For the past two decades, tourists from both China and around the world have been traveling to Tibet, a paradise for people who are interested in traditional Buddhist culture and breathtaking scenery. The reason is simple: in the eyes of most outsiders, Tibet is not only a holy city for pilgrims but also a place for travelers to escape the hustle and bustle of big cities, to enjoy the unspoiled beauty and purity of the Tibetan landscape and to savor inner peace, at least for a while.
Sound good? Before you pack your luggage, here are several Tibet travel tips to help you avoid common pitfalls and make traveling to Tibet a more relaxing and enjoyable experience.
Best Time to Visit Tibet
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Tibet is between April and October. Peak season is from May to October when large numbers of Chinese are traveling on their summer holidays, sometimes making it difficult to book bus, train or plane tickets. Peak season is also the best time to view Tibet's vast grasslands, snowcapped mountains, grazing sheep and wild yak herds. Note: The most scenic months are May, June, September and October. If you are traveling to Tibet by car or on foot, you might want to avoid the rainy season (July to August) especially on the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, some sections of which may see mudslides after heavy rains.
Tibet Permit and Visa
For foreign tourists traveling to Tibet, four documents including your Chinese Visa (issued by the Chinese Embassy), a Tibet Tourism Bureau Permit (TTB) an Alien Travel Permit and a Military Permit are needed depending on where you're visiting. Generally, tourists only need to show their TTB and Chinese Visa at certain check-points, but if you are traveling to areas sensitive to the military, the Alien Travel Permit and the Military Permit are necessary. Click here to read more: Tibet Permit and Visa
Currency Exchange Service
In Tibet, the only bank that exchanges foreign currency and travellers cheques is the Bank of China. Some hotels also have exchange services, but they are only available for guests. Therefore, it's advisable that you exchange as much money in Lhasa as you need, and try to get some small denominations beforehand. Please note that the only bank that provides credit card advances is the Lhasa branch of the Bank of China. Most of the time, you cannot draw cash by ATM from small branches. Usually you need to go the ATM near Potala Palace .
High Altitude Sickness
Generally, an altitude over 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) is defined as high altitude and since most of the tourist attractions in Tibet are found at more than 3,000 meters (9,843 feet), there is a possibilty of developing High Altitude Sickness (HAS) or Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Common symptoms include, headache, dizziness, lethargy, appetite loss, nausea and difficulty sleeping. Travelers might suffer different degrees of sympoms depending on elevations, rate of ascent and individual heath conditions. Therefore, it's strongly recommended that you buy anti-altitude sickness medicines such as diamox in drug stores in big cities before traveling to Tibet or you can purchase Hongjingtian, a Tibetan herb in local Tibetan pharmacies in case of such emergency.
Photography in Tibet
With it's rugged landscapes, colorfully dressed locals and authentic Tibetan culture, Tibet is a photographer's paradise. Indeed, people often joke any photo of Tibet, even a careless one, is likely to win first prize in a photo contest. Before digging out your camera, however, be aware some Tibetans believe it's bad luck to be photographed. In monasteries, sacred artifacts might also be off-limits to photographers. A good rule of thumb is: When in doubt, ask permission. You might be asked to pay money to photograph a Buddhist statue or a camera-shy Tibetan, but fees are negotiable and cheaper time-wise than a longwinded argument. Note: Never attempt to photograph in secret, especially in military sensitive areas where cameras are strictly forbidden.
In Tibet's strong sunlight, it's also best to avoid long film (and skin) exposure times. Take extra precaution protecting your camera against the elements: sandy winds, water damage, etc. Finally, spare batteries are a neccesity, especially when traveling to Tibet's remote areas where electricity is hard to find. In such situations, your hotel manager might be able to help you recharge; hotels in remote villages are often equipped with private electric generators, but don't expect local stores to stock your brand of battery.
What to Pack
Wherever you travel, packing smart is the number one thing to keep in mind, Considering the high altitude, strong sunlight and changeable weather, I suggest you pack the following items when traveling to Tibet: a large backpack and a smaller one for daily activities, cold-proof clothes, durable shoes for different purposes such as hiking, shopping, or a night on the town; sun protection articles like sunglasses, a sunhat and suntan lotion, medicine to prevent HAS, trekking equipment, water purification equipment, spare batteries and a battery charger.
Okay, all packed? I hope these Tibet travel tips prove to be useful. It's April now, the ideal time to start an exciting Tibet tour. Make a plan and get going, a Tibet tour of a lifetime is waiting for you!
Photography in Tibet