How to plan a budget tour in Tibet
Tibet, here referring to Tibet Autonomous Region, the roof of the world, goes to be a dreamland for lots of travelers and attracts thousands of travelers every year, offering the most unique and unforgettable experience with its sacred atmosphere and breathtaking landscape. However, lots of budget travelers may put their travel plans aside or even abandon their trip to Tibet due to its relatively pricey trip cost.
As we know, the tour costs are mainly made up of the fees of the transportation, accommodation, entrance ticket, guide, food, and other expenses, a trip to Tibet is the same. Generally, the higher prices of Tibet tours are mainly caused by the following factors.
- As a remote province of China, the land transportation to enter and exit Tibet takes a big part of your Tibet trip cost, no matter by flight, train, or taking an overland tour by driving.
- As the second-largest province of China, most famous attractions such as E.B.C, Namtso Lake, Kailash, etc. in Tibet are located far in distance and off the main roads, requiring a long time’s drive. In addition to its long-distance, it is a place with an average altitude over 4,500 meters (14,764ft), limited condition, and harsh environment, making the tour costs here a bit beyond the tour prices of most other places in China.
- Based on the current special policy, the overseas travelers are not allowed to travel independently in Tibet and need to prearrange a tour with a local travel agency having a licensed tour guide, a private vehicle, a driver and all the required Tibet permits, it is another important factor to increase the tour cost.
For those seeking a budget trip, there are many ways to reduce the cost, here we have collected the most effective applicable ways to help you to plan a trip to best meet your budget.
1. Find as more travelers as possible in your group
Generally, it is commonly acknowledged that the cost of doing a private trip is more expensive than the cost of joining a group tour, but the fact may be the opposite, as you may know, the more travelers in a private trip, the less tour cost for each group member. Based on our experience, if you are a group of 4 or even a larger group, sometimes, is even cheaper than the cost of joining a group tour. At this stage, the best way to cut down the price is to find more travelers to form a larger group, at least over 4 people, to share the tour cost on the guide, private vehicle, and driver, as well as the accommodation.
However, if you are a group of only 1 to 3 people, and it's hard to find more people, joining an existing group tour to reduce the cost would be a better choice. As you can cut down your Tibet tour cost on transportation (referring to vehicles and drivers in Tibet), licensed tour guide, and even avoid the single room supplement fee. We WindhorseTour offer Tibet small group tours with different itineraries, durations (4-15 days) and budget and pre-set tour departure dates, you can easily pick up one of the group tour routes based on your interests and budget.
2. Avoid traveling in the peak season (July to October)
For those looking for a budget trip to Tibet, please try to avoid traveling to Tibet during the peak season from July to October. During this period, with the best shape of the landscape and the warmest weather, Tibet gains the greatest number of worldwide tourists, which makes all the cost at their highest including accommodation, transportation, guide, and entrance tickets, etc. In addition, there is almost no discount on the flight ticket to enter and exit Tibet.
It is highly recommended to travel to Tibet from November to the next June. As this period is with lots of sunny days with sufficient sunlight, the weather of the daytime is not as unbearable as you can imagine, it is even warmer than most of the other places in China. In addition, there are fewer tourists and the visibility is high, you can have a chance to enjoy leisure time at a tranquil and original world only with sunshine, snow-capped mountains, and local Tibetans. Furthermore, the tour cost of this period is cheaper than the tour cost from July to October, for example, compared the cost in peak season, the tourist vehicles and drivers’ cost of this period is about 10%-25% cheaper, while the room rate for many hotels is about 20%-50% cheaper.
It is worth mentioning that the tour cost from November to the next March, the wintertime, also the low season to travel to Tibet, is at their cheapest. Discounts are often given for major expenses, such as hotels, flights, tourist vehicle and driver, and entrance fees. There is a winter promotion in Tibet every year, specifically from November to mid-March, attractions above 3A level are half-priced and some even free to enter. Besides, in order to get more clients in winter, the room rate of many hotels in winter is almost half-price compared to the peak season. The same discount is applicable for the flight fare, some airlines even offer a greater and much competitive discount higher than 50%.
3. Enter Tibet by train rather than by flight
For those wanting to reduce the cost, it is a great choice to travel to Tibet by train rather than by flight, generally, from the same departure place to Lhasa, trains are cheaper than flights, but you should prepare more days for your trip, as trains take a longer time. Alongside this, you can further cut down the tour cost by taking a hard sleeper rather than a soft sleeper.
Honestly speaking, the condition of a hard sleeper berth is not as bad as you may imagine, though it is not the most private option. It offers a competitive price (about 65% of the soft sleeper berth’s cost) to help you to save the expense on transportation to Lhasa. For instance, if you choose to depart from Beijing to Lhasa, the full price of a one-way economy class flight ticket is CN¥3,330 (approx: US$483) per person including taxes and almost no discount on the flight ticket during the whole year, while the cost of a one-way soft sleeper train ticket is about CN¥1,200 (approx: US$174) per person, a one-way hard sleeper train ticket is about CN¥800 (approx: US$116) per person.
Except for the price difference between the hard sleeper and the soft sleeper, the other main difference is that there are 6 berths in one hard sleeper cabin and just 4 berths in one soft sleeper cabin. Another difference is that a lockable door for more privacy is available in the soft sleeper cabin, while not available in the hard sleeper cabin.
Apart from money saving, taking a train to Lhasa also brings you unique rewards with the remarkable world’s highest railway experience and breathtaking landscape scenery such as Kekexili Nature Reserve, Kunlun Mountains, the alpine grasslands on the Northern Tibetan Plateau, etc. At present, Xining, Lanzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou have trains to Lhasa every day, while the trains from Chongqing and Chengdu depart every other day. Other major cities in China such as Nanjing, Zhengzhou, and Xi'an also have trains to Lhasa, but they are not served as the starting station. It’s strongly recommended to pick these seven initial cities as the starting points when traveling to Tibet.
However, you should always be aware that it takes longer to get to Lhasa if you take a train, so you’d better prepare more days for your trip. In addition, if you travel to Tibet in winter except for departure from Beijing or Shanghai, please also keep an eye on the flight tickets' cost as there may be a big discount in winter, sometimes the flight may even be cheaper than the train.
4. Book your stay at local Tibetan hotels and guesthouses
Choosing the cheaper accommodation options to stay is another way to reduce your Tibet tour cost. Tibet, especially the capital city Lhasa, provides varieties of accommodation ranging from local guesthouses, hostels, budget hotels to luxury hotels. For those seeking budget travel, it is strongly advised to stay at the local guesthouses and hostels with cheap dorm-bed costing only about US$8-15 per person per night, or stay at budget hotels with standard rooms costing from around US$18-30 per person per night, including a simple breakfast, based on 2 people sharing one standard twin/double room.
5. Eat at the local Tibetan restaurants
Generally, in most of our Tibet tours, we don’t include the meals in our tour package to give our clients more flexibility to choose what to eat according to their preferences and budget. The guides would be happy to give the best recommendations based on their interests.
Many small, cheap restaurants or tea houses specializing in authentic Tibetan food, as well as the other Chinese foods, can be easily found in many places of Tibet, especially in Lhasa and Shigatse. Most of them don’t look fancy, but they offer very delicious food at an economical and affordable price, costing varies from US$5-10 per meal based on what you order, a lot cheaper than eating at the big restaurants. Tibetan noodles with yak meat or vegetables, momos (dumplings) steamed or fried, sweet or butter tea are recommended to try. In addition, the price will decrease if you are sharing the cost with your group members.
In conclusion, when planning a trip to Tibet, you should not always think about ‘how’ to travel, but ‘when’ to travel. Besides, please always be careful of the cheapest offers you have received as those may always have some hidden costs, like excluding the cost of accommodation, entrance tickets to some major sightseeing spots/monasteries. Even if the price looks attractive, you should note that the hotels and entrance tickets can be costly. The total cost would be more expensive by adding those hidden costs.