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How to get to Tibet from Malaysia

April 14, 2017 / By Tashi Namgyal

More and more Malaysians are traveling to Tibet every year for the fascinating tours of this unique region of China. Malaysia also has the same rules as every other country whose residents plan to tour Tibet. All foreign travelers must be part of an organized tour with a registered Tibet travel agency, which will secure the required permits, and provide a tour guide and vehicle. Foreign travelers are not allowed to tour Tibet without these. While being part of a group is not required, it is an advantage as it can seriously reduce the cost of the tour by sharing the costs of the vehicle and guide with several other tourists.

The Potala Palace in tibetThe Potala Palace

Tibet has become a popular tourist destination from Malaysia due to the lower cost of travel and tours, and the unique culture of the Tibetan people. Also, while over 60% of Malaysia practices Islam, around 20 percent are Buddhists, and they are attracted to Tibet for the intense Buddhist culture of the region. With almost the entire population being Buddhist, the religious beliefs are closely woven into the fabric of their culture, and their very lives. The huge number of temples and monasteries, not to mention the holy lakes and mountains, are an attractive proposition for Buddhist Malaysians.

The intense Buddhist culture of tibetThe intense Buddhist culture of tibet

Required Documents for Tibet Tour

Depending on your route, the documents required can be very different, and can take varying times to process. There are no direct flights from Malaysia to Tibet, so you will need to fly first to either China or Nepal, and transfer for the trip to Tibet. For those traveling through China to Tibet, you will need to apply for your Chinese visa first, as this is different for the permit required to travel to Tibet, despite Tibet being an autonomous region of China. No foreign national is permitted to board a plane or train without the correct travel permits.

Chinese VisaChinese Visa

Chinese Visa and Tibet Travel Permit

Going from Malaysia to Tibet via China is one of the easiest and fastest routes. You will first need to apply for your Chinese Visa into China from the Chinese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur or the Chinese Consualte offices in Kuching, Penang and Kota Kinabalu. You should not put Tibet as the destination (to save more process time) on the visa, despite that being your final destination. You will also need to contact a registered Tibet travel agency to arrange your tour and Tibet travel permit. It is important to note that you need the Chinese visa FIRST, as the tour operator will not be able to secure your travel permit from the Tibet Tourism Bureau in Lhasa without the visa having been issued. And if you list Tibet as a location for your Chinese visa, they will ask for your Tibet travel permit. It takes around 2-3 weeks for your travel permit to Tibet to be processed, so you should start at least 6-8 weeks before you plan to travel.

Tibet Travel PermitTibet Travel Permit

Traveling to Tibet via Other Cities in China

There are direct daily flights from Kuala Lumpur to Chengdu, Shanghai or Beijing in China, and to Kathmandu in Nepal. Flights to China can take between four and a half hours and seven hours, depending on location. Chengdu is the closest, while Beijing and Shanghai normally take more than six hours when flying direct. Airline ticket costs can vary greatly, depending on the time of year and the airline and connections/transfers. While a minimum cost would be around $120-$150 some flights could be much higher, so it is advisable to shop around.

Flight and Tibetan Train to Lhasa, Tibet

From Chengdu there are two ways to get to Tibet, by train or by air. The flights run several times daily, and take less than two hours, while the train is just short of two days, and travels through Qinghai Province, along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. This is a great way to get to Tibet, as you have chance to acclimatize a little on your journey, and will see some of the most spectacular scenery in the world en-route. The flight from Chengdu to Lhasa is only 2 hours and 25 minutes, making this the shortest route through China. The train runs from Chengdu Railway Station, on Renmin North Road, and costs ¥668 for herd sleeper and ¥1,062 for soft sleeper. The route from Chengdu runs through Lanzhou and Xining on its way to Lhasa, and takes around 43 hours.

Qinghai-Tibet RailwayQinghai-Tibet Railway

If you are flying into Beijing or Shanghai, you can also get the trains, both of which travel along the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which runs from Xining to Lhasa, and is the most spectacular train ride in the world, traversing the highest railway in the world, and the highest rail pass, tunnel and railway station. The Beijing-Lhasa train takes around 41 hours, and costs ¥720 for herd sleeper and ¥1,144 for soft sleeper. From Shanghai, it is almost 48 hours, and is the second longest route to Tibet, after Guangzhou. The train tickets cost ¥794 for herd sleeper and ¥1,263 for soft sleeper. The differences between soft and hard sleeper berths are the number of occupants and security and privacy. Hard sleepers have six berths and no door, while the soft sleeper has only four berths and has a door you can lock from both inside and outside, making it a much more secure option.

Beijing-Lhasa trainThe Beijing-Lhasa train

Tibet Touring via Nepal

Traveling from Malaysia to Nepal is very different, especially in terms of visa requirements. There are daily direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu, and the flight costs upwards of $275 each way. Flight times, excluding transfers take around 4 hours for a direct flight across the 600km journey.

The flights from Kuala Lumpur to KathmanduThe flights from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu

Sichuan Airlines has one flight which leaves at 11:30am local time on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only. Arrival time is estimated as 3:10pm local time. Air China, the only other scheduled airline to Tibet from Nepal, leaves daily at 12:10pm local time, and is estimated to land in Lhasa at 4:00pm.

Air China is another scheduled airline to Tibet from NepalAir China is another scheduled airline to Tibet from Nepal

For a more exact price on the round-trip flights from Kathmandu to Lhasa, it is recommended to check with our travel consultants and airlines’ official websites to get the cheapest quotes, as fares can vary greatly from US$384 to as much as US$984. Direct bookings through either Sichuan Airlines or Air China are not guaranteed to be the best prices available.

If the seat is available, it is best to get close to the window on the starboard side (leftside) of the plane to see Mt. Everest, and it’s neighbors, Lhotse and Nuptse. Although it is not guaranteed that you will get to see the mountain, on clear days the view of the Himalayas is absolutely stunning, and it brings home the sheer immensity of this mountain range at the roof of the world.

The view of the Himalayas is absolutely stunningThe view of the Himalayas is absolutely stunning

Travel documents to Enter Tibet from Kathmandu

While our staff based in Kathmandu can help you obtain your Tibet permit to travel to Tibet, and the “Group Tourist Visa” from the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu. Your travel consultant will send you a visa invitation letter that you will need to submit with the application for the Group Chinese Visa. This can take 2-4 days to process in Nepal, so it is advisable to arrive there with plenty of time before your flight to Lhasa. It is also useful to note that, although the document is called a “group” visa, you do not need to be part of a group to obtain it. This often confuses foreign travelers entering through Nepal.

The Best Times to Visit Tibet

When to travel to Tibet can be a hard decision to make, as there is something for everyone, whatever the time of year. If hiking and trekking is your thing, then the best times to visit are spring, from April to the end of May, and fall, from September to October. While the region does have an average annual temperature of only 00C, it can still reach as high as 300C and above in summer, which makes it too hot to trek. The milder climates of spring and fall are ideal. It is also the best time to visit Mt. Everest (Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov).

Trekking in TibetTrekking in Tibet

For those wishing to visit the holy Mt. Kailash and Lake Mansarovar, the best time is from April to Oct, when the weather is better, and there are more pilgrims and cultural events. The air also has a higher oxygen content in the summer, making it easier for foreign tourists to acclimatize to the altitude. And although this may be the rainy season, the elevation does not allow for much rainfall, and most rain is really just a shower, compared to other monsoon regions of Asia. Majority of the Tibetan festivals are also held in summer, when the rains make the land more fertile, and the grass is lush and green.

There are many pilgrims in Mt. KailashThere are many pilgrims in Mt. Kailash

Packing Essentials for Tibet Tour

Your packing list is not much different from one season to the next, as you will always need warm clothes while in Tibet. Even in summer, the temperatures can drop to freezing or below at night. Make sure you prepare sun block and lip balm, as the sun and wind can be stronger than they appear while you are touring. Sunburn can still be a problem, even this high up, and chapped lips can be quite uncomfortable. Ensure you have stout walking boots and thick socks, even if you do not plan to do trekking, as the terrain can be rough in a lot of places, and they will keep your feet warmer than rubber shoes. Always carry a small first aid kit, just in case, and it you are traveling in summer or winter, pack sunglasses, to prevent sore eyes or snow blindness. It is important to remember that the wind at such a high elevation can be biting, even in summer, so windproof jackets are a necessity, as is a waterproof jacket in the monsoon season, and thick jackets in winter and fall.

Whatever your itinerary will be, you are guaranteed to have an amazing time in Tibet, and your tour guide will ensure you get the best trip of your life.

Tashi Namgyal

Tashi Namgyal

Born in Lhasa, I am working at Tibettour.org as a travel expert now. With many years’ experience of travel guide in Tibet, I could be your local travel expert to help you arrange your trip to Tibet.

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