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  The Chatter Box : Travel
Travel in Tibet by masha on 23 October 2004 11:21am
I travelled on the same route as Michael Palin (but in the opposite direction) in Tibet in October 2003. I would like to advise tourists how not to be locked up in poor deals with local tour operators in Tibet/Nepal. There is a big confusion with visas and travel permits in Tibet. It is much better and easier to arrange a Chinese visa before travelling to Tibet (without mentioning it). This will ensure your independence from local tour operators in China/Nepal which make money on poorly informed confused tourists. They promise visas to Tibet while you end up with just a permit to travel there for a number of days. It is also better to hire a driver and a guide (still a must?) via Family (or Foreign) Independent Traveller office in Lhasa. Better sign a written contract with them and discuss all the details and emergencies. They’ll arrange an internal travel permit for you as well. You have to stick with the tour operator that has arranged your travel permit. This is very important as you will not be able to pull out or negotiate if you are not happy with their services and have no time to change your plans. My and many other tourists experience was not getting the chosen routes due to unavailability of groups to join on particular dates, getting an old dodgy car instead of a promised landcruiser, being packed 10 people instead of promised 3-4 in the car, paying all extras yourself (monastery entrance fees are a major expense)and getting a bad service from your guide. My guide always directed me to the most expensive (run by Han Chinese) restaurants and hotels (from which they get commission), lied to me about guesthouse prices, availability and local rules (saying that independent foreigners could not stay in some hotels while I saw some did stay). He tried to stop me from making any contact with local people or having a proper sightseeing around monasteries and provided very little information about history and culture in broken English. He asked staff in internet cafes and traders at markets to charge me more because I was a foreigner. I finally broke down and asked them to cut my journey short by 2 days and drive me straight to the Nepali border (where I promised to pay the final balance of U$200) from the Everest Base Camp. Instead they drove me to see their boss in one of the local villages who assured me that they would drive me to the Nepali border for no extra charge (as I refused to complete the tour due to poor services and hostility of my tour guide). However they just drove me to the nearest village (5 hours drive from Nepali border) and threatened to abandon me there unless I paid the full U$200. I found myself in a very distressful situation but as a matter of principle I refused to pay and they left me there! Luckily the next day the whole village helped me to negotiate a price with another driver who took me to Zhangmu. All tourists especially travelling on their own to Tibet should realise how vulnerable one can be in this vast country with no police or authorities to complain to and how much you depend on the local tour operators and guides who can easily turn your “trip of a lifetime” into a nightmare! On my return to Kathmandu I insisted that my Nepali tour operator paid me a partial refund for my spoilt holiday – he did after 3 hours and my threats to report him to the local police and the embassy. And just for information: I dealt with Explore Nepal Richa Tours & Travel in Kathmandu and Norbu Wangdue (and his tour-guide Tukpa?) from Lhasa Telecom International Travel Service in Tibet. I would still love to go back to Tibet –it’s a great country in a sad situation!
Re: Travel in Tibet by Godfather on 24 October 2004 9:35am

Sorry you had a bad experience. I went in September 2002 in a strange year when the Chinese had eased things in a rare show of travel openess. The only requirement then, was to initially join the group transport (land cruisers) from Kathmandu, and into Tibet up the friendship highway to Lhasa. After that,we were all free to roam Tibet on our individual Chinese visas. So we did. We'd made friends with each other anyway, and some of us stayed together and went to other parts of Tibet, and soe monastery festivals, etc. Eventually in an attempt to save money and just see if it was possible, i tried to hitch back to Nepal along the same route independently. Such as Lhatse, Shigatse,Tingri, Zhangmu etc. I was lucky i guess,because i did that entire trip back for less than US$20.

I heard that in 2003 they tightened things up again all of a sudden. The thing to always avoid,is any talk of "Group" Visa. That is a bad situation to get into. As you discovered, that means you did'nt really have a visa as such, and were tied to that group document which insists you stay with that group and go everywhere with them for a duration fo their choosing. Plus,you can only stay and eat where they want you to. Very restricting. Luckily in 2002,we all had individual Chinese visas (there is no such thing as a Tibet Visa,per se). On the initial 4 day trip up to Lhasa, we were all on a group "Permit" too, which gave our convoy right of way along the highway and surrounding towns. How i avoided this problem on the way back, was laughably simple. I just got myself a permit in the PSB office in Shigatse and said i wanted to go to a-b-c-d-e, and that was it. Only 50 yuan. After that,whoever i hitched with just had to show my passport and that permit at the checkpoints. China is very confused abotu Tibet and changes it's rules very frequently. Saying that,even with todays problems it's nothing compared to how closed it was even 10 years ago apparently.

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