Tibet, with its full name Tibet Autonomous Region, is one of the five autonomous regions in China. It lies on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The unique plateau scenery and attractive Tibetan culture facts attracts an increasing number of tourists in recent years. It is one of the top destination for photography tour in China.
Known as the roof of the world, Tibet bears the fame of world’s top 10 tallest peaks. Famous rivers including the Yangtze, Yellow, Mekong, and Indus all have their sources in Tibet. Tibet is also the place in China where people are most loyal in Buddhist faith. Tourists to Tibet will find prayer flags hang everywhere and mysterious beautiful monasteries sitting on snow mountains, beneath blue skies, and beside crystal lakes.
Chinese: 西藏 xī zàng Location: Southwest China Population: 3.4M (2018)
Potala palace, located on Maburi mountain of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet autonomous region of China, is the highest altitude palace and the largest and most complete ancient Tibetan building which integrates palaces, castles and monasteries. The main building is divided into the white palace and the red palace. The palace is more than 200 meters high, with 13 stories on the outside and 9 stories inside. The Potala Palace square in front of the Potala palace is the world highest altitude city square in the world.
Three major temples in Lhasa
The three major monasteries in Lhasa are Drepung, Ganden and Sera monasteries, which are the must-see places for pilgrims or travelers to Lhasa. When walk into these monasteries, people will definitely experience the profound and mysterious Tibetan Buddhism and learn more about it.
Three sacred lakes
When it comes to the lakes in Tibet, people will always take these three lakes at the first place, and they have become the symbol and must-visit places of Tibet. Three holy lakes are different in shape and have their own legends or historical stories. They are Namtso Lake, Yamdrok Lake, and Manasarovar Lake.
Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon
The Tibetan plateau, known as the “roof of the world”, has two “top of the world”: one is the Mount Qomolangma- the highest mountain in the worldwide, and the other one is Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, which is the deepest and longest river valley in the world. Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, average altitude over 3,000 meters, is 504.6 kilometers long with an average depth of 2268 meters and a maximum depth of 6009 meters. Many areas are still unexplored, so this canyon is called “last secret places on earth”.
Taste the unique Tibetan Food
Tibetan food is a unique branch of the whole flavor of the Chinese cuisine. The main ingredients are beef, mutton, pork, chickens, as well as potatoes, radishes and other vegetables as the ingredient. And the staple food is made by rice, flour, highland barley. Tibetan people are keen on sweet, soul and crisp food, and they usually bake, fry or boil food. The specialties of Tibetan food are Tsampa, Tibetan Butter Tea, Sweet Milk Tea, Yak meat and Yogurt.
What to Eat in Tibet
Tsampa, one of the traditional staple foods of Tibetan herdsmen, is the staple food for Tibetan people. It is made by the highland barley flour. While eating it, people can use a small amount of butter tea or sugar to mix with it, and knead into a ball. Tsampa is not only easy to eat, rich in nutrition, high in calories and suitable for the cold weather, but also easy to carry or storage.
Tibetan Butter Tea
Butter tea is a special drink in Tibet. It is usually consumed with Tsampa to help people prevent the cold and quench thirst. This kind of drink is made of ghee and strong tea. The making process is putting some ghee into the bucket, adding salt, pouring the boiling strong tea into the bucket and mixing them until ghee is dissolved.
Sweet milk Tea
Most tourists may not accustomed to the Tibetan butter tea, then sweet milk tea is a good choice. It is mainly made of black tea and milk, which tastes delicious and is popular with tourists.
Yak meat of Tibet is characterized by high protein, low fat and calorie but rich in various amino acids. Its nutritional value is ten times that of ordinary beef.
People who have tasted Tibetan yogurt will never forget the unique taste. The ingredient is fresh yak milk, and it is also made by boiling, cooling and fermentation, so it tastes sour than other kinds of yogurt.
Tibet Travel Guide
1)How to plan your Tibet tour?
A. How many days do you plan to spend in Tibet?
a.Four days tour
Generally, four days is enough for you to visit Lhasa and nearby famous attractions. During the journey, you can not only appreciate the sacred and magnificent Potala palace, stroll around the traditional Barkhor street, but also pay a visit to the three famous temples in Lhasa to experience the profound and mysterious Tibetan Buddhism and culture.
b. Six or seven days tour
In addition to sacred and profound Tibetan Buddhism, the natural scenery could also be taken in consideration. Namtso Lafe, Yamdrok Lake and Manasarovar Lake are good choices to add in your must-visit list.
More Tibet tour planning guide
c. Eight to ten days tour
If you have enough time in Tibet, you can not miss visiting the two “top of the world” on the Tibetan plateau. One is the Mount Qomolangma–the highest mountain in the worldwide, and another one is Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon, which is the deepest and longest river valley in the world. Both of them are well-known for their steep, magnificent and breath-taking scenery all over the world.
d. More days tour
If you want to have an in-depth tour in Tibet, we also offer the service that make a personal tour in Tibet based on your own preferences and interests.
B. What is your interested tour type ?
a. Family Trip
If you want to have a family trip, we highly recommended that you can go to attractions that are equipped with convenient public transportation and advanced tourist facilities, which are available for all ages tourists to visit, such as the Potala Place, Barkhor Street, Jokhang Temple, Drepung monastery, Ganden monastery, Sera monastery, etc. Choosing to live in five-star hotel may provide you more comfortable accommodation environment and professional service, which is conducive for you to have a good rest.
b. Gourmet Food Trip
There are many well-known Tibetan restaurants in Lhasa, where visitors can taste traditional and unique Tibetan food, for example, Guangming Gangqiong Tiancha Guan is a must-visit restaurant in Lhasa. The sweet tea milk, Tibetan noodles and beef noodles are very popular here. In addition, there are many famous restaurants on the Barkhor street. Maji’ami western restaurant is the most popular one and it was the place where Tsangyang Gyatso date with his lover. The restaurant serves a variety of food of Tibetan, Nepali and Indian flavors, including yogurt, ginseng fruit salad, grilled lamb chops and so on. Sitting on the terrace on the third floor, the prosperous Barkhor street and the sacred Potala palace could all be seen from a distance.
c. Historical Trip
As a pre-culture before the introduction of Indian Buddhism into Tibet, Xiangxiong culture permeated all aspects of Tibet. No matter in the aspect of production, custom or beliefs, there were Xiangxiong is influential. For example, religious activities such as offering sacrifices to mountain gods and turning mountains originated from Xiangxiong culture. There are many places of interest in Tibet, especially the temples of Tibetan Buddhism. The most famous are the three major temples in Lhasa and Jokhang Temple, which are typical Tibetan Buddhist temples. Visitors can not only experience the traditional culture of Tibetan Buddhist, but also appreciate the magnificent and distinctive Tibetan Buddhist architecture.
d. Adventure Trip
Tibet is not only well-known for the profound history and Tibetan Buddhism, but also for its charming natural scenery. Mount Qomolangma and Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon are top destinations for people to immerse themselves in the grand landscape.
e. Photographer Trip
Namtso, Yamdrok lake and Manasarovar are three holy lakes of Tibet, and the symbol of Tibet. When the sunlight shines on the lake, the sparkling lake looks like a mirror, reflecting the blue sky and the lofty mountains in the distance, which is worth to be recorded.
C. What is your travel budget?
a. If your trip is low- budget, we highly recommend that you can take part in ourgroup tour and live in Youth Hostel.
b. If you want to have a better travel experience, you can choose to rent a car, and live in a betterhotel during the days you stay in Tibet.
Lhasa Kongga International Airport
Lhasa Kongga International Airport, located in Yingbin road, Gongga county, southwest of Lhasa, is one of the highest altitude airports in the world, which is about 85 kilometers away from the center of Lhasa city. Lhasa Kongga International airport was put into use on November 23, 1966, and has become the largest aviation hub in Tibet autonomous region. By June 2019, it has 96 domestic and foreign air routes and has connected to 48 cities.
More Tibet Transportation Information
Direct international flights:
Lhasa Kongga International Airport- Asian Country:Lhasa — India (Katmandu)
Lhasa Kongga International Airport- Asian region:Lhasa — Hongkong
Popular travel airlines:Lhasa-Beijing, Lhasa-Lanzhou, Lhasa-Wuhan, Lhasa-Chengdu, Lhasa-Kunming, Lhasa-Lijiang, Lhasa-Shangri-La, etc.
The Qinghai-Tibet high speed train (“Rocket to the Rooftop of the World”) connects other cities in China to Tibet. The Lhasa Express rail route stretches for 1956km and reaches a maximum altitude of 5,072 meters above sea level. The railway line starts from Xining, the Qinghai Province capital and ends in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.
The advantage of taking a train to Tibet is to enjoy the incredible scenery along the road. The train passes through mountain passes, frozen earth areas and breathtaking lakes and plains. As the train climbs to the high altitude of Tibet, visitors have a chance to acclimatize the high altitude. Besides, taking train is the cheapest way to reach Tibet.
Peak season is May to October and the period of Chinese New Year. During this period, air ticket prices soar and tickets can be hard to come by so it is important to book it 3-6 months in advance. Before train tickets are sold to the public they are bought up by government-owned travel agencies and resold to smaller agencies at a large mark-up. For this reason travel agents have no choice but to charge additional fees on top of the basic fare. However Tibet Discovery tries to keep the cost as low as possible making tickets even affordable for budget travelers.
Trains to Tibet
Every 2nd Day
Every 2nd Day
Seat Classes on Lhasa Express:
Soft Sleeper Tickets – Soft sleeper is the most comfortable type on the train. A soft sleeper compartment has a door and consists of two upper and two lower berths. Each visitor has an oxygen outlet and reading light.
Hard Sleeper Ticket – cheaper than soft sleepers. A hard sleeper cabin accommodates 6 berths arranged in three levels on the two sides. However, as the compartments lack doors, it is hard to have a good sleep due to continuous snores, kids’ crying, and the sound of the train moving.
Hard Seats – the cheapest type among all classes. There are five seats in a row, two on one side and three on the other side. A small table is set between every two opposite rows. It may not be a suitable choice for a long journey.
Important Tibet train TIPS:
All of the Tibet trains have air conditioning, oxygen and pressurized cabins.
You will not be allowed to board a train to Tibet without showing TTP (Tibet Travel Permit). It does not have to be the original, a copy is acceptable.
It is unlikely that you will be able to book a Tibetan train ticket independently. You need to book a Tibet tour with a tour agency the agency will book train ticket for you.
In peak season, tickets sell out fast so it is important to book in advance.
Trains in China are identified by a letter and a unique number. For trains to Lhasa there are Z trains which are direct non-stop (limited stops) and travel at a speed of 120-160km/h. There are also T trains which are faster at the speed of about 140km/h.
There are shared toilets and wash rooms on board but no toilet paper is supplied.
3) The Best Time to visit Lhasa
The weather of Lhasa can be really changeable, as a saying goes: you may not experience the apparent four seasons in one year, but it possible to experience all four seasons in Lhasa within a day.
The weather in Lhasa is relatively mild throughout a year. It is not too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer. Besides, sunshine is rich resource in Lhasa and it is known as “Sunshine City”. In recent years, basking sunshine in the square of Jokhang Monastery has been a popular item for travelers coming from busy inland cities.
Another characteristic of Lhasa weather is the night rain. Lhasa tends to rain in the evening and night but keep sunny in the daytime due to its special geographical conditions. It always rains every night in the wet reason, that is July to early October.
According to the above climate and weather conditions of Lhasa, March to October is the best time to travel in Lhasa. Air pressure rises up in summer and the temperature as well as humidity also is better than other periods.
4) Health and SafetyConcerns of Tibet Travel:
It’s necessary to take high altitude, dry climate and its remote location of Tibet in consideration. It is important to take precautions to cope with the altitude, intense sun, dry atmosphere and to take a comprehensive first aid kit for if you get ill in a remote location where health care is not available.
Prepare Yourself Physically for Tibet
Prepare yourself physically by following a regular exercise program before leaving for your trip especially if you live in an area of low altitude. If your trip to Tibet involves trekking, then make sure you can insist by practicing at home until you can reach your aim of your Tibetan trek. Check whether you are able to trek with equipments you plan to take. If you are not going to trek in Tibet, being in peak physical condition will help your body cope with the high altitude in Tibet. The high altitude may adversely affect your health and the best way to combat this is to be fit and have good stamina.
More Tibet Travel Health Tips
Visit your doctor about 4-6 weeks before embarking on a trip to Tibet and discuss your particular health concerns and how you will cope with it in Tibet. Depending on your vaccination history you may need vaccinations and time for them to take effect before you leave for Tibet. Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Diphtheria and Tetanus are recommended but not compulsory. Due to the high altitude, malaria is not a problem in Tibet. A rabies vaccination is recommended as there are stray and wild dogs in China. Your preparation should base on what kind of activities you will engage in Tibet. For example, staying in Lhasa and visiting Mt Everest Base Camp requires different preparation.
Water and Food Safety in Tibet
Avoid to use unpurified water or food washed in unpurified water. You could buy bottled drinking water in Lhasa supermarkets. Carry purified drinking water with you on all excursions is a good choice. Even the locally brewed beer is sometimes made with contaminated water and should be avoided. Mind to wash and sterilize your hands frequently. Avoid uncooked meat and where possible wash and peel vegetables. Boil drinking water for at least 10 minutes and use water purifying tablets.
Travel Insurance for Tibet
All Tibet travel companies are required by law to buy travel insurance for those booking tours to Tibet. This is basic business liability insurance and does not mean that you don’t need to take out personal travel insurance. It is highly recommended that you buy travel insurance before leaving home to cover a range of problems that might occur during your trip, like flight cancelation, loss of suitcases, illness, medical expenses, emergency evacuation, loss of valuables, theft, 24 hour medical emergency service, cancelation of trip. Generally, if you have a medical emergency in a remote area, you will be taken to the closest medical facility by car and from there transferred to an airport and flown to a hospital in a different part of China. In some extreme cases travelers who cannot be easily moved may be air lifted out of difficult situations. Check whether your travel insurance covers the service of a rescue helicopter and whether you can be reimbursed.
High Altitude Sickness in Tibet
The average altitude in Tibet is 4,000 meters, so when you travel from a low altitude location to Tibet, your body may have a negative reaction. For this reason, it is smart to give your body a chance to gradually adjust to the high altitude. Staying few days in Lhasa before heading off going to places with higher altitudes is reasonable. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) or altitude sickness usually starts to affect people when they go above 2,500 meters (8,000 feet) above sea level and most areas of Tibet is higher than this.
Preventing Altitude Sickness – The best preventative measure is to give your body time to acclimatize so it can naturally adjust to the high altitude. Other preventative measures include getting adequate sleep; avoiding alcohol; eating properly and staying hydrated.
Symptoms of Altitude Sickness – You may feel mild symptoms of altitude sickness while in Tibet, such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and you may find it hard to fall asleep at night. After resting in Lhasa and doing a little light exercise the symptoms usually pass. Those more seriously affected by altitude sickness can experience a lack of orientation, a dry cough and migraines. In rare cases altitude sickness can be fatal.
Treatment of Altitude Sickness – The obvious solution is to go to a lower altitude but this is not always possible. There are medicines which can treat the symptoms of altitude sickness like Acetazolamide or Diamox. It is best to bring some altitude sickness pills with you and ask your health care giver can prescribe something that suites you in advance.
If you feel the symptoms of altitude sickness rapidly getting worse, inform your tour guide and get treatment in Lhasa. If you don’t have an appetite, force yourself to eat and drink something as this will help your body fight the altitude sickness.
Other Health Issues in Tibet
Sunstroke – Due to the high altitude Tibet gets intense sunrays for much of the year. This may cause visitors to suffer from sunstroke, sunburn and dehydration. Exercise caution and bring sunscreen with you. Always carry drinking water and drink more than your usual amount of liquids while staying in Tibet.
Hypothermia – The intense cold in some areas of Tibet in winter may cause frostbite, so make sure you are properly equipped with thermal clothing. The cold may also cause hypothermia (even in summer in high areas) so get prepared for wind, rain and cold. The symptoms are fatigue, numbness in the extremities, shivering, dizziness, muscle cramps and slurred speech. Sufferers of hypothermia can even experience sudden bursts of violence and irritation or claim they are hot and remove their clothing. If you experience hypothermia, you should immediately remove wet or cold clothes and dress warmly. Then drink hot liquids and eat some high calories food. Get professional medical help as soon as possible.
Diarrhea – Other illnesses that travelers often experience include diarrhea (from eating unsanitary food or food washed in unpurified water) and giardiasis, a parasite infection which can be caused if you eat contaminated food or water. Practice good hygiene and you should be alright.
Respiratory infections – Respiratory infections are common in China and the high altitude of Tibet tends to aggravate the situation. For this reason, it is wise to treat any respiratory ailments you may have before visiting Tibet, and bring medicine in case you need it. Symptoms include a sore throat, fever and fatigue. A simple cold could lead to influenza or pneumonia. You can get a vaccine against influenza but they are not 100% reliable.
That said the most common health emergencies in Tibet are from car accidents and dog bites.
Recommended First Aid Kit:
Prescribed antibiotic – specifically for lung infections or skin infections.
Antihistamine – against allergies, hay fever, insect bites, stings, motion sickness.
Antiseptic cream – Something like polidine, povidone or iodine for scratches and cuts.
Calamine lotion – or Aloe vera to sootheirritated skin, sunburn and insect bites.
Flu tablets and lozenges.
Altitude sickness medicine – like Diamox.
Diarrhea treatment – Something like Loperamide or Diphenoxylate plus rehydration treatment for after diarrhea.
Pain relief – headache tablets, paracetamol, Advil etc.
Nausea medicine – to prevent or treat nausea and vomiting, like Metaclopramide or Prochlorperazine.