I just wrote a new Journal entry for "Joe's Journal," a post-facto memoir about the trip I took backpacking China and Tibet. Especially working on the other side now (Sending people to China and Tibet), there are a number of wise tidbits I'd like to share with you. So without further ado:
5 Things to know about visiting Tibet
1. The Tibet "Visa," a real-life catch 22
The Tibet "visa" is actually known as the Tibet Travel Permit, or TTP. It's not a visa because you're technically not leaving the country (China) when you visit.
The interesting thing about the TTP is that in order to obtain one, you must first have a ticket (air or train) to get into the country. However, to obtain a ticket, you must first show that you have permission, or a TTP, to enter the country. Yes, this is a classic, textbook catch-22. The way around this when taking the train is generally to get a Chinese national to purchase your ticket for you, as they don't need a permit to visit. Then you use that ticket to go purchase a TTP from a local travel agency. For air, this is even more complicated. Barring people with diplomatic passports, we usually have no trouble getting the TTP via our vendors for around $25-30.
2. Altitude Sickness
It's not really a problem. The only person on our trip who had an issue was one woman who was in a state of near-panic about the altitude before we left China; of course upon arrival she had a harder time. However we regularly send even rather elderly people to Lhasa, where after a day to acclimate they are fine. If you're concerned, supplemental oxygen and medication (Diamox/Acetazolamide) can be obtained.
Lhasa has very little atmosphere, so the sun heats you up and burns you quickly, and you freeze just as fast. Sunscreen and layers.
Not as big a deal as you'd think. Don't bring pictures of the Dali Lama to hand out, and don't take pictures of any Chinese soldiers standing around, and you'll be fine. One of our clients was a film crew that went to film the 4 holy Buddhist mountains of China as well as Lhasa, and our agents in country were able to help them get their footage without trouble. The professional camera equipment was the only thing that made the situation a bit more delicate than normal.
5. You can see Mt. Everest while in Tibet
Do it. It's not cheap, you have to take a land cruiser trip out there (and get a bunch of extra permits), but its well worth it. By the time you've made it to Lhasa, you've come so far that it would be stupid not to go. Absolutely one of the best decisions I've ever made. For our absolute top-notch accomodations along the way, we charge about 1400 for a 5 day/4 night trip across the sights of Tibet to Everest and back.
You can read about my wanderings around China and my most recent Tibet travel post here.