Lhasa – A once in a lifetime experience in the holy Tibetan city
A trip to Lhasa, the cradle of Tibetan Buddhism, certainly is a special experience. The ancient city has a lot to offer and a rich history. But did you wonder if this special experience also needs special preparation? In our comprehensive Lhasa Travel Guide, we’ll show you everything you need to know for an unforgettable trip. We’ll cover everything from how to get there, how to get a Tibet Travel Permit, all the way to tips you would not have thought about.
Visit the cradle of Tibetan Buddhism
No need to be an adventurer but better be prepared
Have you ever thought about traveling to Lhasa, the holy Tibetan city? Located on the roof of the world, the starting point for so many brave climbers heading their way to the Himalaya Mountains, and cradle of Tibetan Buddhism.
If your answer is:
„Yes, I would love to see the historical and religious treasures of Lhasa. But I guess you must be more of an adventurous person to make this trip.“
this post is for you.
You might wonder ‘Is it safe to travel there? Do I need to take care of any special arrangements? Any codes of behaviours I should pay attention to? What to expect in terms of hotel standards and, let’s be honest, even sanitation?’.
You also might be curious how yak butter tea tastes and how to stay healthy at an altitude of about 3700m.
We had the same thoughts
Let me tell you that we had the very same thoughts when planning our trip to Lhasa.
Because of its amazing history, Lhasa was on our must-see bucket list but we had some doubts.
We are the type of travellers who prefer at least a little bit of comfort every now and then (rural backpacking camping is not for us), and who try taking care of travelling healthy and safely. Being female, in our late-30’s, and have travelled just a few other Asian places so far, would we feel comfortable about going there?
However, we really wanted to see Lhasa and invested some time to research and prepare.
And, we have been proven right that good preparation will turn your trip to Lhasa into an unforgettable experience.
In this sense,
In this first of our three-part blog post series about Lhasa, we will share the most important practical tips that will help you get prepared when traveling to this awesome city.
Let us convince you that nothing should prevent you from tackling Lhasa on your must-see travel list.
Here is what to expect from our three-part Lhasa blog series:
- Practical tips to prepare for your trip to Lhasa
- A comprehensive travel guide about major temples and monasteries in Lhasa
- A ride with the Tibet Train, the highest railway of the world – from Lhasa to Shanghai in 46 hours
Before we jump into the details of our preparation list, let’s go through some basic information about our destination.
Some basic facts about Lhasa
Lhasa lies north of the Himalayan Mountains and is the capital city of the Tibet Autonomous Region. It is the political, economic and cultural centre of Tibet and, believe it or not, a quite popular tourist destination.
Because of its high amount of sunshine hours, it is often referred to as the „city of sunlight“. In October, it can be over 9h per day!
With 3650m above sea level, you are standing on the roof of the world. Being that close to the sky, you get a pretty good idea of why Lhasa means „land of gods“ in the Tibetan language.
Lhasa is the religious centre of Tibet and the cradle of Tibetan Buddhism since the 7th century. The holy city has many amazing temples and palaces to reveal to you.
Unfortunately, a lot of the monasteries were destroyed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976). However, some were restored. And, if you are interested in Tibetan culture, you don’t want to miss them.
In part 2 of the present post series, we will explore the amazing history and art of some of the most popular sightseeing places in detail – including Jokhang Temple, Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Norbulingka, and the number-one attraction Potala Palace. If you can’t wait, you can already read everything about them in our Lhasa mini travel guides (just click on the image below).
But today, we are talking about preparation and practical stuff that you might want to consider BEFORE heading off to Lhasa.
First question – how to get and when to go to Lhasa
How to get there
Basically, there are three options how you can get to Lhasa – by flight, overland by bus/jeep or by train.
The most frequently used overland route leads from Kathmandu to Lhasa and lasts about 7 days.
However, if you don’t want to join an adventurous and more rural ride by bus or jeep (and I guess you don’t because you are reading this post), a trip by plane or train might be the better option.
You can fly from China or Nepal to Lhasa Gonggar Airport, and it takes about 75-90 min to get from the airport to the Lhasa city center.
Or, you can take the train to Lhasa main station, located in Liuwu, a 25-30 min drive from Lhasa city center. Since 2006, Lhasa is connected to the Qinghai railway, which offers you multiple departure possibilities in China – like Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Lanzhou, Shanghai or Xining.
Due to other planning aspects of our China round trip, we decided to fly from Shanghai to Lhasa, and, after a 4-days stay in Lhasa, we took the Tibet Train back from Lhasa to Shanghai. In the final third part of this post series, we will share some insights of our extraordinary two days / two nights in the high-elevation railway with its highest point at more than 5000m. No worries, the right preparation brings you through it, too (-
When to get there
Concerning the „when“: the best time of the year to visit Lhasa is from April to June and from the end of August to October. July and August are dominated by heavy rainfalls that can make your stay rather uncomfortable. During winter months, it might be less touristic but, since the hotels are not very well heated, you might want to avoid minus degrees temperature.
We’ve been there in September and the weather was quite well. However, be aware that you can have all four seasons in one day.
The Tibet Travel Permit and a Tour Operator are musts on your checklist
Something that you have to organise prior to your departure to Lhasa is the planning of a tour with a registered tour operator. You might have heard about it, but you cannot enter Tibet without a valid Tibet Travel Permit. And the tour operator will take care of arranging a Tibet Travel Permit for you.
There are numerous tour operators that offer various tours for Lhasa. It is not too difficult to find some good offers with the help of a simple web search (more about this in the next section).
It is a good advice to plan this well in advance – at least one month prior to departure. A copy of your passport is sufficient so that the Tibet Travel Permit can be requested by the tour operator. We arranged everything via emails with our tour operator without any problems.
Receive the Tibet Travel Permit at your hotel
Usually, the tour operator sends the Tibet Travel Permit to your hotel, if you stay in China – before you head to Tibet. However, clocks tick a bit different in Lhasa ;-). So it is always a good idea to ask your tour operator for a point of contact phone
If you enter Tibet from mainland China, as we did, you also need to get your Chinese Entry Visa from the Chinese Embassy in your home country.
Note: Further permits are needed if you leave the Lhasa region (e.g. Mount Everest or Shigatse), which we did not during this trip.
How to find a tour operator to discover Lhasa with a local guide
What tour package shall I book?
As mentioned before, it is quite easy to find some good Lhasa tour offers by doing a simple web search. There are numerous companies that offer tours of different lengths for small and large groups, as well as private tours.
Usually, the offers include a Lhasa impression tour of 3- or 4-days length covering the most popular spots and monasteries. You can extend your stay, or even discover Lhasa’s surrounding areas with more extensive tour packages.
Just take your time to read the conditions carefully. Good websites of tour operators should include very detailed overviews of their tour packages. They should clearly describe what is included in these packages and what is not. It’s also helpful to read some reviews from people who have already booked their service.
You find local guides who speak English or even other languages. To get the best impression, we recommend getting a local Tibetan guide.
If it is your first time in Lhasa, one of the 3- or 4-day impression tours might be something you want to consider.
From our experience, you need 1/2 to 1 day to adjust to the altitude and the tour operator usually takes this into account with a ‘soft’ start.
And after 3 days, you are feeling overwhelmed by the richness and diversity of art and culture in Lhasa. It takes some time to digest all the impressions that you’ve collected. That’s also why we decided to take the 2-day ride back to Shanghai with the Tibet Train. This gave us some time to let all these impressions sink in.
We went for a 4-day arrangement in Lhasa, which also included all entrance ticket fees, the tickets for the Tibet Train from Lhasa back to Shanghai, and daily meals. Also, the accommodation was included.
Tip regarding accomodation
A tip regarding accommodation; usually, you can choose between „luxury“ 5-star, 4-star, or 3-star hotels. However, keep in mind that the hotel ratings in Lhasa are not comparable with the ‘star categories’ in western countries. We went
Upon our arrival, our local guide picked us up at the airport. The guide came together with a local driver in a car that was our means of transportation during our whole stay in Lhasa. Every day, the guide picks you up at the hotel and drops you off in the evening.
Don’t let altitude sickness mess up your stay in the holy city
Taking the right medication with you is always a good advice when traveling. And it certainly should be one of the top priorities if going to Tibet.
A lot of people suffer from altitude sickness when they arrive at such high altitude. Lhasa is located at an altitude of 3650m. I clearly belong to those who experienced the classical symptoms of altitude sickness – like feeling very dizzy, sick and tired. It was no fun. But I guess it could have been worse – if we would not have had medication against altitude sickness with us.
Usually, it takes one to two days until the symptoms are less, and you start feeling better. Drinking a lot (of course, no alcohol) does help, and it is anyway a good advice because the climate is very dry. And, take your time when exploring the sightseeing places. At the sites of the monasteries, you usually have to climb a lot of stairs. You can easily feel short of breath at this altitude.
Talking medication in general, it is also a good idea to have some Aspirin with you, and something against gastrointestinal diseases. If you are not used to yak butter tea or yak meat you’re better prepared for an upset stomach. Yak meat is in fact really delicious (in my opinion … tastes are different).
Other unmissable items you might not think about
And never forget to take some tissues or leaves of toilet paper with you. Although public bathrooms are available all across town, the level of maintenance is often questionable. If you’ve already been to other places in Asia outside of the larger cities, you have an idea of what to expect ;-).
If you want to be on the save side, you might even consider taking some antibioticswith you. The standard of the restaurants that we’ve visited as part of our tour was high for Lhasa. But still, our European stomachs were not used to one or the other ingredient or bacterium. The health regulations applied were still a bit more on the rural side ;-).
We don’t know what was the source of our miserable stomach feeling after 4 days in Lhasa, but we both were very glad about having antibiotics with us! They saved the following days of our round trip.
Code of behaviour and some other things to remember
Being a visitor in another country always implies respectful behaviour.
Visiting the sacred sites in Lhasa, it includes: Don’t point your finger at Buddhas. Take off your hat and/or sunglasses and don’t be too loud when entering a hall or room of a monastery. And dress respectively.
Don’t take photos without permission. In most monuments and museums, photography is forbidden. In some, you can buy a permission at the main entrance or at the respective entrance of a hall or room (however, it is quite expensive).
Be aware that taking pictures of military facilities is strictly forbidden.
Consider proper footwear, because you have to take a lot of steps to reach the monasteries. Be aware that very often you are not allowed to take water with you when entering the sites of temples and palaces. Lighters are also not allowed. Your hand luggage is often checked at the entries.
And last but not least, be friendly to your local guide and driver, and don’t forget that a tip is part of their income. He does a great job showing you around and taking care of you. This is what we can say from our own experience. Our guide was always very helpful and happy to answer questions about the places we’ve visited. Out of courtesy, you should avoid talking politics. As in every foreign country, just trust your gut instincts. Always remember you are in Tibet where things might be handled a bit differently than you are used to.
Are you ready for Lhasa?
What do you think?
No excuses anymore! We hope that we could give you some valuable insights into how to get ready for Lhasa.
Stay tuned for part 2 of our blog posts about Lhasa, in which we will explore the historical and religious treasures of the holy city in detail.
Can’t wait? If you already want to start planning today, just head over to our travel platform