Travel information on Tibet is always changing and SnowLion Tours aims to provide the most up-to-date information possible. If you’ve read other news about the travel situation in Tibet, especially if it was written before 2008, it is likely out of date.
How to get to Tibet and what I need to prepare for Tibet Trip is a common questions from our clients.
Please click on the questions below for more information. If you have any further questions, just e-mail us.
- Where is Tibet?
- Tibet is a plateau region located in central Asia. The Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR), or Xizang, is a southwestern province of China. Other Tibetan ethnic and cultural areas, such as Amdo and Kham, are located in the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan.
- Is Tibet safe?
- Yes, Tibet is safe. Tourism was affected by the unrest in 2008, but things are back to normal now, albeit with greater restrictions. While you should take normal precautions when traveling, there is no reason to worry about your safety in Tibet.
- What’s the best way to experience Tibet?
- The best way to experience Tibet is to go there! Lhasa is a great place to visit historic sites and get a glimpse of modern Tibetan life, while Amdo and Kham are the best places to see traditional nomadic culture. For an authentic, fulfilling visit to Tibet, you must have a native Tibetan guide. Many of the Chinese guides are relocated from other areas of China and don’t have a real understanding of the people or culture of Tibet that make it so amazing.SnowLion Tours is a Tibetan-owned and run business. We are fully committed to providing our customers with highly-qualified Tibetan guides, drivers, porters, and cooks. We believe it’s the best way to share our culture with you.
- When is the best time to visit Tibet?
- Peak season is April-October, though you can visit any time of year. In the summer, the weather is warm, the trees are green, and the flowers are blooming. It is best to trek in the spring, summer, or fall, and there are numerous festivals during these seasons.Tibet is also great during the winter.
In the winter, Tibetans from all over the plateau flock to Lhasa to go on pilgrimage. There are very few tourists and great off-season deals on hotel and ticket prices. Though Lhasa is cold (-10C to 10C/14F-50F), it is certainly not frigid. If you can, try to go during Losar, the Tibetan New Year (usually held in February). It’s one of the best festivals all year.
Amdo and Kham are colorful places to visit in the winter, though it is cold and snowy. Still, for those interested in reaping all the advantages of the low-season, they are excellent destinations. During the Tibetan New Year Losar Festival, which lasts two weeks, it is possible to drive from town to town, celebrating with the people from each village. (We think this is one of our best trips.)
Heavy snow makes it difficult to travel to Ngari in the winter, though it is still possible.
If you plan to visit Mt. Kailash, Mt. Amyne Machen, Kawa Karpo, or Namtso Lake, definitely go in the summer, when the passes are not blocked by snow.
If you’d like to plan your trip around a Tibetan festival or see which festivals coincide with your trip, please consult our 2010 Tibetan Festival Calendar.
- What visas and permits do I need to visit Tibet?
In order to visit Tibet, you will first need a Chinese visa. It is easiest to apply for a Chinese visa through an embassy or consulate in your home country.
If you visit the Tibetan Autonomous Region, you will also need a Tibet Travel Permit, a tour guide, and if you travel outside Lhasa, a car and driver.
If you visit the ethnic Tibetan regions of Amdo and Kham, you will only need a Chinese visa.
- When I’m applying for a Chinese visa, should I write “Tibet” as one of my destinations?
- No! Do not mention Tibet in your application, as it may cause your visa to be denied or delayed!
You do not have to visit the places you list on your visa application. Feel free to write whatever you’d like, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, or Kunming.
It is totally legal to visit Tibet even if you didn’t write Tibet on your visa application.
- How do I get a Tibet Travel Permit?
- All foreigners entering the Tibetan Autonomous Region require a Tibet Travel Permit issued from the Tibet Tourism Bureau in Lhasa. You cannot apply for one directly; you must go through a travel agency to obtain one. The permit takes approximately 5-10 days to process. We’ll need a scanned color copy of your passport and Chinese visa to process the permit.
Please see our page on Tibet Travel Permit for more info.
- How do I get there?
There are three ways of traveling to the Tibetan Autonomous Region: flying into Lhasa, taking a train into Lhasa, or hiring a land cruiser. You can enter via China or Nepal.
If you visit the ethnic Tibetan regions of Amdo and Kham, it is best to enter through the Chinese cities of Xining or Chengdu, respectively.
- How do I get plane tickets?
- If you are flying to Xining or Chengdu, which are gateway cities to the Amdo and Kham regions of Tibet, you can ask a travel agency to buy tickets for you or book them yourself at the following websites:
If you are flying to Lhasa, you can ask a travel agency to buy a ticket for you or book them yourself, using the websites listed above. However, when you board the plane to Lhasa, you will need to show the original copy of your Tibet Travel Permit.
- How do I get train tickets?
- You can ask a travel agency to book your train tickets or go to the train station and book them yourself. Many train stations in China have an English-speaking service window, though they can occasionally be difficult to find. Depending on the city where you book your tickets, you can book your tickets 20 days before your departure.
In the summer, which is the high season for tourism to Tibet, tickets prices increase and can be difficult to get, so it is best to have some flexibility in your schedule in case you can’t get tickets for the day you intended to depart.
Note: Tibet Travel Permits will be checked on trains bound for Lhasa. While there have been rare reports of some foreigners not having their permits checked on the train, this is the exception rather than the rule. You are taking a risk of getting kicked off the train if you travel without a permit. Since 2013, most of train station police collecting a copy of your permits before you entry the train station.
- How do I hire a land cruiser to go to Tibet?
- Contact a travel agency about arranging a land cruiser to Tibet. In the Amdo and Kham regions, it is fine to just hire a land cruiser, but if you are going to the Tibetan Autonomous Region, you will also need to obtain a Tibet Travel Permit and hire a tour guide.
It is possible to travel via the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, the Yunnan-Tibet Highway, and the Qinghai-Tibet Highway. Along the way your permits will be frequently checked.
Foreigners are not allowed to take public buses into Tibet.
- Can I ride a bicycle into Tibet?
- Sure! Cycling on the Tibetan plateau is difficult and tiring and the men and women who choose to try it out are uncommon and brave. If you choose to cycle in Amdo and Kham, all you need is your bike! If you ride into Tibet, you will need a Tibet Travel Permit, land cruiser, and tour guide. The driver and tour guide will follow behind you in the land cruiser. Road checks are frequent, so at this point plan on following all the rules if you want to enter Tibet via bike.
- Can I come to Tibet via Nepal?
- Yes! It is easier to arrange a trip to Tibet via mainland China, but it is also possible to come to Tibet via Nepal.
Travel agencies in Nepal can arrange trips to Tibet for you, but as they work with travel agencies in Lhasa, it is usually cheaper to contact a travel agency in China yourself.
If you come to Lhasa via Nepal, you can come by plane or land cruiser.
If already have a Chinese visa before you enter Lhasa via Nepal, it will be cancelled. All foreign tourists to Lhasa who come via Nepal must come on a group visa. These group visas are not in your passport; they are pieces of paper with a list of the travelers’ names. You have to enter and exit China with the people listed on the group visa, so do not plan on splitting up! These group visas are usually about 21 days and cannot be extended.
- What does my tour guide do? Do I really need one?
- If you travel in Amdo and Kham you do not need a tour guide. However, if you do not speak Tibetan or Chinese, you may find it a bit difficult to communicate, get around, or discover the best local spots without one!
If you travel to Lhasa or anywhere else inside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, you are required to have both a tour guide and a hired car. While you are free to wander around Lhasa on your own if you please, you will definitely need to bring your guide with you if you visit the Potala Palace, Drepung Monastery, or Sera Monastery. Your travel agency will be fined if you go to these places without a tour guide, so please act responsibly.
If you travel outside of Lhasa, your tour guide must accompany you in the land cruiser. There are frequent road checks that will check to make sure you are following the rules.
- Do I need a tour guide and driver if I just want to spend a few days in Lhasa?
- Short answer: You DON’T need a driver, but you DO need a guide.
If you only stay in Lhasa and do not travel outside the city, you do NOT need to hire a driver. Foreigners are allowed to take public buses in Lhasa.
If you stay in Lhasa and do not travel to the Potala Palace, Drepung Monastery, or Sera Monastery, you are free to wander around the city and visit many places without a guide. HOWEVER, as part of rules regarding travel in the region, you still need to pay for a guide for the duration of your stay in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, even if you don’t use him.
- Can I choose where to stay? How do I know which hotel to pick?
- Yes, you may decide where you want to stay, as long as it is a hotel that is allowed to host foreigners.
If you stay in Lhasa, you must make your reservations through the travel agency that arranges your Tibet Travel Permit.
The Lonely Planet guidebook is a good resource to consult for places to stay in Lhasa, Amdo, and Kham. In Lhasa, a double room with bathroom goes for 180 RMB in the high season and 120 RMB in the low season. A bed in a dorm-style room will go for 35 RMB to 60 RMB.
You do not need to reserve hotel rooms outside of Lhasa. You can book a room upon your arrival, though there is a chance that they’ll have no vacancies. Your travel agency can help contact hotels beforehand to reserve rooms for you if need be. And it’s best to book your hostel or hotel room beforehand if you’re traveling to Xining or Chengdu!
- Where should I stay in Lhasa?
- Stay in the old Tibetan quarter! It is the best way to immerse yourself in the local culture and it’s also convenient to tourist sites, shops, restaurants, and bars.
Here are a few recommendations:
add: 100 Beijing East Road
A high-quality Tibetan-owned hotel with a great location, nice double rooms, dormitory-style beds in the basement, and a rooftop restaurant.
add: 5 Ongto Shingka Lam
This small, tasteful hotel is owned by an Amdo Tibetan family. It offers 2 bed, 3 bed and 5 bed dormitory rooms as well as Tibetan-style breakfast and dinner.
add: 149 Beijing East Road
This hotel is one of the classier affordable options in Lhasa. It has private bedrooms with attached bath, wifi in the rooms, a great restaurant, and a fabulous location near the Barkor Market.
phone: *86-0891-6323462 / +86.15810474160
add: 105 Beijing Dong Lu
This Tibetan-owned hotel is an old-time favorite of backpackers. It has double rooms and 2 and 3 bed dormitory rooms. It’s a little cold in the winter, but the location is great and there’s an internet cafe, bar, and Tibetan restaurant inside the hotel.
House of Shambhala
phone: +86-10-6402-7151 / 7152
add: No. 7 Kirey Lane
This high-end boutique hotel is located in a traditional Tibetan courtyard home. If you’re looking for a hotel that’s both fancy and authentic, this is it. It is staffed by Tibetans and owned by a foreigner working on culturally sustainable projects in the area.
- Can I design my own itinerary?
- Yes! You can choose where you want to visit and how many days you want to spend there. Check out the itineraries posted on this website for ideas. We can customize your trip any way you like.
Just keep in mind:
In the Tibetan Autonomous Region you will need a tour guide and driver if you go outside of Lhasa. If you stay in Lhasa, you only need a tour guide.
In Amdo and Kham, you do not require a tour guide or driver, though they’re very useful if you want to follow a specific itinerary and schedule. Foreigners are allowed to take public buses in Amdo and Kham. If you speak Chinese or Tibetan (or are great at gesturing), have a flexible schedule, and don’t mind public transportation, it is totally possible to travel by yourself around Amdo and Kham. Just be warned: the public buses are smoky, bumpy, and a little dirty.
- What time do I have to go back to my hotel at night?
- There is no curfew in Tibet; you may stay out as late as you please! Many bars, clubs, and internet cafes are open very late. You may freely come and go from your hotel, but keep in mind that if you come back late you may have to wake up someone to open the main door or gate for you.
- I’m really interested in hiking Tibet. Can you give me any advice?
- Besides the normal rundown on being in good physical shape and taking precautions to acclimatize before undertaking any vigorous activity, we have lots of experience and advice on hiking in Tibet.
Hiking is possible in Amdo, Kham, Lhasa, and Ngari. We have a number of hiking itineraries on hand. They range from 2 to 10 days.
Hiking is technically possible any time of the year, though May – October is definitely the best time to go. We can arrange porters, yaks, horses, guides, and cooks.
You can bring your own equipment, or buy or rent it in Xining, Chengdu, or Lhasa. Oftentimes, buying the equipment can be cheaper than renting it! It is easy to find tents, sleeping bags, camping stoves, and warm clothes (if you didn’t bring enough).
The Lonely Planet Tibet and Mapping the Tibetan World have great tips on hiking and mention a few good routes.
Please see our Himalayan Trekking page for more info.
- Should I worry about altitude sickness?
- The Tibetan plateau averages over 4,000m and every year there are tourists who suffer from altitude sickness. Flying into Lhasa from a lower altitude city puts you at a high risk of altitude sickness. It is better to slowly acclimatize by flying in from Xining or Chengdu, taking a train, or hiring a car.
Once you arrive in Lhasa, or at any high altitude, it is best to take a day of rest and stay at the same altitude for a few days before traveling to a higher altitude.
Small oxygen tanks are available for purchase in Lhasa. It may also be worth talking to your doctor about taking Diamox, the “altitude sickness” medicine.
For more information, visit BaseCamp MD.
- How are the medical facilities in Tibet?
- Xining, Chengdu, and Lhasa all have high-quality medical facilities. Smaller towns in Tibet generally have clinics, but it is best to try to get to a hospital in a city if possible.
(Short story: We once had a customer who got appendicitis on the way to Everest Base Camp. We took him back to Lhasa, where he got an appendectomy. Our company staff stayed with him 24 hours/day until he recovered. Not that we advise getting surgery in Lhasa, but if you do, we will be with you all the way.)
We recommend you bring with you any medications you might need during your trip, including prescriptions, cold medicine, diarrhea and upset-stomach medicine, and sunscreen. Don’t forget the sunscreen!
- What vaccines do I need for Tibet?
- All travelers should visit either their personal physician or a travel health clinic 4-8 weeks before departure.
For a list of recommended vaccines, please visit: MD Travel Health
- What do I need to know about cell phones, computers, internet, and electrical plugs in Tibet?
- Any phone with international calling should work in Tibet. It is also possible to buy a top-up SIM card in Tibet and put it into your phone. If you need to buy a cell phone in Tibet, a cheap one will cost about 200Y. Local calling costs about 0.3Y/min and slightly more for long-distance domestic calling. It is also possible to enable your Tibet-based cell phone for international calling.
If you choose to bring your laptop or netbook, there are many wifi spots in Xining, Chengdu, and Lhasa. However, wireless internet is generally harder to access outside the cities. All cities and most towns have internet cafes where you can go online for about 3-10Y per hour. Most computers at internet cafes are set up with webcams and headsets if you want to make Skype calls.
Electricity in Tibet is 220 Volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second. You will require a voltage converter if you are carrying a device that does not accept these specifications. There are a variety of electrical outlets in Tibet, including the European socket with two circular pins, the American socket with two flat parallel blades, and Chinese socket with three blades in a slanted, triangular formation.
- Amdo and Kham Tibet worth to visit? Does this area need permits to travel?
- Both Amdo Tibet and Kham Tibet does not require to obtain a Tibet Permits to visit. The traditional Tibetan region of Amdo and Kham, is located on the northeast and south east corner of the Tibetan Plateau . Though most of Amdo and lies in modern day Qinghai province, large regions also are located in southwestern Gansu and northern Sichuan provinces. Roughly 1.6 million Tibetans live in Amdo which accounts for over 25% of the total Tibetan population. Amdo is famous for producing some of Tibet’s most famous spiritual leaders including Tsongkhapa, 14th Dalai Lama and the late 10th Panchen Lama.
While Kham region offers you spectacular landscape and traditional Khampa way of welcome. The Kham region of Tibet is located in the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Xizang, Qinghai, and Yunnan. Kham is known for its verdant grasslands, craggy mountains, and pure rivers. The most famous Tibetan horse festivals Yushu Horse Festival and Litang Horse Festival take place every summer in Kham, where Tibetans compete and show off their riding skills. Tibetans from Kham have a reputation for being as loyal as they are tough. Many carry traditional swords and walk with a swagger, but are quick to invite you into their yak-hair tents for a cup of butter tea. Both Amdo and Kham region is one the most beautiful area of Tibet, 80% of Amdo and Kham Tibetans are Nomads. Amdo and Kham offers great opportunities for photographing or recording grassland, nomads yak hair tents, snow mountains, holy lakes, yaks and sheep, blue skype, traditional life style, traditional songs,etc. There are also some famous monasteries in Tibet such as Kumbum Monastery, Rongwu Monastery, Labrang Monastery, Dege Printing House, Dzochen Monastery, Serthar Monastery.etc. We arrange tours across Tibet Plateau and Amdo and Kham become popular in recent years due to less restrictions to visit and better experience with Tibetan lifestyle.
No permits required to visit Amdo and Kham Tibet.