Transportation in Tibet
With the rapid economic development of Tibet and the strong support of central government, transportation condition in Tibet has changed greatly in recent 30 years. Centered around Lhasa, a transport network has taken shape in Tibet, including highways, airlines, railroad, etc. Now, Tibet’s major cities have their own transportation systems too. While for foreign tourists, there are some restrictions on traveling to Tibet. So your vehicle has to be arranged by local travel agency.
How to Get to Lhasa
Currently, there are five airports put in service in Tibet, including Lhasa Gonggar Airport, Chamdo Bangda Airport, Nyingchi Mainling Airport, Ngari Gunsa Airport and Shigatse Peace Airport. There are domestic flights connecting Tibet with Chengdu, Xian, Beijing, Chongqing, Kunming, etc and only one direct international flight to Katmandu. Lhasa Gongga International Airport is 6 kilometers southwest of Lhasa city center, about 1 hour’s drive.
Tibet travel permit is required for entering Lhasa and travelling around Tibet, make sure you got the permit before you check in to your flight, or you will not be allowed to board the plane. If you don’t have the permit, we could offer the service include the permit application, flight booking and Tibet tour arrangement. Besides, the altitude increase greatly, so prepare some medicine for altitude sickness and keep warm.
Normal speed trains serve in Tibet, which has already been open to traffic since July 1, 2006. Now tourists can take direct trains to Tibet from Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Taiyuan, Zhengzhou, Chongqing, Xining, and Lanzhou. Lhasa Railway Station is about 8 kilometers southwest of Lhasa downtown, for 15–20 minutes’ drive. It will take about 20–40 hours getting into Tibet by train.
At present, there is only one railway connecting Tibet: Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the longest and highest railway built atop a plateau, which is China’s first railroad to Tibet. Several rails are under construction or planed such as Sichuan-Tibet Rail, Yunnan-Tibet Rail, etc. However, in the peak season from May to October, it is difficult to get train tickets to Tibet due to the great demand. So we recommend you to fly to Tibet and get out by train.
Currently, there are five highways leading to Tibet respectively from Xining, Chengdu, and Kunming.
Starting from Chengdu and ending in Lhasa, Sichuan-Tibet Highway is the most precipitous highway in China. It is the most popular self-driving route to Tibet among Chinese travelers. On the way, it passes Ya’an and Kangding. There are the south line and the north line.
With a total length of 2146 km, the south line starts from Chengdu and arrives at Lhasa via Ya’an, Luding, Kangding, Dongerluo, Litang, Batang, Mangkang, Zogang, Banda, Basu, Bowo, Nyingchi, Bayi, Gongbujiangda, Mozhugongka, Dazhi, which is also a part of 318 National Road (Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport-Tibet).
With a total length of 2412 km, it starts from Chengdu and separates from south line at Xinduqiao, via Qianning, Daofu, Luhuo, Ganzi, Dege, Jiangda, Chamdo to Bangda and then meets with south line again leading to Lhasa.
Being the highest and longest asphalt road in the world, Qinghai-Tibet Highway starts from Xining of Qinghai Province and ends at Lhasa. With the length of 1937 km, it is the main road to Tibet due to the great scenery and good road condition, which is open to traffic all year round. Along the road, there are prairies, salt lakes, mountains, deserts and other natural landscape.
It is probably one of the most challenging roads in the world. Running from Yecheng of Xinjiang to Lhatse in the Tibet, Xinjiang-Tibet highway runs 1,455 kilometers with harsh and highly unpredictable weather condition. The road is notorius for lacking of oxygen and the high degree of steepness. Travelers are known to have to wear oxygen masks during this stretch, to deal with altitude sickness. Those who take the G219 are usually the ones who inhabit a spirit of adventure.
Yunnan–Tibet Highway is asphalted, which links Dali and Markam via Jianchuan, Zhongdian, Deqin and Zhikang. Running along the Hengduan Mountains, it is a very scenic drive with the total length of 714 kilometers. This highway was built along the “Tea-Horse Ancient Road” which the businessmen and tourists frequented in the ancient times. It’s a less beaten track by passengers.
It is another main road. It stretches 900 kilometers from Kathmandu in Nepal, then passing through Zhamgu Nyalam, Tingri, Shigatse, and finally getting to Lhasa in Tibet. It is about 150 km in Nepal and 750 km in Tibet. There are about 170 unsurfaced road to Tibet.
How to Get around Tibet
There are restrictions on traveling in Tibet. Due to the provisions of Tibet’s travel permits, you can only travel in a vehicle or visit a monastery with your tour guide. And all forms of transportation around Tibet must be prearranged through a tour group. Most agencies will allow you to use taxi or public buses to get around if you are only staying in Lhasa.
Now the Lhasa–Shigatse Railway is open to the public. It takes about 3 hours between the two cities while the car journey takes about 6 hours. You travel agency can help you to make the train journey.
In Lhasa, minibus are commonly used due to its cheap price and convenience. Many regular buses shuttles between Lhasa and major towns in Tibet. While public bus routes are not developed like those in other cities of China. For foreign tourists, they can take the buss only if they have the travel permit.
The best way to get around Tibet is by taxi. It is easy to hail a taxi on the city streets. The fare for taxis in Lhasa is RMB 10 for the first 3 kilometers and additional RMB 2 for each kilometer (a half-mile) thereafter. During the peak seasons, the drivers like to charge higher.
Pedicabs are unique vehicles to get around downtown. Pedicabs are good for a one-time use but actually may be pricier than a taxi. Moreover, pedicab drivers usually overcharge tourists.