Tibet, the roof of the world, is famous for its beautiful scenery, ancient history, splendid culture, unique local customs and numerous religious sites. It is not only the sacred place for Tibetan Buddhists, but also a dream for every tourists at home and aboard. However, it has never been an easy task to fulfill this once-in-a-lifetime spiritual journey.
Kunga Manager, our seasoned tourist guide of Tibet Vista with over forty years of working experiences in Tibetan tourism, has collected most frequently asked 14 Tibet travel FAQs to resolve your doubts. Kunga is also the first English-Speaking Tibetan tour guide in the autonomous region, and he has obtained many frontline operation experiences during his past work. We hope you will find his answers would be of great help for your upcoming Tibet tour.
1. Is it Easy to Get a Tibet Travel Permit?
The answer is YES. However, according to the provisions of the National Tourism Administration, tourists can not apply it by themselves but authorize a trustworthy travel agency to do that. In fact, you just need to provide the necessary documents and then Tibet Vista will take care of the rest. Here are the simply procedures for getting Tibet Travel Permits in mainland China and Nepal.
Getting Tibet Travel Permit in Mainland China
A. Prepare the required documents
1. Passport + Chinese Visa (for “L” visa holders)
2. Passport + Chinese Visa + Foreigner’s Residence Card + Certificate of employment (for “Z” visa holders)
B. Tell us your personal interests, what you want to see or experience in Tibet, when and where you want to go, etc and our Tibet travel experts will give out a detailed offer
C. Confirm the Tibet travel itinerary and then all the documents will be submitted to Tibet Tourism Bureau Lhasa Office
D. Once issued, Tibet travel permits will be delivered to your hotel in China. You can board Tibet train with the copy of Tibet visa. But for Tibet flights, the original is required.
Obtaining Tibet Travel Permit in Nepal
A. Confirm the detailed Nepal Tibet travel plan and then send us the copy of your passport information and photo page
B. Our staff in Lhasa will submit those papers to Tibet Tourism Bureau for Tibet Travel Permit and Chinese Visa Invitation Letter and then scan them back to our office in Kathmandu
C. Your original passport, the scanned copies of Tibet Travel Permit and Chinese Visa Invitation Letter will be submitted to Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu for your Tibet Group Visa
D. Once Group Chinese Tourist Visa issued, we’ll deliver them to your hotel in Nepal.
2.Should I Get into Tibet By Train or By Flight?
As for way to Tibet, you are suggested to take train to Lhasa, because:
Firstly, Tibet train drives you slowly from low plains to higher places. It can help you adapt yourself to the high altitude gradually and reduce the risk of suffering acute mountain sickness. Meanwhile, the internal facilities has been designed particularly for the plateau environment and geographic conditions. The fully enclosed cabin is filled with oxygen. Private oxygen mask and oxygen supply tube are available for every passenger.
Secondly, traveling along Qinghai-Tibet railway, you can appreciate the intoxicating natural scenery outside the window, including vast grasslands and meadows, groups of antelope and yak, stunning lakes and rivers, etc.
You may think the train can save more compared to flights to Lhasa, however, it’s not true. During the peak season, the price of train ticket is higher because of the high demand. So, it’s better to book the train ticket as early as you can.
3. What are the Easiest Gateway Cities to Tibet?
However, if you are traveling on a limited time with interest on Tibetan train experience, you’re suggested to take flight to Xining firstly, then get on train at Xining, the starting point of Qinghai-Tibet Railway. Xining-Lhasa train will not only offer you the shortest ride to Tibet but also the essence of Qinghai-Tibet plateau scenery. Besides, all the Tibet trains will stop over at Xining railway station, it can be much easier to obtain train tickets for Lhasa.
4.When is the Best Time to Travel to Tibet?
Generally speaking, April to October is considered as the best time to visit Tibet. During this period, Tibet weather is not to harsh and most tourist sites become accessible. The natural scenery reaches its best and sever important Tibetan festival like Saga Dawa Festival, Shoton Festival are also celebrated one after another. Meanwhile, it’s also the peak season for Tibet tourism. Prices in accommodation, flight ticket, etc. must be higher than usual.
When Tibet winter comes, most tourists fade away and you’ll encounter swarms of devotees making their pilgrimage to Lhasa. It’s a really golden chance to explore Tibetan pilgrim’s religious life and authentic Tibetan culture. At the same time, Tibet in winter is not that cold as you thought. You can still enjoy the warm sunshine in the daytime. And please remember to keep yourself warm for the temperature would drop below zero at night. In this slack season, you are likelier to get a great discount on all kinds of fees.
Actually, the best time to visit Tibet also depends on your personal interest. For Lhasa city, you can tour it all year round. Mt. Everest is a big draw for tourist to travel Shigatse. Kunga Manager recommends you to join our 8 Days Lhasa to Everest Base Camp Small Group Tour in April to June and September to Octorber. Since cold days has gone and rainy season hasn’t come yet, you would be lucky enough to catch a clear view of Mt. Everest under the stable weather. If you want to trek Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarova, May to July and September to October must be the best time to avoid rainy days and heavy snows. And you can only enjoy Nyingchi Peach Bloom Festival from March to April.
5. What food should I never miss out when touring Tibet?
Tsamba is a traditional staple food for Tibetans. The cooking procedures are also very simple. To eat Tsamba, highland barley should be dried in the sun and ground into flour. Hence, you can pour a little butter tea into a bowl, add some Tsamba flour together, mix them thoroughly and then mold the dough into small balls for eating.
Butter tea, a special beverage in Tibet, is made up of ghee and tea. As a typical staple food, it usually serves with Tsamba. Usually people would put a small mount of ghee into a special bucket first, then add salt and boiled tea juice, and stir them with the wooden handle repeatedly till butter tea takes shape.
Highland barley wine, known as the “Qiang” in Tibetan language, is local people’s favorite wine. It’s also indispensable for Tibetan festivals, marriage feasts and other important occasions.
Dried beef and mutton strips are very popular among Tibetans and tourists. When the temperature drops below zero, Tibetans cut beef and mutton into strips, hung them in the shade and then let them dry naturally. With the coming of spring, the dried meats served with butter tea are crisp and taste really good.
Sweet tea, a unique beverage with hundred years of history, has become a household name for tourists at home and board. Lhasa sweet tea is made up of black tea juice, milk and sugar. Its taste is much more delicious than butter tea.
Tibetan noodle is also considered as a kind of traditional Tibetan snacks. After boiled with yak soup, the noodles smell especially fragrant. You can also try some with chili sauce together.
6. What should I expect about accommodations in Tibet?
With the further development of tourism resources and the increase in tourists, the accommodation in Tibet has been greatly improved. You can find all levels of star hotels in large cities, like Lhasa and Shigatse. And even the small counties also have hostels for tourists.However, the overall level of hotels and guest houses in Tibet is still lower than that in mainland China.
Lhasa has a variety of accommodations, ranging from the ordinary hostels to the five-star hotels. Accommodation in Shigaste, Tsedang and Nyingchi are still widely varying from ordinary guest houses to four-star hotels. But for some remote area like Ngari, Nagchu and Chamdo, you may have to live in common hotels, basic hostels or tents.
Read more information about accommodation condition in Tibet here.
7. What are recommended to buy for souvenirs?
Although Tibet doesn’t belong to the economically developed areas in China, it is the place where you can find a wide range of dedicate handicrafts and precious drugs. As a professional Tibetan tour guide, Kunga Manager suggests you to bring some unique Tibetan gifts for your family and friends, like Tibetan carpets, Tibetan apron, Gawu, Dzi Bead, Tibetan pottery wares,Tibetan ornaments,Tibetan quilts,Tibetan knife, etc. To avoid buying any fake drugs,you’re advised to go to Mentsikhang, Tibetan Traditional Hospital, for purchasing some traditional Tibetan medicine.
8. What are the top things to do and experience when touring Tibet?
1. Take awesome photos of Potala Palace
Chakpori Hill is one of the best spots for capturing the night scene of Potala Palace. Besides, Potala Palace Square and Zongjiao Lukang Park arealso recommended to shoot for this world-known heritage site.
2. Follow the koras with local Tibetans
Korais a unique religious activity in Tibetan Buddhism. You can always see the devotees prostrating in front of Jokang Monastery or circling it clockwise day and night. Joining the kora is the best way to explore Tibetan pilgrim’s life.
3. Watch Tibetan Opera at Norbulingka
Norbulingka, the summer palace of the Dalai Lama, is the largest garden in Tibet. Traditional Tibetan opera takes place at 11 o’clock everyday. You’ll see folks in colorful costumes dancing and singing cheerfully.
4. Shoot the starry sky at Namtso Lake
The night at Namtso Lake is chilly and altitude sickness is more likely to happen to you. However, as long as the blinking stars appear, you’ll forget all the sufferings.
5. Watch monks debating at Sera Monastery
The debating traditions in Sera Monastery are very unique. It’s interesting to observe Tibetan Lamas participating in debates to further their comprehension of Buddhism.
6. Explore Tsangyang Gyatso’s love story
Tsangyang Gyatso, the sixth Dalai Lama, had undergone through ups and downs in his life. He was also one of the great folk poets, creating many classic poems. His romantic poems and legendary love story have attracted numerous tourists to come to Tibet.
7. Enjoy Tibetan life in sweet tea house
Sweet tea is to us what coffee is to westerners. It’s a nice drink to wake up and start a new life in Tibet. When the folks have no place to go, they would gather at the sweet tea house to kill time. Here you can also try some Tibetan foods, Nepali dishes, Indian meals, etc.
8. Try some authentic Tibetan food
Of course, you shouldn’t miss some local snacks in your Tibet trip, like Tsamba, butter tea, dried beef and mutton strips, etc.
9. Experience nightlife at Lhasa
Clubs and bars in Lhasa usually have their own stories and features. Just at the crossing of Danjielin Road and Beijing East Road stands dozens of bars, restaurants and bookshops. It’s always easy to find one bar suitable for yourself.
10. Have a sunshine bath in Tibet
Reputed as “the city of sunshine”, Lhasa has over 3,000 hours of sunshine annually. How wonderful it is to sit cross-legged in front of Jokhang Temple and start meditating in the cozy sunlight. Read more about top places to enjoy sunshine in Tibet winter.
9. What currency is used in Tibet? Can I withdraw the cash and use credit card?
Chinese Renmingbi (RMB), also called as Chinese Yuan (CNY), is the currency used in Tibet. You can withdraw money from ATMs in Tibet. But it’s advised to check before trying your cards for some are only available for domestic bank cards. And credit cards are not so popular in the whole Tibetan areas. Thus, experienced Kunga Manager strongly suggests you to bring enough cash in different denominations while visiting Tibet.
10. What to pack for touring Tibet?
Please try to bear this in mind: packing the minimum wherever you travel! According his decades of experience, Kunga Manager has made a Tibet packing list for you.
Most important ones: your passport, Chinese Visa and Tibet Travel Permits
Bags: one large outdoor backpack and a waist bag for your important items
Clothing: down coats, sweaters, mountaineering jackets, quick-dry clothes, disposable underwear, pairs of woolen socks
Shoes: waterproof hiking boots, sturdy sneakers and comfortable slippers
Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, towels, facial cleanser, shampoo, razor, tissues, sanitary napkins, small bags of detergent.
Moisturizing products: moisturizing cream, lipstick
Sunscreen items: hats, sunglasses, sun-blocking cream, scarf
Electronics: mobile phone, backup batteries, mobile power supply
Drugs: Rhodiola, cold medicine, antidiarrheal drugs, anti-inflammatory drugs, band-aid
11. What are the etiquettes and taboos?
As the old saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Here are the top 9 Tibetan Buddhism customs for your reference.
1. Do not kill animals in front of monks and nuns for the killing is one of their biggest taboos.
2. If you encounter a pagoda or Mani stone pile in Tibetan monasteries, you shall bypass them in a clockwise direction.
3. Do not eat garlic in the temple for this is one of the taboo foods in Buddhism.
4. Do not shout, yell or chase after each other in the monastery.
5. It’s polite to cross your legs rather than stretch your legs towards others while sitting down. And please remember not to take the Living Buddha and other monks’ seat.
6. Do not to touch the Buddha, flip sacred books and ring the bell casually.
7. Do not wipe your hands by the papers with scriptures on.
8. Don’t stride over monks’ seat, ritual items and Buddhist sutras.
9. Smoking is forbidden in the monastery.
12. Is wifi available in hotel and how can I use my phone?
In Tibet, free wifi is available in most hotels. After check-in, you’ll receive a password to access the network. Once connected, you can contact your family and friends via email, Skype and WhatsApp, etc. In addition to making phone calls from the hotel, you can also buy a China SIM card from Tibet Vista.
13. Can I have some free days in Tibet?
The answer is NO. According to the provisions of the National Tourism Administration, foreign tourists, Taiwan tourists and overseas Chinese (except for Hong Kong and Macao residents holding Chinese passports or mainland travel permits) are not allowed to travel Tibet alone. And no matter how many visitors there are, they must be organized to tour Tibet in group. Therefore, you cannot have free days in Tibet. Wherever you go, you should be accompanied by our tourist guide.
14. How can I book a Tibet trip?
Here are six simple steps to book a Tibet tour with us.
Step1. you need to send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or complete an online inquiry form at the end of the tour itinerary to share your idea to us.
Step2. your case will be handled over to a professional travel adviser and he/she will make out a proposal itinerary and quotation.
Step3. please feel free to discuss and modify the itinerary till it meets your needs.
Step4. you shall sign tour contract and pay the deposit.
Step5. we apply for your Tibet permits and finally you’ll get the tour confirmation including local tour guide info, train tickets info, etc.
Step6. we’ll meet you at Lhasa Train Station or Gonggar Airport.
There are still many questions about Tibet travel that Kunga Manager can’t list all them out. You are welcome to contact us by email or call us directly at 86-28-85552138 for further consulting.