When we covered Tibet’s most famous attractions in May this year, we got an astounding response. Not every response was nice and positive. We were thrashed by some Tibet freedom groups and then some more people planning to travel to Tibet got in touch with their own share of doubts. We decided to quash some myths and baseless presumptions about this gorgeous place along with giving a complete travel guide on Tibet travel rules and regulations. So we got in touch with Woaber from itibettravels yet again. The nice guy gives us all the details and the truths on the home front right from the ground. We are also sharing some money saving tips in Tibet on the way.
So here we are trying to change some perceptions and trampling myths that are so often associated with traveling to Tibet- the roof of the world! For the starters, one Tibet fact…..the country is absolutely safe for tourists and travelers.
Demystifying the Mystery
Tibet is counted amongst the most remote places in the world and the least explored region in Himalaya mainly due to its limited accessibility owing to geo-political reasons. Many travelers have different views and perceptions about Tibet. Some assume Tibet to be the land of monks .Others think of it as the playground of endless wilderness on the highest plateau of the world; but Tibet is much more than that. If I had to put it in one sentence- it is a treasure trough for a traveler.
[Note: Tibet in this post only refers to the Tibet Autonomous region of China. There is a concept of greater Tibet and many consider Tibetan habitats areas in another province of China as Part of greater Tibet.]
Travel to Tibet- Latest update
The travel information on Tibet is one of the most confusing and least updated on the Internet. There are many websites giving you outdated information as the policies of Tibet tourism bureau changes quite regularly. Another reason for contradicting information is that none of the local travel agencies reach out to travelers and the world, on internet. Majority of those who write about Tibet tourism have only been to Tibet only once or twice.
So here are the inputs from us- a travel agency that is situated in Lhasa and prides itself to have hosted many guests from all across the world into the mysterious land of Tibet.
Tibet travel regulations :-
1) All the international travelers need to arrange their tour with a local travel agency. Absolutely no independent travel is allowed here which means traveling Tibet without a guide is out of question!
2) All the tour groups must be accompanied by Private tourist vehicle (outside Lhasa)
3) All the international travelers must have Tibet travel Permit before arriving in Tibet.
4) Chamdo prefecture and Nagqu Prefecture is closed for international travelers.
Tibet Travel permits
There are several different types of Permits for Tibet and we are discussing all of them as below:
The first Basic permit is known as Tibet tourism bureau permit or Tibet travel permit which is issued by Tibet tourism bureau. This basic permit is a must for every traveler coming into Tibet. It is often referred to as Tibet Visa as well. You cannot obtain this Visa anywhere as the only issuing authority is Tibet tourism bureau and only a local Travel agency in Lhasa can apply for it. Your host agency in Tibet will get it done for you.
Another permit that you might need is Aliens permit. It is issued by Public security bureau (a branch of police which deals with foreigners). You will need this permit if you are traveling outside Shigatse and Lhasa. The cities where you will get the permit is Tsedang and Shigatse. Your guide will take your passport and permit to the police in those two towns on arrival and get a permit for you.
This permit is issued by Lhasa Military authority. It will be required if you are visiting a military sensitive region like Ali prefecture (Kalash region), Nyintri prefecture or Chamdo prefecture. This permit is required as this regions shares border in the disputed area with India.
Foreign Affair Permit
This permit is required if you plan to go to some of the highly sensitive and restricted zones in Tibet.
Your travel agency knows the Visas required according to your itinerary and would apply for them at the respective governmental departments. Travel agency based in Lhasa knows all the latest regulations and they will have it all prepared for you before your arrival.
Please remember: All the permits are not for Sale. Some are free and many travel agencies charge a nominal amount as processing fees. "Permit only" service is illegal in Tibet and for all purposes including hotel bookings traveler need to provide the name of their travel agency through which all arrangements have been made. Absolutely avoid agencies that promise "Permit only" services since the permits issued through them are fake and travelers will only suffer in Lhasa with such permits.
How to get to Tibet?
There are three different way to get into Tibet;
1) Overland from Kashgar to Lhasa via Mount Kailash
2) Entry from Nepal into Tibet
3) To Tibet from other parts of China
Overland from Kashgar to Lhasa.
This is a very unique and rare kind of tour but very adventurous at the same time. Wilderness and breathtaking Tibetan landscape accompanies you through the tracks here. It will take you about 15 to 20 days for the entire trip. Your guide and the car will need to drive all the way up to Kashgar to pick up the group and hence, the tour is very expensive.
Nepal to Tibet
Kathmandu is the only foreign city with a direct international flight to Lhasa. If you are planning to come to Tibet from Nepal, there are only two - either take a direct flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa or overland tour from Nepal to Tibet (currently the border is closed).
If you are coming into Tibet from Nepal, it is mandatory for every traveler to get their Chinese Visa from the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu. You will have to apply for a group visa from the embassy. Your travel agency in Lhasa will send you a visa invitation which will ensure that applicants get the visa.
Important Note: Please consider adding some additional days in Kathmandu for Visa application process.
For visa invitation, your agency in Lhasa has to submit your passport copy to the government department which you will need to send in advance.
For the overland journey, your guide and driver will wait for you at the border port. Your guide will have your permit with him.
If you are taking the flight to Lhasa, your guide will greet you at the airport with the visa.
China to Tibet
This is easier route as you will not waste any days for Visa. If you are entering Tibet by flying to China first, you will need to send your passport and visa copies a month before your arrival.
Many websites tell you not to disclose your Tibet travel plans to Chinese embassy but let me add that you should simply steer clear from such lies and non-disclosures. The embassy staff will ask you to submit your hotel booking details and flight details which will make it harder for you to keep up the pretense.
If the officials in Chinese embassy require you to get the Visa invitation from your host in Tibet then ask your travel agency to send you the invitation. For the Visa invitation to be processed, you will have to first send your passport copy to the travel agency. All the recognized travel agencies in Lhasa can send you the invitation where ever you are.
After touching down at China, there are three ways to get into Tibet. One is by taking a train, other by flying into Tibet and overland journey into Tibet.
Flying to Lhasa
If you are flying into Tibet, you will need the original permit in hand, when boarding the Tibet flight. In most of the cases, travelers would stop for transit at the airport for hours. During your transit period, your travel agency will have someone deliver it to you in hand. If you will stay in any of the Chinese cities for a night in a hotel, your agency can have it sent to your hotel. Please check your name and passport number on the second page. Sometimes hotels swipe the permits but do not get alarmed it is a standard practice.
Taking train to Lhasa
If you are taking the train to Lhasa, you do not require an original permit to broad the train into Lhasa. Only the copy will do. Please make sure that you have access to your mail account in China. If that is doubtful then have your permit copy sent to you before flying into China.
There are cases when officials at the train station do not issue train ticket for not bringing the original permits. If this happens, please leave that counter and go to the next counter. It happened with my clients once and the reason was that officials were new to such situation and unaware that copies of the permit can do.
Overland to Tibet
However expensive it might be, driving through the Highlands of Tibetan plateau are simply unparalleled and can never be compared with any other tours in Tibet. If you choose to enter Tibet this way then you will meet your guide and driver in Xining along with original permits.
Important travel arrangement by your travel agency in Tibet
During your tour in Tibet, you have to hire a tourist private vehicle. Your travel agency will book the car. But during your stay in Lhasa, you can choose to use public transportation as well. But when you travel outside Lhasa, tourist vehicle is a must. You can choose from large varieties of tourist vehicle- right from 4 wheel drive, minivan to mini Bus depending on your group size and places you are visiting.
While in Tibet, you will have to have a guide for your tour. But during your stay in Lhasa, your guide will be with you only during your visit to the attractions. You can explore Lhasa on your own and soak in the City alone if you want to. But once when you are outside Lhasa, your guide will travel with you in the same vehicle for the entire tour until you return to Lhasa.
Most of the guides speak very fluent English and are very professional. There are many new guides who are inexperienced and may have limited command over English. If any of your friends have visited Tibet, then they can recommend a guide and agency to you. In any case check while engaging the tour agency that you want a guide who can speak good English.
It would be a better If you could ask your travel agency not to include the entrance fees to attractions in Tibet in your tour package cost. This way you will have an option of not visiting certain attractions you are not interested in. It is also a great way of saving money.
Breakfast comes included in your hotel tariff. For meals other than breakfast, it is recommended that you have them arranged by your travel agency. You can ask your guide to take or recommend you well known and good restaurants in Lhasa. In Tibet, your guide will have more field knowledge then your agency. The cost per meal would about USD 5 to USD 7 per person.
Best Time to Visit Tibet
Summer is a good time to visit Tibet, especially in the month of April and May. During these two months, you will have a clear view of the landscape, Lakes and mountains particularly the Mount Everest. From May to September the number of Domestic tourists increases a lot and it would be crowded in majority of the tourist attractions in Tibet. From July to early October, the cost of all the arrangements is at its peak.
If you are interested in seeing a great landscape and witness the nomadic culture, I would recommend that you visit Tibet from April to July. July to September is rainy season and you will not have a good view of the stunning landscape. I have seen many cases where my clients went all the way up to Mount Everest base camp and missed seeing Everest as it wascovered in a thick blanket of cloud!
The rush of tourist declines rapidly after the October one week National holiday of China. October is a good time to visit Mount Kailash and far western region of Tibet. The cold season starts from the November.
Winter is a great time to visit Tibet. Lots of nomadic tribes from the north migrate to low altitude for pilgrimage and number of tourists also drops dramatically. This gives you a great opportunity to explore the local Tibetan culture at its authentic best. This is also the best time to get hold of your camera and call on to the photographer in you to capture the best images of Tibet from the Tibetan plateau.
Winter is a low season, which makes your tour more economical and affordable. The fees for guide drops by 30%, the cost of car rentals drops down almost by 50% and so is the case with hotels tariff and entrance fees.
During spring, Tibet would be closed for all the international travelers and all the nomads would return home. Spring is popularly known as a dry season amongst Tibet business.
From my experience as someone who runs a travel agency, I think summer and winter are the best time to visit Tibet.
So this was all the information you need to make your plans to visit Tibet. We are sure you would still seek some clarifications as you sit down to design your itinerary. In such a case send us your query in the comments below, drop a mail at email@example.com or get in touch with Woaber- details as follows:
Tenzin Woaber has been tour guide ever since he completed his studies in tourism. He now owns and runs Tibet travel agency called i-tibet travel. he was born and brought up in Lhasa, Tibet. For last ten years he has travel extensively in Tibet and part of china including Mongolia and xinjaing. I-tibet travel now is one of the most reputable travel agency which is highly recommeded by Tibet travel expert and Tibet travel blogger including the Land of snows.
Tour Company: i-Tibet Travel and Tours
Contact Name: Tenzin Woaber
Contact number: +86 181 0899 2271
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