So Tibet had been on my bucket list for years, and back in my super broke backpacking days I tried, and failed, to enter twice. The Chinese were becoming progressively more strict on the paper work and criteria required to enter Tiber – visas, permits, tour guides. It was a headache, and turned out to be impossible. So it was time to try again, but this time to do it properly, and with my awesome mum by my side. Visas, flights, trains, permits and a tour guide. Here’s how to do it:
HOW TO VISIT TIBET
Basically you HAVE to use a Chinese tour company, there is literally no way around it. You MUST HAVE a Chinese Visa, a Tibetan Permit, a tour guide. No discussion, no independent travel. Now you know that, this is how it’s actually done.
First, you need to organise a Chinese visa yourself, don’t mention Tibet on that application. You need to visit the Chinese embassy in whatever country you happen to be in, I went to the embassy in Bangkok, Thailand and my mum used the embassy in London, UK. This takes three or four days, you need to give them your itinerary, your hotel bookings in mainland China, even if you won’t use them, and your plan. You can book a hostel on hostelworld.com or a hotel on expedia.com and then cancel with a full refund after you get your visa. Ssssh, don’t tell anyone.
Next, you need to choose the best tour company for Tibet. They will organise your actual tour in Tibet, your permits and if you’re lucky they’ll help with travel to and from Lhasa, Tibet too. I used a company called Tibettravel.org, and they were awesome. I dealt with a superstar Chinese girl called Susan, ask for her if you’re going to Tibet, she replies to all your crazy emails, helps with trains, visas, permits etc Super patient, and I really owe her for her help.
There are a million tour companies offering tours, so really be careful with who you work with. And prices can start to get pretty crazy. My guys, Tibet Travel, have tours starting at around 400USD which is the cheapest I found. That included all hotels, guides, breakfast, transfers etc, but not getting to Tibet, check that out below.
Personally I did a six day tour, I’ll chat about that in another blog post but for me that was a perfect amount of time. The minimum you can do is three days, personally I’d say that’s not quite enough.
HOW TO GET TO TIBET
Right, hard core travel time. Can you fly in and out of Lhasa, Tibet? Yes, you can. Should you? Absolutely NOT. The best, best, best way to experience getting in and out of Tibet is this:
Take the 42 hour train from Chengdu to Lhasa. You can take a seat, hard sleeper or soft sleeper, I choose the third option which is a four bed cabin, pretty nice and is $180 – I know it sounds long, but it’s amazing. The highest train journey in the world, right through the himalayas, so high in fact they pump oxygen into the cabins because it gets to around 5000m/15000ft. The views will blow your mind, this is real travel, and if my ancient old mum can do it, so can you 😛
Fly back to Chengdu from Lhasa. After your time in Tibet is up, you’re unlikely to want another forty hours or so on a train. Fly to Chengdu, then connect to wherever you need. From Chengdu I flew ‘home’ to Thailand, my mum flew to Ireland, they have flights everywhere. The flights from Lhasa to Chengdu normally run around $150 to $250.
– NOTE: Susan, the superstar at Tibet Travel organised both my train tickets and flights for an tiny commission, so so so much easier.
WHAT TO DO IN TIBET
There is so much to do in Tibet, amazing views, the spectacular Himalayas, the iconic Potala Palace. Here are some pics to get you excited, i’ll write about what I got up to later this week. But you need to check out Lhasa, a few lakes and some monasteries further afield. All breathtaking.
IS TIBET EXPENSIVE?
The tours can run from reasonable prices to crazy prices. My advice would be to go for a more reasonably priced tour. Do you really want to stay in Sheraton in Lhasa? Stay in the cool Tibetan hotels, with Tibetan staff, such a better experience. I was delighted with the hotels from Tibet Travel, and after the tour fee is paid you don’t really spend much more. Lunches and dinners can range from five bucks for a local place, where I always eat, to maybe twenty bucks in a swankier place.
All in all, no it’s not expensive and you don’t spend much money after you’ve paid for your fligh and train in, and the tour price. Pretty epic really.
Ok, that’s a quick run down about how to actually get to Tibet, how to work out the permits and visas. My next post will be about just how amazing Tibet actually is. One of the best places I’ve ever been.