How to Visit Tibet: FAQ

Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O'Bannon, your Tibet travel experts, answer frequently asked questions about how to visit Tibet.
Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon, your Tibet travel experts, answer frequently asked questions about how to visit Tibet.

We get a lot of questions about how to visit Tibet, and we regularly answer them in our All Things Tibet Facebook group (which you are welcome to join) or on our YoWangdu Experience Tibet Facebook page.

Here’s a collection of some of the frequently asked questions. You can get more perspectives on each one from other Tibet travelers if you sign up for the Facebook group.

We also answer Tibet travel questions by video, which you can see at How to Travel to Tibet: Short Video Answers to Your Questions.

And if you need an introduction to a reliable, Tibetan-owned Tibet travel agency, we’re happy to give you one after you fill out this short travel referral form.

Is it safe to travel alone in Tibet?

Yolanda has traveled “alone” in Tibet and felt completely safe (much more safe than in my native US, for example). However, know that you can’t travel on your own in the Tibet Autonomous Region, so you must be with a guide and driver the majority of the time. Travel in Kham and Amdo could be done independently but though things are changing we still don’t recommend independent travel there due to lack of solid independent tourist infrastructure along with language challenges. With a guide and driver, we feel it is safe to travel “alone” in Kham and Amdo.

When is the best time to travel to Tibet?

You can travel to Tibet year-round, (with the exception of the normal February/March closures and occasional unplanned closures). Here’s a post on weather in Tibet to help you decide when it’s best for you. Also you can sign up for the free Tibet Travel Planner to get a longer, more detailed discussion on the pro’s and con’s of traveling at various times of the year in Tibet.

Is Tibet now open to foreigners?

As of the date we are responding to this question (April 21, 2019), yes, the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) is open to foreign travelers. For the last decade or so, the TAR has been closed to non-Chinese travelers from roughly mid-February through the whole of March. However, 2019 was a little different. The closure began earlier in February due to Tibetan New Year starting on Feb. 5 this year, and then surprisingly, on February 26 certain Tibet travel companies were told they would be allowed to process permits in March this year. The late announcement meant, effectively, that travelers would not be able to actually travel in Tibet in March 2019, as the permit typically takes about three weeks to process. Still it is welcome news that the TAR may be open in March 2020. Of course no one can be sure of that until it actually comes around next year! Learn more at When is Tibet Closed to Foreigners? To get your Tibet permits you will need go on an organized tour with a Tibet travel agency. For a referral to a reliable agency, fill out this form.

Can I buy a sleeping bag in Lhasa?

Yes, you can buy a sleeping bag in Lhasa, but you won’t be able to be assured of the quality (ie, warmth) and it is likely to be overpriced. It may have branding that is false. You can usually borrow or rent one from your agency, but in that case you need to ask ahead to be sure you can, and bring a sleep sack, or just a single sheet, as the bag will very likely have been used by many people and not clean. When possible we bring our own. …Also a heads up that Tibetans themselves don’t generally trust the quality of things available in Tibet, even name brand things (which are often assumed to be fake). There’s a general perception that the goods you buy in Tibet and mainland China are more likely to be subpar than what you would buy in the west. For some good Lhasa tips, check out 17 Dos and Don’ts for a First Time Visit to Lhasa.

Will I be able to visit a school or village in Tibet?

If you are on a private tour, you can likely visit a school and villages. It’s harder on a group tour, where the travel plan is more prescribed. For schools, the government schools are more restricted but you might be able to visit a smaller private school, depending on the school and the situation of course. Re: villages, it’s generally no problem to stop in a village and talk to folks. Some group tours may include the chance to be in a village, such as the Ganden to Samye trek. (The Samye end of the trek is changing very rapidly so recommended to do this very soon if you want to do it.)

How to prepare physically for altitude sickness and how to avoid altitude sickness generally?

In general, altitude sickness is a genetic problem and not related to your physical fitness. So young very fit people are equally at risk as older or more unfit people. Having said that, a lot of your trip in Tibet is likely to be spent visiting monasteries and areas with a lot of stairs and hills, and you will naturally feel better if you are in better condition when you visit them if you’re able to hike hills and climb stairs at home. For your altitude sickness prevention prep, we always recommend 1) asking your doc if you’re a good candidate Diamox alt. sickness medicine 2) stopping in Xining or any similar location that is close to but under the 8000 feet level (2500m) that is the point people commonly begin to feel unwell. Sleep there at least one and hopefully 2-3 nights while visiting local Tibetan sites. 3) Take the train to Lhasa 4) Rest in Lhasa for at least a couple of days on arrival before doing much physically or moving to any higher altitude. Importantly, you need to follow the basic rules about ascending and never ascending higher if you have altitude sickness symptoms. You can learn much more at our YoWangdu altitude sickness prevention main page.

How much is the ongoing rate for tips for guide and driver, and who else would get a tip?

We always have a hard time with this question. You will hear so many different answers to this. Some people note that tipping is not common in China, so they don’t tip also in Tibet. We do tip, mostly because we want to further support our local Tibetan guides and drivers. We always travel on private tours, and they tend to be a month long or more. On Yolanda’s last trip, she and her travel buddy joined together to tip one day’s worth of the cost of the tour to the guide and half of that to the driver. So as a non-real example, if the total cost of the trip broke down to 100CNY a day, then we would have tipped the guide 100CNY and 50CNY to the driver (We would split that total cost between us, so I would pay 75 total for tips and my friend also would be 75 total.) This ratio seemed good for a trip of 30 days when you are very close to the guide and driver for a long time. We may not have been so keen to pay the same rate for an 8 day group tour.

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Updated on March 14, 2020. First published on April 14, 2019.

Your Tibet travel advisors, Lobsang and Yolanda

Most people who want to go to Tibet don't know how to get there or who to trust for help. We’re Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon, and we help make Tibet travel more simple, safe and ethical so you can feel peace of mind about your trip. Learn more about us and YoWangdu here.

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Comments

  1. Peter Rickford says

    I am planning just a two night stay in Lhasa in July 2019. I will arrive by air at 3.00 pm on 19th July, stay at the ShangriLa hotel for two nights and depart from Lhasa by air at 1.05 pm on 21st July. I am a single male traveler in physically good condition aged 74. I have recently traveled to Cusco (3500m) without any adverse altitude effects except for heavy breathing. Please send me information on necessary guide etc.

  2. yowangdu says

    Hi Peter!

    Sorry for the late reply.

    We are happy to help you. Please fill out the Tibet Travel request at this page on our site:

    https://www.yowangdu.com/tibet-travel/referral.html

    When we get your response to the form, we will refer you to a Tibetan-owned agent who will help you plan your trip in detail.

    One thing that is important to know is that to get your Chinese visa you should not mention that you are flying to Tibet. Therefore, you will need to show the Chinese consulate roundtrip flights for Australia-China that do not include Tibet. You can talk to the travel agency more about this. Learn more here, too: https://www.yowangdu.com/tibet-travel/tibet-visa.html

    Best to you,
    Yolanda and Lobsang

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