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How to Plan a 4-day Lhasa Nyingchi Shannan Self-Driving Tour?

A self-drive expedition is both adventurous and strenuous and great care needs to be taken when planning the tour to ensure a smooth trip on the Tibetan plateau. Tibet is a fantastic place to visit for a self-drive tour and what better place is there to drive than on the Roof of the World? Tibet is an ideal destination for anyone who loves driving and is looking for the vacation of a lifetime. A self-drive vacation can be the best trip you have ever undertaken, or the worst experience of your life, depending on how well you plan and organize the trip, and how much research and understanding you have done of the area in which you are driving.

Lhasa, Nyingchi, and Shannan are three of the most amazing areas in Tibet, not to mention some of the most outstanding destinations on the plateau. From the highlights of the Tibetan capital, with its Potala Palace and Jokhang Temple, to the delights of the Nyingchi alpine mountain areas and the cradle of Tibetan civilization in Shannan, you can travel these three areas and learn more about Tibet, its people, and its unique religion and culture than anywhere else on the plateau.

Best Time to Visit Lhasa, Nyingchi and Shannan

Lhasa, Nyingchi, and Shannan lay side-by-side in the southeastern part of the Tibetan plateau, where the climate is a little milder than in the northwest. Spring and autumn are normally two of the best times of the year to visit this area of Tibet, as the winter temperatures have already risen to be a lot warmer, and the clear skies make for great touring and excellent views.

While Lhasa and Nyingchi can see temperatures up to 18 degrees in spring and autumn, Shannan is much cooler, and has a more temperate alpine plateau climate. Summer is the monsoon period in Tibet, though there is still not much rain on the plateau region, with Nyingchi having the highest rainfall of all, reaching up to 130mm in August. And while winter is quite cold in Shannan, averaging around -1 in January, Nyingchi and Lhasa see much milder winters, with average temperatures still well above freezing.

Overall, the period from late April to the end of October is the ideal time to travel around these three areas of the plateau, while temperatures are comfortable to warm and the weather is at its best on average.

Road Conditions in Lhasa, Nyingchi and Shannan

Lhasa is the central region of Tibet, and as such, with it also being the capital of the region, the roads around the area are better than average for this part of China. Roads around Lhasa are well paved with asphalt on almost all roads, and well maintained.

Roads in Shannan have improved from what they used to be, largely thanks to the increase in tourism in the area, which has meant that travel into to the south of the Yarlung Tsangpo River Valley is more accessible. The further south you go, the poorer the road conditions can become, with only the major roads often being the ones that are paved.

Nyingchi is an area where road conditions are improving, with many of the former gravel roads now having been resurfaced to asphalt, and even the last county in Tibet to have a road now has a paved road that leads into it. Several of the more outlying roads up in the higher mountains are still gravel and dirt roads, though with very little traffic using them, are often not in bad condition.

Documents Required While Self-driving in Lhasa, Nyingchi, and Shannan

While traveling in a new territory, especially when driving, there are a few legal procedures and legal documents you need to take care of, so as to not run into trouble with the officials of the area. When traveling in Tibet the documents that you need to make sure you are carrying are as follows:
● Chinese Visa along with your passport.
Tibet Travel Permit.

These are the documents which signal that your entry into Tibet is legal and are considered essential, especially while on the road. When you are driving across the length and breadth of the region, there are few other documents which are considered mandatory to be carried with you.
● Vehicle Entry and Exit Formalities.
● Valid Chinese Driving License or a Permission Letter stating the same.
● Correct and Licensed Vehicle Plate Number.
● 3 photographs of your car from all the sides - document the condition of the vehicle.
● 2 photos of yourself and the people traveling with you, on a white background.

If you have the above travel documents in hand, then you are ready to hit the road in Tibet. Here at Tibet Vista, we can help you apply for all the documents needed. It is always suggested that you get a verification of the documents and procedures that need to be done in the case of any revisions made. A talk with our travel consultant is highly recommended to have a smooth journey.

Highlights of Lhasa Nyingchi Shannan Self-driving Tour

With the much preparation done beforehand, you will be able to enjoy a fascinating self-drive tour from Lhasa to Nyingchi and Shannan. It will become the best memories in your life. Pack your bags, and be ready to venture out into the best days of your life. If flying by air, you will arrive at the Gonggar Airport, and in an hour’s time, you will be in Lhasa city.

Day 1 - Lhasa Day Tour: Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Street

Potala Palace has almost become synonymous to Lhasa and is one of the most popular travel highlights when in the region. It is larger than life experience that sits in the center of Lhasa on the Red Hill. The architectural wonder was also considered the world’s tallest and most imposing buildings before the 20th-century skyscrapers came into being. While this was once an important building in the former governance of Tibet, it is now a museum and the winter palace of the Dalai Lama.

The 1,300-year-old Jokhang Temple is one of the most revered Buddhist temples in the world and is an amazing sight to see. Built to hold the statue of Sakyamuni Buddha that was brought to Tibet on the wedding of Songtsen Gampo and his Chinese bride, Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty, this ancient temple is the center of Tibetan Buddhism today. A common sight you would encounter is seeing devout Buddhist pilgrims walking in clockwise circles around the temple as a part of their worship ceremonies.

Barkhor Street, the window of TibetBarkhor Street, the window of Tibet

Barkhor Street is one of the main highlights of this journey. It is a place where it has something to satisfy everybody - be it a deeply religious person, a traveler or even a child. It is a 20-minute hexagonal circuit that has a blend of the marketplace and spiritual vibe to it. It runs clockwise around the Jokhang Temple and the other primary structures in its surroundings. The place is always bustling with a sense of energy, and it is often best to visit the place either at dawn or dusk. A walk into Barkhor Street will reveal to you a massive flea market where you can splurge your money on taking back little presents home for loved ones, from kata scarves to prayer flags and even the prayer wheels.

Day 2 - Travel from Lhasa to Nyingchi: Lulang Forest and Mount Namjagbarwa

Tibet is not only known for its scenic beauty but also for its flora and fauna. It is home to the natural treasures of plants of various types. It is indeed a beautiful place to be, for a breath of fresh air. The name Lulang is derived from a local Tibetan dialect meaning, “Loong King Valley”. When loosely translated it means “a place which will make you forget your home”. This is not just a figure of speech either, as this place is truly breathtaking and will play on the back of your mind for years to come.

Lulang Forest in Nyingchi, eastern TibetLulang Forest in Nyingchi, eastern Tibet

Namche Barwa, which is the highest peak in Nyingchi with an elevation of 7,782 meters, is one of the best places to visit. An almost postcard-like landscape, you can often see the locals and wild animals, making it a memory that will last a lifetime.

Stay overnight in Nyingchi

Day 3 - Sightseeing in Tsedang: Samye Monastery and Yumbulakang Palace

Samye Monastery is considered to be the first monastery and university in Tibet. This monastery also has its connections with the Indian sage, Padmasambhava, who helped King Trisong Detsen to construct it in the 8th century. Since then, the temple has been destroyed by war, fire, and natural calamities and yet stands strong as a testament to the vivid and resilient history of Tibet.

Samye Monastery is arranged based on the Buddhist cosmology, with a 3-D replica of the Tibetan Buddhist universe in Mandala form. The temple complex has been constructed keeping in mind the principles of geomancy. At the center of the Tibetan Buddhist universe lays a mythological palace on top of Mount Meru, which is symbolized by the inner temple. Surrounding this magnificent monastery is a great ocean, which has four abundant island-continents, and eight subcontinents. This is a perfect place to see how the architectures of both the Tibetan and Indian philosophers and saints merge, forming the beautiful and historic monastery. It is an excellent place to visit to revel in the quiet beauty and significance of this location.

Yungbulakang Palace - the first palace in TibetYungbulakang Palace - the first palace in Tibet

The historical significance of Yumbulakang Palace is that it is the first palace in Tibet to have become a monastery. Today it is considered one of the oldest buildings in Tibet, with a history of more than 2,300 years, dating back to the very first king of Tibet. When loosely translated in the local dialect, it means, “the palace of the mother and son”. It is a stunning palace with an amusing back story that makes it an ideal location to visit for folk who love a story behind the beautiful picture they see. The area has been reconstructed in the past, owing to the history it shares. Inside its beautiful walls, one can see magnificent murals which tell you the impressive history of Tibet. The highest point of the monastery is the Yumbulakang tower, which is open for public visits.

Stay overnight at Tsedang

Day 4 - Depart from Lhasa

After your last night in Tsedang, your guide will collect you in the morning, and drive you back to Lhasa or the Lhasa Gonggar International Airport for your departure from Tibet. Your guide will help you to check in and board, and will make sure that you have everything that you brought with you to take out again.

What to Pack for a Lhasa Nyingchi Shannan Self-driving Tour?

While this is a tour of Tibet, it is not one where you are going to need lots of heavy jackets and warm clothes, since the climate is milder in Lhasa, Shannan, and Nyingchi. Clothing-wise, you are best having light but warm pants, with long underwear for those traveling in the colder months, and layers of long-sleeved tops to combat the cold if needed. Since you will be driving, you need to have comfortable driving shoes, instead of heavy boots, though it is handy to have some good strong shoes or hiking boots for the rough areas where you are exploring on foot.

Food is not an essential item for most of the tour, as you can get good meals in the restaurants and hotels that can be found in all of the places the tour travels to. It is handy, however, to carry some snacks and dried or packet foods with you for eating along the way, as you can easily get hungry when traveling at the higher altitudes of the plateau.

A good camera is a necessity when traveling in Tibet, as you will be faced with countless and innumerable sights that you are going to want to photograph for the memories. You can also bring a tablet or reading device to help pass the time in the evenings, as well as your cellphone. If you have spare batteries, it is a good idea to charge and bring them too, as well as a power bank for recharging your devices on the go. Most of these can be recharged in the hotels at the end of the day, or in the vehicle if you have an adaptor.


Unlike comfortably enjoying the ride in the back of the tour vehicle, this 4-day self-driving tour gives you a better chance to experience the varied terrain and extraordinary culture of Lhasa, Nyingchi, and Shannan. To enthusiasts of self-driving, you should not miss this opportunity to control the wheel on the roof of the world. Just be aware that it is important to stay hydrated and well rested, so you can stay active and healthy when traveling at such high altitudes. Go ahead, relish the best four days of your life, when in Tibet - the land where time stands still.

Master Kungga Dundruk

About the Author - Master Kungga Dundruk

Kungga Dundruk, often respectfully referred to as “Manager Kunga”, is the most revered and legendary Tibetan guide in our team.

Currently working as a customer service manager in Lhasa, Kunga used to study business overseas and got his Bachelor of Business in Nepal and India before moving back to his homeland. With pure passion for life and unlimited love for Tibet, Kunga started his guide career as early as 1997.

As a legendary Tibetan guide with 22 years of guide experience, Kunga was awarded the Gold Medalist of China’s Best Tour Guide in 2019, marking the pinnacle of his career. Today, Kunga loves sharing his wealth of Tibetan knowledge through travel articles and stands ready to offer prompt support whenever our guests need help in Lhasa.

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