UPDATED 30 October 2015: Travel regulations for Tibet can change quickly. Read this post for up-to-date travel regulations for all areas of the Tibetan Plateau, including the Amdo and Kham regions.
FOR THE 2016 TIBET TRAVEL REGULATIONS, PLEASE GO TO THE FOLLOWING LINK:
UPDATED 31 December 2015
Are you looking for a good, reputable travel agency in Tibet that offers competitive prices? Send me an email and I will recommend some of the most reputable Tibetan-owned agencies for you to choose from: firstname.lastname@example.org
Each year I do my best to keep up-to-date on the various travel regulations and restrictions across the Tibetan Plateau. Tibet, including the regions of Amdo and Kham, can sometimes be politically unstable. When areas and regions are unstable, the government (not travel agencies) either closes specific areas or imposes travel regulations, such as group travel. It is important to remember that it is not the travel agencies who impose or even want these regulations, but rather it is the Chinese government who hands down these travel restrictions. Travel agencies must abide by the regulations given to them by the Chinese government.
ALL OF THE INFORMATION BELOW WAS CURRENT WHEN WRITTEN, BUT COULD CHANGE AT ANYTIME WITOUT ANY NOTICE!
NEPAL EARTHQUAKE UPDATE
On 29 June 2015 The Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) announced that the Tibet-side Everest Region is now OPEN to travelers. Permits can now be processed to go to the Tibet side of Mt. Everest. However, the overland border crossing from Tibet to Nepal (and vice-versa) remains CLOSED. This border crossing will remain closed for the rest of 2015 and likely will remain closed well into 2016.
The road from Shigatse to the border town of Dram (Zhangmu) is finished being repaired (clink link for news report) and is open to local traffic. However, this road still remains closed to ALL foreign travelers. The Tibet Tourism Bureau has not said anything about when this section of road or the overland border crossing between Tibet and Nepal (or vice-versa) will reopen. It is unlikely this road will reopen in 2015. When new information is released, I will immediately post it here.
Even before the earthquake on 25 April 2015, the Chinese Government was seriously considering moving the overland border crossing from Dram (Zhangmu) to a better and safer location. Because of the earthquake, the government is now still in talks to decide whether or not to move the overland border crossing from its current location to a new location. NOTHING official has been said in regards to this. When more information becomes available, I will immediately post it here. For now, it remains impossible to say when the overland border between Tibet and Nepal will open again
On 22 June, the Nathu La Pass located between Sikkim, India and Yadong, Tibet re-opened after a 53 year closure. This pass is ONLY open to Indian pilgrims who are going to Mt. Kailash. Only 250 pilgrims will be permitted to cross this border crossing this year. If you are Indian and have not already begun the long process of getting the required permits for this pass, you will have to wait until 2016 or 2017. It remains HIGHLY unlikely that this border crossing from India to Tibet will open to large scale tourists anytime soon and even if it does open, it most likely will only be open to Indian passport holders.
For more information, including which travel agencies in Tibet to contact, please email me at: email@example.com
Lhasa and the Tibet Autonomous Region
Currently, Lhasa is OPEN to most foreign tourists! Permits began being accepted again on 23 March 2015. The current regulations state that no group travel is required. Solo travelers can apply for travel permits. Also, mixed nationality groups can also apply for permits. The only exception are travelers from Norway, Nigeria and Philippines. Currently, travel permits are NOT being given to Norwegians or Nigerians.
Remember….permits are just 1 thing that you need in order to travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region! You also need a tour guide, a private vehicle and driver….no exceptions. Only a travel agency can arrange these for you. **Be wise in choosing a travel agency as not all of them arrange quality tours. Read the following post on some of the nightmares travelers to Tibet have had from using travel agencies with poor reputations: Travel Agency Nightmares in Tibet. For recommendations on which local, Tibetan-owned travel agency to use, please send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
As they did for most of last year, the Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) is requiring all foreign travelers going to Lhasa to pay a tour deposit in advance before they will process travel permits. The deposit depends on the length of your tour and are around $500 USD. This sounds strange (and is!), but this deposit is required before your permit can be applied for. This deposit goes towards your tour cost and must be sent to the travel agency you use at least a few weeks before you plan to arrive in Lhasa. This is NOT a rule the travel agencies are making, but rather is a rule handed down to travel agencies from the Tibet Tourism Bureau. So, when your travel agency asks for this deposit, please understand why they are doing it.
Everest Base Camp is open to foreign travelers. For the past 18 months, road construction has been going on between Baber (sometimes called New Tingri) and Everest Base Camp (EBC). The new road from Shelkar/New Tingri to Everest Base Camp is now completed.
Mt. Kailash and Western Tibet are open to foreign travelers. Several travel agencies are already planning for multiple groups to go to Kailash during the holy month of Saga Dawa. Kailash is open to Indian pilgrims, however, only a handful of government owned travel agencies can arrange permits for Indians. Most other travel agencies cannot arrange permits for Indians going to Kailash. This regulation regarding Indian travelers is ONLY for the Kailash region and not other areas of Tibet. For other areas of Tibet (such as Lhasa, EBC, Shigatse, etc), Indians can contact any travel agency in Lhasa. The Tibet Tourism Bureau will not issue permits for people older than 70 to trek around Mt. Kailash.
The holy lake of Lhamo Lha Tso remains closed for unknown reasons.
All of Chamdo prefecture, with the exception of Rawok Lake (which is only 8 kilometers inside Chamdo prefecture), has been closed to foreign travelers since 2008 and remains closed for 2015. It is unlikely that this area will reopen this year or anytime soon. **This means that the overland routes from Sichuan (Chengdu) and Yunnan (Kunming and Shangri La) will not be able to take place again this year. Coming from Yunnan and Sichuan, you will only be able to travel as far as the border of the eastern Tibet Autonomous Region. You will not be allowed to cross into the TAR. Other closed areas in the Tibet Autonomous Region include some of the ultra-remote counties of Nagchu Prefecture that are east of Amdo county (not to be confused with the Amdo region located in the far northeast corner of the Tibetan Plateau).
The Tibetan Regions in Qinghai Province
Over 95% of the land mass of Qinghai is designated as “Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures”. Qinghai is divided into 6 Tibetan Autonomous Prefectures while one other prefecture has a large amount of Tibetans as well. Over the past 7 years, there have been numerous self-immolations and small protests throughout the province, especially in and around the town of Rebkong, known as Tongren in Chinese. Despite this, much of Qinghai is open without any travel restrictions or need for an organized tour.
The Amdo regions of to the south of Qinghai lake (Tsolho / Hainan prefecture) are all open as are all counties in Golok prefecture. While open to foreign travelers, some counties in Golok require travel permits that are inexpensive and easy to arrange. I have heard several reports this year of travelers having problems in the restricted parts of Golok because they did not have permits. The counties in Golok that require travel permits are Darlag (Dari), Gabde (Gande) and (Padme) Banma, though at times Banma county is completely closed. Permits for these 3 counties can be easily obtained from the main Public Security Bureau office in the prefecture capital of Machen (Dawu) for around 60 RMB per person. The two counties that lie along the north shore of Qinghai Lake, Gangtsa (Gangca) and Haiyan are both open to foreign travelers, while the two counties that lie to the north of those 2 counties, Menyuan and Qilian, remain closed as they have been for the past 20 years.
In November 2013, government officials from Beijing traveled to Yushu to officially announce that the area had been rebuilt. Jyekundo, the capital city of Yushu prefecture, is now finished being rebuilt from the April 2010 earthquake that destroyed the region. There are now many good hotels and restaurants to choose from. All 6 counties of Yushu prefecture are open to foreign travelers. This remote and isolate prefecture, at 97% Tibetan, has some of the best preserved Tibetan culture remaining in Tibet.
The large prefecture of Tsochang / Haixi in far western Qinghai has had some closures in place for more than 20 years. The small city of Golmud is open, but the counties of Delingha and Wulan are permanently closed to foreigners.
Read more about Qinghai:
The Tibetan Regions in Sichuan Province
Western and Northern Sichuan each contain a Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Ngawa / Aba prefecture, part of the traditional Tibetan region of Amdo, is located in northern Sichuan and has had some areas of major unrest the past 2 years. Ngawa / Aba county, one of 13 counties within the prefecture, has periodically closed at times over the past 8 years. I recently stayed here without any problems for 2 nights. However, stay here at your own risk as things can change without notice. Heshui county, for unknown reasons, is closed and has been for several years. The counties of Dzamtang (Rangtang), Marthang (Hongyuan) and Zoige (Ruo’ergai) have also had political unrest recently, but are currently open to foreigners. Often times the only way of finding out if these counties are open, are to go there and find out first hand. Local police will always say the area is “open”, even if it is closed. If the area is unexpectedly closed, the police will not fine you or detain you, but kindly ask you to leave. Some guidebooks report that all of Ngawa / Aba prefecture is closed and that simply isn’t true. While Aba county has had some issues in the past and has been closed for most of the past 4 years, the majority of Aba prefecture has been open. For 2015, all counties in Aba Prefecture have been open, except for Heishui County.
Garze prefecture, part of the traditional Tibetan region of Kham located in western Sichuan, is currently all open to foreign travelers, including Sertar. However, even though this area is open, sometimes (though not often) the bus stations in Chengdu and Shangri La (Yunnan province) refuse to sell foreigners bus tickets going to counties within this prefecture. This is usually because the bus station attendant is not sure whether the region is open or not and since they don’t know, refuse to sell tickets to foreigners to be on the safe side. There is a small bus station in the Tibetan District of Chengdu, known as Wu Hou Ci. In front of the Kangding Hotel, there is a small bus station that has 2 daily buses leaving each morning to Kangding. This bus station will almost always sell tickets to foreigners even when the other bus stations will not. For 2015, all counties in Garze Prefecture have been open.
The remote Tibetan Autonomous County of Muli, located in southwest Sichuan province, also is open at this time to foreign travelers.
Read more about the Tibetan areas of Sichuan:
The Tibetan Regions in Gansu Province
Gansu province has one Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture that is part of the traditional Tibetan region of Amdo. Gannan prefecture has been a hot-spot for political unrest for more than 8 years. Along with several small protests, there have been more than 2 dozen self-immolations in this area. However, this region (including Xiahe and Labrang Monastery) remained open to foreign travelers all year in 2013 and 2014. So far in 2015, Labrang and Langmusi have been open all year without any problems. The only exception is the seldom visited county of Drugchu (Zhouqu) in the far eastern region of Gannan prefecture. All other counties are open.
Read more about the Tibetan areas of Gansu:
The Tibetan Regions in Yunnan Province