Bhutan to Tibet by Road: how to travel overland from Bhutan to Tibet
Touring Bhutan and Tibet together is an epic journey of discovery, traveling through two of the most devout Buddhist lands in the world. Traveling from Bhutan to Tibet is relatively easy, with flights from Bhutan to Kathmandu in Nepal and the option to travel overland to Lhasa or take the direct flight from Nepal. However, while it may be easy to travel between these two Buddhist locations, there is no way to do it directly. Tibet and Bhutan share a border along the western Himalayas, and there are several passes that cross the mountains from Tibet to Bhutan, including the one near Paro which was used for the failed Tibetan invasions of Bhutan in the 17th and 18th centuries.
However, despite being close neighbors, no overland border crossing has ever been established between Bhutan and China, which means that anyone traveling from Bhutan to Tibet has to travel through a third country. Exiting from Bhutan on a tour of Bhutan and Tibet together can be done to nine different airports in five separate countries, including India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Singapore. And while the choice of exit direction from Bhutan is yours, the only country of the five with direct access to Tibet in Nepal. This makes it the obvious choice for travel to make your journey into Tibet as easy as possible. Even if you travel overland from Bhutan, the best way to get to Tibet is still through Nepal, which lies less than 100 kilometers to the west of the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
Bhutan to Tibet by Road: Travel Documents Needed
If you are planning to take an overland trip from Bhutan to Nepal, it is actually easier to take the flight from Bhutan to Nepal, rather than traveling overland to Nepal across the Indian State of West Bengal. While it is possible to exit Bhutan at the Phuentsholing border crossing into India, and then cross to Kakarbhitta in Nepal, it is much easier and faster to get the direct flight to Kathmandu, and often less costly. It also reduces the number of documents, passes, permits, and visas that you will need to have.
Taking flight is the best way to get to Kathmandu from Bhutan.
In order to enter Nepal, to travel overland to Tibet, you will need to have a Nepal Entry Visa. This is not required if you are flying into Nepal and then taking a direct flight to Lhasa. The visa is best applied for on your arrival in Nepal, and can be done quickly and easily at the airport. The application form is now filed through the kiosks in the airport, where you make the initial application over the internet, and the kiosk will print a barcode slip for you to take to the payment counter and the immigration desk. Alternatively, you can make the application online on the website of the Nepali Immigration Department prior to arriving in Nepal. The website will also give you a downloadable document that you can use to make payment and get your visa. After making the payment, you will be able to get the visa from the immigration officials after processing it into your passport.
The other visa you will need is the Chinese Group Visa, which is issued for all tourists entering Tibet from Nepal, and which is completely different to the usual Chinese Entry Visa. This can only be applied for once you have booked your tour with a registered Tibet tour operator, and will be applied for on your behalf by our representative in Kathmandu once you arrive. We will need your original passport and the processing will take around three working days, after which we will collect your passport and visa document, and deliver them to your hotel ready for you to travel to Tibet.
Tibet Travel Permit is an indispensable travel document for Tibet entry.
The third document you will need is the Tibet Travel Permit. This is required for all tourists traveling to Lhasa, and can only be acquired by a tour operator once you have booked a tour of Tibet. Once your tour is decided and booked, we will make the application for the Tibet Travel Permit on your behalf, using a scanned copy of your passport, which will be submitted to the Tibet Tourism Bureau in Lhasa. Processing can take up to 20 days, though is usually a lot less than that, and once we receive the permit, we will bring it to you in Kathmandu, to use with the application for the Chinese Group Visa.
Bhutan to Tibet by Road: Choose the Best Travel Route
As we mentioned previously, the best way to travel from Bhutan to Nepal is to fly, as the overland journey can be expensive and requires you to apply for a Transit Visa through India to get to the Nepali border. The flights to Nepal from Bhutan cost from US$ 196 per person for Economy flights and take around 75 minutes for the non-stop flight from Paro.
Once you arrive in Kathmandu, and have completed all the requirements for your Chinese Group Visa, you will be able to start the next leg of your journey to Tibet. The first part of the trip is the ride from Kathmandu to Rasuwa Gandhi, the Nepali side of the Sino-Nepal border crossing. The trip to the border can be done by private car, which costs around US$60 for the car, and can be shared with other travelers; or around 30 dollars by local bus. Both options take around 6-8 hours to get to the border, and the car is the better option, as the buses can be crowded and hot.
After entering Tibet, G318 National Highway will take you to Lhasa.
The border crossing takes you to Gyirong Port, over the Resuo Bridge spanning the Trishuli River Gorge, and once you have gone through immigration, your guide and driver will collect you and take you on your journey overland to Lhasa. The route takes you along the Friendship Highway, part of the vast G318 National Highway, the longest single road in China at more than 5,000 kilometers. The road takes you close to Mount Everest, and you can stop to enjoy the view of the world’s highest mountain, before heading on through Shigatse and Gyantse to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. - Check Kathmandu to Lhasa Overland Tour
The distance from Gyirong Port to Lhasa by road is around 1200 kilometers, and can be done in less than three days, with stops to visit the local attractions along the way. From Kathmandu to Gyirong Port, it is around 156 kilometers, and the roads are not too good once you get past the town of Syabrubesi and up into the mountains and the Langtang National Park. Most of the higher roads are still dirt or gravel surfaces, and are fairly narrow, making it hard for vehicles to pass.
In total, if you were to travel by road from Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, it is a journey that covers a huge 1,800 kilometers, and would take more than a week to complete. The direct distance from Thimphu to Lhasa is actually only 281 kilometers in a straight line, but since there are no overland crossings between Tibet and Bhutan, the long road is the only route.
The Estimated Cost for Getting from Bhutan to Tibet by Road
If you look at the cost of the entire trip from Thimphu to Lhasa, discounting the amount that you have already paid for the vacation in Bhutan, then the cost can be a lot lower than flying from Bhutan to Nepal and then on to Lhasa to start your tour. - See more Tibet Nepal and Bhutan Tour
Flights to Kathmandu from Bhutan can cost from around US$196 per person, though this can be higher in the peak season. Add to that the cost of the bus ride or car to Gyirong Port. The bus is the cheaper option, and costs less than 30 dollars per person. However, if there are more than two of you, the private vehicles are better and cheaper per person when you share.
The part of the trip that takes you from Gyirong to Lhasa is a fully organized and pre-booked tour with a registered Tibet tour operator, as individual travel is not permitted in Tibet. Tours from Kathmandu to Lhasa cost from around 1150 US dollars per person for the basic packages, which give you a complete tour of the region. This also includes a stopover at Mount Everest, all your entrance tickets to the various attractions, the cost of obtaining the Tibet Travel Permit, your accommodation, transport, and guide/driver. Additional things can cost a little more, and if you get a group tour with one of the special Tibet Join-In Tours that we have it can cost you less.
While flying is the faster option, you will have to pay for an extra flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa, on top of all your other expenses, which can make the cost a lot higher. Taking the overland option from Kathmandu is not only the cheaper option and the best option for tourists coming from Bhutan to Tibet, but it also gives you the opportunity to continue your tour on into mainland China after visiting Lhasa, without having to double back on yourself.