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The last answered question I've seen about Tibet was from early 2015, and things change frequently around there. My preference would be to take a train to Lhasa from somewhere in China (flexible). I plan to do this in November 2016, staying there 3-4 days, and then fly to Shanghai or Xi'an. I'm a US citizen already have a Chinese tourist visa.

My questions, preferably for someone who had recent (2016 or late 2015) personal experience going there from China (please no Nepal-originated itineraries, the set up is very different), or heard from a trusted source:

  1. Is it possible to prearrange the trip that I fly into China, and go to Tibet the next day (i.e. not having a 4-5 day wait)? If so, how does an agency organize the permit, you send passport details in advance? I was told you need to send your actual passport to China by mail for that (and receive it back of course), which doesn't sound like something most people would do. If you can share how much it cost you, this would be appreciated as well.

  2. How comfortable was the train ride for you? Are there compartments for a single person, or they're all for 2 or 4 people? Do those fill up early, or could be booked next day?

  3. There is a rumor that foreigners have to be accompanied by tour agent "at all times". How does it work in reality, are you being walked around North Korea style, or it is more a formal requirement, and you can still wander on your own?

  4. Are other permits needed to travel outside Lhasa (day trips), and if yes, could they be organized timely in Lhasa, or everything has to be prearranged in advance?

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There still is no independent travel to Tibet. You need to prearrange your trip through a tour operator and a guide is required. If you plan to travel outside Lhasa, then a driver is also required.

But it is not NK style, you can wander around in the cities on your own, no need to have your guide at your elbow all the time. But since you have paid for the guide, it never hurts to utilize their knowledge about the sites, market bargaining, ordering foods, etc.

The Tibet Travel Permit is a separate set of papers, not something that gets stamped into your passport. The tour operator will arrange this for you, they will need your passport details but not the actual passport. You will need this permit before you board your flight / train to Lhasa, so need to plan ahead far enough to allow processing (2 to 3 weeks) and mailing the hardcopy to you. If your guide is meeting you before the flight / train to Lhasa, they can bring it with them.

There are areas outside of Lhasa that do require additional permits, your tour operator can fill you in on what might be needed based on where you want to go.

The train is basic Chinese carriages, neither high speed nor first class. Compartments with doors have 4 berths, non-closable compartments have 6 berths. You can book all four berths and have a compartment to yourself if space is available. Train travel time is around 40 hours from Beijing.

  • Thank you Tom. About the train, it has oxygen, but it goes higher than Lhasa, how did you handle that if you took a train? How scenic was the ride? – George Y. Aug 30 '16 at 9:44
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    How you react to altitude is entirely different for each individual. I run bicycle tours there and we have had folks from Florida who weren't effected in the least and folks from Colorado who were. Best bet is to be prepared with drugs in case you are effected. – user13044 Aug 30 '16 at 9:52
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    I think the train to Lhasa is one of those rides that train junkies put on their bucket list simply because it is. There is some interesting stuff to see along the way, but I think a flight is better than two days and a night on the train. – user13044 Aug 30 '16 at 9:55

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