Mystical, Mythical, & Mysterious Tibet.
Tibet on a Motorcycle: Adventure Tourers Most Experience Riding “THE ROOF OF THE WORLD” so why not you?
This enchanting Tibetan land, home to the holiest temples and the mightiest mountain peaks, all represents the final frontiers of motorcycle touring.
Access isn’t easy. Independent travel in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is strictly forbidden if you’re a foreigner.
But thanks to the newest venture from the globally placed team at MotoDreamer. The incredible high-altitude roads and formidable passes of the Lhasa and Everest regions are unlocked.
Now with a tour tailor-made for the discerning and experienced community of motorbike Adventure Traveler, wherever they may be.
So why Tibet on a motorcycle?
Why Should you Tour on Two Wheels in the Tibetan Himalayas?
Nothing and I mean nothing, compares to the experience of being high up in the Himalayas. After all, it’s impossible to get any higher!
As sacred as the mountains are to millions of Hindus and Buddhists, a journey to the Himalayas doesn’t necessarily have to be a spiritual undertaking.
Nevertheless, it’s impossible not to feel the currents of ancient culture and mysticism that have survived here for millennia. Contemplating the sheer scale of nature’s creation and one’s place within it is a truly humbling experience.
Talk of spiritual transcendence aside, there’s no better way to travel long-distance through this region than by motorbike.
You’ll be dwarfed by towering peaks at every turn as you ride some of the highest highways on earth in the place they call “The Roof of the World.”
Imagine rounding a bend and coming face-to-face with the sheer, snow-covered face of an 8,000m high giant. With its piercing white peaks clearly visible against a bright blue sky.
That’s what Tibet on a motorcycle is like almost every single day during the peak summer riding season.
The Amazing Road Between Lhasa and Everest Base Camp
Once a slow, dangerous slog on a deteriorating dirt ‘highway.’ These days, the 613 km road between Lhasa and Everest Base Camp is almost entirely paved in near-pristine asphalt.
Despite the exhaustive upgrade, the Lhasa-Everest highway has lost none of its scenic beauty. Be amazed at all the winding as you pass through deep valleys, desolate high plateaus, glacier-carved lakes, rivers, and tiny farming villages.
Just look at how cool this road is!
It’s almost like it was designed by an adventure biker’s exact specifications. Brought to life by the tremendous power of engineering (and loads of Chinese cash).
Don’t be fooled, though – expect a challenging riding. With tight technical corners, stomach-turning cliff-edges to avoid, and occasional traffic.
Often the vehicles can only squeeze in tight. Certainly in the narrow sections of the highway. There’s also extreme altitude to contend with, so do not forget several days of prior acclimatization is essential.
But to really experience riding the Himalayas, there are times you’ve got to put the pavement behind you and ride the rough-and-ready backroads as the locals do!
Tibet is, of course, known for its thousand-year-old Buddhist traditions and ancient monasteries. Some of the most remote and beautiful monasteries of all are only reached via scrappy gravel trails.
I do not forget traveling through the tranquil and barely-developed countryside. Thus, giving you the opportunity of going back in time to the Tibet of long ago.
From cruising the incredible Lhasa-Everest Highway towards Tibet, followed by traversing the lonely passes beyond the tour bus trail and seeing five of the world’s 14 highest mountain peaks—all up-close and personal.
Tibet is an adventure that motorcycle Adventure riders dream of.
The (Somewhat) Tricky Business of Touring Tibet on a Motorcycle
Tibet was (and still is) of the usual motorcycle touring radar.
This is mainly due to access. It really can be a logistical and bureaucratic pain in the backside!
We call the region on the Tibetan Plateau (the highest region on earth) simply “Tibet.” But officially. It’s the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), and very much a part of China,
Foreigners are subject to all the rules and regulations of traveling in China. Plus, a few extras, mainly created so the Chinese Government could keep an eye on the movements of foreigners. It’s their way of letting you know who is in charge.
Is Independent Travel Ever OK in Tibet? No. Not legally anyway. Sorry.
If you’re not a Chinese citizen, you’re not going sightseeing in Tibet without a government-approved tour guide in tow.
Still, if it’s your dream to visit Tibet on a motorcycle, don’t feel discouraged. A well-organized tour won’t stop you from seeing and experiencing the real Tibet.
Remember, whether you are trekking, traveling by mini-bus, or hitting the highway on your own wheels, you must have an accredited guide with you at all times.
However, being accompanied by a native Tibetan guide who speaks the local languages. Knowing the place and its people intimately will be an invaluable source of knowledge, especially in a place as culturally rich as Tibet.
Being accompanied by a registered tour vehicle is also mandatory at all times. If you’re touring Tibet by motorbike, your tour vehicle can also be a motorbike.
On occasions, your guide also rides a motorcycle (way less weird than being constantly trailed by a CCP surveillance van.) If that’s what you were imagining!
Other Things You Need to Know regarding Tibet on a Motorcycle.
1. Chinese Tourist Visa
Most foreigners require tourist visas for China. For most nationalities, obtaining one is not difficult. But to avoid getting all last-minute panicky, we recommend applying at least one month in advance.
REMEMBER TO ADD an extra month in advance if you’re going to Tibet. Why? Because you’ll need your Chinese Visa before you can apply for the Tibet Travel Permit.
You’ll need to go to your nearest Chinese Consulate to fill out the official application form. Pay the visa fee and provide a copy of your passport, mugshot, and details of your itinerary. If you can’t get there yourself, get an accredited travel agency in your country to assist you.
2. Tibet Travel Permit
Bear in mind only Chinese passport holders may enter the TAR without a Tibet Travel Permit.
Having this permit only comes when you have a Chinese visa and, secondly, have your accredited tour pre-booked through a travel agency. Your tour company will help arrange everything for you. Expect 10 to 15 working days for the permit to be issued.
Once you enter the TAR, expect requests to show your permit at airports, roadside checkpoints, hotels, tourist attractions. Or anywhere bored police or security guards are hanging around waiting for something to do.
3. Chinese Motorcycle Licence
One of the things moto-travelers find most off-putting about riding in Tibet (and China in general) is that foreigners must have an actual Chinese driver’s license to drive in China legally.
This license can be really annoying to get, especially if you don’t speak Chinese! However, MotoDreamer and the local team will assist in making this whole process pretty painless.
You must obtain an international driver’s license from your local Automobile Association, the AAA, or Motor Vehicle Office.
MotoDreamer: The Easiest, Safest, and Coolest Way to Tour Tibet on a motorcycle.
Mike Thomsen and Diana Carolina Puerto (the duo behind Motolombia & now MotoDreamer) have been running motorcycle tours in Colombia and South America since 2008.
On top of his South American exploits, rider-in-chief Mike has been touring the world over 100 countries for well over 20 years.
Mike has always dreamed of taking groups of passionate riders to some of his favorite non-South American moto-touring destinations.
After years of research, planning, and hellish amounts of paperwork, he has finally realized his dream with his new global motorcycle tour company, MotoDreamer.
Tour Tibet on a motorcycle has to be on a BMW.
Mike, Diana, and the team will be running more guided “Tibet on a motorcycle” tours in the coming years. Already they have experienced success when they conducted the first couple of 10-day tours from Lhasa to Mt. Everest Base Camp.
You can check out the itinerary and book your place on the upcoming tour at the MotoTibet website.
MotoDreamer isn’t the first tour agency to offer motorcycle tours in Tibet. We can’t comment on any of the others personally, so feel free to do your research.
If you do decide to ride with MotoDreamer, you can expect the same impeccable service you’d get with Motolombia.
So – fast, friendly, professional, and loads of personalized advice. Notwithstanding, assistance with absolutely everything. All from a highly organized, experienced ground crew ensuring you get maximum enjoyment out of your time in Tibet on a motorcycle with the added attraction of having the best life-changing experience ever.
A professional local Tour Leader will be riding with the group. There’ll also be a support vehicle to carry luggage, spares, and passengers who want to join the tour but can’t ride themselves. Or take the option where you can book on as a pillion.
Mike and the crew have commandeered a fleet of brand-new BMWs (750GS, 800GS, and 1200GS) in Tibet in top-notch condition. Just like you’d get straight out of the garage at Motolombia.
This article is a travel blog. My primary aim is to offer ideas and advice for the adventure riding community to promote: Motolombia/MotoDreamer.
But I’ll just say one thing, from experience. Having a reliable bike in a place like Tibet can be priceless. No one likes breaking down on top of a mountain pass at 5,200m.
You want to be up there celebrating and taking amazing photographs, not fixing broken clutch cables.
Responsible Tourism in Tibet
Finally, Tibet is a very special place, and despite its mighty mountain peaks, it’s also a very fragile one. If you decide to visit Tibet on a motorcycle, no matter which tour operator you end up choosing, choose wisely.
There’s no doubt poor tourism practices have harmed Tibet.
At the same time, the survival of the region’s pristine ecosystems and its centuries-old cultural practices can benefit greatly from the support of sustainable tourism.
Try and understand a little about the land. Its people, its religion, and the current situation in Tibet. Do your homework before you leave home, and your interactions with the locals are far more likely to be positive and re-affirming. Treat your hosts with respect and appreciation, and you will receive the same and so much more in return.
Written by: Fiona Davies (extreme pillion rider and adventure travel writer)
Now check out some more articles with Asia in mind for your next discovery by motorcycle:
Edited for SEO optimization by Mike Bowley at www.mikedbowley.com