Where is Tibet?
Many people believe that Tibet consists only of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) where Lhasa is located. To Tibetans, however, Tibet is much larger than just the TAR. It is the entire Tibetan Plateau. Traditionally, Tibet was split into regions called U-Tsang, Kham, Amdo, and Ngari all of which comprise the Tibetan Plateau. The regions remain today, but China has incorporated Amdo and most of Kham into the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan. So the Tibetan Plateau includes all of these much larger regions besides just the TAR, and it is this entire area that the Tibetan people call "Tibet." Throughout this website, this is how we use the term "Tibet."
Why can I not find Amdo or Kham on the map?
As explained in Question 1, above, after the Cultural Revolution, China gave Chinese names to many of the Tibetan regions, cities, and sacred sites. Since most Tibet maps are made in China, they usually include only the Chinese names. For example, on a map you will see the city Xining, which in Tibetan was called Ziling, or the city of Xiahe, which is the famous Tibetan monastic city of Labrang. Many travelers to Tibet find this very confusing when they are wanting to visit Labrang Monastery, or other holy places, but cannot find it on a map. As a cooperative dedicated to helping preserve Tibetan culture and language, while also respecting our Chinese friends, we provide both names in this website. The traditional Tibetan names appear first, followed by the Chinese names in parenthesis. We hope this helps you in planning your trip
Do I need a visa or permit to travel in Tibet?
In order to travel to all regions of Tibet, you must have a valid China visa. You must apply for a visa from your local Chinese embassy. In addition, in order to travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), which includes Lhasa and central Tibet, you must also obtain a Tibet Travel Permit (TTP) from the Tibet Tourism Bureau. As your tour company, we will work to get the permits for you, however, the Chinese government puts many restrictions on the issuance of these permits, which restrictions change regularly. The government often closes the TAR completely to foreign travelers. At other times, the government may issue permits, but only to groups of 5 people or more of the same nationality, with passports from the same country. Because of these changing restrictions, it is often difficult to plan trips to the TAR, including Lhasa.
Fortunately, at this time, no permits are required to travel in the Amdo and Kham regions of Tibet. You only need a China visa. These regions cover 50% of the Tibetan Plateau and are heavily populated with Tibetan people. The Tibetan culture has been better preserved in these areas than in the TAR region. There you can freely experience the full range of Tibet - its mountains, grasslands, nomads, Buddhist monasteries, mystical Bon traditions, and many festivals. We highly recommend that anyone who wants an authentic Tibetan experience should visit Amdo and Kham, particularly when TAR permits are restricted.
How do I get to Tibet?
Tourists can enter Tibet from either Nepal in the west, or China in the east.
By airplane: For entering by airplane, you can fly into Lhasa Gonggar Airport, Xining Caojiabo Airport in Ziling (Xining), or Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport. depending on where you want to begin your tour. For Lhasa, you will need to have your original TTB permit in hand in order to board the connecting flight to Lhasa. Usually you must stay one night in a hotel in mainland China or Kathmandu and provide us the hotel address where we can send your permit.By train: You can also enter central Tibet by train from mainland China (e.g., Beijing). The trains go to Ziling (Xining) or Chengdu and continue to Lhasa. Again, if traveling to Lhasa, you will need to have your TTB permit to board the train (copies are usually accepted on trains). Ther e is no train from Nepal, but you can arrange for your tour to begin at the border where we can drive across the infamous "Friendship Bridge."
Can I travel in Tibet without a driver and guide?
In the TAR, you must travel as part of an organized tour with a tour guide, private vehicle and driver, except that no driver is required if you are staying only in Lhasa. Amdo and Kham (the Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan provinces), are open, usually, and do not require permits or a tour guide. However, many areas are remote and difficult to access without a four-wheel drive vehicle. It is also useful to travel with someone who is fluent in the various dialects used in these regions, as all of our guides are.
Are all of your tour guides Tibetan?
Tibetan Caravan Tours is a Tibeta-owned and operated company. All guides provided for our tours are Tibetan, unless a client specifically requests otherwise. While it is possible to find tour guides from other nationalities, we use Tibetan guides to ensure that you have an authentic Tibetan experience and because we are committed to helping support and promote the local Tibetan economy.
When is the best time of year to travel in Tibet?
As Tibetans, we believe that Tibet is worth visiting at any time of the year. Typically, though, the most popular tourist time is the summer, from June through August. It will rain some during the summer, but not as heavily as in the spring. In summer, the grasslands are covered with beautiful wildflowers and filled with nomad families. The temperatures are more mild, although at certain high elevations it is possible to still have snow. For travelers who do not mind a cooler climate, fall is a great season to visit Tibet. By late September, the rainy season has usually passed and the mountains are snow-capped. There are fewer tourists at this time of year, and prices can often be cheaper. You will still find many nomads in the grasslands. Just come prepared for the possibility of near freezing temperatures and you will have a comfortable trip. If you are interested in Tibetan pilgrimages, then winter is the best time to come (provided permits are being issued for Lhasa). During the winter, Tibetans celebrate Losar, the Tibetan New Year. Thousands of pilgrims make the traditional pilgrimage to Lhasa, and you can see Tibetans from all over Tibet. Spring is a wonderful time to visit Tibet, however in March, the Chinese government traditionally closes TAR and many parts of the Tibetan Plateau. The closures can last beyond March, and re-openings are often announced on short notice. So if your travel schedule is flexible, then springtime would be an option for you.
What is the altitude of Tibet?
The altitude of Tibet ranges from approximately 2,000 meters to 5,000 meters. For example, Lhasa, is 3,600 meters high, while Xining in Amdo is only 2,200 meters high. During your tour, it is likely that you will cross mountain passes reaching higher than 4,000 meters. We recommend that travelers take precautions against altitude sickness. It is always helpful to spend a couple of days in your arrival city to acclimate to the altitude before continuing on to higher altitudes, especially when trekking.
What should I pack for my tour?
Packing for your tour depends on the time of year and where you will be going. Click this link to see a general suggested packing list [insert link to packing list]. Once you decide on your tour, we can email you a packing list suggesting the items to bring for your particular tour.
Do I need any special vaccines to travel in Tibet?
You should be up to date on all of your standard vaccinations. Many people choose to get additional vaccinations before coming, such as for rabies. Please consult your physician or local travel medicine clinic for the most up to date advice on vaccinations needed for Tibet.
Do most hotels and restaurants accept credit cards?
No, most places in Tibet do not accept credit cards, only cash. Travelers cheques are not recommended. Your tour will include the cost of hotels, but you will need money for food, entrance tickets, and souvenirs. Currently, there are at least two national commercial banks that accept foreign ATM cards. These banks are easy to find in major cities such as Xining and Chengdu, however, they are not easy to find in many of the outside areas. For this reason, we recommend that you have enough cash (Chinese Yuan Renmibi) with you to last your entire tour. When you arrive to for your tour, you can either use your ATM at one of these national banks (but note there is a limit on the amount you can withdraw each day), or you can exchange money. We can help you with this when you arrive.
Will I be able to use my mobile phone, or access internet during my tour?
Mobile or cellular phone access is widely available in all three Tibet regions. Depending on your type of phone, you may need to purchase a Chinese SIM card when you arrive from one of the three Chinese service providers, China Mobile, China Unicom, or China Telecom. China Mobile has the largest coverage area throughout the remote regions of Amdo and Kham, but in 2012, they changed their computer system and as a result have not been able to sell SIM cards to foreigners. The other providers have very good coverage in most areas. We will keep you updated on any changes.
Wi-fi is becoming more available throughout Tibet, but still, it is not generally provided in most hotels outside of major cities. In some locations, we can find cafes or small restaurants that offer wi-fi if you need urgent access. Many towns also have internet cafes, however, for the past year, it has not been possible to use those computers without a Chinese identification card. If you expect to need regular internet access during your tour, we recommend that you bring your own wi-fi hotspot device.
What is Yak Butter Tea, and does it really taste good?
So many guidebooks and travel websites have written about "Yak Butter Tea" that the drink has become synonymous with Tibet. We must first explain that the name is technically incorrect. In Tibetan, the "yak" is the male and does not produce milk, just like bulls. Saying "yak butter" is like saying "bull milk" in western countries. Milk (and its products) come from the females which are called "dri" in Tibetan. So, "Butter Tea" is a traditional Tibetan beverage made by blending hot black tea, butter, salt, and sometimes tsampa (toasted barley flour) or ground walnuts. It is really quite delicious. The trick is that you need to not think of it as a "tea" because your tastebuds will be confused. Instead, simply think of it as a savory beverage, like a broth. It is very warming and comforting, especially during cold Tibetan winters.