Daring to do the Unimaginable- We’re going to Tibet!

Tibetan Flag: You wont find this flag anywhere in Tibet
Tibetan Flag: You won't find this flag anywhere in Tibet

We had dreamt that it would be amazing to go to Tibet someday, but I didn’t think that outsiders were allowed into Tibet.  While we were in Borders Books store looking for a guide book for China, we read in a few of the guides about traveling to Tibet.  Apparently it is possible for outsiders to legally visit Tibet.  The distant Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan Mountains just seem so unreachable.  When we applied for our Chinese visas we weren’t planning to go to Tibet, which was good, since we have heard that if you list Tibet as one of the places you will visit on your Chinese visa application your visa will be DENIED.

The day we arrived in Beijing China, George made up his mind that we were going to Tibet.  I was skeptical, since I didn’t want to get my hopes up and be disappointed, but George had been inspired by our trip to the Borneo rain forest and felt that we could travel anywhere!  We had read conflicting reports as to whether you need a tour to get into Tibet, but we knew for sure that we needed to obtain a Travel Permit from the Chinese government and that the best way to get one was through a tour agency.  So we started looking up tour agencies and comparing costs.

We figured out that after March, 2008, when protests took place in Tibet marking the 49th anniversary of the 1959 uprising, the rules got much stricter.  Tibet was never formally closed to non-Chinese tourists, but no Travel Permits to Tibet were issued from March 2008-March 2009.  The Chinese government only allowed “foreign” tourist to enter Tibet again starting in April, 2009.  We were lucky that we applied and received a permit for May, 2009.  Now, foreign tourists are required to have a guide with them at all times anywhere they travel within Tibet.  If you are only visiting Lhasa, you will only need the Tibet Entry Permit.  However, if you plan to visit any other sites you will also need an Alien’s Travel Permit or PSB.  We acquired both through our tour agency since we wanted to see more than just the capital.

Since you are required to have a tour guide with you at all times, the price can be quite prohibitive.  So your best bet is to organize a group of people.  The larger the group, the lower the price per person.  The minimum that tour agencies will allow for a group is 2 people, which was our case.  Fortunately for us, due to the non-issuing of permits for an entire year (for foreign tourists), the tour agencies were in desperate need for tourists and were willing to make a deal.  We had read and were quoted by different tour agencies for 2 people for one week in Tibet would cost about $1000 USD per/person.  That is a lot of money!!!  It might include accommodations within Tibet, but not the transportation to Tibet, and that is expensive too!  After researching several tour companies, we found one that was recommended by a couple of tour books and made a deal for $1000 for the both of us which included: cost of all permits, full transportation within Tibet, guide for 8 days, trip and permits to EBC, visits to several monasteries, Yamdrok Lake, and others.  We still had to pay separately for our transportation to Tibet, entrance fees to monasteries, accommodations, and food.  Finally, we purposely will not mention our Tour Company at anytime due to the sensitive nature of politics in Tibet vs. China.  However, if you would like to know which company we used please contact us.

Here is a brief summary of what you should require in your trip to Tibet:

  1. Hire a Tibetan company within Tibet, not China – this will support Tibetans and you will most likely get a tour guide who genuinely knows about Tibet and has a passion for their country.
  2. Be certain that your guide is fluent in your language.
  3. Verify what  your itinerary includes in writing.
  4. Have your total cost in writing as we have heard of tourist having to pay more than originally agreed.
  5. When you arrive in Lhasa or other entry point purchase altitude sickness medicine and maybe some oxygen as your first night might be difficult.
  6. Bring warm clothes!
  7. When applying for your Chinese Visa (which is required to enter Tibet) DO NOT list Tibet as a place you plan to visit.
  8. Do your research ahead of time, i.e. watch movies or read books about Tibet, since you won’t find out much about Tibet’s history while you are there.
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