Note: This section covers Tibet Travel Information for Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). This Tibet travel guide may not be relevant for Tibet tours in Greater Tibetan areas, which are outside of TAR, in Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan province. Below is some important information you should know before you tour Tibet. We have also included details about Tibet travel permit.
Getting to Tibet and Away
Travel to Tibet by Flight
Gongkhar Airport near Lhasa is the main airport in TAR. Other airports such as Chamdo and Nyingchi do not have reliable services at this time.
From Kathmandu: Air China operates daily flight during the pick tourist season from July till September. After December till February, there is normally one flight per week on Saturday. At other times of the year, they generally operate on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
From Chengdu: There are more than two flights daily to and from Chengdu. Chengdu is well connected from other cities. There are few international connections to seoul, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Other connections are proposed for near future.
Others: Seasonal direct flights also operate from Beijing, Hong Kong and Zhongdian ( Dechen Tibetan Prefecture) in Yunnan.
The Qinghai - Tibet (Qingzang) Railway from Golmud to Lhasa started operating from July 2006. The journey all the way from Beijing takes just under 48 hours. Trains to Lhasa originate from Beijing, Xining, Lanzhou, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing and from Chengdu.
There are four main roads into Tibet, roughly corresponding to the cardinal directions.
01) The most popular and spectacular overland crossing route is from Kathmandu, Nepal.
02) From north, the road from Golmud (Germu ) is the easiest legal land route at present. However with the arrival of the train along this way, this route is used less often.
03) East from Chengdu or Yunnan is long and at places the road is rough, but this is a great option for those who wish to see bit of Kham areas before entering into Tibet.
04) From Kashgar(Kashi) in Xinjing province in the west, the route is for hardy travelers. The road for most part is unpaved with small villages along the way. The main advantage of this route is that it passes by Mount Kailash and through a remote beautiful region inhabited by nomads.
Visa & Permits
China has two kinds of visa system:
a) Group visa for tour groups.
b) Individual Visa.
People may travel to Mainland China and Tibet with either a group visa or with as individual visa. Group visa has all the participants enlisted in one group visa and must travel together, both while entry and exit. This is usually not practical if you are arriving with different flights.
Tibet Permit for travel via mainland:
Tourists entering Tibet via mainland cities should process your own individual China visa with Chinese consulate in your resident country. Mention only those places in Mainland China to be visited (exclude to mention Tibet). Once you have the Chinese visa on your passport then send us a copy and we will process your Tibet Travel permits based on your itinerary. Tibet permit is handed to you upon arrival in mainland China before traveling to Tibet (TAR).
Visa for Travel via Nepal:
Those entering Tibet Autonomous Region via Nepal, a group visa from the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu must be obtained through a travel agent.
In order to process a group visa and travel permit, you will have to provide us your passport details in advance. Our Lhasa based representative will then process the necessary permit and an approval letter is sent to our office In Kathmandu. Upon your arrival in Kathmandu, we submit this approval letter along with your original passport and additional forms to the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu. Currently, the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu accepts visa application almost every day except Saturday and Sunday.
Weather and Best time for travel
Winter in Tibet is very cold. Many restaurants are closed and snowfalls make traveling difficult. The average temperature in January is around -2* C. This makes vacation to Tibet unrealistic in winter.
Holidays to Tibet are best in the spring, early summer or in the fall. March is usually not the best month to travel, because it's a politically sensitive month in the country. In April the weather is more favorable is eastern Tibet. Some accommodations also offer discount in the months of April and May. Mount Everest is usually clear during these months.
Monsoon starts to affect Tibet from mid - July through the end of September. During these months it is difficult to travel to western Tibet. The roads on the eastern Tibet are temporarily washed out during monsoon. If the roads are washed out it becomes impossible to travel across the border from Nepal too.
April to October is the best time to take a kailash tour and to other destinations out to the east.
Lhasa and the surrounding regions stay mild in temperature trough the end of November.
Travel within Tibet and Transportation
Travel within Tibet is mainly by motor vehicle or by trekking. The only train service that started recently connects Lhasa via Golmud to other main cities. The other airports in Nyingchi and Chamdo do not function as commercial airport at this time. Trekking, motor ride, motor biking and mountain biking are the ways to get around in Tibet.
Depending on the group size, route and road conditions, we can provide excellent transport service of a wide variety. For a travel itinerary that involves rough road driving, off road excursions, it is best to use large SUVs like 4WD Toyota Land Cruiser of 4500/80 models or with similar features found in Mitsubishi and Nissan. Sedan cars, smaller and medium size Vans like Toyota Hiace, Coasters, Ford, Tempo are available for small groups and for travel in decent road condition. Large buses are available for larger groups. Most travelers with us to Tibet have been individuals, doing many off the beaten road travels and hence we tend to use 4WD 4500 Toyota Land Cruiser.
Money & Exchange
Chinese currency is called Renmibi (RMB) or widely known as Chinese Yuan. While in China - Tibet, it is always practical to pay in local currency. US dollars, Japanese Yen, Euro and Sterling Pounds including other convertible currencies can be exchanged in the "Bank of China" while in TAR. The 4 to 5 star hotels also provide money exchange facility. Credit cards are accepted only at major banks, hotels, restaurants and big business houses. This is changing rapidly.
Go to Tibet for an adventure and not for a Luxury
Tibet is the land of overwhelmingly beautiful landscapes, rich culture, ancient religion, amazing myths and gorgeous mountain. Renowned as the last Shangri La in the world, Tibet is isolated by the Himalayas and is one of the least developed parts of the world. Facilities are being upgraded and professional hospitality services still underway. So travelers are warned that they should not expect a luxury and full-fledged professional services in Tibet. Its extreme remoteness, harsh weather and difficult geography makes the journey challenging but definitely rewarding.
Hotels, lodges and Guest house in Tibet
Main cities like Lhasa, Gyantse, Tsedang, Shigatse in TAR have selection of relatively good hotels with at least a 4 star category. In Xinning, Gyalthang ( Zhongdian), Yushu and larger towns in greater Tibetan areas outside of TAR have 4-5 star hotels and some resorts. In smaller towns, the hotels are more basic. Further in villages, the accommodations with pictures, description, amenities and traveler's reviews.
Tibetan guides are reported to have limited English. However, we try and find the best among them. we also differentiate ourselves from other tour operators for choosing the best guides, who are flexible, knowledgeable and passionate about their job. For larger groups, our tour leaders based out of Nepal usually accompany the group.
Tragic as the Chinese takeover may be, many Tibetans will nevertheless admit that at least it brought some decent restaurants. The traditional Tibetan diet is largely limited to barley, meat (mutton or Yak) and dairy products, with very few spices or vegetables. By comparison, Chinese restaurants in villages often put out some excellent food. Some travelers find that Hui (ethnic Chinese Muslim) places are cleaner because of halal food laws. They are easily identified with green flags and crescent moons on their signboards. While with us most of our tours provide breakfast at the hotel. Other meals are included with combination of local restaurants, picnic lunches, and some dinners at your overnight hotel. While trekking, our crews prepare all meals for you.
Photography at airports, bridges and government establishments are not allowed in some areas. Violators of these rules may by penalize and your camera equipment seized. Some monasteries and temples will allow you to take pictures inside them and may demand fees for the same. Tibetans generally will not be pleased when you take picture of something that is held sacred, including those inside the temples or monasteries.
Many areas of Tibet that were without communication facilities have now mobile phones. Some nomads are seen riding motorbikes and charring mobile phones. You can buy local SIM card and use pre-paid mobile phones. Telephone services are available in most small towns. Internet cafes are also available widely but most certainly in the larger hotels, where WIFI access is often free of charge.
Altitude Sickness or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)
Travelers to Tibet are reported to exhibit mild symptoms of altitude sickness. One may experience headache, breathlessness, fever, a loss of appetite, unrest, stomach disorder and such before acclimatization. So proper acclimatization is very important before you head out on trekking to a higher elevation. If you choose to take a flight into Lhasa, you need to stay about 3 nights in Tsedang or Lhasa area to get properly acclimatized, before going over the high passes.
Clothing and important articles recommended
We provide a list of appropriate clothing depending on the nature of travel and your proposed travel areas.
Guides and Drivers are generally pleased to receive a tip but it is not a rigueur. Tibetan custom generally has some form of tipping, but it is not common in most Chinese culture. Smaller Chinese restaurants may look surprised when you leave a tip for them.
Tibet prides itself on its lack of a class system and an absence of sexual discrimination. Tibetan woman have the same rights as men, including rights to education, voting and holding positions in government office. Both foreign and Tibetan woman are not subject to harassment and do not need to take any special precautions. Tibetans are more likely to help a woman in distress than a man. Young men have a reasonably liberated attitude towards their relations with women. There are several opportunities for misunderstanding if you don't make your intentions clear from the very outset.
Gay & Lesbian Travelers
Like most Asians, Tibetans believe that what one does in private is strictly a personal matter, and they would prefer not to discuss such issues. Public displays of affection are not appreciated and every one regardless of orientation, should exercise discretion.
A cultural tour in Tibet is a challenge for a traveler with physical disabilities, but it can be made possible by Alpine Eco Trek with planning. The Tibetans are eager to help and we can arrange a strong companion to assist with touring Tibet, including getting in and out of vehicles. The roads are rough and sidewalks often have potholes with few steps. Hotels and public buildings including toilets do not have wheel chair accessibility.
Alpine Eco Trek is always honored to operate trips for senior travelers. Hotels, guides and tour operators are familiar with needs of seniors. They treat them with the traditional respect that the Tibetans have for their elders. The primary precaution one should take is to have an ample supply of any special medicines since these probably might not be available in Tibet. There is no advantage to carry any sort of senior identification in Tibet.
Travel with Children
There are some discounts for children traveling to Tibet. However they may become bored on a long boring drives. Just a few hotels have television and limited entertainment for children. Children travelers are always immediately accepted by local kids and their families and in the process make new friends. If needed, Alpine Eco Trek can make a nanny arrangement at a reasonable price.
Parents are advised to consult with pediatrician before planning a trip to Tibet to avoid any altitude related sickness for your child.
We provide extensive pre-departure guides so that our guests are well prepared before arriving in Tibet. This information includes a checklist of things to bring, books to read, culture dos and don'ts and other important information.
Risk and Liabilities
We try our best to make your trip smooth and successful as far as possible. However, all trips to Tibet and Mt. Kailash are strictly conducted and controlled by the rules and regulations under Chinese authorities. In addition trips are also influenced by weather conditions. We are not liable in case of changes or alteration in your travel program due to local political or bureaucratic reasons. This also applies to inclement weather conditions or any other events beyond the control of the management. We will not be held liable for any losses due to no shows, delay arrivals, flight cancellation, accidents, theft or cancellation of booked trip due to sickness and any other reasons not listed here. Clients are recommended to have a travel health insurance policy. We strongly recommend you to have a comprehensive travel insurance to cover medical evacuation, accident, theft, loss of belongings, trip cancellations and unforeseen additional expenses including non-refundable costs. The cancellation rules in Tibet are severe and inflexible. Trip cancellation insurance is almost essential.