Best Places to Visit in Tibet for Your First Tibet Tour
Tibet is one of the world’s most mystical and mysterious lands, one in which much of the culture is the same now as it was a thousand years ago. A massively Buddhist land, Tibet is one of the most popular places to visit in Asia, with millions of tourists flocking to the region every year. For many, it is their first time to travel to this land at the roof of the world, and most do not know what to expect or what is worth seeing on their first visit.
As with any first-time trip, knowing where to go and what to see can be confusing, especially when there is as much to see and do as there is in Tibet. Officially known as the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, Tibet lies on the world’s highest plateau, shares the world’s highest mountain, and has the world’s highest monastery. Add to those the world’s highest railway, the world’s highest railway station and railway pass, the world’s highest capital city, the world’s highest freshwater lake, and another four of the world’s highest mountains above 8,000 meters.
Top Attractions for First-time Visitors to Tibet
The Tibetan plateau is a record-breaking land, in more ways than one, and is the beloved home of the devoutly religious Tibetan people. Filled with monasteries, mountains, and monks, as well as lakes, lamas, and leopards, this unique land is filled with things to see and do. But for the first-timer to enjoy a Tibet tour, there are some places that you simply must visit on your first trip, as they will give you the best insight into the Tibetan culture, the Buddhist religion, and the sheer beauty of the high-altitude Tibetan plateau.
Built in the 17th century by the fifth Dalai Lama, the Potala Palace lies on the site of a much older palace/fortress. Lying on the top of Moburi (Red Hill), the palace looks down on the city it used to govern, the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Once the center of Tibetan governance, until the palace at Norbulingka was constructed and opened in 1755, this stunning red and white structure dominates the Lhasa skyline, framed by the snow-clad Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains behind it.
Noted for being the most sacred temple in Tibetan Buddhism, this ancient temple dates back to the time of the ancient Tibetan Empire, and the old kings of Tibet. Built in the 7th century by the 33rd Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo, on the occasion of his wedding to Princess Wencheng of the ancient Tang Dynasty, this unique and sacred temple in the center of Lhasa is the beating heart of Tibetan Buddhism. Surrounded daily by pilgrims that come to prostrate and pray at its gates, the temple also holds the most revered, and possibly oldest, statue of Buddha in the world, the Jowo Rinpoche.
Yamdrok and Namtso Lakes
Two of the Great Three Holy Lakes of Tibet, Lakes Yamdrok and Namtso lie within easy reach of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and can be visited within a one-day excursion, though Namtso really should be a two-day trip. Tibet is renowned for having thousands of lakes of all sizes spread across the plateau, but none are more beautiful and more sacred than Lake Namtso, the “Heavenly Lake”, and Lake Yamdrok, the talisman and “life-spirit” of Tibet. The beauty of these lakes is spectacular, and a trip to either is worth the time it takes to get there, to gaze upon the sacred turquoise waters and stroll around the beautiful lake shore.
Located in the second city of Tibet, Shigatse, Tashilhunpo Monastery is the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, the second highest incarnation in Tibetan Buddhism. Built in 1447 by the 1st Dalai Lama, it is one of the most culturally and historically significant monasteries in Tibet. Once described as making “an impression which no time will ever efface from my mind”, this stunning monastery lies on the southern slopes of the Nyiseri Mountain, to the west of Shigatse City.
Well known around the world as the highest mountain on the planet, Mount Everest lies in the far west of Tibet, on the border with Nepal. At an elevation of 8,848 meters above sea level, the summit of this massive peak lies directly on the border between China and Nepal. One of the most visited sites in Tibet is the Northern Everest Base Camp (EBC), which is a major tourist attraction and many people’s main reason for traveling to the plateau. With stunning views of the mountain from the base camp, EBC is the best place from which to view Mount Everest on both sides of the mountain. If you have 7 days or more in Tibet, you will not miss the best Everest Base Camp Tour.
Recommended Travel Routes for Your First Tibet Tour
All tourists to Tibet need to be on a pre-booked tour, which includes a private guide, driver, and vehicle. Tours can be booked through a registered tour operator, and as the largest and best tour operator in Tibet, we offer a great service and a wide selection of tours. Many people think that Tibet is an expensive place to visit because of the need for the tour guide and driver. However, with our awesome Tibet Small Group Tours, you can travel with other like-minded people on an organized tour, even as a solo traveler, by joining the tour that meets your needs.
4 Days Lhasa City Tour
One of our most popular city break tours, this four-day Lhasa tour takes you to some of the most spectacular and sacred sites in the city. The stunning red and white Potala Palace, on the Red Hill overlooking the city, is an astounding experience, and the sacred Jokhang temple in the center of the city, the heart of Tibetan Buddhism, gives you the chance to actually see what is believed to be one of the oldest remaining states of Buddha, which is said to have been blessed by the great guru himself.
Add to that a tour that takes you out to the edges of the city to visit two of the most prominent monasteries of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism, Sera and Drepung Monasteries. Sera Monastery, famous for its animated and loud monastic debates, is an awesome experience, and Drepung Monastery, one of the largest in Tibet, was founded by a disciple of the great Buddhist Guru, Je Tsongkhapa.
8 Days Lhasa to Everest Base Camp Tour
While most tours of Tibet include the main sights of the capital, there are also plenty of tours that take you out of the city and on to bigger and more spectacular things. This amazing 8-day Everest Base Camp tour on the plateau takes you from the stunning Tibetan capital to the cities of Gyantse and Shigatse, via the stunning views of the Karola Glacier and the beautiful Lake Yamdrok. After seeing the Gyantse Kumbum and the Tashilhunpo Monastery, it is then on to stop at the world’s highest monastery, Rongbuk Monastery, which lies in the shadow of the mighty Mount Everest.
Known in Tibetan as Chomolungma, the mountain lies around 20 kilometers to the south of the monastery, although you cannot get all the way to the mountain itself. The tour takes you as far as the closest any non-climber can get to the peak of this massive mountain, the famous Northern Everest Base Camp. And, if you are there at the right time of year and there is room, you can even stay at one of the tent guesthouses that sit below the mountain in the base camp itself.
6 Days Lhasa to Lake Namtso Tour
If a trip all the way to the Nepal border for Mount Everest sounds too much for a first tour of Tibet, then there are other tours that run out of the city, but not as far. This astounding 6-day Lake Namtso tour takes you from Lhasa, once you have acclimatized and explored the delights of the City of Sunshine, to the beauty of the “Heavenly Lake”.
Lying around 200 kilometers to the north of the Tibetan capital, Lake Namtso is one of the Great Three Holy Lakes of Tibet, with the other two being Lake Yamdrok and Lake Manasarovar. Lying in Damxung County on the edge of Lhasa prefecture, Lake Namtso lies at an elevation of 4,718 meters, and is one of the highest lakes in the world. A saline lake, the smell of the saltwater on the air is as refreshing as visiting the beach, and he stunning beauty of the alpine landscape that surrounds the lake will take your breath away. With an overnight trip to Namtso, you also get the chance to lie out under the stars at night, and this location is one of the few places on the planet from where you can view the Milky Way, the galaxy in which our own planet Earth resides.
5 Days Lhasa to Yamdrok Lake Tour
In the other direction to Lake Namtso, and a lot closer to Lhasa, lies another of the great Three Holy Lakes of Tibet, Lake Yamdrok. At an altitude of 4,400 meters above sea level, this beautiful and spread-out lake is said in legends to be the remnants of the earring of the goddess, Dorje Gegkyi Tso. A major site of pilgrimage in Tibet, the lake is widely associated with the great Padmasambhava, also known as the Guru Rinpoche, the Second Buddha, who revived the failing belief in Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th century.
The trip from Lhasa to Lake Yamdrok is only a short drive of around 115 kilometers, and can be done in a couple of hours, giving you a whole day to spend at the lake, exploring the shoreline and getting one of the best views of the holy mountain, Mount Nyenchen Tanglha, the highest mountain close to Lhasa, whose peak lies at an altitude of 7,191 meters above sea level.
Things to Know before Your First Trip to Tibet
Before leaving for Tibet, there are certain things you will need to know about this high-altitude land. As a first time traveler to Tibet, a few little snippets of information can help to make your first trip to the plateau an outstanding success.
1.Apply for Tibet Travel Permit
The Tibet Travel Permit is the primary permit for travelers to Tibet, and is the most important document you will need. Applications for the TTP cannot be made in person, and have to be applied for by the tour operator on your behalf. Once you have booked your tour with us, we will make the application using scanned copies of your passport and Chinese Entry Visa.
Processing of the permit takes around 20 days, so it is important to book your tour as early as possible, to avoid any delays. The permit is required to board the train or flight to Tibet from your departure city in China, and is required as a permit for travel only in the area of Lhasa Prefecture. Outside Lhasa, other permits are also required.
2.Pay Attention to High Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness, sometimes known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), can be a debilitating illness that can ruin a good holiday. AMS is caused by the lower density of air in the atmosphere at higher altitudes, which leaves you breathless and dizzy, with headaches and some nausea as the primary symptoms. Knowing the main symptoms of altitude sickness, and what to do about it, is important when traveling in Tibet.
Altitude sickness can strike anyone, and having been to high altitudes before and not suffered from it does not mean you are immune. Nor does it have anything to do with how fit and healthy you are, since it is the lack of oxygen in each breath that causes it. However, the body does soon acclimatize to the increase in altitude, and with some rest and by avoiding strenuous exercise, smoking, and alcohol, and maintaining a healthy diet, you can help to make sure the harsher symptoms do not show up.
3.Try to Experience a Tibet Train Journey
The trip to Tibet from China can be done in one of two ways, by flight or by train. While the flight is faster, it is also much costlier. The train, however, is a much cheaper option, and has the added advantage of giving you some amazing views of northwest China and Tibet as you ride the rails to the roof of the world.
One of the most spectacular experiences of any trip to Tibet, the Tibet train that climb up to the heady heights of the plateau depart from seven gateway cities across China. Starting in Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Chongqing, Lanzhou, and Xining, the trains all pass through the Qinghai Provincial capital, Xining, before taking the Qinghai Tibet Railway across the Kunlun and Tanggula Mountain ranges, and down onto the plains of the plateau to get to Tibet.
The trip by train is fast becoming the more popular way for people to get to Tibet, and with the prices being less than half of the cost of a single flight to Lhasa, they provide a cheaper alternative for those traveling on a budget.
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