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Is It Safe to Travel to Tibet? Here are 10 Important Tips



Many people may wonder if it is safe to travel to Tibet, as this land is known as the “Third Pole of the World”, and has complex plateau terrains with high elevation. But indeed, Tibet is a safe place for tourists no matter where they are from, and Tibet has already become one of the most popular destinations among travelers for many years. In this article, we will discuss about the safety concerns in Tibet, and meanwhile, give some useful tips for you to avoid any possible dangers while traveling here.

1. Do I Need to Be Afraid of the Altitude Sickness?

When traveling to Tibet, one of the primary safety issues that people concern is of course the altitude sickness, as Tibet is named after the “Roof of the World”, with an average elevation of over 4,000 meters (13,000 feet). The thin air and lack of oxygen on the plateau can cause altitude sickness for those who come from the lower places, and the medical study shows the age, gender or physical fitness don’t have an impact on the risk (however, overweight people have relatively higher risk of suffering altitude sickness). 

Acllimatization is important to prevent from altitude sickness
Acllimatization is important to prevent from altitude sickness

It’s quite common that travelers feel uncomfortable on the first one or two days after arrival in Tibet. Symptoms people usually experience may include headaches, nausea, dizziness, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, and sleep disorders. But don’t worry too much about the altitude sickness, actually, only very low percentage of people suffer from the serious Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) based on our experience and the statistics. And it can be cured if you don’t ignore it and turn to medical diagnosis and treatment in time if you feel bad (e.g. vomiting, purple lips and fingernails).

Meanwhile, there are some ways to avoid altitude sickness. Travelers to Tibet should acclimatize slowly by spending several days at lower elevations before ascending to higher places. It's also essential to drink more water, avoid alcohol and tobacco, and consider asking your doctor for a prescription (e.g. Diamox) to help prevent altitude sickness. In addition, the supplement of carbohydrate is suggested, as carbohydrates can provide your body with energy source more efficiently, by consuming less oxygen. So, bringing glucose, some candies or chocolates which contain carbs is wise when you are at high altitude regions like Tibet.  

2. Are Tibet Flights and Trains Considered the Safe Transport? 

Flights and trains are very safe modes of transport to get to Tibet, as the government has made significant efforts to improve infrastructure, such as the construction of new airports and railways, to enhance tourism in Tibet. 

Flights: Taking a flight to Tibet is a common way to reach destinations like Lhasa. The airports in Tibet, such as Lhasa Gonggar Airport, are well-equipped and maintained to ensure safety standards. Major airlines operate regular flights to and from Tibet, and the plane types are Boeing or Airbus. Safety measures are the upmost and pilots are picked among the most skilled ones for the plateau route, flights are always to be delayed cautiously rather than flying in case of the bad weather. 

Lhasa Gonggar Airport is one of the highest airports in the world
Lhasa Gonggar Airport is one of the highest airports in the world

Trains: The Qinghai-Tibet Railway, connecting major cities of inland China to Lhasa, is a remarkable engineering wonder. The trains are designed with features (e.g., oxygen supply) that help passengers acclimatize to the high altitude gradually. The railway system has been put into operation for over a decade since 2006, proven very stable, while it is well-maintained and adheres to very strict safety protocols. 

However, you should watch out for the theft on the train. The soft sleeper cabins with lockable doors are the better option for the safety of your belongings. Additionally, the theft-proof bag is suggested, and most importantly, please always keep your valuables and documents (e.g. passport) close or within sight.

3. Are the Road Conditions and Vehicles in Tibet Safe for Travel? 

Road conditions in Tibet have seen significant improvements over the years, but also depending on which route and area you travel through. Major highways and roads connecting major cities to tourist spots tend to be well-maintained and relatively safe to drive on, whereas remote or rural regions may feature difficult driving conditions due to rugged terrain, unpaved roads or sections undergoing construction work.

Road to major tourist destinations in Tibet are well-paved

As for the tour vehicles in Tibet, you can easily find the renowned brands including Toyota, Buick, and Hyundai, etc. And no matter a Land Cruiser for a small private tour or a Coaster for a big group, different types of reliable vehicles are available here. Additionally, many vehicles in Tibet are equipped with speed monitors that alert drivers if they exceed the designated speed limit. The enforced speed limits might be frustrating at times, however, it's crucial to understand that these speed restrictions are in place to ensure your safety during your trip in Tibet.

4. Are Local Tibetans Friendly to Foreign Tourists? 

Tibetans are well known for their welcoming nature, often eager to learn from and make friends with visitors from other cultures. Many Tibetans are devout Buddhists whose religion emphasizes kindness towards others - including strangers.

Tibet has long been a favorite travel destination, so locals have become accustomed to greeting foreign tourists from different nations. Don't be taken aback by their kindness and generosity: Tibetans commonly offer tea or food to visitors while engaging in friendly conversation - oftentimes treating foreign visitors kindly and politely.

Tibetan people are peaceful and friendly
Tibetan people are peaceful and friendly

5. What About the Crime Levels in Tibet? 

Tibet is generally considered a safe travel destination with a low crime rate. Guns, drugs and gangs are banned by government regulations; violent crimes against tourists are rare. Tibetan culture places an emphasis on spirituality and nonviolence, with most local residents practicing Buddhism which promotes peaceful coexistence. Still, as with any travel destination the risk of crime and pocket-picking cannot be entirely discounted; travelers should take steps to protect themselves by avoiding isolated areas at night, keeping valuables close by, and remaining aware of their surroundings.

6. Is It Safe for Solo Female to Travel to Tibet? 

Tibet can be a safe destination even if you are a solo female traveler. One example is you barely see a drunkard on the street, as Tibetans are not fond of alcoholic abuse. Also, international tourists are only allowed to visit Tibet with an organized tour, so, a tour with a guide and a driver is must, which can provide added safety and support, especially if you're not familiar with the region. And, being a solo female, we would suggest that you take one of our Tibet group tours, for it’s always safe to have more travel companions on the way. While, isn’t it great to make some new friends from all over the world :-)

Solo female traveler can also travel to Tibet safely
Solo female traveler can also travel to Tibet safely

Nevertheless, as with any travel, it's important to pay attention to self-protection and be mindful of avoiding some etiquette and taboos. Women traveling in Tibet should dress modestly, particularly when visiting religious sites. And avoid clothing that is too revealing or attention-grabbing. This can help blend in more easily and avoid unwanted attention. 

7. Is Harsh Climate in Tibet a Safety Issue for Travelers? 

Even at its average altitude of 4,000 meters, Tibet does not generally experience severe weather conditions. In the major cities like Lhasa and Shigatse, temperatures tend to be mild  throughout the year, experiencing an average high of 25 ℃ and minimum low of - 12 ℃, therefore, making travel to Tibet relatively comfortable year round without worrying too much about extreme cold or heat extremes. The main variation lies in the temperature difference between morning and evening, rather than extreme cold or heat. Travelers can visit most parts of Tibet without experiencing significant climate-related issues.

Mount Kailash trek in May still encounters snows
Mount Kailash trek in May still encounters snows

Nevertheless, some mountain areas of Tibet occasionally encounter extreme weather during the winter months. Sub-zero temperatures are common, even heavy snowfalls and blizzards may occur at remote areas in January and February when are the coldest time in Tibet. These harsh weather conditions can lead to poor visibility, road closures, and transportation disruptions. That’s why Mount Kailash tours are normally only available from April to October. Therefore, it is essential to stay informed about weather forecasts, road conditions, and any travel advisories in order to plan your journey accordingly.

8. Is Wild Animals in Tibet a Safety Issue for Travelers? 

Tibet is home to an abundant array of wildlife, such as Tibetan antelope, wild yaks, snow leopards and brown bears. Although encounters with wildlife may happen anywhere in natural habitats, the risk of being attacked by wild animals in Tibet is usually low - like many regions around the world they tend to avoid areas with human settlements and activities.

However, one of the primary concerns in Tibet relates to encounters with dogs. If you happen to come across wild dogs, do not approach or attempt to feed them, as this can provoke a defensive or aggressive response. It’s always wise to maintain a safe distance from them. In addition to wild dogs, it's also important to watch out for the Tibetan Mastiffs, which are widely raised and kept as formidable guard dogs in the rural and pastoral areas of Tibet. Despite their adorable appearance, these large dogs possess powerful strength, and they can be hostile and dangerous to strangers who get close to their lord’s house or land.

Tibetan Mastiff is robust and known as the "Lion Dog"
Tibetan Mastiff is robust and known as the "Lion Dog"

Furthermore, if in any case you have a chance to get close to some cute animals like pikas or marmots on the plateau, please do not feed or touch them, for they are the host of rat fleas, which can spread infectious disease like plague to people.  

9. Is It Safe for Older Adults and Kids to Travel to Tibet? 

Though there is no age limit to visit Tibet, as your age does not affect your likelihood of getting altitude sickness, both older adults and children face more challenges here as it takes their bodies longer to adjust to the plateau environments. And the high altitude and rugged terrain of Tibet can cause health risks, particularly for those who are not acclimatized or have underlying health conditions. Also, it’s harder to recognize the condition in the very young children, as they may not be able to express the symptoms clearly when they feel uncomfortable.

Decisions on travel with older adults and children to Tibet should depend on their overall health, fitness level and ability to adjust to high altitude environments. Prior to the trip, it would be prudent to consult a doctor who can offer personalized advice about tackling such altitude challenges. Meanwhile, some lower-elevation places of Tibet (e.g. Lhasa, Shigatse, Tsedang) are considered the safer travel destinations for the elderly and children.

10. Is Food Safety and Sanitation a Concern in Tibet? 

Food safety in Tibet can only be an issue in remote locations with limited infrastructure. Popular tourist spots, however, have improved their food safety standards in recent years while in larger cities like Lhasa and Shigatse there are restaurants and eateries which adhere to acceptable hygiene standards. Here are some general tips to ensure food safety:

1) Choosing cooked food: Although Tibetans traditionally enjoy eating raw yak meat sometimes, we do not advise it for safety reasons. Opting for meals thoroughly cooked at higher temperatures helps kill off harmful pathogens like bacteria.

2) Restrict to bottled or boiled water: Unfortunately, Tibet's tap water doesn't meet international drinking standards, making bottled or boiled water essential to consumption.

3) Wash fruits and vegetables: Before eating raw fruits or vegetables, they must first be thoroughly washed using safe water or peeled in advance.

4) Assess food freshness: To stay safe from expired or spoiled ingredients, always check food for freshness before consuming.

5) Carry Hand Sanitizer: Carrying hand sanitizer or using hand-washing facilities before eating can help maintain personal hygiene and ensure optimal personal health.

To sum up, it is safe to travel to Tibet if you take the necessary precautions, respect local customs and traditions, and plan your trip carefully. Though there are certain issues to be aware of, by following the advice outlined above, you can enjoy a pleasant Tibet tour while staying safe and secure.

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