in a lot of peoples bucket list. Because Tibet Autonomous Region is one of the most magnificent and mystical lands to travel on this planet. It’s a unique landscape, well-preserved culture and rich history attract lots of travelers. Traveling to Tibet can sound a bit complicated due to, too many different information provided by different sources but in reality, it’s quite easy. If you follow these few steps.
Lying on the world’s highest plateau, Tibet Autonomous Region is a magical land hidden far away in the north-eastern part of China, which lies at 4500metres above sea level. Being one of the most popular destinations for travelers. Tibet aka the third pole due it’s harsh weather is one of the most remote places on this planet earth. Which consists of a few of the world’s famous mountains and lakes such as Mount Kailash a sacred mountain revered by both Tibetan Buddhists and Hindus, Qomolangma National Nature Reserve the Tibetan side of Mount Everest. Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon the deepest canyon in the world and several of the world’s highest lake, including Namtso lake aka heavenly lake, lake Yamdork, lake Manasorvar, etc. Entering Tibet does require few rules to follow because this mysterious land is not open to an independent traveler or any backpackers.
Tibet was and is one of the most favored destinations among travelers but you cannot travel alone within the region. You can’t just pack your bag and buy a ticket. There is a common misconception that if you have a Chinese visa you can freely travel alone just like you can in mainland China. It is prohibited to travel independently or go backpacking across Tibet. There is only one option that you I have to take that is book a tour with tour operator in Tibet.
All travelers to Tibet must book their Tibet tours through a registered Tibetan tour operator, such as Explore Tibet which offers great tour guidelines and tour guides. If you are an independent or solo traveler, there is an option that can help with your requirements. Even though independent travel is no longer permitted, there are ways for solo travelers to travel to Tibet.
There are two types of Tibet tour offer by Tibet tour operators that are private tour and group tour.
Private tours are booked for one person or family alone. But the downside of the private tour is that it is much more expensive than a group tour. They will provide you a local tour guide and a driver.
The group tour is a group of random people put together depending on the itinerary you choose to book. A group usually have more than 5 people in each group with a local tour guide and a driver. It is much cheaper than a private tour.
Explore Tibet is one of the most trusted and well-rated travel agency in Tibet, provides the best tour service which you could ever experience in Tibet. Check out the reviews on TripAdvisor.
As I’ve said above if you want to travel to Tibet you cannot just buy the ticket and fly to Tibet. You must plan ahead a few weeks before traveling there. Because you need to have a wide variety of travel documents to enter Tibet, many of which can take some time to obtain. In the first place, you will need to have a Chinese Entry Visa (or Chinese Group Visa for those entering from Nepal), which can take around 3-5 days to process with an Embassy of the People’s Republic of China. Only once you have your visa (for entry from mainland China) can you book your Tibet tour with a registered Tibet travel agency.
Once your trip is booked, your tour operator will apply for the Tibet Travel Permit on your behalf, as you are not permitted to make personal applications with the Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB). This process normally takes around 8-9 days now. You then will have time to book your flights to China. It can be either flight or train tickets to Tibet, and time for booking hotels (unless you allow tour operators to do it as part of the package). Overall, for planning a trip to Tibet, you should book the tour at least 25 days in advance, with your Chinese Entry Visa already obtained.
Travel to Tibet requires some special documentation, as well as your passport and Chinese visa. But this does not mean that it is hard to get. All documents that you’ll be needing to enter and travel around Tibet will be applied on your behalf by the tour operator. For those traveling to Tibet from the mainland, you will need your valid passport and Chinese entry visa. Therefore you should plan your tour
The first permit that all foreigners need to obtain is a Tibet Travel Permit which is only issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau. You cannot get this permit from a Chinese embassy or consulate.
Tibet Travel Permit
Applied for once you have booked your tour to Tibet, the Tibet Travel Permit is required for travel into Tibet and around the area of Lhasa. The application requires scanned copies of your passport and visa and can take up to 15 days to process.
Alien’s Travel Permit This permit is required for travel to all areas of Tibet that lie outside Lhasa, though some do require additional permits. You can travel to Shigatse or Chamdo Prefectures without the additional permits, and the Alien’s Travel Permit is applied for once you reach Lhasa by your tour operator before you can leave the capital region.
Restricted Areas Permit While the Alien’s Travel Permit covers some areas outside Lhasa, you will also need the Restricted Areas Permit, sometimes known as the Military Permit, to travel to areas such as Ngari, Nyingchi, and the vast area of Nagqu. This is applied before you travel, as it can take up to two weeks to process.
Frontier Pass For those traveling to Mount Everest Base Camp, Mount Kailash for the Kora Trek, or crossing the border into Nepal, the Frontier Pass is a requirement. Required for all tourists traveling within the areas of the Chinese border, it is applied for by the tour operator once you reach Lhasa.
To get to Tibet there are three means of Tibet transportation.
there are two ways of traveling by air. One by taking an international flight. There is only one international to Tibet (Lhasa) which is from Nepal, Kathmandu. It’s the best option if you’re taking international flights.
The other option is taking flight from the mainland to Tibet. There are over 20 cities that provide flights from the mainland to Lhasa capital city of Tibet, including; Chengdu, Xian, Beijing, Shanghai, Kunming, etc.
By Road (Over Land) :
Overland again there is one way. It is by crossing the Nepal- China border from Nepal through Kyirong or other borders. But when entering Tibet from Nepal, the visa used is the Chinese Group Visa, which is a little different. The visa is a sheet of paper, not an entry stamp, and contains the names of all the members of the party. With the Chinese Group Visa, all named members of the visa group must enter and exit Tibet at the same time and at the same port of entry/exit. It is not possible for the group to split up and leave in different ways at different times.
Traveling by road from the mainland, I’ve not heard any official reports of the buses.
There are daily trains to Lhasa. Trains depart from seven gateway cities across China to Lhasa, including, Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Lanzhou, Shanghai, and Xining. Traveling by train may be a long journey, with the shortest train trip to Tibet taking up to 22 hours, but it is a great way to travel to the plateau and an amazing experience for first-time travelers. Because you get to enjoy the beautiful scenery on the way like Qinghai lake. Plus if you travel by train you’ll slowly get used to its altitude, which will help to reduce high altitude syndrome, so there is a better chance you’ll not get sick on your arrival.
Tibet Trains are always cheaper than flights to Lhasa, and while they are much longer, it is the ideal way to travel for budget tourists, with berths to sleep in while you ride the special Tibet Trains. Train tickets during the busy summer tourist season can be extremely difficult to get. In order to purchase train tickets, you’ll have to show your Tibet travel permit. So most people prefer paying a little extra and having the travel agency book form them. Booking can also be done through your tour operator, to ensure that you get the train of your choice on the date you need to travel and are not left stuck because of high demand.
The Tibetan plateau lies at an average altitude of 4800 meters above sea level. So one of the main concerns for travelers is altitude sickness. At this altitude, most people suffer from mild headache, nausea, dehydration, insomnia, etc. To acclimatize yourself to this altitude, it is recommended to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water or electrolyte fluids. And take a day or two to have good rest and eat healthy food. Take things a bit slow to acclimatize yourself to the new environment.
Travel in Tibet is strictly regulated for tourists, so you must keep your passport and travel permit with yourself at all times. No matter which scenic place you visit you has to show your passport and travel permit all the time.
Things you need to prepare
Tibet in summer is very warm but only during the day time. Early in the morning and in the night it’s a bit chilly so I would recommend you take an outdoor jacket or a few warm clothes to keep warm yourself. Due to its uneven weather (cold in the morning and warm during the day), it’s very easy to catch a cold. Plus the altitude, it would be better to take few medicines (first aid) just for precaution. Tibet being the roof of the world UV rays are very strong so I personally recommend you take sunscreen (SPF 50), hats, and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun.