Tibet Train Travel: How to Plan a China Tibet Train Tour
For any trip to China that includes the TAR, planning is the key element of the trip. With so many requirements to enter Tibet, even though they are all mostly handled by the tour operator, it is essential to ensure that your trip is planned to perfection to avoid any problems once you are already in China. There are many 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, what to take with you, 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.
Best time to take a Tibet train tour
Planning a trip to Tibet depends on two main things: when is the best time to come to Tibet, and when you are available to come to Tibet. Based on these two main factors, you can then decide when to plan your trip to China and Tibet and make all the arrangements for travel.
For most tourists, the best time to come to Tibet is in the summer season, from June to the end of September. This is the peak season for tourism in Tibet, and the time when the weather is at its best for the plateau. The sun is bright and the weather is warm, though it is also the monsoon season. However, the monsoon season in Tibet is unlike the monsoon in other countries, and while there is some rain that falls, it normally comes in the early evening to overnight, which leaves the daytime free and clear for sightseeing.
For those that want to avoid the biggest crowds of the year in the summer season, then there are two times when you can get the best of the plateau’s attractions without the crowds and the cold. Spring and autumn, from April to May and September to October, are popular for those wanting to go trekking on the plateau, and while not as warm as the summer months, nor is it as wet. Spring and autumn are the times when the weather is pleasant but not too hot, and with very little rain, the skies are clear and bright for viewing the high Himalayan Mountains.
If you are not available to travel to Tibet in the main season from April to October, then a winter tour is the next best thing. Contrary to what most people believe about Tibet, it is not intensely cold and covered in snow all winter long, and there are plenty of opportunities to visit the major attractions of the plateau during the winter months from November to March.
Lhasa tours are especially popular in the winter months, with few tourists to make the attractions like the Jokhang Temple and Potala Palace too crowded. It is also a good time to come for those on a budget or wishing to save money, as there are some great discounts you can avail of in the winter. Flights, hotels, and even the tours themselves can be much cheaper in the winter. It can get cold, especially in the more remote areas of the plateau, and you will need to have warm clothing for traveling around and at night. But during the day, the bright winter sun can make it feel fairly warm, with average temperatures during the day reaching as high as 1-3 degrees across the plateau.
Tibet Travel Permit: What are needed for a China Tibet train tour?
For any trip to China and Tibet, you will need to have a certain number of permits for travel on the plateau, as well as the visa you will need to get into China in the first place. The visa is a standard Chinese Entry Visa, and can be obtained from the nearest Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in your home or resident country. Processing takes around three working days, and the visa will be issued as a stamp into your passport.
For Tibet, you will need a variety of permits in order to enter and travel around the region, which includes:
Tibet Travel Permit - This is required for entry to Tibet and to travel around in the area of Lhasa. Applied for in advance by the travel agency, this can take up to 15-20 days to process.
Alien’s Travel Permit - Required for travel to the “unopened” areas of Tibet outside Lhasa, including Shigatse. Applied for by your guide once you are in Lhasa, this takes just a few hours to process.
Restricted Areas Permit - This is often called the “Military Permit”, and is required for travel to military-sensitive areas such as Ngari, Nyingchi, etc. Applied for in advance by the travel agency, this can take up to 15-20 days to process.
Frontier Pass - While most tours will not actually cross the border out of China, the Frontier Pass is required for all tourists traveling in the areas of the Chinese border with India, Nepal, and Bhutan, which includes Mount Everest and Mount Kailash. Applied for by your guide once you are in Lhasa, this takes just a few hours to process.
The permits are all applied for on your behalf by your tour operator or travel agency, and are obtained using scanned copies of your passport and visa, and in some cases, your original copy of the Tibet Travel Permit. For the Tibet Travel Permit and Restricted areas permit, it is essential to book your trip at least 30 days in advance to ensure that your documents are ready in time for your travel to the plateau.
Tibet Travel Agency: Find a Tibet Travel Agency to make your tour itinerary settled
Travel in Tibet is highly restricted, and the only way to get a tour of Tibet is to book a pre-arranged tour with a registered Tibet tour operator or travel agency. A legal tour operator will organize all of the aspects of the tour, including providing you with a private vehicle, driver, and expert guide for the duration of your stay in Tibet. However, in mainland China, there are few restrictions on travel around the country, and the main requirements for travel are dealt with when applying for the Chinese Entry Visa. In order to book a tour of Tibet, you need to find a registered travel agency such as Chinatibettrain and decide on the details of the trip with one of our expert advisors.
The first thing to do once you talk to us is to decide when you will be coming to Tibet and the number of days that you want to stay in the region. These details are often inclusive of the places that you want to visit in the region, and there are a large number of pre-arranged Small Group Tours that are available for you to choose from that have set itineraries. Alternatively, you can discuss your needs with your tour advisor and plan a private tour of the region.
Another consideration when planning and arranging your tour of Tibet is to plan and decide on how long you want to stay in mainland China and what cities and attractions you want to visit whilst there. As the tour in mainland China is part of the whole tour of China and Tibet, we can help with recommendations on the most popular attractions and cities in the country, as well as where to stay, for how long, and how to make the most of your Chinese experience.
For any China Tibet Train Tour, you will need to take into consideration the train journey to Tibet, as well as where you plan to travel to Tibet from in mainland China. There are seven gateway cities that have direct trains to Lhasa, which includes Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Lanzhou, and Xining. Guangzhou is the longest of the trips to Tibet, which can take up to 53 hours to reach the plateau, while the train from Xining in Qinghai Province is the shortest and cheapest, taking just 22 hours to reach Lhasa. This long journey time must be factored into the total time of your tour in China and Tibet so that you can plan the tour and the itinerary more carefully.
What else to Pack for a China Tibet Train Travel?
Clothing is the main part of your packing list for a trip to China and Tibet, and it is important to get the right clothing for the weather where you are going. If you are traveling around China and Tibet in the summer months, then less warm clothing is required, as even the Tibetan plateau is warm and comfortable in the summer months. If your travel period is spring or autumn, then you will need to have some warmer clothes for the trip, as it can get cold on the plateau, and even parts of mainland China can still be pretty chilly in April, May, October, and November. Warm clothes may only be needed at night or in the extreme altitudes, though, so pack carefully.
Winter is a time when even Southwest China can be fairly cold, so you need to ensure that you pack plenty of warm clothing, including thick woolen socks, sweaters, and fleece or down jackets to protect yourself from the cold of winter. On the plateau, the cold is more intense, and the further west you travel, the colder it can get, especially at night.
The whole of China uses the same currency, known as either the “yuan” or “RMB”, which stands for rénmínbì. Rénmínbì, which translates to “people’s money”, is the official currency of China, and the yuan is the basic unit of currency, which is written as the symbol “￥”. On average, one US dollars equals around 6.9 yuan, and travelers are required to change their money into RMB in order to spend or pay for anything within China. Dollars or any other international currency are not accepted anywhere in China.
This includes the Tibet Autonomous Region, and while you may be able to exchange your home currency for yuan in Lhasa or Shigatse, it may be better to do it before you travel to Tibet. In all of the cities across China you will find banks that can exchange your own currency for yuan. However, there are no ATMs outside Lhasa, so if you are using a card linked to a bank account to withdraw money in yuan, then you will need to ensure that you have enough for the entire trip outside Lhasa before you leave.
It is possible to use your own mobile phone on roaming in China and Tibet, but you are likely to incur immense charges for doing so. Instead of using your own SIM card, you can buy a local Sim card designed for tourists from several of the telecom providers in China that will give you excellent coverage in both China and Tibet. The local tourist Sim cards are valid for only a pre-designated period, and will expire at the end of the stated period. These Sim cards can be found in most telecom stores across China.
Wi-Fi is normally available in most major hotels, even in Tibet, and you can even find a good Wi-Fi signal in some of the more remote areas, as almost anywhere that you will stay will have Wi-Fi nowadays. However, whether you use the local Wi-Fi or the cellular networks to access the internet, your access will be limited to what is allowed within China, instead of the unlimited access to websites that most people enjoy in their home countries. If you require access to one of the sites that is blocked by the local providers, then you will need to download a good VPN service that will allow access whilst in China.
The voltage of electrical appliances in China is the standard 110/220/240 volts, as is used in most countries around the world, including the United States and all of Europe. Most of the sockets in China will be able to accommodate the flat three-pin plugs and the flat or round two-pin plugs that are used in the United States, Canada, Australia and mainland Europe. However, if your appliances are from the United Kingdom, then you will need to bring an adaptor for US or Asian appliances with you to convert the plug to fit the local sockets. For those traveling from Japan, you are advised to bring an adaptor/transformer that can reduce the voltage of the sockets to the standard 110 volts of Japanese appliances, as using them without an adaptor/transformer will lead to the appliances burning out from too high a voltage.
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 after 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. – Check the Altitude Change and High Altitude Sickness on Tibet Train.
Whilst on the train, you should not feel any effects of altitude sickness, as the trains to Tibet all have oxygen piped into the carriages after the trains depart from Golmud for the higher plateau areas. However, there are some rare occasions where you may experience some mild symptoms of altitude sickness, and simple rest normally works. If you are not feeling better, there are individual oxygen outlets in all the cabins and corridors, and you can get a breathing tube from the train staff to allow you to use the outlet sockets for oxygen.
A tour of China and Tibet together is one of the most amazing trips you can take. Planning such an epic adventure that takes you from the lowest areas of China to the highest, including the highest point in the world at Mount Everest, is not as easy as you may think, but nor is it impossible. However, if you come and talk to us here at Chinatibettrain, we can help you organize all of the aspects of your tour, not just the Tibetan leg. Our expert advisors can help you with all of the planning and details of the trip, and we can even provide a tour whilst in China and help with things like train tickets and accommodation.
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