Sichuan to Tibet Travel Guide: Getting to Lhasa from Chengdu

One of the best ways to travel to Lhasa is from Chengdu, in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province. The capital of the province, Chengdu is located in the eastern central part of the province, in what is widely known as the Sichuan Basin. At an altitude of just 500 meters above sea level, Chengdu is the exact opposite of Lhasa, which lies on the Tibetan plateau at an altitude of 3,656 meters above sea level. The Tibetan regional capital, Lhasa is considered to be the heart of Tibetan religion and culture, and sits in the Lhasa River Valley, in the southern part of the Lhasa Prefecture-level City.

While there are other cities that are closer to Tibet than Chengdu in terms of travel, such as Xining, Chengdu is still one of the most popular places from which to depart for the plateau for foreign tourists. Not only does it have a wealth of sites to visit whilst waiting to head for Tibet, but it is one of the main transport hubs in Western China. From Chengdu, you have a choice of three ways to get to Tibet: by flight direct to the Lhasa Gonggar International Airport; by car traveling overland along the Sichuan Tibet Highway; and by train taking the Tibet Trains through Xining and along the Qinghai Tibet Railway.

How to travel from Chengdu to Tibet?

While there may be only three routes to take to get to Tibet – flight, overland, and train – there are actually several ways to get to Tibet from Chengdu, which includes flying, driving overland by car, traveling overland by bicycle, and taking the trains around the long route through Xining.

Chengdu to Lhasa by Train

A route that is constantly rising in popularity with international tourists, the trains to Tibet from Chengdu are a great way to get to the plateau. The trains depart every other day, and take around 36 hours to make the journey to Lhasa. The route of the train is not direct, and it travels through Lanzhou, Xining, Golmud, and Nagqu to get to the Tibetan capital, 3,360 kilometers from the start point in Chengdu. However, there is a straighter route to Lhasa from Chengdu currently under construction which will reduce the travel time to Tibet.

Chengdu trains to Tibet are a great option for budget travelers and those that enjoy train journeys, and the trains from Chengdu are among the cheapest of all the trains to Lhasa from mainland China, with sleeper berths starting at just 94 US dollars per person. And the other advantage of taking the train is the amazingly spectacular views of the Qinghai Tibet Plateau as you cross the high mountains and travel south towards Lhasa.

Chengdu to Lhasa by Flight

The most popular way to travel to Tibet is still by flight to the Lhasa Gonggar International Airport, and flights from Chengdu are among the most popular departure destinations in China. With around 13 direct flights daily from the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport to Lhasa, tourists have a variety of choices for flying to the Tibetan capital.

Flights, however, are not the cheapest option for travel in China, and the average cost of a flight to Lhasa from Chengdu is around 294 US dollars per person for an economy one-way flight. This is not the most expensive flight to Lhasa from China, though, so it is somewhat economical for those that prefer to fly. On average, the flights from Chengdu to Lhasa take around 2 hours 35 minutes.

Chengdu to Lhasa by Road

If you are really looking for adventure, then a road trip to Lhasa by car is the way to go. There are two options for traveling by car overland to Lhasa, and you can choose from the Northern Route or the Southern Route, depending on your preference. The Southern Route is the most popular, and most scenic to travel west from Chengdu, through Kangding, Xinduqiao, Litang, Markam, Zogang, Ranwu, and Nyingchi to get to the Tibetan capital.

An immense journey of 2,149 kilometers, the route to Lhasa along the Southern Route follows the G318 National Highway to Lhasa, which is counted as one of the most dangerous roads to drive in China for those that are not experienced drivers. An overland tour to Lhasa from Chengdu normally requires you to have a driver and all your documents processed in advance, and gives you the advantage of traveling to places that you would not normally get to on your average Tibet tour.

How to Apply for the Tibet Travel Permit?

The main permit you will need for traveling to Tibet is the Tibet Travel Permit, which can only be obtained after booking a pre-arranged tour with a registered Tibet tour operator. When you book your tour with us, we will use a scanned copy of your passport and visa to make the application on your behalf. The application takes around 15 days to process, and once it is approved, we will deliver the permit to your hotel in Chengdu ready for your expected departure date.

When is the Best Time to Travel from Chengdu to Tibet?

Taking the trip from Chengdu to Lhasa is best done in certain seasons, as there are detrimental factors to take into consideration for certain times of the year. April to June and September to November, are the best times to travel this route, as the weather is ideal for travel and trekking. With little rain and winds, and no snow to mention, it is also the best time to travel along the highways from Chengdu to Lhasa, which can be dangerous in the cold winters and the hot monsoon season.

The peaks season, from June to September, is ideal for those that are more interested in having warmer weather in Tibet for their tour, although the crowds of tourists in Lhasa can be heavy and busy. The winter season, from December to March, is actually the best time for budget travelers to Tibet, as there are fewer tourists and the costs of hotels, trains, flights, etc., are much cheaper.