I traveled from Nepal to Tibet overland, but was delayed in Nepal due to bad weather in Mainland China. Due to this, I was able to take my time and search out all the possibilities of this great overland adventure ...
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» What do you really need? (officially)
» Do I really need a tour company, costs & how to choose?
» Visas, Permits which ones and How to get them?
» The Nepal Tibet Route
» Tips and FAQ's
There are several ways to do this trip. I will stick with the main route focusing on Nepal to Tibet as it's often times the one that causes the most confusion.
For an easy trip: do the China Tibet route. Less visa hassles and it's pretty straight forward meaning less time.
Simply book a tour from Beijing and off you go. I'll cover the tourless option in the FAQ's.
is a slightly different story:
Post March 2008 the Chinese created all sorts of restrictions on travel to and from Tibet. In 2012 the Chinese again changed permit rules into Tibet and Chinese visa rules the next section will deal with what you need.
(link to top)
A tour company leaving Kathmandu
A Tibet Group Permit (one can only get this through a tour company)
Be a part of a group of the same nationality (read on)
An onward ticket
A Chinese visa
In Kathmandu there are 100's of agency's offering tours. The prices vary a lot yet the Itineraries vary little. Why? Well, there are only four actual tour operators running these tours; everyone else is just an agency.
What does that mean? It means that there only four company's running the 4X4's from the Nepalese border to Lhasa. All the agency's work through them. They do this to pair up nationalities for group visas and fill 4x4 seats.
For me, I always go for the top dog. Agency's are not in charge, the operators are. If you have used a nice agency for a trek and want to use them for the tour its the same thing - though it might be more expensive. But if you prefer to locate and deal with the Tibet tour operator yourself then you can.
For me the operator. But, unless you are good at one on one conversation and dealing with people. It might be a hassle. Your travel agent may be able to contact them with the latest info that bit faster.
Sure, but just like a trekking tour, it will cost a lot more. Doing it in person will be cheaper. However if stuck for time then there may be no choice but to book online. Just remember, you'll still need to give them your passport for the permit once you get there.
So, if possible do it in person - here's a guide to the times to help. Tibet tours leave every Tuesday and Saturday numbers and weather permitting. It takes 5 days to arrange a permit, but ... for $30 extra it can be done in two days. So that's your time frame for doing it in person.
Ha! The great question. I spent 6 weeks snowed in and visited so many it was boggling. In the end there were some huge differences. I paid well under $500 for my tour direct from an operator including visas etc. Another person on the same exact tour paid $1000. Most paid around $600. (These prices still stand in 2013)
In general there was a difference between the agency's and operators as far as the tibet tour price went re commissions- $10 - $50 -$100. However there are a crazy amount of agencies around Kathmandu charging around $800-$1200.
Explore Nepal Eco Tours & Travel
Royal Mount Trekking
Kathmandu! Go find them, you have the names! Seriously though; Chinese restrictions and policy's change. I found all of the above with no problems and I know three are still up and running as people have contacted me. Things change quickly though as do names. If any drop off or are added I'll make the change here too.
: Be careful about doing an internet search on the above names. There are sites with their names that are not the same companys! Even though they offer the same type of tour. It's Nepal, business sense is not always as it seems.
: A reader here reported paying $340 dollars for an overland tour (Dec/Jan 2011/2012). I've been in Nepal since then and the lowest prices are still as I've written above.
As mentioned previously if entering into Tibet from Lhasa you do not need a Chinese visa. The Tibet permit will do you until you leave China.
If you do have a Chinese Visa, it will be cancelled on entry, so don't get one.
A Tibet Group Permit is for 21 days, though with a bit of persuasion can get 28 day permits
The Tibet Group Permit must have a minimum of two people of the same nationality on it. It is possible to get a group permit with just one persons name on it. But, it will cost you over $1000, and a little time (this changes randomly, so do ask).
It takes 5 days to process the Permit. 2 Days urgent for an additional fee of around $30. Fees are higher for USA citizens starting at $55 & $88 for express.
If you are with others using a Group Permit you will need to leave China together at the same exit port.
The Tour Company you book with will arrange all your permit needs. But make sure to keep an extra couple of photocopies.
Please note that your tour company will say it's now mandatory to have an exit ticket out of Tibet before a permit can be obtained. This can either be a flight ticket or a train ticket. Both of these can be purchased from your tour operator if need be.
For more information about visas check out my visa section.
If you need to book a hotel in China once you leave Tibet try my hotel search here.
Okay no matter which agency or company you choose, the route is the same; you'll be going along the friendship highway.
The average itinerary is for 8 days. Each agency will add their own wording etc. At the border your tibet guide is the one who decides what town you stay at that night. They will usually say weather conditions, hotel problems or whatever to work the multitude of itinerary's into one that conforms to all. Either way, it's still 7 days and 8 nights.
For the price of each tour you get transport, accommodation and breakfast included. You accommodation is dorm style the first two nights, in tea houses. Meaning basic accommodation sharing with one other of possibly more from the same tour. There after you will share the room with one other person.
You can arrange with your Tibet Guide for private accommodation at an extra cost once you are at the Tibet border.
Money changing can be done at the border at a high rate or at the first, second town. There ATM's after the first town.
3 in the back, 1 in the passenger and the Tibetan driver (non english speaking). Rarely, will someone need to take a boot seat. But if so, seat swapping is encouraged. You take a mini van from KTM to the Border and then 4x4's there after.
Toyota Land cruisers. Fairly new. But at high altitude, breakdowns can occur. All part of the fun.
Do you speak Chinese? Do you look Chinese? Can you avoid one by one passport checks at the only bridge crossing into Tibet? Can you survive 1000's of KM alone walking barren off road terrain with no food or water? Take the tour, or wait for the regulations to relax.
No. You make several stops en route. Toilet breaks, Everest viewing, and various highlight stops. Once in a city or town you are free to wander around monasteries etc. Some of which are set into mountains. Consider it a day trek.
Yes. You will be in high altitude so Altitude Sickness can be an issue. Please consult your doctor about this. Personally, I had a headache, as did others. The Tour staff are not medically equipped. If you suffer from any serious aliments you should be aware that you will be in remote areas, and away from hospital care. There are hospitals en route, but they could be a day away depending on your location. Again, seek medical advise before going on any high altitude tour.
Tibet uses Chinese Yuan. I would change money in Kathmandu before departure. You can change at the border, and all the little border money changers will tell you that it's the last place to sell Nepalese Rupees. It's money. You can sell it further on if you want. Be patient, and don't bow to their pressure.
Not so great. But not so bad either. Coffee, Eggs, bread, noodles. There are plenty of shops in the towns, and plenty of places to eat lunch and dinner. Bring a translation or picture menu book if you are not adventurous with what you eat!
Yes. But there's a better selection of Tibetan goods in Nepal.
Dodgy. You can bring them in. But if the person receiving them is caught, or seen, then it's them not you who will get into serious trouble. Either on the spot, or after you have left.
No. You can go where ever you want afterwards (permit permitting). Beware that many other regions in Tibet require different permits though. Most needing a week or two to clear. So with an average 21 day permit, you will be restricted time wise. The easiest thing to do is to take the T28 train (worlds highest) either direct to Beijing or stop off in Xi'an. Then go on to Hong Kong, break your Group Permit there, get new Chinese Visa's and come back in again alone.
Yes. It's a Group Permit with just your name on it. I got one. You can too. Some places are starting to issue them again. Technically it's not possible, but anything is possible if you try hard enough, ask the right questions and say the right things. ;-)
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