Once upon a time, it was possible to visit Tibet and just hire a local guide when you get there to show you around. That is no longer possible, though. While being able to visit Tibet independently does have its advantages, but there are also drawbacks that few people realize.
In such a unique place like Tibet, with extreme altitude and climate, it is actually a better choice to join in a tour backed up by professional agency, even if you could visit Tibet only with a guide.
Only Hiring a Guide is Not Enough: You Should Book Your Tour through a Tibetan Travel Agency
Hiring a guide alone is no longer permitted for international tourists to Tibet. And you are required to be on a pre-arranged tour of the region with a Tibetan travel agency, that is registered with the Tibet Tourism Bureau in Lhasa. Only in booking through an agency can you be guaranteed to be able to get into Tibet.
Obtain Tibet Travel Permit to enter Tibet
The one thing you will need more than anything else to get to Tibet is the Tibet Travel Permit. This unassuming document may look unimportant, but you will not even get onto the train platform or past the check-in counter at the airport without it.
Every international tourist requires this permit, and the only way to get it is to have it applied for by a travel agency. And the travel agency can only apply for it on your behalf once you are booked on one of the pre-arranged tours.
Once you have booked your tour with us, we will process your application for the permit with the Tibet Tourism Bureau using scanned copies of your passport and Chinese Entry Visa. The approved permit is then sent to us, and we forward it to your hotel in China, ready for your trip to Lhasa.
Need a vehicle and driver for road trip in Tibet
If you are thinking of taking a road trip across Tibet, you will need to have a guide and driver with you from the start. International tourists are not permitted to use buses in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
A tourist vehicle and a driver will be arranged for you to touring beyond Lhasa.
Your travel agency will usually arrange a driver and private vehicle for you, so that you can travel across the plateau to visit such amazing places as Shigatse, Mount Everest, and Mount Kailash.
The only transport you can use is in Lhasa itself, for local travel only, and the train from Lhasa to Shigatse, which has to be arranged by your travel agency.
Need a local guide during your stay in Tibet
As well as requiring a driver to take you around, you will also require a local Tibetan guide to show you around the region. This is more than just a guide to give you information about the attractions and the religion, culture, and people of Tibet.
Visit Nobulinka Monastery with our local Tibetan guide
The guide is also required to be at your side if you visit the attractions in Tibet, such as the Potala Palace, Jokhang Temple, etc. International tourists are not allowed to enter the attractions and monasteries without their guide present at all times.
Where Can I Visit in Tibet Only with a Tour Guide?
Now, there are places that you can go without a guide and driver and agency and permit. Not all that is Tibetan is in the TAR, and there are other places that you can visit using public transport and without a guide.
Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) vs. Tibetan Area
When we talk about Tibet, we usually mean the TAR, or Tibet Autonomous Region, which is a province-level autonomous region in Southwest China. It covers most part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. It includes 6 cities and 1 prefecture, namely Lhasa, Shigatse, Shannan, Nyingchi, Chamdo, Nagchu and Ngari Prefecture.
While in the broad sense, there is the Tibetan Area, or Tibetan-inhabited Area, that is quite larger than TAR. It is actually the area that was once the domain of the ancient Tibetan Empire, and stretches far into mainland China.
You can visit Chengdu Giant Panda Base before your Tibet tour.
Except TAR, there are Tibetan-inhabited areas in Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan. And all the five parts share similar Tibetan culture, and are generally referred as Five Tibetan-inhabited Areas.
While a “Tibet Tour” normally refers to the trip you take with a travel agency to the TAR, it does not need to be restricted to just that area. You can visit other Tibetan-inhabited areas, like parts of Sichuan or Qinghai, without the need for guide, driver, etc.
Visit Tibetan Parts of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan
The area of the former Tibetan Empire includes the area of Qinghai Province, as well as parts of Gansu, Yunnan, and Sichuan Provinces. These areas are still populated by Tibetan people that live in the same way and with the same culture, religion, and traditions as those in the TAR.
Since a trip to visit Tibetan villages and people is not necessarily restricted to the TAR, you can travel freely around these areas to visit the local Tibetan communities and get the whole Tibetan experience without the strict requirements.
No permit is required to visit these areas, and you can travel there with just your valid passport and Chinese Visa. You can also use public transport in these areas, though you may find it a little hard to travel in some areas. And while you do not need a guide, it can be useful to hire one locally.
Qinghai Lake is a popular destination attracting many travellers.
These areas of ancient Tibet are filled with amazing sights that can be found nowhere else. You can explore the wonders of Qinghai Lake, the largest lake in China, or visit the ancient Kumbum Monastery in Qinghai Province, as well as exploring the huge area of Tibetan influence in the west of Sichuan Province.
This mountainous area on the edge of the plateau is renowned for its beautiful scenic areas, such as Jiuzhaigou Valley, Huanglong National Park, Minya Konka, and much more. You can even follow in the footsteps of the great explorers of the past along the Tea Horse Road.
And while you are visiting the Tibetan Area outside the TAR, you can still get the whole Tibetan experience, and even more, as you will be able to interact more with the local people and get a better understanding of this beautiful and unique culture.
It is Better to Join in Our Tibet Tours for a Smooth Travel
While it can be nice to travel unrestricted, the planning of such a trip around the Tibetan Area can be hard to manage. Hiring a local guide by yourself can be hard work.
And if you plan to visit the Tibetan Area together with the TAR, it is actually better to be part of an organized tour that incorporates both places in one trip. And to do this, you can use a local Tibetan travel agency to help you organize it all.
Get our clients picked up at the airport of Lhasa
As well as offering classic tours of the TAR, we also offer amazing options for combined tours of both areas, so that you can travel easily between the two. Our individual packages offer combinations of a variety of destinations, incorporating the best of both worlds into one outstanding tour.
We can also customize your trip to suit your needs and requirements, and make it the trip of a lifetime. And when it comes to the required travel permits, we can make sure you have yours ready for your trip, without any hassles.
Traveling to Tibet on an organized tour can be tedious for some, and you can opt to travel in the Tibetan area outside the TAR without guide or driver. And while this does allow you more freedom, you can always combine a tour of Tibet with a tour of the Tibetan Area together to make it the best tour in the world.
So if you are thinking of which part you should visit, Tibetan Area or TAR, contact us and talk to our professional consultants who can give you all the information you need to make an informed choice.