Arranging travel to Tibet

I often hear from people who want to go to Tibet, but are frustrated with arranging their tour. They are convinced that arranging travel to Tibet is too difficult for them. If you use the wrong travel agency, it probably is difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Having lived in Tibet for over 10 years and having arranged around 500 custom tours across Tibet over the past 6 years, I can personally tell you that arranging travel to Tibet is not hard! In fact, by doing just a little bit of research, arranging travel to Tibet is very easy. With this post, I will tell you everything you need to do in order to arrange the perfect trip to Tibet.

Tibetan woman spinning a prayer wheel at Ronghhu Monastery རོང་ཕུ་དགོན་

1. The first thing that you need to do is research where in Tibet you want to go. Tibet, including the  Amdo and Kham regions, is huge and covers roughly 25% of the land mass of China, which is the world’s 4th largest country by area. There are dozens of amazing routes and itineraries to choose from. Since Tibet is so huge, it has many different types of geography to offer. I recommend picking up a copy of Lonely Planet’s Tibet guidebook. This newly updated guidebook is the best option for researching the popular overland routes that begin in Lhasa. It has detailed information for getting from Lhasa to Mt. Everest Base Camp, the Nepal border or to western Tibet’s Mt. Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. For information about the Amdo and Kham regions, I recommend getting Lonely Planet’s China guidebook. The Qinghai, western Sichuan, northwest Yunnan and southwest Gansu chapters are loaded with useful information on the Amdo and Kham regions. Another excellent resource is Footprints Tibet Handbook. This guidebook covers all regions of Tibet.

A remote monastery in Nangchen county in Yushu prefecture ཡུལ་ཤུལ་ཁུལ་ནང་ཆེན་རྫོང་ (southern Qinghai)

A Kagyu sect བཀའ་བརྒྱུད་པ་ monastery in Chamdo county ཆབ་མདོ་རྫོང་ in Kham (eastern TAR)

2. After you have researched where you want to go to in Tibet, contact a reputable, Tibetan owned travel agency. It is important to use a good, reliable travel agency when traveling through rugged and remote Tibet. For budget travelers, it is very important to research which agency to use. The agency with the lowest price is usually not the best agency to use. Not all agencies care about their customers and some arrange itineraries that are dangerous and do not provide enough time to properly acclimatize to high elevation. Because travel permits and tours to Tibet can take several days to arrange, it is best to contact a travel agency at least 2 or 3 weeks before you plan to depart to Lhasa. For recommendations on which travel agency to use, feel free to contact me.

All foreign travelers to the Tibet Autonomous Region are required to be part of an organized tour that includes travel permits, a tour guide and a private vehicle with a driver (no vehicle is required if you are just staying in Lhasa). There are no exceptions to this. You will not be allowed to board a train or flight to Lhasa without showing your travel permits. These permits can only be issued by a travel agency. This is not a new regulation, but has been enforced off and on for the past 30 years. The Kham and Amdo areas, which cover 50% of the Tibetan Plateau, have no travel regulations, though they do close periodically due to protests and riots.

A young Amdo monk from near Qinghai Lake/Tso Ngonbo མཚོ་སྔོན་པོ།

3. When you have decided on a travel route for Tibet and have found a good travel agency to use, then you (actually the agency) begin processing your tour. This can all be done through email. There is no need to physically go to a travel agency to arrange your tour of Tibet. As I stated above, begin contacting a Tibet based travel agency 2 or 3 weeks before you plan to arrive in Lhasa. In order for your travel permits to be processed, you will need to scan and email the agency you use a high-res image of both your passport and Chinese visa. These are needed in order to apply for your travel permits. The agency will arrange your permits and everything else for you. They will arrange a guide, a vehicle and a driver. Most agencies can also arrange train tickets and discounted air tickets to Lhasa.

4. Travel agencies require a deposit of anywhere between 10% and 50% before they will issue you your travel permit. Tour deposits can be sent using a bank transfer, Western Union or Pay Pal. The remaining balance of your tour will need to be paid once you arrive in Lhasa. Some agencies will require you to pay the entire tour balance before arriving in Lhasa. As long as the agency is reputable, I see no problem paying the entire tour balance before arriving in Lhasa.

The Yarlung Tsangpo River ཡར་ཀླུངས་གཙང་པོ་ཆུ་ east of Lhasa

5. If you plan to fly to Lhasa, you will need to give the agency you use the address of a hotel in mainland China where you plan to stay so they can mail you the original permit. The original permit is needed in order to board a flight to Lhasa. Most people fly to Lhasa from Chengdu. If you plan to take the train to Lhasa, a copy of the permit is all you need. The agency will email you the permit and you will need to print it out (both pages). The copy of your permit will need to be shown to officials before you can board the train to Lhasa.

Besides doing a little research and sending a few emails, there isn’t much else to arranging a tour to Tibet. It is not difficult to do. In my years of experience arranging tours of Tibet, I have arranged many trips with just 4 or 5 fairly short emails. Bottom line: It’s not that hard arranging travel to Tibet!

For more information on getting to Tibet or for recommendations on which travel agencies to use, feel free to contact me at thelandofsnows@gmail.com

Losang བློ་བཟང་

Nuns walking at Everest Base Camp

Posted by Tibet Travel — How to Plan Your Trip to Tibet on January 30, 2012 at 3:28 am

[...] Also, check out Losang’s reassuring post, Arranging Travel to Tibet. [...]

Posted by ray on April 4, 2012 at 1:56 am

We are planning to go on tour this may 2012 with a company called Tibet discovery.com. Does any know if this is a legit company operating out of Lhasa? Thank you Ray

Posted by DAVID TURNBULL on July 3, 2012 at 10:02 am

I understand you work with Zhilam hostel? I am booked in to arrive on the 6th July. I have return flight from Guangzhou to Chengdu-Guangzhou.
depart Guangzhou:CA4310-5th July
Depart Chengdu:JD5162-15th July

Can you advise cost of return flight to link with the above to get me to Kanding .
please advise as soon as possible
David

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on July 12, 2012 at 12:02 pm

David, I do not work at Zhilam Hostel. You will need to contact them directly for the questions you have.

Posted by Salikea on October 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Hi, we are traveling to mutiple countries in the south pacific Asian countries and would like to fly into China and take the train into Tibet. Can we fly out to Tibet straight into India after? Or do we have to travel by train for 45 hours back into Beijing or shianghai in order to fly out to India? thanks for your blog post.

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on October 21, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Hello….There are no flights from Tibet to India. There are 2 main ways of getting to India from Tibet:

1. Go to Nepal (either overland or by flight) from Lhasa. Then, from Kathmandu, you can fly to Indian cities such as Delhi or Kolkata.
2. From Lhasa, you can go to Kunming. You can fly to Kunming via Shangri La or take the train to Chengdu and then on to Kunming. Kunming has several weekly flights to Kolkata.

Losang

Posted by Chan Jit Yen on February 3, 2013 at 4:37 pm

Hi,

We are Malaysian students and will be travelling in Tibet and Nepal on this coming June. Any recommendation for reliable travel agency with the best price.

Hope to get your reply soon.

Regards,
Jit Yen

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on February 3, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Jit Yen, I hope you are doing well. The Tibetan Plateau covers a HUGE area of 2.5 million square kilometers and is nearly 8 times the size of Malaysia. I recommend telling me which specific regions of Tibet you plan to travel to and then email me at thelandofsnows@gmail.com and I will get back to you on a travel agency recommendation. Few travel agencies specialize in all of Tibet, which is why it is best to tell me where you plan to go.

Have a good day…..Losang

Posted by Oliver on March 10, 2013 at 6:56 am

Hey,
I booked a tour to Tibet fo April, but yesterday I was told that the tour has been cancelled. Having already booked flights and attained the Chinese visa, I am still intent on trying to go ahead on travel to Tibet, but with a different tour company. My trip would preferably depart Beijing, and travel to Lhasa by train. Then travel down the friendship Highway, visiting places such as Tingri and EBC. Then will travel on into Kathmandu, where the tour would end. I would preferably begin the tour on or around the 14th April. I am a solo British traveller. Do you know of any tour companies that might be able to help or offer a tour like this? Any help or advice would be genuinly appreciated. Thank you.

Posted by John on April 18, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Hi,
I’m closing a tour with “Explore Tibet” to Lhasa, I’d be very gratefull if you could give me your personal reference about this company? Thank you John

Posted by Losang བློ་བཟང་ on April 19, 2013 at 7:20 am

John, Explore Tibet is one of the few travel agencies in Tibet that I know very little about. I have not heard any bad reports about them and they are a Tibetan owned and staffed company, so based on that, I assume they are a good company to use.

Enjoy your trip to Tibet!

Posted by Anh on August 27, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Hello

I am a big fan of your blog and website !
I will go to Jiuzhaigou and part of Kham Tibet this October the first time in a group of 10 people. Could you please advice us a budget car rental service company from Chendu ? I’ve searched over the internet, there are plenty of them, but it’s really difficult to identify the reputable & with best price service companies among them.

Many thanks in advance !

Anh

Posted by Wang on October 15, 2013 at 11:35 am

Any comment on the great tibet tour agency?

Posted by sherry on November 12, 2013 at 7:02 am

Hi I’m traveling on a budget are there any reputable tour companies that can take me to Namsto Lake in Tibet on a 4-6 day tour at most?

Posted by Kallol Chatterjee on December 13, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Can you get me into a group tour that begins in Lhasa and ends in Kathmandu in early August 2014?

Thank you

Kallol Chatterjee

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