9 Useful Lhasa Travel Tips for Your First-time Lhasa Tour
Planning your first Tibet tour to Lhasa but nervous about what you will encounter and how to arrange the tour? Here, you will find ways you can enter Lhasa from Mainland China and Nepal using air, train, and land, learn about why you should consider visiting Lhasa during winter, understand why you need at least 4 days in Lhasa and what you can do in the time frame, get acquainted to local teahouses, pilgrims kora, and monasteries in Lhasa, how to enjoy the nightlife in Lhasa, and finally where to stay when in Lhasa.
Enter Lhasa from Mainland China either by air, by train or by land
One of the best and the easiest ways to get to Lhasa is to enter Tibet from mainland China. The most prominent gateway cities, like Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Xining offer smooth entry to Lhasa with several options to choose from. There are seven direct trains to Tibet, a good bunch of flights to Lhasa every day, and four highways that lead to Lhasa from the mainland.
Train to Lhasa from Mainland China
Taking a train to Lhasa is the cheapest way to get to Tibet. The world’s highest Qinghai-Tibet Railway has attracted millions of tourists to Tibet after its competition in July 2006. Also known as the ‘railway to heaven’, this route offers a sensational glimpse of calm and perfectly transparent Qinghai Lake, enormous Gobi Desert, vast grassland of northern Tibet plateau, and breathtaking snow-capped Tanggula Mountains. Although it is a long journey of over 20 hours from Xining to Lhasa, the sight makes every hour worth it.
Apart from the amazing landscapes along the way, the best aspect about taking a Tibet train is that it will help you acclimatize to the altitude a bit better as you will be starting from a lower altitude to gradually higher.
The popular Qinghai-Tibet Railway routes to Lhasa are from Beijing to Lhasa, from Xining to Lhasa, from Shanghai to Lhasa, from Chengdu to Lhasa, and from Guangzhou to Lhasa.
Flight to Lhasa from Mainland China
Taking a flight to Lhasa is the most convenient way to get to Tibet as it is fast, and you do not have to spend a coon’s age. Unlike the prolonged train ride, you fly to Tibet in a short time of fewer than 3 hours from Chengdu and Xining directly. Other cities offer direct flights to Lhasa include Chongqing, Kunming, Xian, and Shangri-la. It is also convenient to take a connecting flight from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and some other major cities in mainland China to Lhasa.
Highway to Lhasa from Mainland China
Hitting the roads is the most expensive and tiresome way taking 7 – 15 days to reach Lhasa. While this may be true, you will be experiencing heart-stirring scenes on the way and it is absolutely recommended. With the new roads been built recently, driving to Tibet has been one of the most popular ways to get to the plateau. Taking an overland tour to Tibet allows you for more exploration and if you are a hardy adventurer wanting to experience the drive to the roof of the world, this route is extremely tempting. This is the perfect choice for travelers who are looking to experience heavenly landscapes, discover local culture and traditions, and most importantly, letting the taste buds delve into delectable local food.
Recently, the major highways leading to Lhasa are Sichuan-Tibet Highway (8 days estimated), Qinghai-Tibet Highway (1 day estimated), Xinjiang-Tibet Highway (15-20 days estimated), and Yunnan-Tibet Highway (12 days estimated).
Kathmandu to Lhasa is the best way for those who do not have Chinese Visa yet
Traveling from Kathmandu to Lhasa is the most suitable way for a lot of international travelers who do not have a Chinese visa, because it is very convenient to get Tibet Permits and Chinese Visa from Nepal.
Also, as the busiest gateway to Lhasa after mainland China, Nepal has daily flights to Lhasa and the Sino-Nepal friendship highway connecting to Lhasa.
Kathmandu to Lhasa by Flight
Taking a flight to Lhasa from Kathmandu is a perfect choice for travelers who are in an ephemeral holiday. The Kathmandu to Lhasa flights are as short as 2-3 hours, but you will be missing out on the panoramic outlooks. There are 2 direct flights between Lhasa and Kathmandu, run by Sichuan Airline and Air China. These airlines depart alternate days calculating to 8 flights per week.
Kathmandu to Lhasa overland
If you are an adventurer, taking a Kathmandu to Lhasa overland tour is the most electrifying way to reach your destination. While it will take a long 8-day trip to get to Lhasa including sightseeing on your way, your journey will be undoubtedly worthwhile. This trip can be truly a journey of a lifetime experience as it offers glorious views of the Himalayan peak, huge glaciers, sacred lakes, and also the picturesque Tibetan landscape and scenery. So, if you are not in a hurry, be a free bird and envelop yourself along the road from Kathmandu to Lhasa.
Consider visiting Lhasa in winter for a cheaper price and fewer crowds
Most people travel Lhasa during the warmer months between May and October when it is greener and beautiful. Everyone makes wrong assumptions that Tibet is unbearably cold with heavy snow. While it is cold during winter, it is not what most people think; the daily temperature of Lhasa is above 10 degrees Celsius during the day or even warmer due to sunlight to around zero during nighttime. The intensive sunshine can actually make you comfortable as you admire the charm of Lhasa. The winter may be one of the best times to visit Lhasa for a lot of tourists. December and January are also dry months where you will find clear skies and bountiful sunshine. With the clear skies and sunshine come fabulous views. So, this is the perfect time to put your cameras to work and capture the artistry of Lhasa.
Since the winter is considered a low season, you will find fewer tourists. It is a lot easier to find deals on air tickets and hotels. So, not only, you can find cheaper deals on your travel and accommodation, you are likely to have a fun and cozy trip with fewer people around.
Winter is also a great time to bond with the locals. Losar, the Tibetan New Year which takes place in late winter is an amazing way to explore the Tibetan cultural moment. You will also experience pilgrims from all around Tibet coming to Lhasa to visit major monasteries and this might be an incredible opportunity to connect with the culture.
Plan at least 4 days for your first Lhasa Tour
Lhasa, ‘the spiritual heart of Tibet’ deserves at least a week to be explored. However, if you are on a short trip bound by time, it is still recommended to plan notably 4 days for your first Lhasa tour. This itinerary should be enough for you to visit the most popular and important sights inside Lhasa. The 4 days Lhasa tour is enough to give the tourists a staggering and startling experience.
The first day you arrive in Lhasa, it is highly recommended to rest and get a good sleep to acclimate with the conditions since Lhasa sits on a very high altitude of 3650 meters above the sea level. It might also be a good time to walk around and explore the local area to adjust to the environment.
The next two days will be set for sightseeing and touring the most important places in Lhasa. In these two days, you can explore the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Bazaar (Buddhists Pilgrimage circuit). While touring these places, it is common to take a sip of the local Tibetan tea and walk around the old market. You can also visit the Drepung monastery and Sera monastery, two of the great three Gelug monasteries of Tibet.
The last day will be scheduled for departure. Look back and let Lhasa amaze you with its beauty once again in the near future!
Do not miss the local Tibetan Tea House
Traditional Tea houses in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet is a momentous part of the local culture. On any trip to Tibet, you cannot miss a chance to have a cup of sweet tea in a local tea house while experiencing leisure teatime as the locals do. Locals in Tibet spend their time in tea houses socializing, exchanging information, and entertaining each other.
Most teahouses have their own specialties. The local Tibetan families running these tea houses often have their own unique recipes. However, there are some local snacks you need to try in a tea house:
● Tibetan noodles served with soup and vegetables, meat, or both
● Tibetan Dumplings (Momos) served steamed or fried.
● Tibetan Tea – Butter tea and sweet tea. Butter tea made of strong black tea and mixed with butter. Sweat tea is a uniquely brewed tasty milk tea with some sugar.
You will find plenty of tea houses while strolling down the old streets of Lhasa. Nonetheless, there are the most popular and recommended tea houses you should try:
● CangGusi Sweet Tea House
● Guang Ming Sweet Tea House
● Luo Qu Sweet Tea House
● Shan Dong Sweet Tea House
● Ni Ma Tea House
So, take some time and enjoy the vibe as you sip your sweet tea. It is the favorite place of the locals, maybe it will be yours too!
Do experience Pilgrim Kora in Lhasa
Kora in Tibetan means "circumambulation" or "revolution". Pilgrim kora is a path around a temple or a sacred site that is performed by walking in a clockwise direction. You will see Tibetan Buddhists come to Lhasa from all over Tibet to perform kora. The pilgrim kora is a great way to observe Tibetan pilgrims and their religion and is something you need to experience.
Barkhor Kora and Lingkhor Kora are two of the most popular pilgrim koras in Lhasa. Barkhor Street is in the central downtown of Lhasa. Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims walk clockwise on Barkhor Street around the Jokhang Temple, the first Buddhist temple and the most important temple in Lhasa, to demonstrate their respect. The Barkhor street is lined with shops selling goods to pilgrims and tourists. This can be a great chance to visit some local handicraft shops selling knives, prayer wheels, and traditional clothes.
The Lingkhor Kora follows the most interesting section of the city's main pilgrimage circuit with the destination being the Potala Palace. This 8-kilometer ling circuit offers Chagpo Ri rock carvings, Kunde Ling, and Gesar Ling temples on the way.
Dos and don’ts when taking the Lhasa Kora
● Always proceed clockwise during pilgrimage walk.
● Do ask their permission first if you want to take photo of Tibetan pilgrims.
● Always respect Tibetans’ beliefs and lifestyle to avoid conflict with the locals.
● Putting on a sunhat, sunglasses, and sun cream might be important to protect yourself from sunburn.
The best 3 monasteries out of 20+ temples in Lhasa for your first Lhasa tour
The unique city of Lhasa is home to dozens of ancient temples and monasteries. While there are around 22 temples including nunneries, the best monasteries in Lhasa can be listed as Jokhang Temple, Drepung Monastery, and Sera Monastery.
Jokhang Temple, also known as the ‘spiritual center of Tibet,’ is considered to be the holiest destination for all Tibetan pilgrims. It is also listed in the World Cultural Heritages. The meaning of Jokhang is ‘House of the Buddha’. Visiting Jokhang Temple while in Lhasa is a great way to observe the religious part of Tibet and experience the devotion of Tibetans.
Drepung Monastery, one of Three Greatest Monasteries in Lhasa, once used to be the largest monastery in the world with 10,000 monks. Drepung Monastery is embraced on three sides by mountains. Drepung, in Tibetan means collecting rice and when you look at the monastery, you will find a group of grand white buildings occupying a large area just like a huge heap of rice.
Sera Monastery is one of the big monasteries in Lhasa and is also the last Buddhist monastery to be built. One of the most interesting aspect about this sacred place is that there is a debating session on Buddhist doctrines among the monks at the Debate Courtyard of Sera Monastery.
Here is a list of all temples and monasteries in Lhasa:
Jokhang Temple, Ramoche Temple, Ganden Monastery, Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Drak Yerpa, Drigung Monastery, Kundeling Monastery, Muru Nyingba Monastery, Nechung, Nenang Monastery, Nyêmo Chekar monastery, Nyethang Drolma Temple, Reting Monastery, Taklung Monastery, Tsomon Ling, Tsurphu Monastery, and Yangpachen Monastery.
Do enjoy the nightlife in Lhasa
Tourism has boosted the economy in Lhasa in recent years, however, the nightlife in Lhasa is still much simpler in comparison to other cities in China. This is the uniqueness that Lhasa provides with the Tibetan traditional and cultural nightlife. So, prepare yourself to experience the uncommon night lifestyle as you sit around a table and chat with friends while watching the Tibetan traditional performances and stroll around a night market.
Tianhai Night Market is the most popular and busiest night market in Lhasa. You can find all kinds of goods, including fashion clothes, articles of daily use, mobiles, home appliance, handicrafts, etc. The prominent goods you will see will oblige you to take some of it back home with you. Another popular place to walk around in Barkhor Street night market which is not only glutted with handicrafts but also packed by snack stalls. This is a perfect place for observing and experience Tibetan culture as well as haggling for a bargain.
A lot of people do not believe it, but Lhasa offers attractive bars and pubs to add to its local flavors. The young Tibetans spend their night hours in local bars and pubs. Tourists love the exotic flavors that Lhasa has to offer.
The Potala Palace is another must-see during the nighttime. As alluring Potala Palace is during the day, you will find the night view as much dazzling or even more under the lighting system with a pleasing music fountain that changes its shapes with the rising and falling of the music rhythm.
Good accommodation options in Lhasa
Perhaps the accommodation in Lhasa is relatively poor compared to major cities in mainland China, but there are still good accommodation options for you to choose from. The luxury hotels include top-end chains like Sheraton and St Regis. It is highly recommended for tourists to stay in the authentic Tibetan hotels to become closer to the local culture. Lhasa provides accommodations converted from historic mansions and even monastic residences with traditional architecture. If you are on a small budget, Lhasa also offers plenty of youth hostels and guesthouses.
Your first trip to Lhasa can be an incredible journey, one that you will never forget the rest of your life. You can access Lhasa from Mainland China and Nepal using various ways: take the flight if you are looking for convenience, take train or roadway if you are an adventurer ready for the breathtaking scenes as you continue your journey. Consider the fact that winter is cold but not unbearable; so, if you are looking to travel with a budget, winter is still a great time you start your journey. Lhasa has a lot to offer and you need to plan a 4-day trip at least to admire the elegance of this old place. If you are making a checklist for your first Lhasa trip, make sure you tick off stopping by a local teahouse, exploring the pilgrims kora, and visiting the three best monasteries: Jokhang Temple, Drepung Monastery, and Sera Monastery. You will find the nightlife in Lhasa unique from the rest of the world. And finally, if you need to place to crash, Lhasa offers accommodations ranging from luxury hotels, traditional hotels, to budget guesthouses. So, this first time Lhasa travel can be the most memorable trip and it is on you to make it the best experience of your life!
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