Tibet Travel Explained

Where is Tibet? Is it part of China? Do I need a special visa to get there? These are all great questions that we get all the time. Read this brief article to get a quick understanding of what travel in Tibet means in today’s geopolitical landscape. This is essential if travellers are to understand the various options that are a part of travel in Tibet.

SW China and the Three Regions of Tibet

tibet regions map

(All areas of Tibet are found in Southwest China)


Central Tibet

Central Tibet is also known as the Tibet Autonomous Region or TAR. It is the most renowned as it represents some of Tibet’s most venerated religious sites, the historical residences of the successive Dalai Lamas, and the gateway to the highest peaks on earth, including Everest. It is an official province of China and is the political region in which travelers need special permission (Tibet Travel Permits) to go. Central Tibet famously includes Lhasa, Shigatse, Namtso Lake and Everest Base Camp.

There are two options for travel to Central Tibet: by air or by rail. The train on the roof of the world can be boarded in Beijing, Xian or Xining. One common misconception is that the train ride helps with acclimatization. This is untrue as the climb in elevation on the train is not as gradual as one may think. It climbs nearly 1,000 meters in a very short amount of time (a few hours)…roughly the same amount of time as a domestic flight to Lhasa. However, there are other reasons for taking the train. There is no shortage of beautiful scenery and culture (train culture) to be enjoyed along the way.

Whether you board your train or your flight, you will need to show your original (not a copy) Tibet Travel Permit. Double check all of your passport details on the permit. Even the slightest mistake will result in you not being able to board.

Kham Tibet

Kham Tibet is also known as Eastern Tibet, which is mostly located in the Sichuan province of China. Kham Tibet also spills over into Qinghai and the TAR. No special permits are required to travel to most of Kham Tibet-Chamdo county in the TAR being an exception. Because of this, tourism in Kham Tibet is much easier and can be planned with only hours notice. Because Kham Tibet is less known and explored,  in many ways it is more authentically Tibetan than Central Tibet.

Tagong in Eastern Tibet

Tagong temple with Mt. Yala in the background.

The best gateway city to Tibet is Chengdu. The best of Tibet is in Kham, which is nearest Chengdu. Kham includes Seda, Litang, Dege, Shangri-La, Yading, Tagong Grasslands, Mt. Konka, Mt. Yala and much more. The prefectural capitol of Kham Tibet is a city called Kangding. Most Kham Tibet travelers will make their way through Kangding. The best modes of transportation in Kham are by bus or private vehicle. There are also airports in Kangding, Yading, Yushu and Shangri-La, with more Kham airports under way. Flying takes the edge off of all the car travel.

Amdo Tibet

Amdo Tibet is located in the northeast of the plateau. It spans portions of Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan provinces. Amdo Tibet also does not require special permits. The Amdo Tibetan people are mostly nomadic and their dialect is most true to the written form of Tibetan.

Amdo Tibet is just as easily accessed from Chengdu as from Xining. Some of the highlights of Amdo Tibet are Labrang, Qinghai Lake, Siguniang (Four Sisters Mountain), Hongyuan Grasslands, Ruoergai, Rebkhong and the famous Jiuzhaigou National Park. There are several airports in Amdo, which makes accessing these places much easier. Similar to Kham Tibet, Amdo can easily be accessed by bus or private vehicle.

Extravagant Yak’s very own premier guide, Tsering Tso, has a homestay in her hometown village in the village of Tiewu on the border of Sichuan and Gansu. If you are looking for a comfortable escape from the big city, Tsering’s Village Tour is one of our best!


Extravagant Yak is proud to specialize in travel services to all areas of Tibet. Whether you prefer backcountry trekking or cycling or the luxury of five-star accommodations, Extravagant Yak can help you plan your travel in Tibet. We are also happy to make recommendations based on the unique interests and desires of each traveler. Regardless of where you travel in Tibet – Central, Kham, or Amdo – you’ll find that Tibet defies generalization and never ceases to delight her guests.


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    • 1. Tibet is located in China.
    • 2. Tibet is typically grouped into three sub-regions: Central, Kham and Amdo.
    • 3. You need a Chinese visa to visit any region of Tibet.
    • 4. For travel to Central Tibet - also known as the Tibet Autonomous Region - you need a Tibet Travel Permit (TTP). This region includes such iconic destinations as Lhasa and Everest and more.
    • 5. Extravagant Yak can help you plan your trip to any area in Tibet.
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