Known as the "Roof of the World", Tibet is situated on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau of the southwest border of China, bordering Myanmar, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Kashmir, etc. The amazing natural scenery and unique Tibetan culture make Tibet a popular tourist destination. Here are some tips you should know before traveling there for the first time.
Travel documents you need
• A valid Chinese visa. Most foreign applicants apply for a tourist visa (L), and there should be at least 5 people in your group to apply for Tibet Group Visa if you are coming from Nepal. Also, foreign journalists and diplomats are not allowed to enter into Tibet as tourists.
• A Tibet travel permit. Each tourist from Taiwan and foreign countries must apply for a Tibet travel permit in advance. You must travel in groups and submit your basic personal information (passport and visa) and itinerary to the Tibet Travel Bureau and its administrative institutions in various places through the local travel agency you have entrusted. You should get the ratification for Tibet within about 7 working days.
• An Alien's travel permit. In addition to the above documents, if you plan to visit some "unopened" areas, such as Sakya Monastery, Mt. Everest, Lake Manasarovar, etc, you must apply for an additional alien's travel permit which is usually handled through a Tibetan travel agency. The permit will be issued within about 15 working days.
Note: It's best to submit your information to your travel agency to apply for permits a month before your arrival.
How to get to Tibet
For normal foreign travelers, it's recommended to choose to enter into Tibet through the following two ways:
• By plane (most recommended): You can fly to Lhasa Gongga Airport in several hours from most major cities in China or Kathmandu in Nepal.
• By train: It takes about 20-55 hours direct to Lhasa from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Xining and Lanzhou by normal trains.
If time permits, you can fly into Tibet and take trains out to fully enjoy the plateau scenery along the way.
The best time to visit Tibet
May to October is the best season in Tibet as it is warm and comfortable. But this period is also the peak season for tourism, in ever-increasing numbers. It is cold but sunny in other seasons, and some spots will be closed in the winter. However, you can appreciate the authentic Tibetan culture better because of fewer crowds.
Note: There may be restrictions to entry to Tibet for foreigners when celebrating some important activities, especially in February and March. In general, the Tibet government will send the restriction notice to travel agencies 15-20 days before the celebration date. Sometimes a few agencies can apply for the "green channel" for their foreigner tourists. So, please first inquire with your tour operator about the travel time if you plan to travel around Tibet in these two months.
Traditional festivals in Tibet
Every year, Tibetan celebrate many traditional festivals. Therefore, you may encounter some festivals and have a chance to take part in various activities.
• Tibetan New Year/Losar (24-26 February, 2020). As one of the most significant festivals in Tibet, it is celebrated from 01 January in the Tibetan calendar and lasts for 3-5 days. Locals will clean the house, make traditional food, hold some religious ceremonies and visit relatives.
• Shoton Festival (30 August-05 September, 2019). In Tibetan, this is interpreted as a festival of eating yogurt, so it is also called "yogurt festival" and held for a week in late June or early July in the Tibetan calendar. During the Shoton Festival, there are grand Tibetan opera performances in Norbulingka Park and solemn Buddhist exhibitions in Drepung Monastery and Sera Monastery.
• Nagqu Horse Racing Festival (10-15 August, 2019). Many places in Tibet like Kangding, Nagqu, Jiangzi, and Dangxiong hold horse racing festivals. Among them, Nagqu Horse Racing Festival is one of the largest folk festivals in northern Tibet. During the festival, herdsmen from all over northern Tibet will join in the activities, dressed in colorful festive costumes and load themselves with barley wine, yogurt, food, and tents with beautiful patterns.
Nagqu Horse Racing Festival
The must-see attractions in Tibet
• Potala Palace, the largest and most complete ancient palace complex in Tibet, also the most outstanding sample of Tibetan ancient architecture, has stood at the center of Lhasa city for more than 13 centuries. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its image is displayed on the back of 50 yuan notes. You will definitely be impressed by its large collection of precious pagodas, statues, murals, and scriptures.
• Jokhang Temple has a history of more than 1,300 years and enjoys a supreme position in Tibetan Buddhism. It was built by the king of Tibet, Songtsan Gambo. You can always see pilgrims who are kowtowing in front of the temple and walking around the wall of prayer wheels. Don't forget to climb onto the platform on the third floor, a good place to overlook Potala Palace and square.
• Drepung Monastery was named for its white buildings covering the hillside and resembling a huge pile of rice. Drepung in Tibetan means "rice gathering", a symbol of prosperity. What you can't miss is the large-scale debate ceremony: The monks debate about the text with exaggerated gestures, which is very interesting.
• YamdrokTso, together with Namtso and Lake Manasarovar, are called the Three Holy Lakes of Tibet. The color of the water changes with the light. The best way to appreciate the beauty of YamdrokTso is by walking on the lakeshore road or mounting the hills to have a breathtaking full view.
• Mount Everest, straddling China and Nepal, is the highest mountain in the world and attracts many explorers from all over the world every year. Many travelers choose to stay overnight in the Everest Base Camp to enjoy the towering snow mountain under the bright galaxy and starry sky or see the Mount Everest in the highest temple in the world - Rongbuk Monastery, at an altitude of 5,100 meters/16,732 feet.
Ways to prevent or reduce altitude sickness
• Don't run nor do heavy physical exercise.
• Eat more vegetables and fruit, and drink plenty of water.
• Keep warm and try not to catch a cold. Severe colds can be life-threatening.
• If you have mild symptoms of altitude sickness, take in oxygen and try to adapt to it first. For severe altitude sickness, you should take medication and seek medical advice immediately.
• Photography and touching statues are prohibited in most monasteries, but you can take photos in some monasteries with an additional charge. Ask the staff first if you are not sure whether you can take photos or not.
• It's better to communicate in advance and ask for their opinion before taking pictures of locals.
• It is forbidden to watch, take photos or videotape celestial burial activities.
• Don't touch the heads of local children because the head is seen as the most sacred part of the body.
• When Tibetans offer you something, take it with both hands.
• When visiting a herdsman's family, men and women sit separately. The male sits left and the female sits right.
For summer: It's better to wear long sleeve shirts and trousers because the sun is very strong. Also, you can take sunglasses and apply sunscreen. But you may feel cold in some high altitude scenic spots, so you need to take a jacket to keep warm.
For winter: In most parts of Tibet, a thick down jacket is enough as it's sunny and warm in the daytime.
• Leisure shoes: You need to climb up and down many steps to visit monasteries.
• Medicine: Take medicines for altitude sickness, carsickness, colds and diarrhea with you.
• Snacks: Prepare some snacks for your long trip if you take a train.
So, the best season to travel in Tibet is coming. What are you waiting for? Find a reliable tour operator like Odynovo to customize a unique tour for you, no matter whether Tibet or other destinations. Just set off now!