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Is It Safe to Travel to Tibet?


Is it safe to travel to Tibet? This is one of the most frequently asked questions for travelers. Some people get cold feet because of Tibet's remote location, high altitude and political issues. Actually, Tibet is definitely a safe place to visit. In fact, it's even safer than many other popular tourist destinations in Asia. This article aims to provide some insight into the experience of traveling to Tibet and address the most common safety concerns.
 

1. How to Avoid Altitude Sickness When Traveling in Tibet?


Altitude sickness is the most common issue for traveling in Tibet, but it should not be something to fear, simply by being aware of its symptoms and knowing how to avoid them, you can travel in Tibet with ease.

With an average height of 4,000 meters (13,100 ft), the thin air and lack oxygen in this plateau can cause altitude illness for those coming from lower places. As your body does not get enough oxygen when at higher altitudes, headaches and dizziness may arise, along with nausea and a reduced appetite - many travelers compare this condition to having a hangover.

a backpacker in Tibet
Giving your body enough time to acclimatize
is crucial to prevent the altitude sickness


Your best defense against those symptoms lies in drinking lots of water and resting, while also limiting alcohol and caffeine (both of which dehydrate the body), keep your body warm, engaging in strenuous exercises, and not smoking.

For most of travelers, their first stop in Tibet is Lhasa. The altitude of Lhasa city is about 3,650 meters (11,975 ft), so we normally suggest our clients to spend at least 3 nights in Lhasa for acclimatization before heading to higher places. If your symptoms remains after few days acclimatization, or if your got severe altitude sickness symptoms during your tour, please tell your tour guide about it and our team will take necessary measures, including but not limited to medical support and evacuating you to a lower altitude.

Diamox is recommended by some doctors to reduce symptoms of altitude sickness. Hong Jing Tian (Rhodiola) is considered as another solution for altitude problems, but its effectiveness is controversial. We recommend you to bring some snacks (e.g. glucose drinks, chocolate bars) to boost your body's energy, and as a precaution we always prepare some oxygen bottles in the vehicle for each group.

People who suffer from heart disease, asthma or high blood pressure are advised to consult a doctor before traveling to Tibet, as they have a higher chance of experiencing severe altitude sickness.
 

2. Is the Weather in Tibet Safe for Traveling?


Tibet's weather may not be as extreme as some might imagine, though due to its high altitude the sun radiation is often intense and air is thin resulting in temperatures changing significantly throughout the day and night. It is safe to visit most of places in Tibet at any time of the year, but generally speaking the more appropriate season for traveling in Tibet is from April to November. 

Tibet Monthly Avarage Temperature Data

Tibet Monthly Average Temperature Data

July and August are the warmest months in Tibet, but also the monsoon season with the most rainfall, which can sometimes cause landslides and mudslides. Although most of the main roads in Tibet are not affected by it, but the visibility might be compromised for watching some snow mountains (e.g. Mt. Everest). It's not recommended to go trekking in July/August as the trekking path would be muddy and some of the trails might be blocked.

During the winter months (December - March), the weather in Tibet gets quite cold, the lowest temperature at some area could drop to 10 degree centigrade below zero. Some attractions such as the Mt. Kailash Kora may not be accessible, and the road to Namtso Lake might be blocked by heavy snow, but most of places near Lhasa, even the Mt. Everest Base Camp still open to visitors. 
 

3. Is the Transportation in Tibet Safe? 


Are planes and trains to Tibet safe?

Most of the travelers would choose to take the flight or train to get to Tibet, both ways are safe. 

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway connects Lhasa with some major cities in mainland of China, it's a popular way to enter Tibet for both international and domestic tourists. This railway took decades to build and it's recorded as the highest railway in the world. It has been fully operational for over 17 years, and has proven safe, stable and well-maintained. The Tibet trains are well-designed for high elevation environment, the oxygen supply system on-board ensures comfort and safety of passengers. 

However, you should take a good care of your belongings just as you do when you travel by trains at any places of the world. The soft-sleeper cabins on Tibet trains provide lockable door for each compartment (4 passengers in each compartment) and you should always keep your valuables (e.g. mobile phone, passports, cash, camera) within your sight. 

The runway of Lhasa Gonggar Airport
The runway of Lhasa Gonggar Airport


For those who don't have enough time to experience the trains, taking a flight to Tibet is also a reliable choice. Lhasa airport is well-equipped and complied with strict safety protocols.    Those major airlines in China operate regular flights into and out from Lhasa, with skilled pilots with years of experience flying in mountainous areas. 

Are the roads in Tibet safe to travel on?

With regards the road conditions in Tibet, it have been significantly improved in recent years. Nowadays, travelers can reach most of the attractions in Tibet on well-paved roads. Whether the Friendship Highway to Mt. Everest Base Camp and Nepalese border, or the national highway to Mt. Kailash, no gravel path any more. There are also some expressways connecting important cities in Tibet, such as the freeways between Nyingchi and Lhasa, Shigatse and Lhasa. That would make your tour in Tibet more efficient and smoother.

The well-paved road in Tibet
The well-paved road in Tibet


As the road condition in Tibet is fairly good, many types of vehicles are suitable for the overland tours, such as the minivan (Buick MPV), minibus (Ford Transit), tourist bus etc. If you plan to visit some rural regions that are off the beaten track, you could choose the 4WD jeeps (Toyota Land Cruiser). All our drivers are experienced local drivers who are familiar with the road conditions and have good safe driving records. 
 

4. Are Local Tibetans Friendly to Foreign Tourists? 


Tibetans are known for being some of the friendliest people around the world, with humble yet kind people eager to make friends from different cultures. Most Tibetans practice Buddhism which encourages peace and charity between individuals. As Tibet has been an attractive travel destination for decades, locals have grown accustomed to welcoming tourists from other countries into their midst with warm hospitality - they may offer food or tea while engaging in friendly conversations!

There are, however, religious taboos to which travelers should pay due respect:
  • Do not touch the head of Tibetans, or put your arm around their shoulders without permission.
  • Do not make noises when you visit any temples / monasteries.
  • Do not touch the Buddha statues with your hands.
  • Do not step on the threshold when entering houses or chapels of the monasteries.
  • Always ask for permissions before taking pictures of Tibetan people, and do not take photos when there's a "no photo" sign.
Tibetan are very friendly as long as you respect their religion and their traditions, while also avoiding any violations of their customs. Consult your local Tibetan guide if you're unsure about something.
 

5. Is it Safe for Solo Female Traveler to Visit Tibet?


Yes, Tibet is a safe place to travel to, even for the solo female travelers. Just like other major cities in China, the public security in Tibet is good. Actually, Tibet is one of the safest places to travel to in Asia. You barely see homeless guys or alcoholics on the street, and don't be surprised when you see police officers patrolling near some important attractions. On the other hand, foreign tourists have to take an organized tour package to travel in Tibet, which means you would have a guide to accompany with you. However, some tips are applicable wherever you are, such as do not walk alone in the dark alleys at nights, do not taking drinks/food from strangers and always watch out your wallet. 

We got a lot of solo female travelers visiting Tibet every year, some of them choose to join a group with other travelers from different countries, some of them just take a private tour with their driver and guide. No matter which option you choose, you could travel in Tibet safe and sound. 
 

6. Is It Safe for Elderly People and Children to Travel in Tibet?


There is no age limit for traveling to Tibet, as there's no evidence showing that elderly and children are more likely to suffer from high altitude sickness, but they might face more challenges as their bodies could take longer to acclimatize. 

The answer of this question should depend on their health condition, for whom have the   fundamental diseases (e.g. high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma etc.), they should be evaluated by their doctors. For young children, it's important to ensure that they have the ability to describe the symptoms clearly if they feel uncomfortable. 

Travelers at Mt. Everest Base Camp
Travelers at Mt. Everest Base Camp


We have organized many groups with young kids and senior travelers to travel in Tibet, and some itineraries are specially designed for them, to focus on some area with lower altitude, such as Lhasa, Nyingchi, Shigatse etc. Those places are relatively safe for elderly and children as they have good infrastructure, easy access and well-equipped health facilities.   

7. Is It Safe to Trek in Tibet?


Tibet is a trekking enthusiast's dream destination and, yes, it is safe to trek in Tibet as long as you are well-prepared and follow the guidelines.

The best time for trekking in Tibet is during the warmer half of the year, May, June and September are good months for trekking without much rain or snowfall. Trek in July and August is also possible, but the trekking path may get muddy and hard to find because of the rain. 

Tourists at Mt. Kailash
Mt. Kailash Kora is one of the most popular treks in Tibet


There are several well-developed trekking routes in Tibet that tourists are allowed to take, such as the trekking around Mt. Kailash (Mt. Kailash Kora), Ganden to Samye trekking, Everest Base Camp trekking, Shalu to Nartang trekking etc. It not difficult to find necessary supplies and guesthouses along those routes. The high-altitude trekking is quite challenging with no doubt but it's safe as you're leading by your experienced tour guide.  

The short day-treks are popular for those who visit Tibet for the first time, especially if you're not sure about whether your body is ready for the long treks. The Ganden Kora (Ganden Monastery at Kyichu Valley) and the one day hiking at Chimpuk Hermitage (near Samye Monastery, Shannan area) are good alternatives for first-timers.  

Just remember that do not enter any prohibited areas, and do not insist on your trekking when the weather gets extremely bad. 
 

8. What About Theft and Crime in Tibet?


With over 90% Buddhist population, Tibet is one of the places in the world that has the lowest crime rates. Most of people in Tibet will generally welcome visitors with open arms, the crime against foreign travelers is rare, but like many other travel destinations, pick-pocketing and scams happen occasionally. Take some simple precautions could help prevent them:
  • Always zipper up your pockets and backpacks, and carry your backpack in front of you in crowded places.
  • Don't leave your phone or camera out of your sight.
  • Do not bring a large amount of cash with you, you can easily find ATMs in town and some big hotels/restaurants accept international credit cards.
  • If you got a lot of cash with you, try to keep them in different pockets and don't show it to others when you buy stuffs, and it's nothing wrong to bargain with those vendors when you try to buy something. 
Barkhor Street in Lhasa
Barkhor Street is always crowded with tourists and locals
 

9. Is Food Safety and Hygiene An Issue in Tibet?


Tibet's food is unique, just like its people. It is worth trying the local cuisine, even if it's not to your taste. It's also a great way to learn about Tibetan culture.

Comparing with western cuisine, the traditional Tibetan cuisine may be considered as unrefined. Most of dished in Tibet are simply cooked using local crops as ingredients, such as the yak meat, yak butter and barley flour. It can be seen everywhere that local Tibetans sit on the ground and enjoy their picnic. However, with the increasing number of tourists in Tibet, there are more and more decent restaurants open for business in those major cities like Lhasa and Shigatse, they have improved their food safety standards and it's completed safe to have meals at those restaurants.

The food options might get very limited at the remote and less developed areas, for example, when you travel to Everest Base Camp or Mt. Kailash, you may find fewer restaurants and a narrower selection of dishes, where the food safety/hygiene standards may vary. You guide would love to recommend some reliable places for you to have meals, and just remember that always choose the cooked food and drink bottled water or boiled water only, the tap water in China (including Tibet) is not drinkable. 
 

10. Is There Any Risk for Being Attacked by Wild Animals in Tibet?


Tibet is home to various wildlife species, such as Tibetan antelope, Tibetan wild donkeys, snow leopards and wild yaks, but the risk of wild animal attacks is minimal. The wild animals in Tibet normally keep their distance from humans, you may see them from afar but it's not easy to get closer to them. 
Tibetan Antelopes
Tibetan Antelopes

Dogs could be a potential risk issue as they are often to see on the streets. Always keep a safe distance and do not feed or approach wild dogs if you come across them. It's important to be aware of the Tibetan Mastiffs as well, who are often kept in rural areas and pastures to guard against wild dogs. These large dogs are strong and can be dangerous to anyone who gets close to the land or home of their owners.


Overall, it is safe to travel to Tibet and it offers a journey like no other. A land of stunning natural landscapes, rich cultural heritage and spiritual awakening. Tibet's safety concerns are similar to any destination: when traveling it is important to use common sense when making travel decisions and adhere to local customs and laws. By approaching your trip with due care and respect, you can enjoy an exciting yet safe trip in Tibet, it's also an ideal destination for family travel!

 

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