How to Plan a China Tibet Tour in 2023/2024
Traveling to China and Tibet as one joint tour is a huge adventure for most people, visiting the fourth largest country in the world. Populated with more than 1.4 billion people, China is also one of the oldest civilizations in the world, with a history that dates back almost 5,000 years. Similarly, Tibet has been a civilized region for more than 3,500 years, and these ancient lands have a wealth of history, culture, and religious importance that is one of the main reasons for visiting.
Planning such an adventure, however, may be a little harder. There are may things to consider when traveling to China and Tibet, such as the documents you will need, how to get there, when to go, where to go, and much more. In order to help you with this, we offer all the help you will need in making sure the planning of your trip turns into the best tour ever.
Get Required Travel Documents in Advance
Probably the most important part of the planning is knowing how and where to get all the required documents for your China Tibet tour. All countries have rules on tourism and entry visas, and for China, there is also the additional documents that you will need for the trip to the Tibet Autonomous Region to think about.
The main document, and the first to get, is the Chinese Entry Visa, which allows you entry into mainland China, in order to get to Tibet for that leg of your tour. Visas can be applied for at the nearest Embassy of the People’s Republic of China and must be applied for personally in most countries. Applications require you to provide your valid passport with at least six months of validity remaining at the expected time of travel, two passport-sized photos, proof of your booked hotels and flights in and out of the country, and the fee for the visa.
For the Tibetan leg of the tour, you will need to have another document, known as the Tibet Travel Permit, which is required for entry into and travel around the region. However, this cannot be applied for personally, due to the restriction on Tibetan travel for foreign tourists. Independent travel in Tibet is not permitted for foreign nationals, and tours must be booked through a registered tour operator such as Tibet Vista in order to meet the requirements for visiting Tibet.
The tour operator is the one who will make the application for the Tibet Travel Permit on your behalf. The application requires scanned copies of your passport and Chinese Entry Visa and takes around 15-20 days to be approved. Once it is approved, your permit will be delivered to your hotel room in China, ready for your trip to Tibet.
How Many Days to Go for Your China Tibet Tour
Working out how long you want to stay in China and Tibet is another concern for many people. The first thing to do is get in touch with a reputable and trustworthy tour operator to discuss your option on visiting Tibet.
Our friendly and professional tour advisors will be more than happy to explain all about the places in Tibet that you might have already thought of visiting, and can suggest other places that you might like, based on the preferences you give to them. Once you have discussed the details of where to go, and how long to spend in Tibet, you can confirm the tour booking with the tour advisor.
Travel Days for Your Tibet Tour
In general, different areas and tours of Tibet have a rough number of days that are optimal for traveling around the region and seeing the places you want to visit. While this is not an exact requirement, and you can change the number of days you want to stay in any place at your whim, our advisors can help you decide which tour suits you best, or whether you want to customize your trip.
For trips that only incorporate Lhasa and the surrounding area, 4-6 days is the norm, with the longer tours taking in sights such as Lake Namtso or Lake Yamdrok, two of Tibet’s sacred lakes. If you are planning a visit to Everest Base Camp (EBC), then a tour of at least 8 days is required, to allow for a few days in Lhasa acclimatizing to the increased altitude and seeing the sights, and the travel time across the region.
Longer tours are also available as standard, such as the 15-day tour from Lhasa to Mount Kailash, which includes a three-day trekking trip around the kora route of Mount Kailash. This also includes a tour of the sights in Lhasa for the first few days while you acclimatize, as well as stops at Gyantse, Shigatse, and Everest Base Camp en route to the sacred mountain.
Travel Days for Your China Tour
Once you have worked out your itinerary and booked your tour of Tibet, it is time to work out how long you will stay in each location in China. On average, most tourists in China tend to spend between two and four days in each city they are visiting to get the best experience of the location. Again, this is not a requirement, and you can move around as you wish, since there are very few restrictions on foreign tourism in mainland China.
Once you have the tour and times sorted, you need to work out how to get to Tibet from mainland China. Obviously, you will also have to sort out flights to China in the first place, and depending on your country of origin, you can often find the best information on these from flight comparison websites or your local international travel agent.
There are three ways to travel to Tibet from mainland China; by flight, by train, and overland by car. The flights are the fastest option, and take from 2-9 hours to get to Lhasa, depending on the departure airport location within China. However, this is an expensive option, and not always the best option unless time is of an issue.
The trains to Tibet are fast becoming the most popular option, with around half of all our clients taking the train to Tibet from one of the seven gateway cities across mainland China. Trains leave daily from Guangzhou in Guangdong Province, as well as from Shanghai and Beijing in the east of the country. From Chongqing, Chengdu in Sichuan Province, Lanzhou in Gansu Province, and Xining in Qinghai Province, the trains depart for Tibet every other day, so it is essential to know what days the trains leave on to make sure you are there at the right time and date. This information is normally on your ticket, which you can buy from any station in China up to 60 days before your date of departure, or online through any of the approved travel agents. We can also help you with booking your ticket for the trains to Tibet. For all trains, you need to allow between one and three days for the travel time, as it can take between 22 and 55 hours for the trains to get to Lhasa, depending on your departure location.
There is also the option of traveling overland to Tibet, from either Xining or Chengdu. These overland trips do require you to have a driver with you for the mainland China part of the trip, and a guide and driver for the Tibetan leg of the journey. Driving in China is not permitted for foreign tourists, and travel in Tibet must be with a tour guide and driver in a private vehicle at all times when outside the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. The average time needed is normally around ten days for these road trips, as they cover around 2,000 kilometers of driving.
When is the Best Time to Go?
Deciding when to go to Tibet often depends on your commitments at home, such as family, work, children, etc. However, there are certain times of year when it is advantageous to visit Tibet for different reasons. For those that do not like the cold, and can put up with a busy tourist season, summer is the best time to go, as it is the peak season for Tibetan tourism, and the warmest time of the year across the region. With temperatures reaching around 22-24 degrees in Lhasa, the summer months are a beautiful time to travel. And despite it being monsoon season in Tibet, there is not much rain that actually falls in the west of Tibet, and where it does rain a lot, it is normally in the evening and overnight.
Spring and autumn are the best times to go if you are into trekking or wish to visit the stunning Mount Everest at the best time of year. While not as warm as summer, the skies are clearer and the weather is comfortable, even at the base camp at 5,200 meters. However, it can get chilly in the evenings and at night, so warm sweaters are necessary.
Winter is the time of snow in the Himalayas, although it does not normally snow much in December and January. The coldest month is February, when the region is actually closed to foreign tourism for the Losar (New Year) celebrations. Until then, Tibet in winter is not as cold as many people think, and with fewer tourists traveling to the region from November to January, it is the perfect time to go if you want some peace from crowded attractions and buses full of noisy tourists.
More Preparations for Your China Tibet Tour
Currency Used in China and Tibet
In addition to the normal preparations for travel, there are a few other things to know about traveling to China that you need to be aware of. The currency in both mainland China and Tibet is the Chinese Yuan, or “renminbi”, normally written as “CNY” or “RMB”, or with the sign, “¥”. Banks can change your currency in most major cities across China, as well as in Lhasa and Shigatse. However, there are few places to change currency in the areas outside the major cities in Tibet, and no ATMs at all outside Lhasa, so you should make sure you have enough local currency to cover your entire trip to Tibet before you leave for Lhasa.
Phone Access in China and Tibet
Depending on your mobile provider, there may be very high charges for using your cellphone on roaming in China. Some local Chinese provider have prepaid SIM cards for tourists, that are valid for a limited time, and these can be found in most telecom stores. Cell coverage in Lhasa is good for most Chinese Networks, and there are now only a few places in Tibet that tourists visit where you cannot get any signal at all.
Most hotels and larger guesthouses have Wi-Fi, depending on location, and there are internet cafes in the major cities now. However, your access to the internet is restricted to only what is allowed for Chinese people, and certain sites that you might use regularly are often blocked by the networks. If you are traveling and need to access an online site that is blocked, you can download and use a good, trusted VPN service that will route you to an international server instead.
Voltage in China and Tibet
For your electrical devices, they should be rated to use either 110/220 volts (normally used in the United States), or 220-240 volts (the standard for Europe and the United Kingdom). Most Chinese sockets have ports for three-pin flat pinned plugs and two-pin flat or round pinned plugs. While the U.S. standard plug may fit, the U.K. and European one will not. Whichever you have, it is best to get an adaptor before you leave that can convert your devices’ chargers to the local design. You should also use a transformer if your devices run only on 100/110 volts, as in japan, as directly plugging the device to the Chinese sockets is dangerous and will cause the device to burn out.
Avoid Altitude Sickness when You Arrive in Tibet
Altitude sickness is the one thing to watch out for when you get to Lhasa. Caused by the increase in altitude and the thinner atmosphere, it can result in severe headaches, nausea, tiredness, fatigue, and a general feeling of malaise. It is best to rest and let your body adapt to the higher altitude, which it will given a day or two of relaxing. Avoid strenuous activity and such things as alcohol and tobacco, as these can aggravate the symptoms of altitude sickness. You should also eat good, high-protein meals in small amounts regularly, and drink plenty of water to combat dehydration.
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