Tibet from Nepal or China: Which is the best gateway to start your Tibet tour?

Last updated: January,01 2021

Tibet lies sandwiched between mainland china to the north and east, and Nepal to the west. To the south lies the Kingdom of Bhutan, and the Indian states of West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh. Lying on its high-altitude plateau, this unique region is a favorite destination for western tourists, with its high lofty mountains, stunning lakes, and awe-inspiring Buddhist monasteries.

There are two ways in which to enter Tibet, either from mainland China or from Nepal. And while majority of travelers still choose to get to Lhasa from one of the gateway cities in China, there are those that prefer to enter from Nepal.

Differences in Getting Tibet Travel Permit

No matter which direction you enter Tibet from, or which method of transportation you use to get there, the main thing you will need is the infamous Tibet Travel permit.

Tibet Travel Permit for Tibet tours Tibet Travel Permit is the must document to enter Tibet.

Depending on whether you are entering from mainland China or Nepal, there are some subtle differences in how to obtain a Tibet Travel Permit. However, whichever way you intend to enter; you will not be able to make the application yourself.

For Enter Tibet from Mainland China

For those entering Tibet through China, there are certain steps to take before getting your Tibet Travel Permit, and the first thing you need to do is get a Chinese Entry Visa. The visa is not available on arrival, so you will need to make your application from an embassy in your home country or country of residence.

Once that is done, you can start the process of getting your Tibet Travel Permit. Once you have the visa, you can then book a Tibet tour with a registered Tibet tour operator. The tour operator will then use a scanned copy of your passport to make the application for the Tibet Travel Permit on your behalf.

The processing of getting Tibet Travel Permit normally takes up to 20 days, depending on the time of year and how busy the Tibet Tourism Bureau is with processing permits. Once completed, the permit is normally sent to your hotel in China, ready for your arrival. The permit is required for entry into and travels around Tibet, and you will not be able to board the train or flight to Lhasa without it.

For Enter Tibet from Nepal

If you are planning on entering the region from Nepal, the only country with international access to Tibet, then the procedure is a little different. A Chinese Entry Visa is not valid for travel from Nepal to Tibet, but a Group Visa is required for entering Tibet from Nepal.

You also need to arrange your Tibet Nepal tour with the tour operator and provide the scanned copy of your passport so that they can apply for Tibet Travel Permit as well as Chinese Group Visa together on your behalf.

You need to be in Kathmandu at least five working days before your departure date to Tibet, as your Group visa will be issued through Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu.

Only you get the Group Visa, can you take the flight to Tibet from Kathmandu or enter Tibet by overland from Nepal. You guide will meet you at Lhasa airport or Gyirong Border with the original Tibet Travel Permit.

Tibet Tours from Mainland China

Still the most popular route to get to Tibet, travel into mainland China first allows you to choose how to get to Tibet, and gives you the opportunity to tour in China before you leave for Tibet.

Many Ways to Go to Tibet from Mainland China

There are two main ways to get to Tibet from China. You can take the flights from one of several airports across the country, which can deliver you to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa within hours, or you can opt for the Tibet train.

The Train to Tibet from Mainland China Don’t miss the chance to take the train to Tibet from Mainland China!

Taking the flight to Tibet is far the fastest way to get to the plateau, even from such distant cities in China like Shanghai or Beijing. However, the flights to Tibet are rather expensive, and there are few discounts or deals when traveling on a domestic flight in China.

Taking the train to Tibet may be the slower option, but it has many advantages over flying. Trains leave from seven gateway cities across China to get to Lhasa, including Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing, Chengdu, Lanzhou, and Xining, and travel times range from 22 hours to 55 hours, depending on your departure city.

However, while the trip is a long one no matter where you start, it is also the cheapest way to get to Tibet and has the advantage of allowing you the spectacular views of the northern part of the Tibetan plateau, including the Tanggula and Kunlun Mountains, an opportunity that does not present itself when traveling by air.

While you may not be that interested in the views of the rice fields and cities as you pass through China, once you pass Xining in Qinghai Province, you will pass the stunning Qinghai Lake, travel over the lofty Kunlun Mountains, steam over the highest railway pass in the world at Tanggula Pass, travel through the highest tunnel in the world, and cross the vast Changtang Prairie, a huge expanse of grasslands where Tibetan nomadic herder still graze their yaks on the lush green grass of the plains.

Many Destinations to Go before Your Tibet Tour

There are also many opportunities to visit some of China’s most amazing tourist sites before you leave for Tibet. If you are in China for a period before your date of travel to Lhasa, you can spend some time traveling around the stunning sites of ancient and modern China, many of which will enthrall you with their unique beauty and amazing history.

Beijing, the capital of China, is the best gateway city for travelers that want to visit the huge Great Wall of China, the only man-made structure that can be seen from outer space.

Visit Beijing Great Wall If you start your Tibet tour from Beijing, you can visit the Great Wall as a special memory for your days in China Tibet.

Shanghai, on the shores of the East China Sea, lies on the massive Yangtze River Delta, and is one of the main tourist cities in China, with a multitude of places to see.

Xining, the closest gateway city to Tibet, is a small city in Qinghai Province, in northwest China, and lies just to the east of the Qinghai Lake, the largest lake in China and an amazing sight, as well as being the location of the unique Kumbum Monastery, known as the Ta’er Temple, and the busiest Buddhist temple in the province.

In Chengdu, you have more options than anywhere else, but the main attraction is the Chengdu Panda Base, a research and breeding center for the rare giant pandas that has been hugely instrumental in recovering the species from the brink of extinction, and which allows visitors in to see these cuddly creatures.

Not far away, in Xi’an, you have the chance to visit one of the most amazing archaeological finds of the last century, the Terracotta Warriors. Found in the 1970s in a farmer’s field outside the city limits, these unique clay statues were built to accompany the Emperor to the afterlife, and were buried with him almost 3,000 years ago.

Therefore, if it is the first time for you to come to mainland China and Tibet, it is highly recommended to take a China Tibet tour to get a panorama view of these charming destinations in the Far East.

Convenient to Get to Nepal after a China Tibet Tour

It is also convenient to extend your China Tibet tour to Nepal. While it is possible to start in Nepal, and then travel through Tibet, finishing in mainland China, it is much easier to do it the other way around. A tour starting in China, and heading to Tibet, finishing at the border with Nepal and continuing on to Kathmandu is much easier to organize than going from Nepal to China, via Tibet.

Tibet Tours from Kathmandu Nepal

For those traveling to Tibet from Kathmandu in Nepal, there are definite advantages to traveling in this direction, though the use of the train to get there is not yet an option.

Tibet Tours from Kathmandu Nepal As one of the hot travel destinations in the Himalaya Regions, Kathmandu in Nepal is a popular gateway to start a Tibet tour after journeying in south Asia.

It is easy to get to Nepal from South Asia, like India

Getting to Nepal from many of the other countries in Asia is very easy, and there are flights to the capital’s Tribhuvan International Airport from more than a dozen countries in Southeast Asia, as well as from eight cities in India. Flights to Nepal are relatively cheap from within Asia, compared to flights to other places, and even for western tourists, travel to Nepal can be done easily, with plenty of connecting flights from all across the region.

But you can only get to Tibet from Kathmandu by air or by land

The main disadvantage of traveling from Nepal to Tibet is that you only have the options of traveling by flight or overland in a car. As yet, there is no train that runs from Nepal to Tibet, though the China Nepal railway via Tibet is underway. Flights operate into Tibet from Nepal daily, and for those that do not want to fly, there is the option of traveling overland from Kathmandu to Lhasa.

>> Join in our 2021 Kathmandu to Lhasa Overland Small Group Tour


While the trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa can be an amazing experience, there is nothing to compare with the train ride from China into Lhasa, and the stunning landscapes you pass through on the route across the vast Tibetan Plateau. Not to mention the spectacular sights that you can see in China before you leave, or the awesome attractions you can visit before getting the train. Without a doubt, there is no better way to get to Tibet than from China by train.

While the overland journey from Kathmandu to Lhasa can be epic, there train journey from mainland China to Tibet is also incomparable.

When you decide where to start your Tibet tour, you should focus on what you really want to experience and notice the different documents application steps.

To offer you a hassle-free journey in China, Tibet and Nepal, we provide kinds of packaged China Tibet tours and Nepal Tibet tours. Also, you can just contact us and tell us your travel ideas. Our professional travel consultants will help you arrange your tour to Tibet according to your requirements.

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