Since we have not visited Tibet yet, we invited Stephanie Lee as a guest author to share her experiences in Tibet:
Tibet Autonomous Region of China offers one of the most unique and unforgettable experience a traveler can hope from a destination. Located on Tibetan Plateau in Asia with an average altitude of above 4,000 meters, Tibet is the highest altitude location and is one of the remotest places on the planet.
There are some ways to reduce the cost for budget travelers planning the cheapest Tibet tour. Here we have listed the most effective and easily applicable ones. Each of these ways can significantly reduce your Tibet travel budget or saves more money to enjoy other experiences and attractions in Tibet.
There are also restrictions for foreigners visiting Tibet. You need additional permits to visit Tibet and number of permits needed may increase if you want to visit some restricted areas. It is not allowed for a foreigner to travel in Tibet alone and you also need to be accompanied by a guide. All of these adds to the cost and makes it necessary to plan your Tibet trip carefully. You will need to plan the document preparation and reservations as well as arranging the tickets and accommodation. Luckily, a trusted and experienced Tibet tour operator like Tibet Vista can help you to plan and execute a good Tibet tour.
Take Tibet Train
Since its opening in 2006, Qinghai Tibet Railway gradually became the most popular way to arrive to Tibet. Today, you can take this train from several major Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Chengdu, Xining, Xi’an and travel all the way to Lhasa on train.
Tibet train offers a cheaper alternative to Tibet flights. Depending on the class, Tibet train can cost one third or half of the plane ticket. Besides its cost, Tibet train also has several advantages which would appeal to many travelers. First, it crosses Tibet Plateau from North to South and offers a stunning scenery which can be freely enjoyed from your compartment for days (a trip can take 2 – 3 days). The train also offers experience of very high altitudes and climbs to as high as 5,000+ meters.
Tibet train passes through some iconic sites such as majestic Qarhan Salt Lake, Yuzhu Peak, Tanggula Pass, Tsonag Lake, Qiangtang prairie (meaning “northern highland”) and Namtso Lake.
Second, Tibet train offers better opportunity for altitude acclimatization compared to flight. High altitude sickness is a common and potentially holiday ruining condition which can become fatal in rare but serious cases. A good acclimatization is very essential even if you will only visit Lhasa. Tibet trains are specially built and has centralized oxygen supply. When the train is in high altitude, the cabins are supplied extra oxygen to prevent the altitude sickness. In case of emergencies, each passenger also has a private oxygen supply and for some rare cases each train has a medical doctor to intervene.
Soft Sleeper Class of Tibet train offers a small private compartment for 4 people with reasonably large space and beds. The facilities on the train are good enough and thanks to the policing on the cars, crime is rare.
Join a Small Group Tour to Save Money
You will need a tour guide as well as transportation when you are in Tibet. This cost can be high if you travel with your own group which is only composed of a few people. It is cheaper to share this cost with a small group which is formed by combining individuals or small groups into a single itinerary. If you do not want to join a large group and restrict yourself with the rigid program of such a group, you can join a small group tour to save money without sacrificing a lot of flexibility. Lhasa-based Tibet tour operator Tibet Vista is specialized in arranging small group tours as well as private packages and operates some of the most popular Tibet small group tour packages.
An ideal small group would be composed of 8 to 9 people to guarantee the smooth communication between tourists and guide. It would also provide safe and quality transportation and hotels with good locations and clean conditions. An experienced guide would take you to the most authentic Tibetan culture and real life. Another advantage of such small tour group is of course meeting new people from all around the world.
Visit Tibet in Winter Time
When most people hear about visiting Tibet in winter, they imagine an extremely cold, almost snow storm like environment and some even think one cannot visit Tibet in winter at all. Although Tibet has a harsh winter and many remote locations are not accessible, visiting Tibet in winter is not as cold as you would imagine. Indeed, Lhasa can be warmer than Beijing in many days of winter.
The main winter seasons from November to March gets a lot of sunshine and average temperature of many areas of Tibet hovers around 10 to 18 degrees most of the days. In Lhasa, which is the major destination for winter Tibet tours, daytime temperatures are usually above 10 degrees and night time temperatures hover around zero degrees, which is actually higher than some places of northern China.
On the other hand, winter visit to Tibet has many cost advantages. Especially the January and February are the lowest seasons. Since this is the low season, you will find lower cost hotel accommodation, train tickets or flights. In peak season, the prices can go very high and in the low season they can go very low thanks to the promotions run by many hotels and tour operators. It is also easier to find your ticket and accommodation of choice easer and Lhasa will be more authentic and tourist free during this time.
One big and usually overlooked bonus is the festivals in winter which can offer very unique Tibet cultural experience. These festivals are great time to experience Tibetan culture and local customs.
Tibetan New Year, also known as Losar Festival, for example is the most important festival on Tibetan Calendar. The festival falls in winter months and turns Lhasa into a very colorful place.
Other festivals you can enjoy during a Tibet winter tour are Butter Sculpture Exhibition, Sera Bengqin Festival and Spring Sowing Festival.
Tibet’s remote and high-altitude location as well as extra travel requirements make Tibet an expensive destination compared to many places in China. Still, by careful planning, working with a good tour operator and choosing budget friendly options (like Tibet train, winter tour and small group Tibet tours) you can minimize your budget and still fully enjoy what Tibet is offering to its visitors.