Many tourists face a moral dilemma as to whether visiting Tibet means implicitly supporting the Chinese government, which receives most of the money from tourism to the region. However, the Tibetan people welcome tourists with open arms and even the Dalai Lama strongly encourages foreign travel here so that people can see the region for themselves.
The most important travel tip is to obtain a Tibet Travel Permit, book the required guided tour no fewer than 20 days in advance, and make all hotel reservations well in advance during the May to October peak season, especially as not all Tibetan hotels are permitted to house foreign guests. Visitors should also note that the region is sometimes completely closed off to foreigners in March, the month the most recent Tibetan uprising took place.
Visitors will find Tibetan tour guides provide a more authentic experience of their homeland than guides from other parts of China, who may have little understanding of Tibet or its culture.
There are a number of Tibetan travel itineraries for visitors to choose from, with many visitors simply choosing to tour the Lhasa area over the course of a few days. Others opt for trips of more than one week which include overland excursions to cultural areas such as Gansu, Qinghai and Shannan. The ride between Lhasa and Kathmandu is also popular.
The best ways to respect Tibet’s friendly people are attempting to speak to them in their own language, not photographing them without permission, and buying goods from local vendors. When visiting monasteries or other sacred Buddhist sites, visitors must walk clockwise around these buildings, remove hats before entering, and refrain from touching sacred objects.
If tourists want their money to go directly to the Tibetan people instead of the Chinese government, they should leave money on altars or donate directly to nuns and monks. Attending festivals and communicating with monks, and other non-monetary contributions are also greatly appreciated. The entrance fees to most religious sites, on the other hand, likely end up in the hands of Chinese government officials.
Visitors who have the opportunity to spend time in a Tibetan home should let the oldest people enter first and must not enter the home’s threshold. It is considered disrespectful to touch people’s heads or eat loudly. Accepting a tea cup or any other object with both hands is a gesture of appreciation and respect. Political discussions are best avoided altogether.