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Getting Around Tibet

The best way to get around Tibet is with your tour group. Due to the provisions of Tibet's travel permits, all forms of transportation around Tibet must be prearranged through a tour group. If you want to venture outside of Lhasa, Tibet's main city and tourist hub, you have to apply for an additional permit through your tour company. You are not allowed to travel outside of Lhasa independently.

Within Lhasa, if transportation around isn't already provided for you with your tour (it usually is), the best way to get around is by taxi, as rates are fairly inexpensive. There are also pedicabs, but due to their reputation for overcharging tourists, they should be avoided. You can rely on your own two feet, but keep in mind that most top attractions in Lhasa are more than a mile apart. Buses are available but can be confusing for foreigners as route timetables are in Chinese.

Getting to Tibet is also organized by your tour company. Some tours include the price of transport to Tibet, while others only provide instructions for booking. All tourists come into Tibet through Lhasa, accessible via the Lhasa Gonggar Airport (LXA) and the Lhasa Railway Station. To get to either the airport or train station, you must first fly into mainland China. The Lhasa airport can be reached from a number of major cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu, the latter of which is the closest major city to Tibet. If your tour operator doesn't already provide transportation to your hotel, you can take a taxi from the airport (about 40 miles south of the city) into Lhasa for between 130 and 300 yuan (around $20 to $45).

The Lhasa Railway station is closer to Lhasa, making taxi fares more affordable (it will cost you 30 yuan, or around $5 to get into town). However, your journey via train will be a lot longer (from Chengdu, it's more than a daylong trip). If you're willing to endure the long transit time, consider riding the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, the highest railway in the world (more than 13,000 feet above sea level). This 20-hour journey (starting at Xining) is lauded for its scenic route, passing through snow-capped mountains, untouched valleys, and alpine lakes and rivers.

Taxis or Pedicabs

The only way to get around Lhasa via a set of wheels is via taxi or pedicab (without getting lost in translation). The base fare for taxis in Lhasa is 10 yuan for the first 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) traveled then 2 yuan ($0.30) for each kilometer (a half-mile) thereafter. Given the transport restrictions laid out in your permit, you probably will only be able to travel around downtown in Lhasa. Pedicabs are good for a one-time use but actually may be pricier than a taxi. Pedicab drivers have been known to take advantage of tourists by charging a lot for rides. 

Bus

Local buses in Lhasa are cheap, with a fixed fare of 1 yuan ($0.15) wherever you go. However, the bus routes are all in Chinese and bus drivers likely won't speak English. It's also unclear whether tourists are even able to take public transportation within cities in Tibet. It's best to avoid this altogether and rely on your tour operator to get around.

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