Tibet is an uncomfortable, remote and hard destination. It also offers glimpses into one of the most fascinating old civilizations and one of the most dramatic mountain lands. It is truly one of the last frontiers for discovery and exploration. All trips are of an expeditionary nature but if you travel with an open mind Tibet will be a truly unique and rewarding experience. Here is some information to help you get the most out of your adventure.
All foreign travelers to Tibet require a visa. Three photographs and a passport valid for another six months are needed to obtain a visa. Visas can be obtained from Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu prior to your departure for Tibet. You will need to arrive at least
3 days in Kathmandu prior to your Tibet departure. The 3 days are the minimum required to process your visa from the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu. In Kathmandu the Chinese embassy processes visa on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Upon return to Nepal, a 30 day visa can be issued at the Nepalese immigration checkpoint at Kodari border (when you drive back) and Tribhuvan International Airport (for those flying Lhasa/Kathmandu); however we recommend that you obtain a double entry visa from your home country to avoid any possible complications.
At Zangmu, the entry point to Tibet, you will have to complete a Customs Declaration Form. You must declare the money you are carrying (whether in cash or traveler’s cheque), jewelry, precious metals, watches, camera and lenses, radios, tape recorders etc. A copy of the Declaration Form will be returned to you. On exiting Tibet/China, you must present the Form and have the declared items easily accessible. Customs formalities on arrival and departure are usually efficient. According to regulations, antiques are not permitted out unless they are purchased at state-run stores, in
which case the items should have red wax seal and/or receipt of the transaction.
On flights within China, you are allowed 20 kgs of checked baggage and 5 kgs of hand luggage. Each passenger must pay for his excess baggage at the airport check in point. Please remember that there is always an advantage in Traveling Light. On trains within China all checked baggage must be properly locked. Weight restrictions are not as strict as for air travel. A nominal amount is charged for extra checked baggage. For long drives within Tibet, bring an extra soft folding bag to carry spare clothing as often the vehicle carrying your checked baggage may arrive at the destination or may not be accessible at the night stop. Please note that porters are seldom available at airports and railroad sections and in hotels. More often than not, you will have to carry your own baggage.
The basic unit of Chinese currency is the Yuan, which equals 10 Jiao, and one Jiao equals 10 Fen. One US dollar is roughly equivalent to 8.6 Yuan, though rates fluctuate. Yuan come in denominations of 100, 50, 10, 5, and 1.50 Fen and 10 Fen. In Tibet Travelers Cheques and cash of major foreign currencies are accepted at he Bank of China and at the Holiday Inn Lhasa. Hotels and banks on the overland route to Lhasa should also exchange Travelers Cheques or foreign cash. It is best to carry both Travelers Cheques and cash US dollars. One is required to cash ones foreign exchange at registered encashment counters (i.e. at hotels or at authorized banks). International credit cards such as American Express, Visa, Master Card, Diners, are accepted at most hotels and in Tibet only at the Holiday Inn Lhasa and most government stores. They may also be used
in main branches of the Bank of China (including the Lhasa branch) to obtain cash.
Yuan is of little value outside China and you are advised to change your money sparingly.
You can photograph almost anywhere except at airports, certain bridges and harbors. Photography at military installations and concentrations of soldiers is not permitted. Often Tibetans and Chinese are camera-shy, use your discretion at all times, and when in doubt, ask verbally or by gesture. Your tour leader and Chinese liaison officer can be of help. Home video cameras and 8 mm movie cameras are allowed into China, but special permission is needed for 16 mm and 35 mm move cameras. If you intend to take a home camera, let us know the model/type/size and we can inform the Chinese authorities in advance so that there is no problem on arrival at border customs. Dalai Lama pictures are popular gifts in Tibet and in great demand by the local population, however you should be aware that distribution of these is against Chinese law, and the consequences could be police harassment and a heavy fine if caught distributing these pictures, not to mention the trouble you will cause for your local handling agent.
Hotel Accommodations and Services in Tibet
Hotels in Tibet are very basic except for Lhasa. Few are air-conditioned or feature such amenities as bars or any form of entertainment. Hot boiled water in thermos flasks and Chinese tea is usually available in each room. Some hotels provide laundry and pressing services. Most hotels are not heated. It is recommended that you carry a hot water bottle for the colder months. All services in Tibet are provided by travel agencies operating under the Tibet Tourism Bureau. Please note that we have no control over the quality of vehicles, facilities and itinerary in Tibet. Regardless of what has been
confirmed to us, the itinerary may be changed depending on the weather and road conditions. Our Tibet agent reserves the right to change itineraries without advance notice. Our Tibet agent generally provides Mitsubishi buses and land cruisers for small groups. Trains in China though fashioned are charming and are usually clean and on time. Hard and soft seats as well as sleepers are available. Some trains have dining cars which serve good meals, and tea is always available. Service on flights within China is without frills. You are usually served tea, juice and Chinese snacks/sweets during flights.
The climate in a country the size of China varies considerably in different areas. In general, winters (from late October to early April) are cold, particularly in Tibet and in the northern cities of China, and it is best to wear layers of warm clothing. Items needed are down jackets, sweaters, thermal underwear, woolen hats, gloves and socks. Temperatures in northern China and Tibet can drop to as low as minus 10 degrees Celsius during December and January. Spring and autumn in China/Tibet are like these seasons in the U.S. and Europe and appropriate clothing is needed. For Summer light-weight clothes, particularly natural fabrics such as cotton and linen, are best, supplemented by a light jacket or sweater and arctic down parka. A raincoat and a folding umbrella should be carried from end of spring to early autumn. For all tours in Tibet/China, comfortable walking shoes are a must. Other recommended items are sunglasses, sun hats, face and hand creams of sun block and dust-masks for Tibet. In general, in Tibet/China, casual and comfortable attire is best. You may want to include a jacket and tie or dress for the occasional banquet or cocktails. Expensive jewelry is better left at home as hotels do not provide safe deposit boxes. Clothing and accessory lists are give in details for tours, treks and expeditions at the end of these notes.
Tipping in officially forbidden in China but is now common place in the more “modern” areas. Generally, tipping is not expected in restaurants and should on non account be given to taxi drivers. In Tibet the normal practice is to tip the guide and driver according to their level of service. It is however all right to present small gifts such as cassette tapes of western music, cigarette lighters, or dictionaries and other foreign language books of a non political nature as a gesture of appreciation for service rendered by your guide/interpreter and drivers. Instead of candy or balloons, it may be better to give picture postcards, booklets or ball point pens/pencils to children.
Food & Beverages
Chinese cuisine is diverse and is usually an exciting experience. Hotels provide western style and Chinese breakfasts, but other meals are invariably Chinese, though hotels in larger cities (The Great Wall in Beijing, The White Swan in Guangjhau, and The Jinling in Xiana, etc.) serve continental fare. For day long trips, packed lunches are usually provided including a lot of canned food. Chinese tea is the stable beverage in China and coffee is also served, but you are welcome to bring your favorite brand of coffee, black tea (not available in China), creamer and sugar. Soup cubes, hot chocolate, or cocoa are also good items to bring. Boiled hot water is usually available in hotel rooms. At most hotels Chinese beer (Tsingdau or Qingdao is excellent) is available. You may want to being your own favorite bottle of liquor as it is expensive and almost always not available in Tibet. Please note that the Chine meals in Tibet are of a much lower standard than elsewhere in China and often served cold. On the 12 and 15 days Lhasa tours the meals served are generally good except in Xegar but on the treks/expeditions and particularly at the end of the long drives expect rough and ready meals. It is advisable to bring items such as cheese, crackers, some favorite canned food, nuts and chocolates. On Sherpa supported treks and expeditions food and camping arrangement will be provided to the high standards of similar trips in Nepal.
Most stores in Tibet open 7 days a week but are closed for holidays such as May Day and October 1st Day. You may enjoy shopping in the department stores where the Chinese themselves shop, though it is easier to find English speaking staff in “Friendship Stores” where prices are comparable. There are some antique stores for visitors that sell items cleared for export. These purchases should have a red wax seal and you also get a receipt for them. Other good buys in China are paintings, porcelain, jade and coral carvings, silk, brocade, ceramics and carpets, to name a few. Some Friendship stores will ship the purchase for you.
According to Chinese regulations, you are not permitted to take items bought from peddlers in the Lhasa or Xigatse bazar such as prayer wheels, jewelry, copper ware, etc. These purchases are often overlooked by the customs as these are ordinary and inexpensive, but if you buy them, remember that they may be confiscated.
If you are now talking any medicines or drugs, whether prescription or not, it is essential to take enough supply for the duration of the whole trip. Prescription drugs should be accompanied by a letter from your doctor, certifying your need for them. Foreign visitors are particularly susceptible to bronchial problems due to the high and very dusty air of Tibet. So medicines for this should be carried. Note that the most common American or European drugs are not found in Tibet. As a precaution it is advisable that you should carry medicines such as Diamox to prevent the effects of high altitude, though you must check with your doctor. Insect repellents, Band-Aids, throat lozenges, antibiotic ointment, aspirin and medication for anti-motion sickness, and colds are useful to carry. Due to the high altitudes encountered in Tibet, oxygen cylinder will be carried on all Sherpa supported trips at extra cost of US$ 100 per trip. In case of emergencies, vehicles will be available to drive passengers to nearby hospitals and/or lower altitudes. We advise you to bring your own Medica. In Tibet, it is advisable not to exert oneself and to drink plenty of fluids but little alcohol.
A NOTE ON TREKS AND EXPEDITIONS
Elements of this will e in remote areas away from the normal support given by hotels with the majority of movement being by vehicles on rough roads. The group will generally camp though some use of basic facilities e.g. in military camps may be used and the food will be prepared and cooked by Sherpa staff from Nepal who will also assist with camp organization and generally will be as helpful as they are during treks in Nepal.
“Expedition” may involve some foot trekking e.g. around Mt. Kailash and on the Manasarover Expeditions.
There will normally involve a considerable amount of foot trekking but will also generally include time spent on culturally oriented activities often in Lhasa or Xigatse, and sometimes an element of the “Expedition” type of trip with camping linked to a daily vehicle travel.
CLOTHING, EQUIPMENT AND ACCESSORIES
You will probably need to obtain additional information concerning the climate in countries other than Tibet that you will be passing through during your trip. Whilst as previously mentioned, spring and autumn in many parts of China are similar to equal climate in man parts of the world any trip going to Tibet requires special planning and consideration. Our suggestions list would include:
1) Good well worn-in walking shoes.
2) Warm comfortable boots or shoes for evening use.
3) Wool shirts
4) Cotton shirts
5) Regular underwear
6) Thermal underwear
7) Skirts/Culottes/trouser for women
8) Trousers/shorts for men
9) Wind and rain gear with hood
10) Wool hat/mittens/gloves
11) Other hats
12) Wool and cotton socks
14) Lined zip jacked/down jacket with hood
15) Track suit
16) Sleeping clothes
17) Personal first aid
18) Toilet kit including plenty of toilet paper
19) Flashlight/torch and extra batteries
21) Repair kit (needle, thread, tape, etc.)
22) Water bottle
23) Swim suit (for use during travel to and from Tibet dependent on
24) Note books, pens, pencils
25) Plastic bags for reading material, film, cameras, etc.
26) Pocket knife
27) Dust mask, silk scarves for use against dust
28) Camera and film
30) Clothes pins, safety pins, etc.
31) Strong sun block cream and lip salve
1. Down or fur boots for in camp wear
2. Over pants – down or synthetic pile fabric
3. Thick warm socks
4. Under (silk) or over (windproof) gloves
Clothing and accessories listed above for Tours and Expeditions plus:
1. Trekking boots – weight and size dependent on trek, time of year etc.
3. High altitude goggles and spare pair