Things You Should Know Before You Travel To Tibet If you are looking for a few “what to know” pre-departure pointers, we’ve compiled a short guide you can use to pursue your own further research or inquiries. Many of the topics listed below are discussed in more detail in other areas of our website, but to make things simple here, at a glance, are the main points we think you should know.
Tibet is high!
You are probably already aware that even the lowland areas of the Tibetan plateau comprise some of the highest regions on earth. In our sections on altitude sickness and health concerns, we discuss this topic in more depth. You can access those pages here and here. What you might not know is that altitude can affect various pre-existing conditions such as heart disease, asthma, and high blood pressure. Read up!
Don’t count on the weather!
Summer is a great time to visit the plateau but it is also the rainy season. The winters are long and dry and the springtime sees snow in many places. Don’t expect to plan your way out of unpredictable conditions!
Visas and Permits
We’ve got a sizeable section devoted to the exact steps you will need to go through and a detailed explanation of where, when, and why here. At a glance, you should know that travelling to the Tibetan Autonomous Region (T.A.R.) will require additional paperwork (in addition to a Chinese tourist visa) and that the Tourism Bureau does not allow travelers to the T.A.R. to extend or deviate from the itinerary proposed at the time of application. It doesn’t have to be a stressful process, so don’t feel deterred! Just make sure you start the process early enough to allow time for processing.
Be aware of political sensitivities!
For the sake of the agency sponsoring you and the physical safety of the people who will be assisting you along the way, please refrain from asking questions about politics. Also keep in mind that if you are a journalist or employed in an official political capacity in your home country that concealing this information could have serious consequences not only for you but for the agency and locals assisting you.
Dairy, dairy, dairy, meat, meat, meat, grains, grains, grains
If you have special dietary restrictions planning in advance is a necessity. Tibetan food is animal product heavy. Milk, butter, or meat is present in most foods. Barley and wheat (bread, noodles, and dumplings) are similarly difficult to avoid. Its not impossible, it just takes some planning. Let your tour operator know far in advance!
Tibet is very diverse!
If you are interested in learning a few phrases pre-departure be ready for the bewildering language variation present on the Tibetan plateau. Languages aside, religion, dress, and culture also varies from region to region and between farming and nomadic areas.
Dogs are not pets in the sense you may think. They are guard animals and many recognize only their owners. They are not petted or fed special foods. It is best to avoid them at all costs. Yaks can also be dangerous and it is best not to approach them alone. They may appear docile but they are very strong and sometimes wary of unfamiliar humans.
Animal borne diseases (such as intestinal worms) are not uncommon. If you do touch an animal during your trip, be sure to properly wash your hands before eating.
Road construction and closure!
If you have a lot of plans and very little time, get help planning your trip. Road conditions on the plateau are like the weather…unpredictable! While some areas are accessible by well built interstate highways, other well known areas will take you off the beaten path. Long haul trips seeking to cover huge areas of open road on a time limit are recipes for disaster if you are planning to travel through rural areas, especially in the Tibetan areas of western Sichuan. Discuss any wild ideas you have with your tour operator to find out which areas are feasible. Some areas are closed to foreign travelers part of the year.
Transit through Chinese cities required!
Again, this is a topic that we discuss in more detail in our Visa and Permit section. Here we want to suggest you read up a little bit on Chinese culture, customs, and perhaps a few introductory phrases (like “May I have some water?”) that will help you at hostels and restaurants as you wait for your Travel Permit. Chinese culture is also very unique and a basic knowledge of the places on your route (even if they are not your main destinations) will help insure you have a smooth trip!