Here are a few thoughts on how to prepare for a successful and unforgettable trip to Tibet.
Tibet is a special administrative region of China and the flow of tourism is regulated and controlled by Chinese authorities. This means that, unless you are a Chinese citizen, you’ll need a travel permit to enter Tibet in addition to a Visa for China, and probably some more permits, depending on your destinations.
It is not possible for non-Chinese citizens to travel independently. We need to be accompanied by an official guide, but please don’t let this be the reason you skip this destination! The visit is 100 times worth the “pain” of relying on somebody to take you around. Furthermore, having a guide at your side you’ll be able to ask all the questions you want about the culture and the places you see.
The guide will assist you if you suffer from altitude sickness (as it happened to me when I spent the night at Everest Base Camp ) or in case any other issues show up in the extreme Tibetan environment.
How will you choose the right travel agency?
I had the perfect trip, and I found the agency online. The agency that I chose is Tibetan owned. I visited Tibet when I was living in China. I chose to travel with a Tibetan-owned agency because I wanted to support Tibetan small economy and I wanted a Tibetan guide to show me around
Even if Tibet is a Chinese province, the two cultures are so different that it seemed silly to travel with non-locals! One of the guides from the agency picked me up at Lhasa airport and communicated with me in good English. They showed me their cosy office just outside central Lhasa, and together we discussed the trip in more details in person since prior to that meeting all the plans had been made via phone or email. I had chosen that agency because their ways of communicating with me were clear and they thoroughly inquired about my expectations, my background, my health. They were serious from the beginning to the end via email, phone, and in-person!
How much does the trip cost?
There are a lot of factors that determine the final price of the trip. The permits that the agency request to the Chinese Government is part of the equation. I spent around 2000 euros in 2014 for a 13 days trip which consisted of 3 tours.
Every excursion is considered separately: 4 days tour of Lhasa and road trip to Everest Base Camp are the most popular. The number of people on a tour is also relevant. Set aside a few weeks in advance to organize the trip with the travel agency and to obtain the permits (usually two to three weeks).
If you travel solo, have a thorough conversation with the agent before you decide the tour dates. The trip costs less if they can add you to a group. One of the destinations I chose was a bit off the ordinary tourist’s routes, but the agency managed to arrange the trip. The money issue had been on my mind persistently before I booked the trip, but I was happy to discover that the trip cost less than I expected and, after all, Tibet was ( and still is ) my dream destination.
Should you take a train from Beijing or another city in China to Lhasa in order to prevent experiencing altitude sickness?
This is really different for everyone. If you’re not used to the very cold weather, choose to go in the hottest months. It’s not all about the altitude. The extreme weather is something. I’m a strong girl ( well, I’m 34 and I could start saying “woman” now ) and I did pretty well during the first phase of the trip in Lhasa, but I had a headache and was about to fall sick during the night spent at the Everest Base Camp, instead, but the guide was able to help me 🙂
Imagine if I had to go to the hospital and ruin that fantastic opportunity I had of traveling Tibet?!
No, it wasn’t that bad to have a guide at my side after all!