Traveling to Tibet from Nepal or from China?
Planning a trip to Tibet is not as hard as many people think, and with our excellent advisors. We can help with the planning of the trip, including where you want to go, how to get there, where to stay whilst in Tibet, and many other things. Booking a tour in the land of snows has become so much easier with the changes in the regulations that no longer allow international travelers tour the region unaccompanied, and while many people regard this as a nuisance, it has definitely made it easier to plan your Tibet tour. Traveling to Tibet is the best decision you ever made.
However, what we cannot plan for you, only advise you on, is where you enter Tibet from. There are currently two routes into Tibet, from mainland China, and from Nepal. And while both routes have their good and bad points, the decision on which way to get to Tibet can be a very confusing one. So, the question is, which is the best way to get into Lhasa? We have broken this down for you, giving you a better idea of how to choose between the two.
Table of Contents
Traveling from Nepal
Traveling from Nepal has its benefits, as well as its drawbacks. As Tibet’s closest neighbor, Nepal is the only country that has direct international access to Tibet and offers flights to Lhasa from the Tribhuvan International Airport, as well as the option to cross the border into China overland. The major benefit of traveling to Tibet from Kathmandu is the visa. The standard Chinese Entry Visa is not applicable from Nepal, and instead, a Group Tourist Visa is issued by the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu, which is applied for once you arrive by our local representative in Nepal.
Flights to Lhasa
Traveling to Tibet from Nepal, there are several flights a day to Lhasa in the peak months, although usually only one a day in the low season, from November to April. The flights are offered by Air China, Sichuan Airlines, and relative newcomer Tibet Airlines, and the flight takes around 90 minutes to get to the Tibetan regional capital. The flight route actually takes you right over Mount Everest, and if you get a seat on the left-hand side of the plane, you can clearly see the summit of the mountain on a clear day, lying around 2,000 meters below you.
The major downside to traveling by flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa is the cost. While the flight is only short, it is one of the most expensive flights to Lhasa, costing from around US$ 259 for a direct one-way economy flight. Cheaper flights are available but are connecting flights, often through Chinese cities such as Chengdu, Xi’an, and Kunming. However, if time is of the essence, then flying is the best option.
Overland to Lhasa
The overland route to Lhasa from Kathmandu is fast becoming a popular way to traveling to Tibet. And incorporates a tour of the region, in reverse to the route normally taken by travelers to Tibet. The tour route starts at Gyirong Port, the Chinese border crossing checkpoint in Tibet, and travels overland to Lhasa, following the Friendship Highway, part of China’s longest road, the 5,000+-kilometer G318 National Highway. Acclimatization is done at Gyirong Town, in the stunning Gyirong Valley, and the tour usually includes a trip to Mount Everest Base Camp as the first major attraction you will visit in Tibet. Ending in Lhasa, with a two-day tour of the city’s spectacular sights, this is a great option for travel to Tibet.
On the downside, this is not an option for those only traveling to Tibet to tour Lhasa, as you will not be able to just drive direct to Lhasa from Gyirong Port. The best option for those taking a Lhasa-0nly tour is to fly when entering from Tibet. And the downside of this is that you still need all the permits for Tibet that anyone traveling overland will need, despite not actually visiting many of the places that they are valid for. Sometimes motorcycles tours from Nepal to Lhasa are the most amazing adventure tours in Tibet.
Traveling from China
Traveling from China has always been the main option for travelers to Tibet, and is still a major route into the region, with dozens of routes to take to Lhasa by flight, and seven different cities from which to get the famous Trains to Tibet. On the downside, the summer season for travel to Tibet is very busy when traveling from China to the Roof of the World. If you are planning your trip in the peak months, from May to October, then you should book your trip well in advance, to ensure that you can get the train or flight tickets, which can book u very fast in the summer months.
Flights to Lhasa
There are literally dozens of flights to Lhasa every day from many airports across China. Direct flights to Tibet operate from Chongqing, Xi’an, Chengdu, Beijing, Changsha, Diqing, Guiyang, Kunming, Lijiang, Mianyang, Xining, Yibin, and Zhengzhou. No matter where you are in China, there is an airport within a few hundred kilometers that has a direct flight to Tibet. The cost really depends on where you are flying from.
Flights from cities such as Chongqing, Xi’an, and Chengdu can be really cheap. If you search around the internet a little, and you can get deals for as little as 58 US dollars for a one-way economy flight to Lhasa. However, as you get further away from Tibet, the cost of the flight increases dramatically, with flights from Beijing costing from as much as 500-600 US dollars for that same one-way economy ticket.
Trains to Lhasa
For travelers that want to spend a little time relaxing on their way to Tibet. Then there is no better way to travel than on the luxurious Trains to Tibet. Since the opening of the Qinghai Tibet Railway in 2006, there are now seven gateway cities across China that run trains to the high-altitude plateau region, from; Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Lanzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, and Xining. Not all of them run daily, with four of the seven running trains every other day. However, this delightful experience is now becoming one of the most popular ways to get to Tibet.
The benefit of taking the train is more evident when traveling from cities further from Tibet, such as Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. The cost of flights from these farther cities is much more expensive than a train ticket, often two to three times as much, which makes traveling by train the cheaper option for many travelers. While the train journeys can take 2-3 days to reach Lhasa, covering 3,000-4,000 kilometers, depending on your departure location.
The journey is one of relaxation and ease, with comfortable beds to sleep in and a great dining car to eat in, as well as some of the best views in China. As the trains steam through the countryside. The train journeys are also an advantage for those that want to see more of the Tibetan plateau region, as most of the trains that run to Lhasa cross the plateau from Tanggula Pass to the Tibetan capital during the day. This gives you the opportunity to see some of the northern plateau areas that are not normally on a Tibet tour.
However, the trains do have a downside, believe it or not. The main one is the time it takes to get to Tibet. Even the shortest train, from Xining in Qinghai Province, takes 22 hours to get to the Tibetan capital, while the longest trip, from Guangzhou in Guangdong Province of southern China, takes around 55 hours to get there. The trains are not always the cheapest option in the winter months too, as flights from October to March can often be found at prices even cheaper than the trains from Chengdu and Chongqing.