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Tibet Travel Guide

Tibet is one of the most dreamed travel destinations for all the global travelers; it has lots of special charms in its great culture and beautiful nature. Yet, like many other tourist destinations, Tibet has its special travel rules too, the most distinctive one is you have to enter Tibet by a travel permit issued by the Tibet Tourism Bureau and to tour in Tibet under a tour package including at least an escorted tour guide; that is to say, when you travel in Tibet, your tour operator who is responsible for issuing you the travel permit will also arrange you a tour guide to escort you after your arrival in Lhasa until you leave Tibet. However, this does not mean your tour guide will be around you 24 hours around, he or she will only escorts you when you are visiting a particular tourist attraction, you are on your own at non-sightseeing time.

At this part, you will have a detailed understanding about what is the Tibet Travel Permit and how to get it; also you will find some useful information about some nice tourist attractions in and outside of Lhasa.

A. Introduction to Tibet travel permit.

Due to various reasons, Tibet is not fully open to tourists; even Chinese tourists have to apply for some kind of special permit if they want to travel to some restricted areas. As to the non-Chinese tourists, including tourists from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as well as overseas Chinese, they must obtain in hand a Tibet Travel Permit (generally known as Tibet visa, but not a visa in fact) from the Tibet Tourism Bureau firstly, the copy of permit is the only certificate for you to get on board of train or flight heading to Lhasa, otherwise you are unable to get onboard.

However, the Tibet Tourism Bureau does not issue this permit directly to the tourists; you have to refer to your Tibet tour operator whom you book tour with, and which is the only channel. When you book a tour with your tour operator, the minimum package should include a permit (compulsory) and a tour guide (compulsory), but often tour operator provides accommodation and tourist vehicle too as part of package because Tibet is so large and tourist sites are generally far from each other.

B. How to obtain the permit from your tour operator.

To obtain the permit from your Tibet tour operator, you have to send them by email or fax a clear copy of valid passport and Chinese visa. Make sure the category of your Chinese visa is "L" which means tourist visa. At the same time, your occupation is also required because journalist and politicians have to refer to other channels which could be more complicated to get the permit.

You have to send the above required documents at least 15 days in advance of your tour departure day as the permit application and approval costs at least 4 or 5 working days. After obtaining the permit, your tour operator has to also deliver the permit to the address you appoint; and generally this address is the hotel you will stay at the entering city to Lhasa. On the other hand, if you plan to take train into Lhasa, the tour operator has only to email you the electronic copy of permit, you are kindly required to print it out and bring it along with you until your arrival in Lhasa, because the officers at train station or on the train will check that permit.

C. Categories of permits.

There are three kinds of essential permits in a Tibet tour, namely Tibet Tourism Bureau Permit (TTB, known as Tibet entry permit), Aliens' Travel Permit (ATP) and Tibet Military Permit (TMP).

Generally speaking, a TTB (Tibet Tourism Bureau) permit is the most basic permit you have to obtain if you want to travel to Tibet. To enter Tibet, you must get on board of flight or train heading to Tibet by showing this permit to the officers at airport or train station; otherwise you are not allowed to get onboard. That not only accounts for why TTB permit is the most basic and important, but also why it is called the Tibet Entry Permit.

Aliens' Travel Permit (ATP) is only required when you travel to some restricted areas like Mt. Everest, Syaka, Tsedang, Nagri and etc. This permit can only be obtained after your arrival in Tibet, for example, if you want to travel to Mt. Everest, after arriving in Lhasa with Tibet Entry Permit, you have to also obtain Aliens' Travel Permit in Shigatse(the second largest city in Tibet after Lhasa )with the help of your tour guide.

Tibet Military Permit is required if you plan to travel to some military sensitive places, such as Nyingchi, Nagri and some places bordering to other countries. Most of time, tourists do not have to obtain this permit unless they plan to travel to those remote areas.

Tour FAQ

Is independent tour allowed in Tibet?
No, you cannot have 100% independent tour in Tibet; instead, you will have either a private tour or a group tour including a guide, driver and etc. Even before 2008, independent tour in Tibet is rare, and after 2008, the restriction has been reinforced by adding many checking-points on the way, particularly if you travel outside of Lhasa or visit some sensitive areas. There are always someone checking your permit, and you must have a tour guide to help you go through those formalities.

How much tour freedom do I have if I must need a tour guide?
Your tour guide is neither your 24 hours guardian nor nanny, so long as you do not visit scenic spots without him or her, you can hang out any where you like. Just tell your guide you want to spend today alone and he or she will be waiting for you somewhere else at your disposal or even stay home. But you must follow the rules not visiting scenic spots alone. If you were caught by the policemen, not only you but also your guide, your travel agent would be in great trouble. So, please travel responsibly while you want to have a free day in Tibet.

What all travel permits do I need to apply for if I travel to Tibet?
There are several kinds of travel permits in Tibet tourism. To make it simple, you only need a TTB (Tibet Tourism Bureau) permit if you just want to have a few days in Lhasa city or somewhere near Lhasa. However, if you travel outside of Lhasa to some areas like Mt. Everest, Tsedang, Nyingchi, you still need PSB permit and ATP permit, your agent will take care of them all if you book tour with them.

Can I get the permit in my country before arriving in China?
Generally not, because this will make the cost high if international delivery is used. As a common practice, you will get your permit after your arrival in China, such as Beijing, Shanghai or Chengdu where you enter Tibet by train or air. Your travel agent will deliver the permit to the hotel that you book in a specific city; you must provide your agent with the name, address and phone number of this hotel.

Is it possible to extend my visit in Tibet after my permit expires?
Yes, it is possible to extend if you only intend to overstay one or two days in Lhasa not somewhere else. And you must tell your plan to your agent in advance, and they know how to help for you. It will make extension more difficult if you tell them at the very end of your tour.

Can I travel in Tibet by public bus as the private vehicle rental is expensive?
No, public bus is not allowed for non-Chinese tourist in Tibet. And even no public bus driver would like to let you get on board; they will be fined if been caught. Private vehicle rental in Tibet is expensive as most time your tour agent has to use a land cruiser for you due to the poor road condition; while in Lhasa, you can choose not to use a private vehicle as Lhasa city is really small, from Potala to Johkang Temple, it only costs 15 minute by walking. And if you want to travel to a certain monastery that is located on the outskirt of the city, a taxi costing USD 3 is pretty enough. So if you just some few days tour in Lhasa, you can choose not to rent vehicle in order to save.

Can I stay in Tibet without a guide, or can my driver be my guide at the same time?
It is impossible as explained above. Besides, it is also impossible to have your driver to be your tour guide at the same time even your driver speaks fluent English. This is just the rule of Tibet tourism.

How much is a Tibet permit?
Please note that we never just SELL a permit as this is illegal. We only help you obtain a permit from the Tibet Tourism Bureau. The cost for a permit includes both the charge by the government and the service fees by our travel agency. The cost will be calculated into the quote of the whole tour package including tour guide and other items.

What are the hotels like in Tibet?
Tourism is Tibet is in its infancy and the number of 4 Star hotels is quite limited. The newer hotels have been built away from the city center in order to protect the city history and environment. These hotels have central heating which is used in winter but no cooling is available in summer. We would still warn that the facilities and service standard may not be as you would expect from a hotel with this rating in other parts of the world. Older hotels located in the city have a good location but will not provide the level of comfort of the newer hotels and may not have any central heating. The level of service and facilities may be quite basic. Staff will probably not speak much English. Hotels in small cities and the Everest Base camp are very basic. They will usually have a public bathroom with squat toilet.

Can explain what the budget guesthouse, comfortable hotel and best available hotel are?
One thing you should bury in mind is that hotels in Tibet concerning its facility and service are not what you imagine. Not like hotels in big cities in China and other cities abroad.

Budget guesthouse has a few kinds. One is the twin room with or without the bathroom in it. The other is triple, four-bed rooms, and more beds rooms named dormitory which all have no private bathroom in them. Former one can be easily found in Lhasa and Shigatse, while later one is often the choice in remote area in Tibet.

Comfortable hotels on our website refer to middle class hotels, or standard hotels regarding to its location, or price, or comprehensive service ability. They are usually three star hotels, or comparatively good 2 star hotels.

The best available hotels are the 4 star hotels. 4 star hotels can only be reached in Lhasa. The best available hotels in the region out of Lhasa are generally 3 star hotels, and in some places hotels with no star, but comparatively of good condition.

What are the hotel rooms like in hotels in Tibet?
Often, in a room, there are two beds which we call twin-sharing room. Some hotels have queen bed room and some even have triple room. But the number of queen bed room and triple is very limited. Twin-sharing room with two beds inside is commonly used in Tibet.

Does the hotel room have access to internet?
Some hotel rooms, not all, in Lhasa have access to internet, so you should inquiry your travel advisor for accurate information before making decision. But some hotel has business center where you can use internet service.

Is there 24-hour hot water running?
Due to basic condition in Tibet, sometimes with the poor pressure, the water flow may small and water sometime is not hot but just warm. In remote area, the condition can be even worse.

What can I eat in Tibet?
In Lhasa, you can choose Chinese food, western food, Nepali food and Tibetan food as well. But in remote towns and areas, choice is limited, Chinese food or Sichuan cuisine is the best choice.