A Beginner’s Guide to Tibet

Probably one of the most common bucket-list destinations has to be Tibet, found high in the highest Himalayas, and “the roof of the world”, beneath the backdrop of the world’s tallest peak at Mount Everest. It is also a culturally captivating destination, with the mystery of Tibetan monks, and remote temples and monasteries draped in prayer flags and shrouded in mists. However, it is also a tricky destinations to explore, as foreigners (non-Chinese passport holders) must have a Tibet Travel Permit to Tour China Tibet, as well as a tour guide and a private vehicle and driver (unless planning to stay solely in Lhasa). And it is also essential to book a Tibet Tour in advance and through a Chinese travel agent. Otherwise independent travel is restricted to Chinese Nationals atm.

Tibet Travel Permit

Before travelling to Lhasa or Tibet, it is essential to have a Tibet Tourism Bureau (TTB) permit, which is often referred to as the Tibet Visa (although it’s not really a Visa). To apply for this permit it is best to work through a licensed Tibet travel agency, as again guides will be necessary for travel to Tibet. So they do pretty much all the legwork. Otherwise you only really need to send a scanned copy of your passport (6 months validity on arrival) as well as a scanned copy of your Chinese visa. Which will often be the tricky part.

The Catch-22

As there’s kind of a Catch-22 situation where you cannot apply for a Tibet Travel Permit without a Chinese Visa. At the same time, if you list Tibet as a destination on your Chinese visa application, you must have a Tibet Travel Permit to apply. So you cannot get a Chinese Visa without a Tibet Travel Permit and you cannot get a Tibet Travel Permit without a Chinese Visa. Anyway, the way past this is to not list Tibet on travel plans, and, of course, plans can later change down the line.

The Chinese Visa

So you must get the Chinese Visa first, and, while all visa offices will be different, I share here my own experience with the Chinese Consulate in Bangkok. First off, for those expecting to travel independently and unplanned, it will be tricky, given return flights are essential as well as hotel bookings for at least part of your stay (e.g. best to not share travels to Tibet here). You will also need proof of sufficient finance to cover the trip, and maybe a letter from an employee (again rules depend on embassies and the nationality of the person making the application).

Travel to Lhasa/Tibet

Many visitors to Tibet will travel from the nearer borders of Nepal, as really it is a closer and a more exciting journey to Lhasa passing the basecamp of Mount Everest. Although it does take at least 7-days between Kathmandu and Lhasa. Otherwise there are various gateway cities for travel to Tibet from China, which connect to the Qinghai–Tibet railway, and these include Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Lanzhou, and Xi’an. So it really just depends on your plans beforehand. Note, while both Bhutan and India both border Tibet, there are no overland borders to make the crossing. Otherwise direct flights to Lhasa is the easy (unadventurous) option. Full travel options outlined here.

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