Flying into Lhasa ? take it easy......
If you fly into Lhasa, which most visitors in Tibet do, be sure you take it easy the first days. Due to the altitude of Lhasa (3595 meters), a lack of oxygen, can make you ill. Symptoms of this altitude-sickness range from light dizziness, headaches to the more serious like vomiting and unconsciousness. Mostly these symptoms will go away after a few days, if they don't go to a lower altitude....
You can take some light painkillers for the headache, but it is wise to rest a lot. Further more it is said you have to drink a lot.
Best to avoid this problems is to climb very slowly and stay some time at lower altitudes before you go to 4000 meters.
Most visitors however do fly into Lhasa...... which is OK if you take it easy the first days.
Flight from Chengdu
When we booked a plane to Tibet in August 2001 we had to pay for a permit which also got you a dodgy little tour.
The tour fee includes bus form Lhasa airport, a half day tour (if enough people turn up). We talked the agency into cancelling the tour (technically illegal) and saved fifty dollars. The bus to Lhasa was only a couple of dollars and waits out the front of the terminal for arriving planes.
It is always worth a try to save some money as the plane ticket alone is about $200
By bus, landcruiser or yak?
In the part of Tibet where I was the best way to travel was by landcruiser but during the trek to the Himalaya there was only one possibility: by foot. Then you can carry your luggage yourself or it is done by yaks.
In other parts of Tibet (but I don't know this by my own experience) it is also possible to travel by bus or minibus.
China Northwest Airlines
I flew by China Northwest Airline from Chengdu. Since I was flying on May Day & it was a one week holiday in China, the 200+ passenger flight was full! Quite amazing considering the airliner has daily flights from Chengdu.
Bus, taxi & if you want to travel like the locals, try the yak! Taxis are only available in the city.
How to go into Lhasa
If you are arriving in Lhasa by plane, many normal people will need 1-2 days to adjust to the altitude I vaguely remember - about 4500m.
If you plan to go Lhasa from within China, and do a gradual acclimitization to the altitude increase, the best highway route to Lhasa is from Qinghai. The other more scenic but definitely more time-consuming route is the meandering mountain roads (only two carriageway - keep right, one side is the valley drop, one side is the rock face) from Szechuan. Traffic jams can be bad along this mountain road when an accident has occurred, or if you encounter the 100 PLA army trucks transporting petroleum oil to Tibet, these proceed only at about 30 km/h.
For rail public transport, there's been ongoing rail construction to connect Lhasa to China's rail network, however, you got to wait like 3-4 more years till it is ready. :-)
Hitchike \ Busses
Altough the chineese officials and other tourists often pretended (10/2001) that you are only able and allowed to get around in Tibet by official tour opperators, for a lot of money, it was possible to travel there by yourself.
You have to be patient, as traffic is often very low and hitchhiking is quite difficult, but it is often possible to take a ride with a truck or if there are also with busses. You should be aware of police checkpoints. There we had to hide ourselves as the tibetian people had to pay a fine if the policmans saw us.
You can start your Tibet trip...
You can start your Tibet trip from Lhassa, it seems the best way to avoid too many troubles. We didn't, we started from Kathemdu. We booked a jeep from a travel agency in China. So we should 'support' a Chinese driver and a Tibetan guide for 8 days. It was good until they fight eachother! it was after the third day. So after it was quite disturbing.
Anyway the best thing to do is to arrive in Lhassa from Chengdu, buy your visa there, and then, from Lhassa, you can travel everywhere in Tibet without any guide at all.
To go to some places arround (Ganden monastery for exemple), you can use public buses, which start from the place just in front of the Jokhang. If you want to go some others places, more fare away, you can use also buses which start from the main station, which is not so far from the center. Ask any hotels, they will give you the address
But you can travel using another way:you can just put an advertisement in one of the hotels, asking you want to go somewhere, with some informations how to contact you, and some travellers will join you, and then you can easily find a jeep together. It's the best way to travel, if you are ready to share some experiences with people you don't know, of course!
You can also hitchhike, it's possible. We used it during the last step of our treck to Nam-tso lake. It was very good!
Visas: Somebody warns not to...
Visas: Somebody warns not to mention that you intend to travel to Tibet, when you purchase your Chinese visa. I got the visa through a travel agency in Kathmandu, just sending a copy of my passport by e_mail. In this case you have to arrive in Nepal at least three days before the fixed departure to Tibet. In the pic the transportation from Kodari (Nepal-Tibet border) to Zhangmu. No pics to show how terrible was the road!
From Zhangmu to Lhasa we travelled by rental cars with Tibetan drivers. Then, by airplane from Lhasa to Kathmandu. Regular flights to and from Lhasa twice a week.
If you are not in a tight...
If you are not in a tight schedule, compare to get a freight to Lhasa, I suggest take a bus to enter.
It have two reasons :
First, it provide you more time from a low altitute place to the high altitute (4000m) of Lhasa, and help you more easily to adapt the altitute problem
Second, the scenery alone the bus route to Lhasa is wonderful, worth to spend some time to take a bus trip.
The route I take to enter Lhasa is from Golmud to Lhasa, take about 36 hours.
as usual you have two choices...
as usual you have two choices to Lhasa, by road and by air. You can find buses to Lhasa in Gulmud, QingHai Province, it usually takes you about 24 to 48 hours. it is quite a hard road for you, but I think, it is worth. the scenery on the road is stunning.
take plane from only Chengdu, Chongqing or Beijing.
I flew China Southwest...
I flew China Southwest Airlines from Shanghai HongQiao (with a stopover in Xi'an).
The airport is at Gonggar, and it takes about 90 minutes to get to downtown Lhasa. The view is spectacular all the way, especially along the banks of the Brahmaputra river (see photo).
Since it was a package tour, we had a tour bus (that looked to be in a rather decrepit condition, but it made it to Yamdrok-Tso and back).
Otherwise Lhasa is full of taxis, and if prices are similar to those in otrher Chinese cities, then go ahead and use them - it won't affect your budget much (I usually travel half Beijing for about 20RMB.
Prayer flags along the way
I just love these prayer flags along the route...but I also felt there was something about them that was fairly eerie..almost like something out of a ghost movie...