With independent travel in Tibet currently impossible for foreign tourists, the only option is to book a guided tour – including a private vehicle, driver and guide – through an agency before you arrive. Despite the huge number of travel agencies in Chengdu, Xining, Golmud and Lhasa, all claiming to offer a unique service, most operate through CITS or FIT in Lhasa, hiring drivers and tour guides who are registered with the Lhasa authorities and work as freelancers. That you are forced to book from outside the region, preventing you from meeting the tour guide or seeing the vehicle before signing up, means it pays to be circumspect – try to get a recommendation from a fellow traveller if possible, and go through your itinerary with a fine-tooth comb working out exactly what is covered and what you will have to pay extra for. Getting a group of four or five together to fill a jeep will ensure the per-person cost is as low as it can be, though if you are on your own or in a couple, most agencies will be able to match you up with a group which has spaces that need filling.
Despite the requirement to book a tour, regulations do not stipulate that accommodation reservations are made in advance. As a result, not all tour agencies include accommodation in their prices – clarify whether accommodation is included and, if so, where. You may be able to bring down the price of your tour, or ensure you’re not bedding down in the worst place in every town, by negotiating where you stay.
The most popular tour follows the Friendship Highway up to the Nepalese border, and includes three days in Lhasa and five on the road taking in Gyantse, Shigatse and Everest Base Camp. It costs around ¥7000 per person including accommodation. However, as you have to book a driver, guide and vehicle anyway, there is no reason to simply stick to the tours offered – you can draw up your own itinerary and negotiate costs with the agency. Expect to pay around ¥1300 per day to hire a Land Cruiser. For driver and guide fees it is best to haggle prices as low as you can with the agency and tip heavily at the end of the tour to ensure the money goes where you want it to.
In the event of a misunderstanding, you may wish to complain to the Tour Service Inspection Office of Lhasa’s Tibet Tourism Bureau, 208 Luobulingka Lu (0891 6333476 or 6334193).
Budget Tibet Tour
Tibet Culture Tour
0086 (0)1351 8984 224 tibetanexpeditions.com
Tibet Nakqu International Travel Service
0086 891 6328851, firstname.lastname@example.org