Tibet offers breathtaking mountain vistas, spirituality and age-old traditions. The Himalayas are everything you imagined and more, but wait until you meet the Tibetans; some of the most welcoming people you will encounter. The overland trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu is the best way to discover this beautiful part of the world.
At present, independent travel is not permitted in Tibet. The only way you can travel here is to join a small group tour to explore this magnificent land. There are several companies to choose from that all offer a similar itinerary.
As Tibet is an autonomous region of China, you will require a valid Chinese tourist visa in addition to a travel permit for Tibet. You’ll need to obtain your Chinese visa before you travel, from your nearest Chinese embassy.
The tour operator will organise your permit for Tibet, which will most likely be sent to your hotel address in China.
Make sure you allow a few days to receive this (popular places will include Chengdu, Xian, Xining and Beijing). Find some great deals on accommodation in China on Booking.com.
Your tour operator will offer you two choices for starting your trip in Lhasa.
Option 1: Overnight sleeper train – NOTE: Trains sell out very quickly and are only available for purchase within 30 days from the departure date. They cannot be purchased directly from the Chinese railway, so you can use the agency that you are booking your trip with or use this website.
PROS: This gives you time to gradually acclimatise. The train is very comfortable and new, a real engineering marvel as it travels through the peaks of 5000 m above sea level. You can book either a soft sleeper or hard sleeper or just a seat. The journey starts from multiple cities – it’s recommended to pay for at least a hard sleeper. See the difference here.
CONS: Train is quite expensive (it costs more than the flight).
It’s long – It takes anywhere from 24 – 36hrs, depending on where you start.
Option 2: Fly from China to Lhasa. Multiple flights connect major cities in China with Lhasa (please note that are no international flights, apart from Kathmandu – KTM). Direct one-way flights include the same as above.
Expedia offers the best flight deals we’ve found online, so we recommend them.
PROS: Quick, easy and quite affordable. We took the flight from Xian – Total cost was $135 USD pp
CONS: Lhasa is 3656m above sea level. Altitude sickness.
With both options, any tour operator will recommend that you take it easy on arrival in Lhasa so your body avoids altitude sickness. (more about that below)
The old town in Lhasa
What is High Altitude Sickness?
Physical distress from difficulty adjusting to lower oxygen pressure at high altitude.
Common Symptoms of High Altitude Sickness:
Most cases of altitude sickness are mild, but some may be life-threatening. Symptoms tend to occur within hours after arrival at high altitude and include headache, nausea, shortness of breath, and inability to exercise. Mild cases may resolve in one to three days. Severe cases may require oxygen, medications, and moving to a lower altitude.
How to Avoid High Altitude Sickness?
Before Arriving in Tibet, take the below precautions:
Keep physically and mentally healthy. Keep relaxing in mind.
Take a physical examination and consult your doctor for advice on preparing AMS medication.
Get a great night’s sleep the night before taking your flight/train to Tibet.
Prevent from having a cold and respiratory disease before taking your flight/train to Tibet.
Best time to travel
The best time to go to Tibet is in Summer when temperatures are warm, from June – to August. You can expect warm days (t-shirt weather), but the nights are still cool.
Views in Tibet
Things to Know Before You Go
Currency – You will use the Chinese Yuan. Check the most current exchange rates here.
Language – Tibetan and Mandarin- It’s recommended to learn a few phrases of Tibetan once you have arrived or ask your guide for some handy phrases.
You’ll need a VPN for wifi! – Download one before you arrive, you’ll need it. We use and recommend VPN Proxy Master.
It’s surprising how many small restaurants and coffee places in Tibet offer free wifi. It’s super helpful but only works if you get the VPN.
Do’s and don’ts
Understand Tibet – Educate yourself about this region of China, why is Tibet not free, the Dalai Lama, the religion etc. We’d recommend reading these books before you arrive.
The Itinerary & Map of our 7-Day Lhasa to Kathmandu trip.
Our trip to Tibet was incredible. We saw so many beautiful landscapes and the drives each day were stunning.
Border Crossing into Nepal
A passport photo is needed in advance for the visa. Make sure you have one.
USD $25 on arrival at the border (max 15-day stay). It’s USD $40 for a 30-day stay. Pay in cash only.
Your tour operator will give you an option to take a private jeep transfer once you’ve arrived on the Nepalese side. The cost depends on how many other travellers are crossing the border that day.
We paid $50 USD for a seat in the jeep (4 pax max). We highly recommend arranging this option in advance as there aren’t really any transport options once you’ve crossed into Nepal, except for big trucks.
There are multiple bag checks and security check-points once you’ve crossed into Nepal too, and your Nepalese driver will make this quick and easy for you.
The journey is 150km to Kathmandu, however, the roads are terrible. The journey takes approx 8-10 hours, so be prepared for that. Your driver will probably stop along the way so you can have a meal and some fresh tea at a local eatery. There are many beautiful views on the way. A good idea to have a hotel booked in Kathmandu for the evening you arrive, you will be tired.
Where to Stay in Kathmandu
There are literally thousands of hotels to choose from in Kathmandu, however, the area that we and most other travellers stay in is Thamel. It’s the location that is close to the action, markets and best cafes and restaurants. These are our recommendations for the best value hotels below:
Budget Accommodation: Sara’s Backpacker Hostel– A bed in a 4-bed dorm from USD $2 per person, or a twin room is $5 total. This place is great value for money, has fab reviews and it feels like a warm homestay. A good place to meet other travellers.
Mid-Range Accommodation: Hotel Dream City – Rooms from USD $22 per night, includes a great breakfast. A fantastic location, wifi, clean, comfortable and fabulous reviews.
High-End Accommodation: Hotel Jampa – Rooms from USD $44 per night, includes a fantastic buffet breakfast. This hotel has superb reviews for its great location, excellent rooms and facilities.
What to do in Nepal?
Nepal is a popular destination for some incredible treks in this region. This country is stunning! There is a range of treks/hikes to choose from, depending on your experience and level of fitness. Many tour companies out there offer different itineraries, however, we recommend G Adventures.
What we love most is that they are firm believers in responsible travel, they’re affordable and they use local guides.
Make sure you’ve got Travel Insurance
Make sure you get travel insurance before hitting the road. Trust us, it’s one of those things you don’t want to leave home without. We recommend either World Nomads or SafetyWing, depending on the type of traveller you are.
🚌 Transportation: To book trains,Trainline is the best and cheapest website. To book transport in Europe, USA & Canada, we useOmio & FlixbusUS. For travel in Asia, we use 12Go.For all other countries, we use BookaWay to compare and book Bus, Ferry, or train tickets to get around.
Rach is a self-confessed travelling foodie. Her passion for food and culture has seen her eat her way through 190 countries. She's currently on a big food adventure to visit EVERY country in the world!
When Rach isn't travelling, you can find her at the beach, drinking coffee or wine with friends or chowing down on the best eats around her home city of Melbourne, Australia.