Tibet is a vast region and is most only inhabited in small areas, and much of the country is off limits to travellers owing to government restrictions and access difficulties due to the poor infrastructure.
Most trips to Tibet are as an add on to mainland China. It combines especially well with trips to Southwest China were you can acclimatise to the high altitude found in Tibet. Flying in directly from low-level destinations is not recommended as it will take at least two days to even begin to acclimatise to the altitude and even walking up just a few steps can be a great effort.
Modes of transport
Beijing to Lhasa
The Qinghai-Tibet train leaves Beijing at 9.30pm daily and officially takes 47 hours and 28 minutes to reach Lhasa. There are three classes of tickets: soft sleeper (four bunks to a cabin), hard sleeper (six bunks to a cabin) and hard seat (not recommended!). It takes around 45 hours to travel across China from Beijing to Lhasa.
(Tangula Trains – Kempinski – were to begin in 2011 but have been postponed indefinitely)
The five-star Tangula Luxury Train is due to begin operating between Beijing and Lhasa in 2011, accommodating 96 passengers in two-person suites, with private bathrooms.
Road conditions are not great in Tibet, expect the unexpected as roads often close due to adverse weather conditions and unexpected government closures.
There is only really the one airport in Tibet (in Lhasa), travel internally by air is not a feasible option at this stage.
Trekking is becoming more popular in Tibet. Please ask your travel consultant for more details.
Travel to Tibet is only realistic between April and November, as severe weather conditions prevent the majority of flights entering the region at other times. Regardless of the high altitude of Tibet, when in the direct sunlight, it is surprisingly warm during at this time, although some rain is likely in July and August. The best two months to travel are generally May and October when you will usually get clear blue skies.
Tibetan cuisine is quite distinct from that of its neighbours, this is mainly because there are only a few crops that can grow at such high altitude. The most important crop is barley. Flour milled from roasted barley, called tsampa, is the staple food of Tibet. Generally speaking the food is not great in Tibet – if you are expecting a gourmet experience you may be disappointed. The food quality is slowly improving as Tibet further opens to tourism and with the advent of the better quality hotels.
Do not drink the tap water anywhere in Tibet. Bottled water is cheap and readily available in most areas. If heading out in to the rural countryside ensure you take bottled water with you.
The currency used in China is the Renminbi (RMB) and the basic unit is the Yuan.
ATMs are only available in downtown Lhasa.
China operates on GMT + 8 hours. Despite its size, every place in China falls under one time zone.
Inoculations & health precautions
Please consult with your doctor at least 6 week before travel to China and Tibet.
The standard of medical facilities and care in China varies. Foreign private medical clinics and hospitals in the major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are well equipped and provide services comparable to Australian standards.
Medical facilities and care at most public hospitals especially in areas outside of the above mentioned cities are poor and medical evacuation to a major centre may be required for even relatively minor operations. Doctors and hospitals expect cash payment prior to providing medical services, including for emergency care.
Ensure you have good medical insurance before you travel.
A visa is required for entry to China (PRC). Your passport must be valid for at least six months after the duration of your intended stay, have at least two clear visa pages and you must also be able to provide evidence of a return or onward ticket. We will organise the special permits required to enter Tibet on your behalf when we confirm your booking.
Please note that is very difficult to obtain a visa at Chinese border entry points.
Australian Embassy & Consulate contacts in China
Australian Embassy Beijing
21 Dongzhimenwai Dajie
People's Republic of China
Tel: (010) 5140 4111
Fax: (010) 5140 4230
Australian Consulate-General, Shanghai
Level 22, CITIC Square
1168 Nanjing Xi Lu
Tel: (021) 2215 5200
Fax:(021) 2215 5252
Australian Consulate-General, Guangzhou
12/F, Development Centre,
No. 3 Linjiang Road,
Zhujiang New City,
People's Republic of China
Tel: (020) 3814 0111
Fax: (020) 3814 0112
Chinese Embassy & Consulate contacts in Australia
Embassy of the Peoples Republic of China in Canberra
15 Coronation Drive
Canberra, ACT 2600
Tel: 02 6273 4783
Fax: 02 6273 9615
Consulate General of the Peoples Republic of China in Sydney
39 Dunblane Street
Camperdown, NSW 2050
Tel: 02 8595 8000
Fax: 02 8595 8021
Consulate General of the Peoples Republic of China in Brisbane
Level 9, 79 Adelaide Street
Brisbane QLD 4000
Tel: 07 3210 6509
Fax: 07 3012 8096
Consulate General of the Peoples Republic of China in Melbourne
534 Toorak Road
Toorak, VIC 3142
Tel: 03 9822 0604
Fax: 03 9822 0606
Consulate General of the Peoples Republic of China in Perth
45 Brown Street
East Perth, WA 6004
The electric current in China is 220 Volts/50 Cycles.
If planning to use an adapter ensure it has different plug sizes as they vary from city to city in China. Most hotels bathrooms have a 110 volts flat pin (US style) outlet for electric shavers.
Getting there (stopovers)
Tibet/Lhasa can be accessed from various places in China by air, including Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. We generally recommend entering from Yunnan as this area is also at altitude and will help you acclimatise and lessen the effects of high altitude sickness. There is also a spectacular train journey to Lhasa (departing Beijing and stopping at various cities en route) – this takes just under 2 full days (48 hours).
High Altitude Sickness
High altitude sickness any traveller to Tibet needs to be acutely aware of before departing on any journey. Speak to your doctor before booking!
For more up to date information on the subject visit http://www.ismmed.org/np_altitude_tutorial.htm