What You Need to Know to Visit Lhasa [2021]

This is a complete guide to the top things you need to know to visit Lhasa.

Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet at night.
A night view of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

In fact, these are the exact lessons we’ve learned from multiple trips to Lhasa over the years, so you don’t need to make the same mistakes we’ve made.

Let’s get started.

2021 Travel Advisory: Permits for expats currently living in China are now open! Know one knows yet when permits will open for travelers not already living in China. However, if you want to travel to Tibet you can pre-book travel for a later date. By doing this, you will support local Tibetan-owned businesses at a time when they are struggling to survive. To learn more, ask us for an introduction to a reliable Tibetan travel agency here.

TOP 7 QUESTIONS ABOUT LHASA

Some quick answers to common questions about the Place of the Gods

View of the Dalai Lama's quarters on the upper floors of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.
View of the Dalai Lama’s quarters on the upper floors of the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.

As a traveler, you have questions about Lhasa.

Let’s get you some answers…

1. Where is Lhasa?

To find Lhasa on a map, first locate Tibet in the area roughly between India and mainland China.

Lhasa on map of the world
Lhasa, Tibet on a map of the world.

As you see on the map below, Lhasa itself, marked with the large red pin, is due north of Bhutan.

While historically the large land mass of Tibet has been a country, in the 1950’s it was occupied by China. “Today, China governs western and central Tibet as the Tibet Autonomous Region while the eastern areas are now mostly ethnic autonomous prefectures within Sichuan, Qinghai and other neighbouring provinces.” (Wikipedia)

2. Is Lhasa safe?

Lhasa city has a reputation for being generally safer for travelers than cities in mainland China.

Lhasa Ladies on Panden Lhamo Festival Day.
Lhasa ladies on Panden Lhamo Festival Day.

(This is not the case for Tibetans themselves, who face all kind of risks.)

Personal Safety

Personally, we feel much safer in Lhasa than we do in our home city in the San Francisco Bay Area.

That said, we don’t really do night life in Lhasa, outside of visits with family friends, so there is likely more risk if you are out late at the nangma’s which is what Tibetans call the clubs where folks gather to hear singing and to drink.

YoWangdu’s Yolanda O’Bannon with a calf just outside Lhasa.

You would want to take the same precautions you take at home against pickpockets and general theft and personal safety.

To help with that, here’s a great list of lessons learned on safe solo travel by 33 expert women travelers.

Altitude Sickness

Ganden Monastery in Tibet
View from the Wangpo Ri above Ganden Monastery in Tibet.

The biggest risk you will face everywhere in Tibet is of getting a bad case of altitude sickness.

We have a complete beginner’s guide to preventing altitude sickness to help keep you healthy.

3. Is Lhasa worth visiting?

In a word, yes!!

Lhasa, Tibet is like nowhere you have ever been.

Even though the high-altitude center of the Tibetan world has been systematically restricted and sinicized, it is still vibrantly Tibetan.

And it’s as amazing, mysterious and otherworldly as it ever was.

Statues at Sera Monastery in Lhasa
Statues in a chapel at Sera Monastery in Lhasa.

Lhasa — which means place of the gods — is home to more magnificent cultural treasures than you can count.

Just as a start, three UNESCO world heritage sites are located in Lhasa:

  • the Potala Palace, which dominates the Lhasa skyline, and was winter home of many Dalai Lamas
  • the ancient Jokhang Temple, the spiritual heart of Tibetan Buddhism
  • the Norbulingka Palace, used by Dalai Lamas as a summer residence

No one forgets their first sight of the golden roofs of the Potala Palace rising high above the city, set against a backdrop of high-altitude mountains that line the Lhasa River valley. (The river is known by Tibetans as the Kyichu.)

Lhasa and the Kyichu Valley as seen from space.
Lhasa and the Kyichu Valley as seen from space.Source: NASA

Or the winding alleys of the Tibetan Old Town surrounding the Jokhang Temple that are filled with vibrant Tibetan life. (See 17 Do’s and Don’ts for a Wonderful First Visit to Lhasa)

Besides, Lhasa is home-base for the fantastic journey to the base camp of Mount Everest.

And to one of the world’s great treks — the breathtaking pilgrimage circuit around the base of holy Mount Kailash.

It’s not surprising that many a world traveler considers Tibet their favorite place on earth.

If you need help traveling to Tibet, ask us for an introduction to a reliable Tibetan agent.

4. Can you visit Lhasa?

Yes, generally speaking, foreign travelers can visit.

Lhasa is located in what the Chinese government calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). The TAR has restrictions but is generally open to foreign travelers except a couple of months a year. (In most past years, permits are closed down for much of February and March.)

2021 Travel Advisory: Permits for expats currently living in China are now open! Know one knows yet when permits will open for travelers not already living in China. However, if you want to travel to Tibet you can pre-book travel for a later date. By doing this, you will support local Tibetan-owned businesses at a time when they are struggling to survive. To learn more, ask us for an introduction to a reliable Tibetan travel agency here.

Lhasa Tibet Barkhor Early Morning
Walking the Barkhor in Lhasa pre-dawn.

To visit the TAR, and Lhasa, you need two documents: a Chinese visa and a special Tibet permit.

Importantly, you also need to be on an organized tour. (You can be on a private organized tour, or a group tour.)

If you’re looking for a reliable travel agent to help you travel to Tibet, ask us for an introduction to a local Tibetan agent to help you.

See the How to Get to Lhasa section for more.

5. How to get to Lhasa from Beijing?

Here’s how to do it…

Arrange your Entrance Documents

First, keep in mind that to enter any city in mainland China, like Beijing, you need a Chinese visa. You will get this from a Chinese consulate or embassy in your home country.

Chinese Visa
Sample of a Chinese Visa in a US passport.

Then, to be allowed to go from Beijing to Lhasa (or anywhere in the Tibet Autonomous Region), you will need a special permit, in addition to your visa. And, you have to be on an organized tour.

Luckily, you arrange both the organized tour and the special permit from authorized Tibet travel agencies.

The sooner you begin working with an agency to arrange your Tibet travel, the better. Even a year or more in advance is no problem, though 2-3 months can work in a pinch. (If you need a recommendation for a good agency, ask us here.)

A good agent can advise you on flight or train tickets for getting from Beijing to Lhasa.

You have a few choices…

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Mag Morse riding Tibet Train
Our friend and sometime travel buddy Mag Moser on the Tibet train from Xining to Lhasa.

From Beijing, you have a choice of flying, taking a train, or possibly even going overland if you have more time.

You can combine these options as well.

We like to fly into Beijing or Chengdu, spend a day or two, then fly to Xining and spend a few nights, then take the train from Xining to Lhasa. (This method helps with acclimatization. See more in the 5 Biggest Lhasa Mistakes section below.)

We have not taken the overland route yet, but in 2019, the Sichuan Tibet highway ostensibly opened to foreigners. (Chinese tourists had already been using it.)

If you have a lot of time, you may want to check into this. Note that you will still need a Tibet permit and to be on an organized tour to enter the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Contact us here to be connected with a Tibet travel agent who can arrange this for you.

Learn more on how to get to Tibet from mainland China >>

6. What is Lhasa weather like?

The weather is more mild than you might think. You can travel there year-round, though most folks find it most comfortable somewhere from April to November.

Current Weather in Lhasa

LHASA WEATHER

Click here for more details on the current weather in Lhasa, Tibet >>

Seasonal Weather

Summer tends to be warm and sunny (even hot) during the day. Summer nights are cool and can be rainy. Rain can make roads muddy as you venture out of town and obscure mountain views.

The fall months of October and most of November are clear and cold, but not freezing, so can be great.

Winter is definitely quite cold, though it can be an ideal time to travel. Winter months bring far fewer tourists and mostly clear skies.

Late winter and early spring can bring strong cold winds, which become especially strong in February and March. Local folk call this the Spring Wind — chilha. Tibet is normally closed anyway at this time of year.

Spring really kicks around mid April this can be a good time to visit.

Lhasa, Tibet Weather Averages

Lhasa Tibet Weather
Average temperatures and rainfall in Lhasa. Source: NOAA.

7. What is the altitude of Lhasa, Tibet?

Lhasa elevation: 12,001 feet/ 3,658 meters

To anyone who has felt breathless in Lhasa, it may come as a surprise that it is not the highest large city in the world, though it easily makes it into the top ten.

And yet, at a “mere” 12,000 feet, the high altitude is the single most important thing that every traveler needs to be prepared for.

Prayer flags at the Tro La Pass Between Derge and Dzogchen.
Prayer flags on a high pass in Tibet.

We are passionate about helping travelers avoid altitude sickness by following simple acclimatization rules. You can learn all about how to do that in our comprehensive Avoiding Altitude Sickness Guide.

If you need help with a recommendation for a reliable Tibet travel agency to plan a trip to Tibet, contact us here.

5 BIGGEST LHASA MISTAKES

Avoid these 5 mistakes so that you can have a better experience on your once-in-a-lifetime journey.

Monks blowing horns at Nechung Monastery near Lhasa
Monks blowing gyaling ritual horns at Nechung Monastery near Lhasa.

1. Not taking steps to be healthy at Lhasa’s altitude

The single biggest mistake that first-time visitors to Lhasa make is to not prepare for the high elevation.

And then feel sick on their trip due to altitude sickness.

We can’t overstate what a bummer it is to feel horrible on your dream trip — splitting headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, difficulty sleeping.

Here’s us, sick and exhausted on Yolanda’s first trip to Tibet:

Lobsang and Yolanda at Lake Namtso
Lobsang and Yolanda after a sleepless and unhappy night with altitude sickness on a trip to Lake Namtso from Lhasa, where we also felt crummy.

What’s worse is that you can actually have to cut your trip short, or even put your life in danger.

The good news is that there’s no need to experience any of that.

You can take steps to be safe and feel good, even from your first day at high altitude.

In a nutshell, you need to…

  • Don’t assume your travel agency will take care of this for you. Even great travel agencies that offer altitude sickness advice with great confidence get it wrong ALL THE TIME. It’s far better to inform yourself about how to avoid altitude sickness.
  • Ascend as slowly as possible. For example, take a flight to Xining, which is a good starter point for acclimatizing. Spend 2 nights there, taking day trips to local Tibetan monasteries. Take the Tibet train to get a tiny more acclimatization. (But don’t expect the train in itself to be enough. See The Biggest Mistake People Make about the Tibet Train to learn why.
Sharzong Ritod Monastery near Xining
Lovely, quiet Sharzong Ritod Monastery near Xining.
  • Consider asking your doctor for a prescription for Diamox if you can’t ascend slowly. This applies to most travelers, especially if you are flying to Lhasa, but even if you are stopping in Xining and taking the train.
  • Note that no natural remedies have been proven effective in peer-reviewed clinical trials.

You can avoid the common mistakes that travelers make by checking out our extensive info for preventing altitude sickness in Tibet, and our up-to-date and complete beginner’s guide to avoiding altitude sickness.

2. Not spending enough time in Lhasa

This mistake is actually related to mistake #1.

Some of the most popular Tibet tours have you stay in Lhasa for three nights before you head out for other destinations like Everest Base Camp, Lake Namtso, and Mount Kailash.

Yolanda at Everest Base Camp
Yolanda, happy at Everest Base Camp at 17,060 ft/ 5,200 m, after first spending over a week in Lhasa.

The problem with this…

… is that you quite quickly ascend to even higher heights:

  • Everest Base Camp: 17,060 ft/ 5,200 m
  • Lake Namtso: 15,400 ft/ 4,700 m
  • Darchen, at the foot of Mount Kailash: 15,313 ft/ 4,667

Basically, you don’t have time to really acclimate before you zoom out to places that stress your body even more.

Three nights is a bare minimum to begin to acclimatize to the high elevation in Lhasa, especially if you fly in.

What to do instead?

Plan to spend more time in Lhasa, so you can take it really easy your first couple of days, and then feel good for your whole trip.

Trust us, we’ve learned the hard way that it’s a huge mistake to cut it all short and feel wretched while you’re rushing from place to place.

And there’s plenty to see in amazing Lhasa if you extend your visit so you can acclimatize more.

Tibetans prostrating in front of Jokhang Temple in Lhasa
Tibetans prostrating in front of Jokhang Temple in Lhasa.

But I’m on a fixed group tour…

A great way to do this if you’re taking a group tour is simply plan to arrive a few days early.

You still need to be on an official tour for all the days you’re in Lhasa, so you can add a few days of private tour.

Note you want the extra days at the beginning of the tour, not the end!

If you need to connect to a good agency able to help with this kind of plan, ask us for an introduction here.

3. Not choosing a Tibetan-owned agency

If you’re here on YoWangdu Tibet, then likely you are the kind of person who already knows something about Tibetan history.

(If you don’t, check out the Dalai Lama’s autobiography  Freedom in Exile and John Avedon’s  In Exile from the Land of Snows.)

You probably already want to support the Tibetan people.

Lhasa ladies at Sera Monastery
Lhasa ladies on holiday for the Panden Lhamo festival at Sera Monastery.

If you do, then the single most important thing you can do when you travel to Tibet is to support Tibetans by choosing a genuine Tibetan-owned agency.

Chinese agencies faking as Tibetan-owned

We say “genuine” because there are a lot of Chinese-owned agencies that pretend to be “local.”

Some of them just straight up lie on their websites and say they are “Tibetan-owned” and “based in Lhasa.”

One of these is one of the most well-known Tibet travel agencies, and even has a 2020 Travelers’ Choice award on TripAdvisor!

You have to wonder how many travelers would be happy to travel with them if they knew that the lion’s share of their trip dollars were going to the Chinese owners.

And that the Tibetans who work for them have little choice because there are so few spots on Tibetan-owned agency teams.

How to avoid making this mistake?

Lobsang and Yolanda at Tashilumpo Monastery
Lobsang and Yolanda at Tashilumpo Monastery in Shigatse, Tibet.

We’ve spent years working with travel agencies in Tibet — and checking search results in Google and travel sites like Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet — and we believe that there’s no way to identify a true Tibetan-owned agency just by searching online.

You need to know which ones are truly Tibetan owned by knowing the people.

If you want to support Tibetans, you can ask us to refer you to a genuine Tibetan agency here.

4. Visiting the Tibet Museum

Nyebay Sechen Gyay 8 Close Disciples Statues at Sera Monastery in Lhasa
Statues of the Buddha’s 8 close disciples (the Nyebay Sechen Gyay) at Sera Monastery in Lhasa. (Not in the Tibet Museum.)

The Tibet Museum reputedly houses a decent collection of Tibetan prehistory artefacts, as well as a range of cultural exhibits, from Tibetan medicine and astronomy to thangka scrolls and jewelry.

We don’t know, because we would never set foot in it.

But why not?

Because it includes a political history section that is blatant propaganda, and because of the tragic sourcing of the priceless Buddhist items.

5. Planning to see Mount Everest from Lhasa

You can’t actually see Mt. Everest from Lhasa…it’s too far.

The first point that you can see Everest on a trip out of Lhasa is on the road between Lhatse and Shelkar, at the Gyawu La Pass.

Everest Via Tibet: View of Everest from the Gyawu La Pass
View of Everest from the Gyawu La Pass

So if you want to view the highest mountain on earth, know that you will need to take an Everest Base Camp tour.

Pro-tip:

Don’t make the mistake of traveling from Kathmandu to Lhasa overland, with a plan to stop at Everest Base Camp along the way.

This route presents extreme altitude sickness risk, because of the elevations that you sleep along the way.

It’s far better to go the opposite direction — from Lhasa to Kathmandu, stopping at EBC.

As we mention above in mistake #1 in this section, there are steps you can take to lessen your risk of altitude sickness when you travel to Lhasa.

One of those steps is NOT traveling overland from Nepal to Tibet.

WHAT TO SEE IN LHASA

We’ve never met anyone who didn’t come away from Lhasa, the City of the Gods, with memories of a lifetime.

Potala Palace in Lhasa 07.30.2002
A view of the iconic Potala Palace in Lhasa in summer 2002.

There’s just no place like it on earth.

First up, a pro tip…

You will be on an official tour in Lhasa and they will take you to the main sites, but if you can, add 2-3 extra days to the beginning of your tour.

That way, you can have much-needed extra time to acclimatize to the altitude, and get a much more local feel for the city.

Tibetans lighting butter lamps at the base of the Chakpori in Lhasa
Tibetans lighting butter lamps at the base of the Chakpori in Lhasa. Photo by YoWangdu.

(Ask your travel agent to add some private tour days to the beginning of your trip if you are on a group tour. Ask us here if you need help connecting with a good agent who can do that.)

What to do in Lhasa when you first arrive

Before anything else, you need to take it easy when you arrive. It doesn’t matter if you came by train or plane, or if you’re taking altitude sickness prevention medication or not.

Arriving at Lhasa train station at dusk
Arriving at Lhasa train station at dusk. Photo: YoWangdu.

Your body is freaking out inside at Lhasa’s high altitude, and you need to give it some love (and hydration).

That said, most travelers, including us, are way too excited to just lay around their hotel rooms. What we do as a compromise is to take very easy strolls in the Old Town area around the Jokhang Temple.

Jokhang and Barkhor in the Old Town

You’ll need to be with your tour guide to visit the fantastic Jokhang Temple, but you can wander the fascinating streets around it on your own. (You don’t need a guide to go through the police checkpoints. Just queue up with everyone else and show your passport.)

Barkhor Scene in Lhasa 2002
Tibetans on the Barkhor in Lhasa. Photo: YoWangdu.

There is a main prayer loop around the Jokhang called the Barkhor, and that’s a perfect place to start. It’s easy to find on a map, or just ask your guide or the hotel staff.

You’ll want to walk, with everyone else, in a clockwise direction, since that’s the way to walk a prayer circuit in Tibet.

We love to walk the Barkhor multiple times a day and never get tired of the feeling of being part of the Tibetan crowd.

And you can venture off in any direction from the main Barkhor, and explore the market streets and old alley ways that radiate out from the Jokhang.

For ideas on exploring some hidden treasures in the Barkhor area, check out:

17 Dos and Don’ts for a First Time Visit to Lhasa

Potala Palace Area

The Potala Palace is another major tourist site that will be included on your official tour, but there are excellent spots nearby that you can check out on your own.

Potang Shakhor

The Potang Shakhor is the prayer circuit (kora) that Tibetans walk around the holy Potala. (It is also called the Tsekor.)

Tibetan man from Kham circumambulating the Potala Palace on the Tsekor in 2002
Tibetan man from Kham circumambulating the Potala Palace on the Tsekor in 2002. Photo by YoWangdu.

Like the Barkhor is chock a block with Tibetans from all walks of life and a great thing to do multiple times on your visit. It’s also flat, so a decent thing to do if you can’t force yourself to rest on your first day.

To get on the Potang Shakhor, just approach the Potala from any direction and follow the crowd clockwise in a circle around the base of it. You will need to enter a police checkpoint with your passport. Don’t confuse the prayer circuit entrance with the main tourist entrance at the front of the Potala. The checkpoints are more to the side.

Potala Viewpoint

There’s an excellent vista point to photograph the Potala Palace, across the street from the southwest corner of the Palace. To get there, cross the street from the Potala at the crosswalk by the big white stupha near the west side of the front of the Potala. (This stupha is the Western Gate of Old Lhasa, called the Pargo Kaling by Tibetans.)

Yolanda at Potala Palace Viewpoint in Lhasa Tibet 2019
Yolanda at Potala Palace Viewpoint in Lhasa Tibet 2019.

To the southwest rises Chakpori Hill, and the vista point is built into it.

Just at the corner when you cross there is an iron door, open during the day, and a narrow set of stairs that will take you up to the vista point.

Palubuk Monastery

If you have some spare time, there’s a very seldom visited near the Potala vista point that is worth a visit. It’s called the Palubuk (also called the Phalu Lubu, Traklha Lughuk, and the Phala Lubu!)

Front of the Palubuk Monastery at the base of the Chakpori near the Potala Palace in Lhasa.
Front of the Palubuk Monastery at the base of the Chakpori near the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Photo: YoWangdu.

It’s a sweet little local place, just a few chapels built into a cave from the time of Songstan Gampo with a caretaker monk.

A Buddha statue inside is “self arising” from the rock and then carved further by Nepali craftsmen.

The Palu Lubu is a wee bit southwest of the Potala, along the bottom of the same Chakpori Hill that the vista point is part of. Just walk south, following the curve of the hill until you see steps leading up to the entrance of the red and white chapel buildings.

Palubuk on Chakpori near Potala in Lhasa
Palubuk Monastery nestled into the base of Chakpori Hill in Lhasa. Photo by YoWangdu.

Pro Tip: There’s a sweet perspective of the Potala from the front of the Palu Lubu, for a nice image.

View of Potala Palace from the Palubuk on the Chagpori in Lhasa.
View of Potala Palace from the Palubuk on the Chagpori in Lhasa. Photo by YoWangdu.

Drepung and Sera Monastery Koras

Two of Lhasa’ great monasteries — Drepung and Sera — are on every tour. And you don’t want to miss them.

But the tours often leave off the scenic kora paths (prayer circumambulations) around the monasteries.

The monasteries are wonderful, but they are often packed with tourists, while the prayer paths give you a whole different perspective, and put you among Tibetans.

You need to be decently acclimated, since the kora paths at Drepung and Sera are basically hikes circling the huge monasteries.

Lobsang and Yolanda on the Drepung Monastery kora near Lhasa
Lobsang and Yolanda on the Drepung Monastery kora on the outskirts of Lhasa.

You will usually find the kora by following local Tibetan old men and ladies along rows of prayer wheels and mani stones. As always, walk clockwise.

After walking a monastery kora or two, you will easily recognize where you need to go at pretty much any monastery.

Murals at Nechung Monastery near Lhasa.
Murals at Nechung Monastery, on the outskirts of Lhasa. Photo by YoWangdu.

If you’re going to Drepung on a private tour, don’t miss Nechung Monastery as well. It’s just next door and creepily associated with a lot of the older, darker aspects of Buddhism. It’s also the seat of the Tibetan state oracle, consulted by Dalai Lama’s for centuries.

From Sera Monastery you can also trek up to Sera Utse retreat and the Dode Valley, both of which are on our list for a future trip to Lhasa.

Ramoche Temple and the Tsepak Lhakhang

Ramoche is one of our favorite spots in Lhasa. It’s far less visited by tourists than the famous but historically important, and always full of local Tibetans.

Plus, it has a main image that represents Buddha Shakyamuni at eight years old.

Lhasa Tibet Ramoche Temple Jowo
Ramoche Temple interior.

You find the Jokhang about a kilometer north of the Jokhang, in the middle of a bustling market street.

The Ramoche is roughly as old as the Jokhang and once housed the famous Jowo Rinpoche statue that is now in the Jokhang.

Right next door to the Ramoche is another sweet local spot, the Tsepak Lhakhang (Long-Life Shrine).

Look for the sign to the entrance to the left of the main gate of the Ramoche. It’s to your left if you are facing the temple outside the ticket office.

If you have more time…

You could spend years in Lhasa and not see all of her cultural treasures or visit all of her significant landmarks.

As the political and spiritual heart of Tibet since the 7th century, Lhasa holds more fascinating hidden corners than you can count.

If you do have more time, try some of the suggestions in our 17 Dos and Don’ts for a First Time Visit to Lhasa, especially the Ling Temples and the Lingkhor.

The three koras of Lhasa Drawing by Meg Moser
The three koras (prayer circumambulations) of Lhasa drawn by Meg Moser.

We love Footprint’s Tibet Handbook by Gyurme Dorje for deep cultural info, and good old Lonely Planet Tibet has solid suggestions for deeper explorations. (Make sure you get the most recent edition.)

And there’s a lot of interesting stuff near Lhasa as well, some of which are on our own bucket list…

  • Ganden Monastery — one of the great 3 Gelukpa monasteries and very well worth a visit. It’s just far enough out of town to be excluded from the most popular tours. Wait until you’re well acclimatized as it’s higher up than Lhasa, and it’s great to do the Ganden kora, and to venture up to the Wangpo Ri ridge above it as well.
  • Small, ancient Pabongka Monastery, near Sera Monastery.
  • Drolma Lhakhang: A small but historically important monastery near Lhasa, and near also a cool rock carving location.
  • Drak Yerpa: a quick day trip from Lhasa, Drak Yerpa is an important series of cave retreats. Be well acclimated before you do this, too, as you need to hike a bit to get up to the caves.
Drak Yerpa Hermitage Caves near Lhasa.
Drak Yerpa Hermitage Caves near Lhasa. Photo by YoWangdu.
  • Hiking the Bumpa Ri peak near Lhasa
  • Shugsep Nunnery: Tibet’s largest with hikes above it that have reportedly great views.

PROS AND CONS OF THE MOST POPULAR TIBET TOURS THAT START IN LHASA

Lhasa street near the Jokhang Temple at night.
Night view of Lhasa street near the Jokhang Temple and Barkhor.

Here’s a list of the top four most popular tours that include Lhasa, and the benefits and disadvantages of each…

Sky Train to Lhasa

This itinerary is short. It begins in Xining, on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, where you spend a night or more to begin to acclimatize to the high altitude. You can then take the famous “sky train” to Lhasa, and spend 4 days checking out the highlights of Lhasa.

View from Tibet train to Lhasa in Nagchu Area.
Mid-winter view of the Nagchu Area from the Tibet “sky” train.

PROS

  • You can do it in a week or even less, if you don’t have much time
  • From the train, you can see stunning views of the grasslands and mountains of the Tibetan Plateau.
  • If you start your train journey in Xining, you can spend a couple of day and night beginning to acclimatize to Tibet’s high altitude, as we highly recommend you do! (In fact, if you can spend 2-3 nights in Xining, it’s even better.)
  • From Xining you can take day trips to cool Tibetan sites in the Amdo region. (Personally we prefer the monasteries to the very touristic Qinghai Lake trips.)
  • You see the key highlights of Lhasa
Barkhor Incense Burner Lhasa Sangsol
Tibetans burning incense (sangsol) at one of the large incense burners on the Barkhor in Lhasa.

CONS

  • Few or no travel agencies offer this tour as a pre-packaged tour. You can ask your travel agent to put it together for you, and you’ll need to request to see non-touristic sights for your Xining day trips. We can help introduce you to a reliable Tibetan-owned agent here.
  • The views from the Tibet train are lovely, but the train itself is pretty old, cramped and shabby, with bathrooms that will make you more and more sad as the journey progresses and they get grosser. (We’ve only traveled first class sleeper, so what we’re describing is as good as it currently gets.)
  • You have very little time to acclimatize once you get to Lhasa.
  • You barely have enough time to experience the amazing sights of Lhasa.

Learn more about how to make the most of your time in Lhasa with the Sky Train and Lhasa Highlights Tour >>

Everest Base Camp (EBC)

This is by far the most iconic and popular Tibet tour to take. Few can resist laying eyes on the highest place on the planet from up close.

Everest Base Camp (Base Camp for mountaineers) from the Tibet side.
Everest Base Camp (Base Camp for mountaineers) from the Tibet side, with Mt. Everest summit visible over the military checkpoint.
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PROS

  • You get the unparalleled view of Mount Everest from the Tibet side.
  • You get a bunch of the highlights of Tibet in one fell swoop — Lhasa and all its cultural treasures, the Kamba La and Yamdrok Lake, the Karo La glacier, Gyantse, Shigatse, and mighty Everest herself.
  • If you have 10 days you can add in a tiny bit of extra time for safer acclimatizing. (See the Safer Acclimatizing Tour tour link below.)
  • If you have 13 days, you can add in Xining and the Sky Train, and even better acclimatizing.
  • You can extend your tour to continue on to Nepal if you wish. (See Overland to Kathmandu below.)
Mount Everest from Rongbuk Monastery in Tibet
View of Mount Everest from Rongbuk Monastery in Tibet

CONS

  • The most popular 8-day tours don’t give you enough time to acclimate safely.
  • You spend a lot of time driving from one city and spot to another.
  • The risks of altitude sickness are quite high unless you take steps to avoid altitude sickness.

Recommended Tour: Either a 10-day or 13-day Safer Everest Base Camp Tour >>

Mt. Kailash

A trip to Mount Kailash is pretty much the greatest hits of Tibet tours, and a trip that changes you.

PROS

  • The Mount Kailash tour includes all the major highlights of central Tibet, including, Lhasa, the Kamba la and Yamdrok Tso, the Karo La Pass and Glacier, Gyantse, Shigatse, and Everest Base Camp.
  • All of that’s before you even get to Mount Kailash, the holiest mountain on earth.
  • Once you’re there you can take the extraordinary 3-day Mt. Kailash trek around the mountain.
  • Trekkers walk over the 18,451 ft/ 5630 m Dolma Pass, and can then boast of reaching “extreme high altitude” by the commonly accepted definitions of high altitude.
  • This is one of the great journeys of the world, and many travelers consider going to Kailash the highlight of their trip to Tibet.
At the highest point on the Kailash trek — the 18,500 ft Dolma La Pass — a young Chinese woman, in blue, bent over, in trouble from altitude sickness.
At the highest point on the Kailash trek — the 18,500 ft Dolma La Pass — a young Chinese woman, in blue, bent over, in trouble from altitude sickness.

CONS

  • This trip takes a fair amount of time. The very quickest version is just over two weeks, and much better in terms of acclimatizing, to take 3 weeks to a month.
  • Because it takes more time, it’s expensive.
  • Lots of driving. Mt. Kailash is in far, far western Tibet.

Mt. Kailash: How to Travel to the Holiest Mountain on Earth >>

Overland to Kathmandu

You can travel to both Tibet and Nepal in one extravaganza of a trip.

Yolanda with trekmate and Nepali kids on Annapurna Circuit in Nepal
Yolanda with trekmate and Nepali kids on Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.

PROS

  • Traveling from Lhasa to Nepal, you pass through the Everest region, so can go also to Everest Base Camp and get the same highlights as we mentioned in the Everest Base Camp section above.
  • You see amazing Tibet and amazing Nepal in one trip

CONS

Tibetan woman spinning wool at the Tibetan Refugee Center in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Tibetan woman spinning wool at the Tibetan Refugee Center in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo by YoWangdu.
  • The roads to the Nepal border are good on the Tibet side, but once you cross into Nepal it’s quite bad, as we understand it.
  • Unless you know of a good Nepal agent, you need to work with your Tibet travel agent to get connected with an agent for the Nepal side, if you need an agent. Most people at least want a driver to meet them on the Nepali side.
  • You need separate Tibet and Nepal visas.
  • You need a fair amount of time. At least 8 days for the Tibet part alone.
Yolanda and Trekking friends on the Anapurna Circuit Nepal
Yolanda and trekking friends on the Anapurna Circuit in Nepal. Photo by YoWangdu.

Pro Tip

We strong recommend that you do not travel to Tibet overland from Nepal. This presents a large risk of altitude sickness, due to the very high elevations at which you have to sleep after you cross into Tibet. It’s better to go the other direction, from Tibet to Nepal.

Learn more details about the Tibet-Nepal tour here >>

THE BEST LHASA HOTELS

Here’s a list of our favorite hotels in Lhasa, but first…

Courtyard at the Tashi Choeta hotel in Lhasa Tibet.
Courtyard at the Tashi Choeta hotel in Lhasa Tibet.

A word to the wise about choosing hotels in Lhasa

When you’re looking for where to stay in Lhasa, keep these factors in mind:

  • Stay as close as you can to Old Town, which basically means you want to be walking distance to the Jokhang Temple. Old Town is the most pleasant and interesting part of Lhasa and it’s worth making the effort to find a place there.
  • Hotels in Lhasa change all the time — what is great today could be not so great next year. It’s best to double check our list below with TripAdvisor or your favorite hotel finding site.
  • The names of Tibetan hotels can be written in English all kinds of crazy ways, and may show up very differently on different booking sites and info packets. For example, one of our favorites, the Kyichu Hotel is sometimes written in Chinese transliteration, as Jiqu Fandian. So if you get a recommendation for a place, double check that you are getting booked to the correct place. (We use the address to confirm.)

Lhasa Barkhor at night
Walking at the Lhasa Barkhor at night. Photo: YoWangdu.
  • If you want to support the Tibetan people, ask your travel agent to put you in a Tibetan-owned hotel. (This assumes that your travel agent is also Tibetan owned. If you would like help to be introduced to a reliable Tibetan-owned agency, ask us here.)
  • Note that to our knowledge the only Tibetan-owned 5-star hotel is the Songtsam Choskyi Linka, which gets excellent reviews. We don’t include it in our list because it is not at all centrally located and, for us, that is a dealbreaker. When we’ve thought of staying there to try it out because the review are so good, we always decide against it because of the location.
  • Even if you book a group tour with a pre-arranged hotel, you may be able to choose a different hotel. We can refer you to a Tibetan-owned agent that allows you to choose a different hotel than the one that is included in their group tours. Note that doing this normally costs more than keeping the group hotel.

Favorite Tibetan-owned hotels in Lhasa

We need to say upfront that we haven’t tried THAT many hotels in Lhasa because we have a big favorite where we usually stay. (See below for that…)

A room at the Kyichu Hotel in Lhasa.
A room at our favorite hotel in Lhasa, the Kyichu.

However, we’ve visited rooms at a number of them for research, talked a lot to our Tibetan partners about hotels, and researched pretty deeply online every time we go to Tibet.

Also, we have not found one hands-down winner. There’s not one place that is head and shoulders above the rest. Each of the best hotels has pros and cons.

Having said that, let’s dive into our list of Tibetan-owned hotels…

Kyichu Hotel

Even though the Kyichu is a bit past it’s prime, for us it’s the best hotel in Lhasa, IF you’re staying there in spring, summer or fall. We DON’T recommend it during the colder winter months.

Garden patio at the Kyichu Hotel in Lhasa Tibet
Garden patio at the Kyichu Hotel in Lhasa.

PROS

  • Lovely, peaceful patio garden where you can eat lunch and dinner among a happy mix of travelers and local Tibetan families.
  • Excellent location very near the Barkhor
  • Large, simple rooms and bathrooms
  • Hotel restaurant has a decent selection of both western and Tibetan food, plus a good yak burger.
  • (Usually) easy access for tourist vehicle to drop you and your luggage
What do You Eat in Tibet?
Tasty yak burger at the Kyichu Hotels garden restaurant. Yak really does taste like a lean, mild beef. Photo: YoWangdu.

CONS

  • Not recommended in winter, when no one stays there, the garden is empty because it’s too cold, and the whole place has a desolate, depressing air. Ask us how we know. LOL. (The heating is fine, btw.)
  • Prices a little on the higher side.

Note: This hotel is sometimes called the Lhasa Kyichu or Jiqu Fandian (Chinese).

Kyichu on TripAdvisor >>

Shangbala Hotel

The Shangbala is a large tourist hotel with a fairly updated feel, in a great location.

Shang Bala Hotel in Lhasa Tibet

PROS

  • Good heaters so a great place to stay in winter, especially if you ask for a room on one of the top floors, to get sun.
  • Cozy beds and simple, pleasant decor
  • Excellent location very near the Barkhor
  • Easy access for tourist vehicle to drop you and your luggage

CONS

  • Lots of Chinese group tours in summer
  • Poor breakfast selection if you want western food (to be fair, most places have not a great breakfast), and poor customer service at the restaurant.
  • There’s a touch of an anonymous feeling about this place.

Shangbala Hotel Lhasa on TripAdvisor >>

Dekhang

We first stayed in the Dekhang when it was brand-new, in either 2002 or 2007, and it was exceptionally good at that time. After many years, we wanted to try it again in late 2019, but it is under new management and was being renovated. There are a lot of negative reviews on TripAdvisor, but our very knowledgeable guide friend in Lhasa tells us that it’s actually really good now. Definitely worth checking out.

Dekhang Hotel in Lhasa]

PROS

  • Spacious, lovely interiors with tasteful Tibetan decor
  • Fancy feeling

CONS

  • A touch far. Just beyond the Barkhor area on the opposite side than the Potala so you might not be inclined to pop out for a stroll around the Barkhor in the evening or early morning. Still walkable to Barkhor, just not super close.
  • At this moment, still a bit of an unknown quantity since just redone

The Dekang on TripAdvisor >>

Yak Hotel

The old standard Yak Hotel is always an option. The last time we stayed here was 2007 I think and we had an unpleasant customer service experience so never went back, but some folks swear by it.

Bathroom at the Yak Hotel in Lhasa
Bathroom at the Yak Hotel.

PROS

  • Excellent location near the Barkhor
  • We like the Dunya Restaurant a lot and often go by there when we need a little coffee or Western comfort feeling after being in Lhasa a while and burning out on momos and noodles.
  • Large hotel so good variety of rooms and types
Meg Moser at the Dunya Restaurant in Lhasa
Meg Moser at the Dunya Restaurant in Lhasa.

CONS

  • According to TripAdvisor reviews, we’re not the only ones who’ve had very hit and miss interactions with staff, sometimes friendly, sometimes very unfriendly.
  • Popular with tour groups

Yak Hotel on TripAdvisor >>

Yabshi Phunkhang Heritage Hotel

This place was built for the family of the 11th Dalai Lama, and it has a highly unique and Tibetan vibe. We haven’t stayed there but plan to give it a try on a future visit (probably summer since it seemed a little empty and coldish when we visitied in winter.)

Yabshi Phunkhang Boutique Hotel in Lhasa
A room at the Yabshi Phunkhang Boutique Hotel. Photo: YoWangdu.

Note that the name is sometimes listed as the Chinese pinyin: Yaoxi Pingkang Gujian Hotel.

PROS

  • Lovely, unique decor
  • Superb location basically right off the Barkhor
  • Nice courtyard for meals and tea

CONS

  • Desultory service, when I visited for tea.
  • A bit pricey

Yabshi Phunkhang Heritage Hotel on trip.com >>

Tashi Choeta Boutique Hotel

We stopped by this hotel to check out the rooms and facilities and found a lot to like.

Room at the Tashi Choeta Hotel in Lhasa.
Room at the Tashi Choeta Hotel in Lhasa.

PROS

  • Very good location near the Ramoche Temple, so close to the Barkhor.
  • Lovely Tibetan interior spaces and cozy rooms.

CONS

  • The reason we did not choose to stay here is that on the day we came by, the Tibetan staff were chatting in a group together and despite the fact that there were no other customers in sight, took their sweet time to come help us. And all the while, the other folks in the group gave us unfriendly stares. Zero sense of hospitality. That said, it may have just been the day and we’d be willing to give it a shot another time, since the vibe really is nice, otherwise.

Tashi Choeta on TripAdvisor >>

The Tibet Gang-Gyan Lhasa Hotel

We visited this hotel, but despite it’s qualities, didn’t choose it to stay the night because it felt too average and anonymous. You may wonder why we include it on our list. Mainly it’s the location and it’s being Tibetan-owned, and the fact that it’s perfectly fine. It’s sort of like a bit of a run-down cousin of a Holiday Inn in the US.

Room at the Tibet Gang Gyan Hotel.
Room at the Tibet Gang Gyan Hotel.

PROS

  • Good central location in Old Town area
  • Easy access for tourist vehicle to drop you and your luggage
  • Simple, decent rooms, clean enough, pleasant enough

CONS

  • Lots of Chinese tour groups
  • The place feels like an average, functional conference hotel.

Gyang Gyang on TripAdvisor >>

HOW TO GET TO LHASA?

Getting to Lhasa doesn’t have to be a mystery.

Tibetans circumambulating the Tsekor at the Potala Palace in Lhasa
Tibetans circumambulating the Tsekor around the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Photo: YoWangdu.

Here’s the deal…

A word to the wise

  • You have to be on an organized tour with an official Tibet travel agency. The agency will arrange the tour inside the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). (You can ask us for help connecting to a good agent here.) The good part of this is that a good agent can give you invaluable guidance on your whole trip.
  • There are three ways for foreign travelers to get to Tibet, but we only recommend ONE of them. Hint: it’s not flying!
Beijing Lhasa train
The Beijing Lhasa train. Photo: YoWangdu.

Read on to learn more…

Fly to Lhasa

You can take a flight to Lhasa from a bunch of Chinese cities. The only direct international flights come from Kathmandu, Nepal.

Boarding a flight to Tibet in China.

PROS

  • Flights are the fastest method when you’re short on time.
  • You have a lot of options from mainland China.
  • Flying from Kathmandu is better than coming overland from Kathmandu.

But there are major drawbacks as well…

CONS

  • We don’t recommend flying into Lhasa from anywhere because it puts you at significant risk of altitude sickness. Ask us how we know…😩
  • When you fly to Tibet from Nepal, you get a special type of visa that can impact your travel in mainland China. (See our “Tibet Visa” post, under “The Special Visa Required to Enter Tibet from Nepal”.)

YOWANGDU RECOMMENDATIONS

View of Tibet Mountains Flying from Lhasa
View of the mountains when flying from Lhasa to Chengdu.
  • Don’t fly into Tibet. This ignores the basic rules of acclimatizing to high altitude safely.
  • If you do need to fly, we strongly advise you talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for Diamox, a medication for altitude sickness prevention.
  • One alternative is to fly to Xining and acclimatize at least 1 night and ideally 2 or more nights, THEN fly to Lhasa.

So what are you supposed to do?
Keep reading…

Take the train to Lhasa

Although China is rapidly developing its train connections to the Tibet Autonomous Region, at the moment, the only way to get to Lhasa by train is to take the Qinghai-Tibet Railway.

PROS

  • By taking the “sky train,” you see wild, high areas of the Tibetan Plateau that no one otherwise sees.
  • Even though it’s not an ideal way to acclimatize to Tibet’s high altitude, the train is better than flying. (See The Biggest Mistake People Make about the Tibet Train.)

CONS

  • The train takes longer than flying (from Xining, the ride is roughly 24 hours).
  • People ask us “how bad is the train from Beijing to Lhasa,” and to be honest, it’s not in great condition. People think it’s a fancy luxury train but that’s far from the truth. Even for first class sleeper, if you can get that, the cars are outdated and a bit run down.. For a lot of the year, it’s crowded with smoking Chinese tourists, and ranks pretty high on the nasty bathroom scale.
View from the Tibet train to Lhasa. Photo: YoWangdu.
View from the Tibet train to Lhasa. Photo: YoWangdu.

YOWANGDU RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Fly to Xining, which is where the Qinghai-Tibet Railway officially starts. Stay a couple of nights in Xining before you get on the train. This helps you start to acclimate. (Ask your agent if you’d like to add touring days in Xining to your TAR itinerary.)
  • Take the trains leaving Xining later in the evening (7p or later if you can) for the best day views of the Tibetan wildlands.
  • Consider asking your doctor for a prescription for Diamox altitude sickness preventative medicine. See a pattern, here? (Even though this route is better, you’re still breaking basic altitude acclimatization rules.)

There’s one more way to get to Lhasa…

Catching the Tibet train to Lhasa at the Xining Train station. Photo: YoWangdu.
Catching the Tibet train to Lhasa at the Xining Train station. Photo: YoWangdu.

Overland Routes to Lhasa

You can travel to Tibet overland from Nepal. The Sichuan-Tibet pat of Chinese National Highway G-318 opened to foreigners in 2019.

PROS

  • We have not personally driven the Sichuan-Tibet route yet, but our partners in Tibet tell us it a good road with beautiful landscapes and Kham culture.
  • We don’t know the altitude profile of this route from mainland China, but imagine that it would be possible to plan stops at altitudes that would allow decent acclimatization.

So there are benefits to to traveling overland from mainland China, but here’s the thing…

Lobsang in Chengdu.
Lobsang visiting a temple in Chengdu. Photo: YoWangdu.

CONS

  • The WORST way to travel to Lhasa is overland from Kathmandu to Lhasa. Many, many travelers get serious altitude sickness on this route, and we strongly advise against it. The basic problem is that most overland trips put you in the extreme high altitude of the Everest Base Camp area in just 3 days. This is nowhere near what the human body needs to acclimate.
  • The road from Kathmandu to the Gyirong border in Tibet is in bad condition, with occasional mudslides.
  • The same visa issues apply when you go overland from Nepal as when you fly. (See the special visa section of our “Tibet Visa” post).

YOWANGDU RECOMMENDATIONS

Trekking the Annapurna circuit in Nepal.
Trekking the Annapurna circuit in Nepal. Photo: YoWangdu.
  • If you’re super keen to go overland, go the reverse route, from Lhasa to Kathmandu. You have more time to get to the Everest region from that way, and more opportunity to acclimatize.
  • If you do choose the Kathmandu-Lhasa route (even though we recommend against it), don’t fail to ask your doctor for a prescription for Diamox altitude sickness preventative medicine, and make 100% sure tour guide is carrying supplemental oxygen.

What do We Do?

Our favorite route is to…

  • fly to a major city in China, usually Chengdu in western China
  • spend a day or two, tour a bit
  • fly to Xining
  • spend a 2-3 nights acclimatizing with day trips to the fascinating nearby Tibetan monasteries (We haven’t taken a day trip to popular Qinghai Lake because it just sounds so dang touristic.)
  • take an evening train to Lhasa
Yolanda on the Xining to Lhasa "sky train." Photo: YoWangdu.
Yolanda on the Xining to Lhasa “sky train.” Photo: YoWangdu.

BEST RESTAURANTS IN LHASA

You’ve got a ton of options for what to eat in Lhasa — from traditional Tibetan, to Chinese and Indian, to burgers and pizza.

Momos at a Tibetan restaurant in Lhasa
Steamed momos at a Tibetan restaurant in Tibet.

Before we get into some of our favorites, here are some quick tips and lessons learned about eating in Tibet.

Thenthuk Noodle Soup in Lhasa Tibet
A bowl of thenthuk (pull-noodle soup) at a hole-in-the-wall joint in Lhasa.
  • You should know that Tibetan restaurant names are rarely spelled the same way twice on any app or website, and, worse, sometimes the Chinese version makes it unrecognizable. For example, Lhasa Kitchen on TripAdvisor is “LaSa ChuFang” And Amdo Norzen is “Aldo Nrozen”! The only way to be sure is to check with your guide and to see the address.
  • Follow the old traveler’s saying: Cook it, boil it, peel it or forget about it! It’s no problem to follow this mantra, because Tibetans tend to prefer cooked, hot food to cold dishes.
Vegan options in Lhasa
You can also find vegan options in Lhasa.
  • In Lhasa, vegetarians will do fine (even though Tibetans eat a lot of meat, mainly yak). We haven’t been vegan while in Tibet yet, but if memory serves, there will be plenty of hot veggies and rice, plus lots of fruit in Lhasa and even a decent amount in other places.
Fruits available in Lhasa
There is an abundance of fruit available in Lhasa, even in the colder months.
Momos
Lobsang Wangdu’s delicious momos.

Now, let’s look at some of the spots we either personally like or that get fabulous reviews time after time.

Let’s dive in…

Tibetan Family Kitchen

This Tibetan-owned restaurant is a winner on many fronts. It’s got a great location in the Barkhor area. It’s Tibetan-owned, with a pleasant, friendly vibe. And the food is homey and delicious Tibetan and Tibetan-style Asian dishes. With all that, you can’t go wrong.

Tibetan Family Kitchen on TripAdvisor

Tibetan Family Kitchen Restaurant in Lhasa
Interior of the Tibetan Family Kitchen Restaurant in Lhasa.

Dunya Restaurant

This is an airy, pleasant spot that was long owned by a Dutch guy but is now (we hear) Tibetan owned. We love to head here when we’re craving some Western-style comfort. Excellent location near the Yak Hotel. Good homemade breads, decent pizza and pasta, plus some basic Tibetan and Indian dishes, with good naan. We tend to head here at least a couple of times every time we travel in Tibet.

Dunya Restaurant in Lhasa Tibet
The Dunya Restaurant in Lhasa.

Dunya Restaurant Lhasa on TripAdvisor

Lhasa Kitchen

This is a go-to spot for a lot of travelers, reliably tasty though not fabulous. It’s Tibetan-owned and has a great location just off the Barkhor Square in front of the Jokhang. (When we were there in December 2019, it had moved from a slightly more airy spot with good views across the street, but still pleasant.) Remember that it’s called Lasa ChuFang as well, from the Chinese.

Lhasa Kitchen Restaurant in Lhasa Tibet
Palak paneer and naan at the Lhasa Kitchen Restaurant in Lhasa.

Lhasa Kitchen on TripAdvisor

Kyichu Hotel Restaurant

We’re listing the Kyichu Hotel’s restaurant here mainly because their little courtyard garden is an incredibly peaceful place to hang out and have lunch or dinner.

It’s Tibetan-owned, always key for us, and they’ve created a little oasis of green and loveliness in the middle of the city that has become a popular spot for more well-heeled Tibetan families as well as international travelers. It’s a great location near the Barkhor too.

Kyichu Hotel Restaurant in Lhasa Tibet
Ham and cheese panini with french fries at Kyichu Hotel Restaurant in Lhasa.

The food is totally fine — the usual traveler’s haunt mix of basic Tibetan dishes, with some Chinese and Nepali/Indian thrown in, plus western fare. We like the yak burgers (very tasty, with a mild beef-like flavor, in case you’re not an adventurous eater). But it’s the garden we keep coming back for, and the food is just a vehicle to hang out longer in the garden 🙂

Kyichu Hotel Hotel and Restaurant Garden in Lhasa Tibet
Part of the garden seating at the Kyichu Hotel Hotel and Restaurant in Lhasa.

Ridiculously, this is called the Ji Qu Restaurant on TripAdvisor, from a mangled Chinese transliteration.

Kyichu Hotel Restaurant on TripAdviser

Po Ba Tsang Restaurant

Tibetan restaurant in Lhasa.
A little bit fancy and touristy Tibetan restaurant in Lhasa, called Po Ba Tsang, now possibly closed. Photo: YoWangdu

Roughly translated, this is Tibetan Home Restaurant, and it’s a slightly upscale touristy place, with live Tibetan singers performing during dinner. That’s not usually the kind of place we like to go. However, in this case the food is authentic and good, and artfully presented. And the bright, open dining room has a super pleasant feeling.
(We’re hearing that this spot may be closed. Friends are checking for us and we’ll let you know when we know more.)

Po Ba Tsang on TripAdvisor

Local Lhasa Joints

Holes in the Wall

Many of our favorite eating experiences in Lhasa have been hole in the wall spots that our Tibetan guides brought us to. Because Yolanda loves thenthuk, Tibetan pull-noodle soups, she often asks the guides for that and gets great, cheap meals that way. Ask your guide.

Thenthuk at a local Lhasa restaurant
Another bowl of thenthuk at a hole-in-the-wall lunch spot in Lhasa.


Muslim Noodles

We find that the guides love what they call “Muslim noodles,” and have a ton of those all over Tibet — hand-pulled noodle soups and stir-fried noodles with either veggies or yak or mutton. Sooo good.

Hand-made “Muslim noodles” in Lhasa.

More Upscale

Sometimes Tibetan friends bring us to a slightly more fancy local spots. We have no idea what they’re called or how to get back. If you’re interested in eating totally among the Tibetans, your best bet is to talk to ask your guide for a nice Tibetan local restaurant where foreigners don’t usually go. Note that unless a guide is with you, and if you can’t speak or read Tibetan or Chinese, you’ll need to get creative about ordering.

POPULAR SPOTS WE PLAN TO TRY…


House of Shambala

Somehow we’ve never managed to get to popular House of Shambala restaurant. By all accounts it’s quite good, with all the hallmarks of a great spot: good location, pleasant atmosphere, friendly staff and good food! It’s definitely on the list for our next trip to Lhasa!

House of Shambala Restaurant in Lhasa

House of Shambala Restaurant Lhasa
Rooftop seating at the House of Shambala Restaurant in Lhasa.

Amdo Norzen

The food in this place looks authentic and amazing, if a little daunting for the non-adventurous eaters among us: nettle soup! yak tongue! Keen to check it out next time we go, though since we’re vegan now, looks like we’ll be focusing on the beautiful-looking mushroom and potato dishes.

Amdo Norzen restaurant on TripAdvisor >>

Amdo Norzen Restaurant in Lhasa
Mushrooms at Amdo Norzen Restaurant in Lhasa.

TOP YOWANGDU RECOMMENDATION FOR VISITING LHASA

If we had to choose one most critical piece of advice for visiting Lhasa, it would be this:

Book your trip with a reliable, Tibetan owned agency.

That’s it. 

If you do that, you stand the absolute best chance of having an amazing journey and getting home safely. 

If you care about supporting the local Tibetan economy, don’t be fooled by the multitude of Chinese-owned agencies online that pretend to be Tibetan. 

How can you find a good Tibetan agent?

Tibetans prostrating at the Jokhang in Lhasa in 2002
Tibetans prostrating at the Jokhang in Lhasa in 2002.

There is honestly no way to know this by simply searching online. Sadly, the most unscrupulous Chinese agencies go to great lengths to try to appear like the real thing, and they are pretty good at faking it. 

If you’d like us to introduce you to a high-quality, real, Tibetan-owned agency, at no cost to you, fill out this form, and we’ll hook you up.

View of Potala Palace from Palubuk Monastery in Lhasa.
View of Potala Palace from Palubuk Monastery in Lhasa. Photo: YoWangdu.

Now it’s Your Turn

So that’s it for What You Need to Know to Visit Lhasa!

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Updated on July 19, 2021. First published on February 20, 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.