How to Travel From Mainland China to Tibet

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Anastasiia Ilina

Travelling to Tibet might seem daunting, with bureaucratic hurdles and lengthy travel routes, but it’s not as dramatic as it seems. When you’re ready and prepared for the journey from mainland China, travelling to the land of snow and mountains is more than feasible. Here’s everything you need to know.

Travel permit

When travelling through China, on top of a Chinese visa a special travel permit is required. It is not hard to obtain, but is not given out to independent travellers. Authorities require travellers to make plans with a licensed travel agent that will provide the travel permit prior to travelling. Make sure to have it handy when boarding flights or the train, as authorities sometimes check them along the way. It is also common for agents to ask for a prepayment before issuing the permit, but do exercise common sense and caution when handing over cash.

Prayers at Jokhang Temple

By land or by plane?

There are two ways of entering Tibet if travelling through mainland China. The first option is to take the plane from Beijing to Lhasa, with a stopover in Xining. The second is to take the train on the scenic Qinghai-Tibet railway, although the overall journey will take 40 hours. When pressed for time, flying in both directions is obviously a time-saver, but if time is not of the essence, taking the train for at least the second part of the journey helps ease travellers into the high altitude.

Travel dates

It’s not possible to enter Tibet on any given day. Travel is restricted around the Tibetan New Year and entry is closed in February and March. This also causes tickets for April and May to sell out fairly quickly, especially the cheaper ones for the train. The weather is also worth taking into consideration – the infrastructure of Tibet is still in its developing stages and most hotels get a little chilly at night. The temperature varies during the day, so visiting in the summer months can help avoid the cold weather in the night.

Lhasa Palace

Altitude sickness

Tibet is located at altitudes significantly higher than those many of us are used to. That means that there is 30% less oxygen up there, and that can cause altitude sickness for unaccustomed travellers. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, lack of appetite and fatigue. As these can well hinder travel plans, it is important to take medication before travelling and to make every effort to ease into the new altitude after arriving – drinking less alcohol and avoiding harsh physical activity should help alleviate symptoms when in situ.

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