This article is written in partnership with GoToTibet, experts in arranging travel to Tibet. As always, all opinions are honest and based on our experience across Tibet.
The Autonomous Region of Tibet is a province of China that has fascinated visitors for decades. However, travel to Tibet is more complex than your average trip to China, or elsewhere. With the help of this guide you can learn all you need to know.
- Learning more about Tibet
- Pre-trip planning for travel to Tibet
- Visiting Tibet: What to see
- Preparing for Tibet travel
Learning more about Tibet
Tibet is a very unique place and before visiting you must acquaint yourself with the realities on the ground, the region’s history and its current status within China, as well as with its difficult geography and harsh weather.
Unlike other places, a visit to Tibet requires proper planning and preparation, you can’t just book a flight and turn up, you need a permit and a specific itinerary. You also need to book a trip with an official agency like GoToTibet who will escort you throughout the country. Moreover, some parts of Tibet require additional permits and road controls are frequent.
So let’s take a look at all the things you need to know before traveling to Tibet.
Brief history of Tibet
The Kingdom of Tibet was formed during the 7th century when Songtsen Gampo, the 33rd Tibetan King, started to unify various Tibetan tribes into the Tibetan Empire.
The Mongols of Genghis Khan conquered Tibet in the 13th century and annexed it to their growing empire. In the 16th century, the Mongol King Altan Khan used the title of Dalai Lama, meaning Oceans of Wisdom, for the first time, although Yellow Hat (Gelugpa) Buddhism, which the Dalai Lama represents, was founded at the end of the 15th century by Je Tsongkhapa.
European explorers first arrived in Tibet in 1624 in the shape of a group of Portuguese missionaries who came to build a church. They stayed for a bit over a century but were expelled in 1757 at the request of the Dalai Lama, who was then the head of the Political and Religious power at the time.
Parts of Tibet were first annexed to China in 1724 when the Qing Dynasty was in power. From then on, China had a Commissioner that supervised the Dalai Lama’s administration.
At that time, the British Empire was strong in India and the British East India Company visited Tibet to assess possibilities for trade.
To protect itself from Russian and British invasions and battles for control in Central Asia in The Great Game, Tibet closed its borders in the 1850s but that didn’t deter the British troops who eventually forced Tibet to sign a trading agreement in 1904.
In 1907 both Britain and Russia agreed to Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, that is, China controls all foreign and military policy of Tibet but the state is left to manage internal affairs independently. In 1937, today’s Dalai Lama, was declared the reincarnation of the 13 previous Dalai Lamas at the age of two.
Mao Zedong founded The Republic of China in 1949 and the Dalai Lama became the Head of State in Tibet in 1951 at the age of 15. The Tibetan Autonomous Region was created in 1965.
Tibet’s hard to reach geographical position had kept it isolated until the opening of the railway link to Lhasa in 2006. The train increased the number of arrivals to 4 million just after its opening. Today, about 8 million people visit Tibet every year, albeit the majority are local Chinese.
The Dalai Lama retired from government in 2011 and Lobsang Sangay was chosen as his replacement, also in exile.
Why travel to Tibet
Tibet is one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited. It has the majestic landscapes of Namibia, the culturally-rich landmarks of Bhutan and the complex history of other unrecognised countries.
Despite the millions of Chinese tourists that visit Tibet, few Westerners make the trip, so you can be one of the few to have seen it with your own eyes. If you like culture or nature, Tibet will keep you enthralled.
Things you need to know
Like in Turkmenistan, travel to Tibet is restricted and controlled.
That means you cannot travel independently and must do so escorted by a guide and driver from an accredited agency such as GoToTibet who will help you obtain a Tibet travel permit.
Your every move will be tracked and you must make sure not to deviate from the itinerary. Road controls are common and your permits will be checked every time.
In Lhasa, you are free to move at your own will but will typically need to have a few hours of sightseeing on a tour with your guide.
Here are some more things you need to know before traveling to Tibet.
- Tibet is relatively developed and has good roads and facilities. Since becoming part of China, infrastructure has become key to the country’s mining efforts and you can drive all the way to Base Camp on a well paved road
- Toilets are the worst I have ever seen. A hole in the floor, dirty, without water, soap or paper, and without doors or separation between holes, you are best off using the bush.
- Images of the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan flag are forbidden, you will not see them anywhere and bringing them in is not allowed.
- Tibet is the highest place on the planet by average elevation, the Roof of the World. That means, altitude sickness, as mentioned further down, is a real and serious issue so be prepared.
- The weather is extreme. Incredibly dry, cold and windy at times with some of the strongest sun rays. The dryness can cause issues for many so pack accordingly (see packing section further down).
- Permits are your passport into Tibet and are checked at multiple points, several parts of the country, such as Everest Base Camp or Mount Kailash among others, require additional permits. Every overnight stay requires you to register with the local authority. The tour guide will do that for you.
- Tourist vehicles are monitored via GPS and have a radio system that sends regular updates about road safety, weather, closures and reminders.
- Some parts of Tibet (eg. Chamdo & Yarlung Zangbo Valley) are closed to tourists, however, most of the beautiful sights are accessible and can be included as part of your itinerary.
- Almost every landmark will require you to pay for a photography and/or videography with a fee if you wish to take photos. Sometimes, a donation is required instead. Fees at some of the larger monasteries are per hall. This can add up.
- Speed limits on the roads can be as low as 35km/h and many roads are winding so it can take hours to cover 100km.
- Tibetans are devout Buddhists and praying, offerings, lighting candles and prostrations are common across the country.
Pre-trip planning for travel to Tibet
Tibet travel is not as straightforward as other destinations and independent travel is not allowed hence the only way to visit is on an organised and escorted tour with the proper permits.
Getting a permit to travel to Tibet
As mentioned above, travel to Tibet is controlled and requires a permit. For most nationalities, this means obtaining a Chinese visa first, then a Tibet permit.
Getting a Chinese visa
European Union nationals can obtain a Chinese visa relatively easy. You will need an itinerary, flight and hotel bookings for the duration of your trip, a color copy of your passport, a passport photo and the payment of a fee.
Processing time depends on the embassy in each country and on whether you need to mail your documents or can go there in person.
In Singapore where I live, this is 3 working days and the payment of 110 Singapore dollars. In Spain, my family had to make an appointment at the consulate in Barcelona and then got it within two weeks.
It is wise not to mention you intend to visit Tibet when applying for the Chinese visa in case this raises any eyebrows with the immigration officers, making the overall process more complex.
Not mentioning your intention to visit Tibet means you need to come up with an alternative itinerary in China plus hotel and flight bookings because this is a requirement of the visa.
To get around this, you can book refundable hotels and plane tickets and come up with a fictitious itinerary, sticking to the main cities helps.
Many hotel booking sites like Booking.com, allow you to cancel without penalty so you can then book a hotel this way and cancel the booking once you get the visa. If you are concerned that your visa or permit may be rejected, you should also book refundable plane tickets. Business Class fares usually allow for this.
Alternatively, some airlines, like Thai Airways, allow you to make a flight booking which you can opt to pay in person at one of their offices.
You will get a tentative booking confirmation which is as good as a paid one in the eyes of the visa officer. In 72h the booking will automatically cancel itself out if unpaid.
There is one caveat. If you plan to travel from Nepal into Tibet, you need not apply for the Chinese visa as this will be done by the agency directly as a group visa from Kathmandu and only takes 3 days. Your Tibet agency should be able to help with that.
Make sure you understand this last caveat as it is very important. A group visa means that you can only visit China with the rest of the members of the group and enter and depart together. The group visas are only for a maximum of 15 days. You cannot use a regular Chinese visa to enter from Nepal so bear that in mind when planning your trip.
Tibet travel permit
Once your Chinese visa is approved, your chosen Tibetan travel agency, for example, GoToTibet, will help you obtain the permit for Tibet by applying in Tibet for you, no documentation is required other than your Chinese visa and passport plus the itinerary details.
It is important to bear in mind that permits are not obtained at the Chinese embassy and you do not apply for them yourself, this can only be done by the local Tibetan agencies.
The application for the Tibet travel permit should be submitted ideally a month in advance of your trip as it usually takes 15 days but can take up to a month if you plan to visit some of the more remote parts of the region like Mount Kailash.
Your travel permit is issued by the Tibetan Tourism Bureau and is a piece of paper. It does not leave any marks on your passport and it does not require any stamps. The piece of paper will be kept by your guide and shown at the necessary check-points.
However, you will need to show the physical permit to board the plane or train to Lhasa. For security purposes, the permits are only mailed within China.
In practise, this means that you need to spend a night in China on your way to Lhasa so it can get delivered to your hotel or be given to you in person at the airport when in transit.
Last but not least, there are other travel permits required to visit some parts of the country that are deemed strategic or sensitive. Your local tour company will apply for those for you. These are required for Mount Kailash, Everest Base Camp and other parts closer to the border with India.
While the above may seem complicated, it will all be handled by the local agency without your knowledge or involvement. As soon as your itinerary is closed, all the permits will be applied for on your behalf. I only realised I needed some of the above once we were there and noticed the guide was presenting paperwork at some checkpoints.
Best time to Visit Tibet
Traveling to Tibet is technically possible all year round except for the month of March when the region is closed off to foreigners since 2008, although there is hope that things may change soon with the first travelers coming in March in 2019.
However, climate and geography differentiate between three main seasons: dry and warm(er) season, rainy and warm season and winter.
In my opinion, the best time to travel to Tibet is during the warmer dry season, from April to the beginning of June and from September to October when temperatures are more comfortable and the weather is dry.
This guarantees you will be able to see Everest, which is shrouded in clouds otherwise. As it is the shoulder season, prices should be more affordable too and the crowds won’t have arrived.
From the second half of June to the end of August, Tibet gets a bit warmer and enters the high season for this reason, but it also experiences rain which makes camping impossible and the usually clear skies cloudy. However, temperatures warm up a bit and rain is usually at night.
From November to the first half of April temperatures dip well below zero Celsius making travel very difficult for visitors. Because of its high altitude and desert-like climate, snow is not very common in Tibet but the wind and the dry weather makes winters particularly harsh.
There are two other considerations for travelers to Tibet. Mt. Kailash and Namtso Lake cannot be visited from November to March because the road there might be blocked by heavy snow.
Additionally, travel in China during the first half of October should be avoided at all costs because of the crowds. This is Golden Week and millions of Chinese take holidays.
How to get to Tibet
Tibet is connected by road, train and air to other cities in China. The only international connection to Tibet is by road and air to the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu. That means that to reach Tibet you will need to get to China or Kathmandu first.
Many travelers combine Tibet and Nepal for that reason, exploring two sides of a similar yet distinct culture in an affordable manner. When I visited Tibet my sister went on to Nepal after our trip.
I would recommend taking the train to Lhasa and departing by plane. Read on to find out why.
Arriving in Tibet by train
One of the most scenic and interesting ways to get to Tibet is by railway onboard the high-altitude train to Lhasa which can be boarded in Beijing (40hours), Xi’an (31hours), Chengdu (36hours), Chongqing (36hours), Guangzhou (53hours), Lanzhou (24hours) as well as other smaller cities like Xining.
The train is an engineering feat and can travel at high altitudes and over frozen rail tracks. At its highest point it is well over 4,000m and equipped with oxygen to limit altitude sickness.
I would recommend a maximum of 24 hours onboard as the facilities on the train are limited (and there are no showers), or to plan to make stops along the way. There are several trains a day during the high tourist season.
I took the train to Lhasa from Xining and booked an entire cabin in the highest category which came with four bunk beds for me and my partner so we would have more space and privacy. The journey from Xining takes 24 hours.
Your Tibet agency can help you buy train tickets as these are not easily purchased independently (you need to show the permit) and in any case they are tied to the permit and overall itinerary. You should buy them ahead of time if you plan to travel in the peak season as this is the preferred way for locals to arrive and tickets sell out fast.
If you are considering taking the train to Lhasa, make sure to read my article above on the train journey so that you time your departure time to the landscapes you want to see during the day.
Arriving to Tibet by air
Lhasa is connected to several Chinese cities including Chengdu, Chongqing, Shanghai and Beijing. Depending on where you are coming from you will find some connections better than others.
The most flights originate from Chengdu and that was also the connection that worked best for me flying from Singapore, but my sister traveled via Chongqing from Barcelona and my best friend came via Shanghai from Dubai.
The advantage of arriving by air is that the views from the wing over the Himalayas are incredible. Much like when you fly into Bhutan, Landing in Tibet means seeing the majestic mountains below.
Arriving in Tibet by road
As mentioned, you can also drive to Tibet both from other parts of China as well as from Nepal. This should also be well organised by your local Tibetan agency so that you can ensure you have all the paperwork.
Once you cross over to Tibet, the agency is responsible for you so they need to meet you at the border.
Visiting Tibet: What to see
Before arriving in Tibet you will have to define a list of places you want to see as well as an itinerary which your permit will rely on. Changes to the itinerary are not allowed so you must make sure to think about what you want to see and do in advance.
Best places to visit in Tibet
There are lots of places to visit in Tibet but below is a list of the most famous, interesting and popular ones.
Further down you can also find some proposed itineraries depending on what you like and how long you can spend in Tibet.
Lhasa is the capital of Tibet and all travelers need to arrive via the historic city and, in fact, many visitors to Tibet stay in the capital and don’t venture out.
Lhasa is home to the most famous landmark in Tibet, the 17th century Potala Palace. The palace was the winter residence of the Dalai Lama and was built in an auspicious location, up on a hill 300m above the rest of Lhasa.
A visit to the Potala Palace is a must and you should allow for half a day to explore all its halls and details. Come back at night to see it majestically lit up.
Budget some time to wander pedestrian Old Lhasa, home to the Jokhang Temple, considered the holiest temple in Tibet because of a statue of young Buddha that is 2,500 years old. Tibetans prostrate for hours in front of the temple and go on koras around the streets surrounding it.
This stunning monastery is possibly the second most relevant place in Tibet after the Potala Palace. Built in the 15th century, this is also where most of the monks that were exiled from Tibet with the current Dalai Lama hailed from.
Sera is known for two things: sand mandalas and the debate sessions that take place every afternoon between monks and their teachers and which visitors can observe.
Located up on a hill and spread over the side of a mountain, Ganden Monastery has an enviable location and houses the Golden Tomb of Je Tsongkhapa, the founder of the yellow-hat monastic sect that is the most followed in Tibet.
Gyantse, Palkhor Monastery, Kumba Stupa
The city of Gyantse is home to the 14th century Palkhor Monastery and its large stupa, Kumbum, which contains 108 chapels spread of nine floors. The structure is also known as the Ten thousand Buddha pagoda because there are as many images of Buddha.
The city still preserves the fortress of the same time located on the hills above the monastery and city.
Xigatse and Tashilumpo Monastery
Xigatse is the second most important city in Tibet and is home to Tashilumpo Monastery, the seat of the Panchen Lama and the largest functioning religious institution in Tibet.
This ornate golden and burgundy monastery has the tallest golden statue of the Future Buddha measuring 26m in height and relics of two Panchen Lamas which were saved from the destruction of the Cultural Revolution.
Xigatse is a great place to buy Buddhist paraphernalia and Tibetan souvenirs as there are many shops along the main street.
This turquoise holy lake near Lhasa has some stunning views and makes for a nice escape into the wild. Locals go on kora pilgrimages around the lake and you will find many photo ops, including with yaks and their owners and with the famous Tibetan Mastiff dogs.
Everest Base Camp
Tibet and Nepal share ownership of the world’s tallest mountain which lays at the border between the two. That means that you can climb the mountain from both sides, although Nepal tends to be much more popular, easier and also more developed as a tourist destination.
There are also two Everest Base Camps, one in each country. While the one in Nepal can only be reached by trekking from Lukla Airport or on a helicopter tour, the 5,150m high Tibetan Everest Base Camp can be reached by road.
This 6,200m high sacred mountain in Tibet is hard to get to (the journey from Lhasa can take 3 days) but it is a lifelong pilgrimage dream of many Hindus, Jain, Buddhist and Bon who come here to find their final resting place.
The mountain is believed to be the place where Shiva and his consort Parvati live. Bon consider it the seat of the Sky Goddess Sipaimen. Buddhists consider Kailash the home to Demchog, a tantric meditation deity, and his consort Dorje Phagmo.
Typical Tibet itineraries
Your length of stay in Tibet will typically determine how far from Lhasa you can go. Below are some ideas for itineraries depending on duration provided by GoToTibet.
|2 days - Lhasa only||4 days - Lhasa and surroundings||6 days - Lhasa, Gyantse, Xigatse||8 days - Lhasa, Gyantse, Xigatse, Base Camp (Kathmandu/ Lhasa)||9 days - Xining to Base Camp (my trip)|
|Old Lhasa + Jokhang Temple||Old Lhasa + Jokhang Temple||Old Lhasa + Jokhang Temple||Old Lhasa + Jokhang Temple||Train to Lhasa from Xining|
|Potala Palace||Potala Palace||Potala Palace||Potala Palace||Old Lhasa + Jokhang Temple|
|Drepung Monastery + Sera Monastery||Drepung Monastery + Sera Monastery||Drepung Monastery + Sera Monastery||Potala Palace|
|Yamdrok Lake + glaciers||Yamdrok Lake + glaciers||Drepung Monastery + Sera Monastery|
|Gyantse - Palkhor Monastery, Kumba Stupa||Gyantse - Palkhor Monastery, Kumba Stupa||Ganden Monastery|
|Xigatse - Tashilumpo Monastery||Xigatse - Tashilumpo Monastery||Yamdrok Lake + glaciers|
|Everest Base Camp||Everest Base Camp||Gyantse - Palkhor Monastery, Kumba Stupa|
|Drive to Kathmandu (alternatively drive back to Lhasa)||Xigatse - Tashilumpo Monastery|
|Everest Base Camp|
|From USD300pp sharing||From USD500pp sharing||From USD1,000pp sharing||From USD1,200pp sharing||From USD1,350pp sharing|
If you would like to visit Mount Kailash, you should consider a 15 days trip which starts with the 8 day trip plus six days for the round trip to Kailash including the circular kora along the 52km path.
Accommodation options in Lhasa are vast with a few high-end hotels like the Shangri-la Lhasa and the St. Regis Lhasa topping the list followed by several more local alternatives and a list of affordable options.
I stayed at and reviewed the Shangri-la Lhasa. The hotel was very good and the St. Regis gets even better (if slightly) reviews. There are restaurants, an oxygen room, a spa, indoor pools and lovely views of the Potala Palace.
Outside the capital, accommodation can often times be basic and your choice will be determined by your itinerary. As roads are winding and driving can take long, you will be sleeping where it is convenient based on where you are going.
At the bottom of the list are the basic camping options at Everest Base Camp or at some of the monasteries. Here, coming at the right time of the year is critical because heating can be nonexistent.
If you are picky and prefer to favor comfort over convenience, make sure to discuss this with your agent so that they can help you tailor the itinerary accordingly.
Food in Tibet
As would be expected, food in Tibet is based on what grows at high altitudes and what can be obtained in such a remote place.
This means that your diet can become quickly repetitive and if you are a picky eater or have a sensitive stomach you might want to consider bringing snacks and energy bars.
Vegans might struggle because meat and yak butter are staple ingredients in most meals and fresh fruit and vegetables can be hard to come by. However, vegetarians should be able to get by with Nepalese thali sets, commonly available.
In general, food staples include anything that can be obtained from yaks and barley, the two most commonly available sources of food.
Barley is used to make Tibetan’s typical breakfast item: tsampa, which is made by mixing raw barley flour with yak butter, sugar and spices and it is eaten with butter tea, the official drink in Tibet, made with a generous amount of yak butter in what is almost impossible to stomach for a foreigner, but worth a try.
Yak meat, leaner and lighter than beef, is widely available and it is the most common item on any menu. It is usually eaten grilled, in a curry or stir fried. Barley is also used to make barley wine, a drink similar in taste to cider with a low alcohol percentage and which is made at home by many families.
Chinese-style noodles are pervasive and eaten either in soup or stir fried. As for vegetables, potatoes, bok choy, carrots and peppers are easy to find. Most of the food has generous amounts of chilli and fat, either yak butter or oil, so it can be very greasy.
My favorite Tibetan dish is momos or dumplings which are either pan fried (like Japanese gyoza), steamed (like Korean mandu) or served in soup (like the Chinese wonton soup) and are usually stuffed with delicious yak meat or potatoes.
This type of dumpling, usually made with a thicker pasta sheet than traditional Chinese dumplings, are found across Central and North Asia, and are part of the list of foods in Japan, Korea, China, Macau, all the ancient Silk Road countries of Central Asia and even Azerbaijan. If you eat meat, they can be a lifesaver as they are tasty and commonly available.
Maintaining a light diet in Tibet is almost impossible but it would also be foolish as the high altitudes and the cold are likely going to make your body consume more calories than usual. I managed to lose weight despite the heavy meals and hearty breakfasts.
Indian favourites like chicken tikka, tandoori and curries are available country-wide, as is naan bread and rice dishes, steamed or fried.
If you get tired of yak, chicken and lamb are usually an option but beware of the bones and animal parts you may not be used to eating, particularly with chicken which is usually chopped into pieces whole (bones, skin and cartilage) and hard to eat with chopsticks.
Tibetans eat with chopsticks but forks and spoons are usually available, knives are not. Tissues are not provided, so carry wet wipes and tissue paper. Tea is always a good idea because it is made with boiled water which reduces the risk of disease.
Simple water is served hot, boiled for safety and to keep warm. Local Lhasa beer is a light version of the drink.
Preparing for Tibet travel
If you have read the article until this point you probably realised that traveling to Tibet is not like traveling elsewhere and that you need to be well prepared for it.
Below are a few additional considerations to prepare for your trip, physically and mentally.
High altitude travel and sickness
Tibet is a high altitude destination and even Lhasa is 3,600m above sea level, so you need to be prepared for the worse should you be hit by altitude sickness.
At the very least, you should do your best to facilitate acclimatisation and to make sure you can get used to the altitude in the best way possible. Should all else fail, you can take medication intended to reduce the effect of altitude sickness and most guides will carry oxygen with them.
I wrote all about altitude sickness and as you will read, it can affect anyone, anytime. Even the sherpa working in Everest can suffer from altitude sickness unexpectedly. It is also hard to predict because it does not correlate with physical readiness or health.
In our group of five, the two healthiest and most fit of us were the ones to suffer the most. The most fit was the one hit hardest while my sister, who was arguably the least fit with a largely sedentary life, was the one feeling the best.
Come prepared, altitude sickness kills and at the very least, it will ruin your trip.
Packing list for Tibet
Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind when traveling to Tibet is packing what you will need according to your itinerary and the expected weather conditions.
Not being prepared for the temperatures can break you, quite literally, and ruin the trip so make sure to bring what you need and dress appropriately. Generally speaking, the farther you go from Lhasa and the higher you climb the colder it becomes.
I put together a very detailed packing list for Tibet but below is a summary of the most important things to bring.
- A windproof, waterproof really warm jacket. I am huge fan of Arctix and this jacket for men and this 3 in 1 one for women are great options. The male one comes with hand extensions to keep you warm even without gloves on. This is essential if you visit in the rainy summer months
- Boots. You don’t really need trekking boots for the journey as you will be sitting in a car or walking on flat surfaces most of the time. Even the trek to Base Camp, if you have the energy despite the altitude, is on a well marked gravel road. But the boots are useful to keep warm. For men, the Solomon Speedcross waterproof are a sure winner that I keep seeing on more and more people. They also make them for women but I would much prefer the higher boots.
- A scarf is essential unless your jacket goes all the way up. It will be useful to wrap yourself around and also to protect your throat and nose from the dryness.
- Sunglasses that truly protect from the sun, not to make a fashion statement. Altitude and weather make the sun particularly punishing, dryness will only aggravate it. I love Oakley for anything that is heavy duty and outdoorsy.
- Sun screen is a must. I am a huge fan of Biore Face Milk because it is silky and dry and you will not know you are wearing it.
- Lip balm, again, the weather is uber dry and cold.
- Tissues and wet wipes, lots and lots of them. To wash your hands before and after meals, and to use the toilet. Hand sanitiser is essential too.
- Bring tubes not aerosols of anything, they could explode with the altitude.
- Bring all the prescription drugs and cosmetics you need, outside of Lhasa these may be really hard to find.
- Pack nuts or energy bars or buy them in Lhasa. Sometimes you will drive for hours without a place to eat.
- Consult your doctor on altitude sickness and consider bringing Diamox, the most commonly used drug to treat and prevent altitude sickness.
- If you are going to Base Camp, camping or planning to sleep in basic accommodation, bring a powerful power bank. A great one that can even charge your laptop is the Aukey 3,000 mAh one which comes with two USB ports and a quick charge one but beware that the Chinese airport officials may make you check it in.
The below packing list is particularly relevant if you are visiting Base Camp or traveling to Tibet in winter. Lhasa and surroundings do not get as cold.
- Thermal underwear, trust me, you will thank me for this when you go to sleep at the Base Camp tourist tents or Rombuk Monastery without any heating and the thermometer hits -10, plus the wind chill factor. You would wrap yourself around with a blanket outside if you could. Male underwear here.
- A thick hat. Laugh all you want but the Russian style hats that they wear in Siberia saved my life at night when the temperatures (mid May) were well below -10 and I was trying to keep warm under 5 thick blankets.
- Heavy duty gloves or forget about taking any photos. If you want, the thinner but effective Timberland gloves can be used with your phone, that is if your phone works in the cold, both my Nexus and my iPhone shut down.
- Thermal socks because the feet are the hardest part to keep warm.
- Heat packs, these small one time use warmers can be a real lifesaver. Shake them and they’ll warm up quickly giving you hours of warmth on hands and feet.
Safety in Tibet
Like China as a whole, Tibet is a very safe place and theft or any violence is almost unheard of. It helps that there is police and checkpoints across the region.
However, you must be aware of the traveling restrictions and abide by them to avoid any issues. Also make sure that you don’t bring any Tibetan flag or picture or book about the Dalai Lama or other contentious text about Tibet and China.
Cost of travel to Tibet
In the itinerary section I listed the costs of the proposed trips based on the duration. These are prices for group tours with accommodation at 3 star hotels.
Prices for these start at USD500 per person sharing for the 3 days in Lhasa tour to the more expensive two weeks trip to Mount Kailash which can up to USD2,100 per person sharing. If you travel alone, you should consider the cost of a single supplement.
Alternatively, you can also organise a private tour for your party like I did. The cost will be higher but the flexibility and comfort should also be much better. Prices will very much depend on how many you are and where you want to stay.
Aside from the tour cost, you should consider additional cash for photography at each monastery and landmark which can vary between $2 and $10, sometimes this needs to be paid per hall within a monastery not for the entire premises. If you plan to film, costs can be significantly higher and run up to $350.
Souvenirs are relatively affordable and alcoholic drinks, mostly beer, is too. Bring cash as credit cards will only be accepted in Lhasa.
This article is brought to you by GoToTibet experts in arranging travel to Tibet. As always, all opinions are honest and based on our experience traveling in Tibet.
This would make a great addition to your Tibet Travel board!
- Check if you need a visa, get help processing it at iVisa.
- Never ever leave without travel insurance. Get affordable coverage from World Nomads or long term insurance from Safety Wing.
- I find all of my flights on KAYAK. Check their Deals section too.
- Search for all your transportation between destinations on the trusted travel booking platform Bookaway.
- I book all my day trips and tours via GetYourGuide, they are the best and their tours are refundable up to 24h in advance.
- Get USD35 off your first booking with Airbnb.
- Compare hotels EVERYWHERE at HotelsCombined and book with Booking.com.
- Compare car rental prices at Rentalcars.com