Traveling to Tibet is very different from anywhere else on the planet, and this unique destination has some rules and requirements that you will not find with other holiday destinations, both in Asia and around the world. As an autonomous region of China, Tibet is a destination that requires certain permits and passes to get to, as well as a few guidelines that can help you with your trip to the roof of the world. A hugely Buddhist destination, the culture is also unlike any other, with their own version of Buddhism that has developed over the thousand years since it was first introduced to the plateau, taking over from the ancient animistic religion known as Bon. So here are a few hints and tips to help you make sure that your Tibet travel is the best adventure possible.
Single Chinese Visa is not enough for Visiting Tibet
While you will need the Chinese Entry Visa in order to get into China, and Tibet is a part of China, there are other documents that you will need in order to get to Tibet, unlike any other area of China that you may decide to travel to. The main permit required is the Tibet Travel permit, which allows you to get into the region and travel around the area of the capital, Lhasa.
The Tibet Travel Permit is the most important document you will require, as you cannot even board the train or flight to Tibet without it, and it cannot be obtained personally. The only way to get the permit is to book a tour with a registered Tibetan tour operator, who will make the permit application on your behalf. Once you have booked your tour with us, we make the application for the Tibet Travel Permit using scanned copies of your passport and Chinese Entry Visa to the Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) in Lhasa.
The processing time for the permit is normally around 15-20 days, so it is essential that you book your trip early enough to allow us to obtain your permit before you leave for Tibet. Once it is received from the TTB, we will forward it to your hotel in China, ready for your trip to Lhasa and the Tibetan plateau. If you are flying, then we will send the permit by courier to your hotel, as the original permit is required to board the plane. However, if you are traveling by train, a scanned copy will suffice, and we can send this to your email address for you to print and show to the station officials and train guards.
Impromptu travel is not possible in Tibet
If you are thinking of traveling to Tibet on your own, then you will have a problem getting into the region, as there is no longer any allowance for independent travel in Tibet. All travelers to Tibet must book their trip through a registered Tibetan tour operator, who will provide the required Tibet Travel Permit, guide, driver, and private vehicle for your trip.
If you are already in China, and suddenly decide you wish to visit Tibet, then you may find you will have to wait some time to get the Tibet Travel Permit for the trip. With a processing time of around 15-20 days, it is often impossible to arrange on the spur of the moment, which makes Tibet a destination that you cannot decide to travel to as an impromptu trip whilst already in China. However, if you are prepared to wait in China while we make the arrangements, and your visa is valid for enough time, then it is possible.
There is only one international flight to Tibet
While there are plenty of flights to Tibet from across China, there is only one international airport that has direct flights to Lhasa. Tribhuvan International Airport, in Kathmandu, Nepal, is the only airport authorized to offer international flights to Lhasa, and is one of the most popular departure locations for trips to Tibet. Kathmandu has connections to plenty of other international destinations, and is an easy airport to fly into from all across Asia, as well as several locations around the rest of the world, though there are no direct flights to Kathmandu from the United States, the United Kingdom, or mainland Europe.
There are only a few flights from Kathmandu to Lhasa Gonggar International Airport daily, which are offered by Air China, Sichuan Airlines, and Tibet Airlines. Usually, there is only one flight per day to Lhasa from Kathmandu, although in the peak months of summer, this is often increased to cater for the higher volume of passengers. Flights cost from around 250 US dollars per person for a one-way economy flight, although it is often a little cheaper to book the return flight at the same time.
Flying from Kathmandu to Lhasa is no different in terms of documentation to traveling overland to Lhasa, and the requirements are identical, even though you will not set foot on Chinese soil until you land in Lhasa. For travel to Tibet from Kathmandu, you will need to have a different type of visa as well. Instead of the normal Chinese Entry Visa, you will be given a Group Tourist Visa once you arrive in Kathmandu, which is arranged by us using your original passport. Meanwhile, your Tibet Permit will be dealt with simultaneously while you email your passport information to apply for Tibet Travel Permit.
Once you are in Kathmandu, our agent will collect your passport and make the application for the visa from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China. Personal applications are not permitted here, and the processing time for the visa is normally three working days. Once it is ready, we will collect it and deliver it to your hotel ready for your flight to Lhasa.
Different Travel Seasons for Tibet Travel
Just like any other tourist destination, Tibet has high and low tourist seasons, and the cost of travel and tours depends on when you are traveling. The peak season in Tibet runs from April to Oct. It’s the perfect timing to enjoy most of the tour activities in Tibet, esp. in mid-April, May, early June and Sept. and early Oct. The low season is normally from late Oct to March, which is the winter in Tibet. The monsoon season in Tibet run from mid-June to early September. However, rarely do you see the constant downpour in Tibet, due to the high altitude on Tibetan plateau. It’s highly suggested to double check the weather forecast in the region you are about to visit.
There is also a time period during which international travel to Tibet is prohibited. Traditionally, Tibet travel is not available for international tourists from around mid-February to the end of March. Tibet Travel Permits are not issued for this period, which starts around a week before the date of Losar, and runs until the festivities are all completed. Tibet then reopens at the beginning of April, ready for the start of the tourist season.
You’d better not start touring Lhasa city shortly after you get off the plane in Lhasa
One of the main problems any people face when traveling to the high-altitude plateau is altitude sickness. Caused by a sudden change in the pressure of the air at higher altitudes, and mainly due to a lower oxygen content in the atmosphere at high altitudes, altitude sickness can hit anyone, no matter their level f fitness or past experience at high altitudes.
The main symptoms of altitude sickness are headaches, dizziness, nausea, and a general feeling of being tired and aching. Similar to the feelings of a hangover, altitude sickness is a little more of a concern, as there are certain things to avoid in order to allow the body time to adjust and acclimatize.
One of the main things to avoid while acclimatizing to the altitude of the plateau is strenuous activity. Rest is the main aid to get over altitude sickness, as well as staying well hydrated, and strenuous exercise such as heavy climbs and long exhausting walks as soon as you arrive in Lhasa are going to exacerbate the symptoms, making the altitude sickness worse, and potentially even fatal in extreme cases. These activities should be avoided when you arrive, and rest ready for the first activities of the tour is highly recommended.
Lhasa has more luxury hotels than you expect
While Tibet may appear to be a third-pole region, with vast expanses of desolate landscapes, high snow-covered mountains, and remote villages and settlements where many Tibetans live in much the same way as their ancient ancestors, Tibet does have a great deal of good accommodation available in the major cities.
Lhasa, the capital of the region, is widely known for its great hotels, and in the last 20 years, many of the major hotel chains from around the world have opened luxury hotels in the city, including the Sheraton Chain, the Intercontinental Chain, the Shangri-La Chain, and the St. Regis Chain. With such a wide variety of luxury hotels to choose from, your trip to Lhasa does not have to be basic and minimalist.
Local Tibetans don’t eat fish
One of the local taboos in Tibet is the eating of fish. Meat is one of the staples of the Tibetan diet, but dog, horse, donkey, and fish are the exceptions to the rule. In Tibetan Buddhism, fish are widely regarded as the incarnations of the gods of the water in which they reside, which makes eating fish a sin in the religion. As with many of the smaller animals, such as snakes and rodents, it is believed that only demons and devils will eat such creatures as a way to remove he godly incarnations from the earth.
Tibetans also have water burials, as well as sky burials, and the fish perform much the same task as the vultures that eat the dead bodies in a sky burial. In a water burial, the body is consigned to the lake of their choice, and the fish in the lake dispose of the earthly body of the person, allowing the soul to continue on into its next incarnation, or to go on to heaven if they are lucky and good.
There are also a great many other taboos and customs in Tibet that should be well understood, such as rules and customs when entering and touring around temples and monasteries, as well as customs when meeting and eating or drinking with Tibetan locals. Your guide can help with the various local customs and taboos that you may find yourself faced with whilst in Tibet.
You can experience 4 seasons in one day
Tibet has a very unique climate, sitting as it does on the world’s highest plateau. While the region does have four defined seasons, there are parts of the region where you can wake up to a sunny morning, and yet experience everything from rain to snow during the course of just one day. Spring and autumn are the most likely times for experiencing this, as the weather can be changeable at either end of the summer and winter months, with unexpected snowfalls or rain happening at any time of the day.
When traveling to Tibet, you should be prepared for any eventuality, from the coldest weather you can imagine, to the warmest of summer days, when you want to wander around in just a t-shirt (shorts are frowned upon in Tibet, especially for women). Packing should include enough of a range to cover you if it gets cold, which it can do very often, especially at night even in the summer months, and allow for rain and snow with a waterproof jacket. You should also make sure you include a brimmed hat to protect your head from the harsher rays of the sun, as well as sunglasses, sun cream, moisturizers, and lip balm.
If you are planning to travel to Tibet, then you need to consider the things you need to know before and during your trip, such as when to go, how to get there, and what you need to get into the region. Clothing should be a major item of consideration, as the weather can be very changeable, as should protection from the harsh sun and how to reduce the risk of altitude sickness. You should also know a little about where you are going and where you will stay, so that you are not hit by any surprises. For more information on traveling in Tibet, you can get in touch with our professional tour advisors, who will be more than happy to answer all your questions and queries.