6 Fun Facts about Tibet
The plateau of Tibet is the world’s highest plateau with an average elevation of over 4,500 meters.
The yak is an integral part of Tibetan culture.
The currency of Tibet is Chinese Yuan Renminbi.
The staple food of Tibetan is Tsampa (roasted barley flour), while the national drink is salted butter tea.
Tibet Autonomous Region, China is predominantly Buddhist.
There are two world Heritage sites located in Tibet, Potala and Norbuligka palaces.
By Air: So far, there are two direct flights between Lhasa and Kathmandu, run by Sichuan Airline and Air China. The best thing about flying to Tibet from Nepal is the stunning bird’s-eye view of the Himalayas including Mt. Everest, the world’s highest peak.
By Road: This is the most common way to enter Tibet. Thanks to many cheap direct international flights to Kathmandu, many tourists find it convenient to fly to Kathmandu then enter Tibet via land. However, if you are already in Nepal, you can enter Tibet via Kerung, Simikot and Kodari borders. Due to the Nepal earthquake in 2015, the Kodari border is temporarily closed. Instead, the Kerung border which is 3 hours away from Kathmandu is used. Note that the Simikot border is used mostly by travelers wishing to tour/trek Kailash. There are plenty of cars, vans, buses that frequent the Kerung border.
Train/Railway: There are five routes that connect China and Tibet by train. The popular choice is to take the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. It takes 2 days for travelers to reach Lhasa from Beijing. Travelling from Xining to Tibet takes around 21 hours. There is daily train service from Shanghai to Tibet. The Chengdu-Tibet train departs every other day and takes around 43 hours. The train ride from Guangzhou to Tibet train is the longest and takes around 54 hours.
Flights: Tourists can fly to Tibet from Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu within 7 hours. Many airlines offer discounts in winter, especially for the flight from Chengdu to Lhasa. At present, there are direct flights to Lhasa from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Shangri-la, Kunming, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Xian, Xining and Kathmandu. There are also several daily flights from Chengdu to Shigatse and Nyingchi in Tibet. By land: Entering Tibet via mainland China by land is very expensive and takes from 7 - 15 days. Qinghai-Tibet Highway (1937km, an estimated 5-7 days), Xinjiang-Tibet Highway (2086km, an estimated 10-15 days).
Passport and Visa Information
Travelling to Tibet requires a Chinese visa and a Tibet Travel Permit which can both be obtained in Kathmandu with the help of a travel company (Tibet via Nepal). A valid visa for China is not the same as a Tibet Travel Permit. Those with a Chinese tourist visa will still need to apply for a Tibet travel permit. The permit is still required for foreign travelers travelling to Tibet from mainland China. To acquire the permit you need to book a guide for your entire trip and pre-arrange private transport for trips outside Lhasa. The trip outside Lhasa also requires additional permits which are arranged by the company you are travelling with.
Tibet is a remote location, and if you become seriously injured or very sick, you may need to be evacuated by air. Under these circumstances, you don’t want to be without adequate health insurance. Be sure your policy covers evacuation.
Banking and Foreign Exchange
As in the rest of China, Renminbi (RMB) is the legal currency in Tibet. Only the Bank of China offers foreign exchange services. Chinese banks in Lhasa include Bank of China, China Construction Bank, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Agricultural Bank of China. Additionally, some 4/5 star hotels also offer exchange services. Tibetans do not use and accept coins. You are also advised to carry enough cash if travelling to remote areas in Shigatse, Shannan, Ngari, Nyingchi, and Nagqu where banking services is limited.
In Tibet the power sockets are of type A, C and I. The standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. If the standard voltage in your country is between 220 - 240 V (as in the UK, Europe, Australia and most of Asia and Africa) you can easily use your electric appliances it Tibet.
However, if the standard voltage in your country is in the range of 100 V - 127 V (as in the US, Canada and most South American countries), you need a voltage converter in Tibet. You can bring your own voltage converter as you might not find them in Tibetan stores. Alternately, you can also buy them in Kathmandu (if travelling to Tibet via Nepal).
If the label in your electric appliance states 'INPUT: 100-240V, 50/60 Hz' the appliance can be used in all countries of the world. This is common for chargers of tablets/laptops, photo cameras, cell phones, toothbrushes, etc.
It is not wise to drink tap water or ice made from tap water. Most hotels in urban areas including Lhasa boil the water first before serving them hot or cold. However, when trekking in the more remote areas you should boil your own water or treat it with water-purification tablets. Tea is always safe to drink but you are advised to refrain from locally brewed alcohol as it’s often made with contaminated well water. Large 5 liter bottles of drinking water are available in most supermarkets.
The water in Tibet is ‘hard water’ so you need to boil it at least for 10 minutes to purify it. Consider purchasing a water filter for a long trip (often more economical than buying bottled water). Total filters take out all parasites, bacteria and viruses, and make water safe to drink.
Chlorine tablets (eg Puritabs or Steritabs) will kill many pathogens, but not giardia and amoebic cysts. Iodine is more effective for purifying water and is available in liquid (Lugol's solution) or tablet (eg. Potable Aqua) form. Follow the directions carefully and remember that too much iodine can be harmful.
Best Time to Visit Tibet
May to September is the most popular season to visit Tibet. The weather is warm with clear skies. The snow/ice starts melting from April clearing the blocked roads and making it easier for you to visit various Tibetan townships. However, since this is the peak season, the prices are at their highest.
If you want to save around 20% of your money you can visit Tibet in either April or between October to November. The weather is cold but there are not a lot of tourists visiting so you get more options for hotels and vehicles.
The lowest tourist season in Tibet is winter (Dec–Feb). The weather is very cold but you have all the attractions to yourself. The hotels and transport are considerably cheaper which means you can get hotels and vehicles in half the price you would pay during the peak tourist season.