Last summer I read “Seven Years in Tibet” and probably like anyone who has read the book, have fallen in love with the magical land described. Lhasa is the capital of Tibet, located in a valley in the Himalayas. It can be harshly cold in the winters , while summers are pleasantly warm. Much has changed since the book was written, but Lhasa still has its charm, attracting visitors from all over the world.
Non-Chinese visitors (still) need a permit to visit Tibet and they are required to hire a guide for the entire length of their stay. It’s almost impossible to get a permit for an individual but small groups get these papers easier. The only way to get a permit is through a Chinese travel agency. If you want to travel further than Lhasa, a different permit is needed (as well as having the one allowing you to get to Lhasa, of course).
The cheapest way to get between Beijing and Lhasa is by train. A hard sleeper will set you back US$240 one way and you’ll be traveling for 2 nights. The faster option is the plane but the fare doubles.
Flights from Beijing (airport code: PEK) to Lhasa
Lhasa Gonggar Airport (LXA) is located about 62 km from the city and it takes about an hour to reach it. It is one of the highest airports in the world. The airport is hub for Tibet Airlines and receives mostly domestic traffic. International flights are available to/from Hong Kong.
Although Beijing is served by two airport, Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) is the main airport serving the capital and the one handling flights to/from Tibet. It is the busiest airport in Asia and the second busiest in the world. The airport is hub for Air China, China Southern Airlines and Hainan Airlines.
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Flights to/from Beijing Capital Airport are operated by Air China and China Southern Airlines. The flight time is 4 h 15 min. The single fare, in mid-June 2012, starts at US$412. Connecting flights (1 stop via Chongqing, China) cost the same though. Return flights in mid-June 2012 start at US$794 (whether it’s direct or connection).
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Trains from Beijing to Lhasa
Trains use the Qinghai-Tibet Railway , the highest in the world, to get to Lhasa and it wasn’t until 2006 that a regular passenger service started operating on this route. Because of the issues linked to traveling at a very high altitude, all passenger coaches have extra oxygen added and passengers can use extra oxygen tubes if needed.
There is a daily express train from Beijng to Lhasa, which takes 2 nights to complete the journey. The train has AC, hard & soft sleeper, hard & soft seats, as well as restaurant car. The train departs Beijing daily at 8:09 p.m. and arrives on the third day at 4 p.m. On the way back, catch the train from Lhasa at 1:45 p.m. daily.
Tickets can be bought online (via authorized agents) or directly at the train station. The single fare is US$113 for a hard sleeper if the ticket is bough in Beijing or US$240 if bought online via an authorized agent. For the soft sleeper, expect to pay US$174 or US$310 respectively. However, the travel agents can also get the permit required to enter Lhasa.
>>read more about Train Travel in China
Driving from Beijing to Lhasa
Technically, you can rent a car in Beijing and travel all the way to Lhasa. Practically, since you need a permit just to visit Lhasa and it’s unlikely to get it for an individual (but rather for a small group) , driving to Lhasa might just prove to be an impossible affair. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to ask a car rental agency, because you’ll need to hire a driver anyway.
So, in theory, you can choose one of the three routes, all covering 3600+ km. The drive time is abut 2 Â½ days. Needless to say, plan this as a road trip, rather than just going from point A to point B. So, make several stops along the way.