UPDATE (17 June, 2011): TAR closed to foreign tourist until July 25, 2011
Recent events in northern Sichuan's Aba Prefecture, and reverberations from the past events of March 2008 are currently hampering foreign (Western) travel to several areas of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan regions of Sichuan and Qinghai provinces. Many counties are closed to foreigners and some people have reported being turned back at "gateway" towns such as Kangding.It is unclear how long these restrictions on travel will last and how rigorously they are being enforced. For more information on the matter, we turn to Tibet travel expert Losang, the man behind the excellent Tibet blogs, Land of Snows and Kekexili.>>>China Travel: Which regions are closed and which are open in TAR and Yunnan, Sichuan and Qinghai Provinces?
Land of Snows: In the TAR all 11 counties of Chamdo prefecture are closed. In Shigatse prefecture, (home of Mt. Everest) the counties of Yadong, Gyirong, Gamba, Dinggye and Khangmar are closed (all the counties with exception of Tingri and Nyalam that border Bhutan, India and Nepal).
In Yunnan, all Tibetan counties (there are only 3 very small counties) are open. These 3 counties rarely close to foreign travelers.
In Sichuan, currently all counties in Ganzi (Garze) prefecture are open. However, most counties with high percentages of Tibetans in Aba (Ngawa)prefecture are closed including Ma'erkang (Barkham), Hongyuan (Kakhog), Heishui (Nagchu), and Ruo'ergai (Zoige).
[pullquote]... these counties also are home to many "laogai" or prison reform camps. Being caught in these areas could see you charged with espionage... [/pullquote]In Qinghai, currently all counties are open except for Delingha (a major nuclear testing area), Qilian and Menyuan. These three counties have been closed for over 30 years. In addition to nuclear testing, these counties also are home to many "laogai" or prison reform camps. Being caught in these areas could see you charged with espionage... not a crime you want to have against you in China. Prefectures in Qinghai with high percentages of Tibetan people (i.e. more than 90%) can frequently close due to protests, riots and violence. Though currently all areas are open, the prefectures of Guoluo (Golog), Yushu and Huangnan (Malho) frequently close due to Tibetan protests.China Travel: Can you guess how long these places will be closed?Land of Snows: It is impossible to say how long closed Tibetan areas will remain closed. After the riots in 2008, Lhasa opened up 4 months later while the Amdo regions in southwest Gansu were closed for 15 months.China Travel: Do you have any contact with people in the closed regions and do you know how they are reacting to it, if at all?Land of Snows: I have friends and colleagues in all areas of Tibet and frequently hear from all of them. In 95% of Tibet (including the Amdo and Kham areas), everything is stable and life is normal. It is just a very small portion of Tibet that is currently having issues.
China Travel: Have you personally experienced or seen police forcing people to return/leave?Land of Snows: This season I have been okay and have not come across any police checkpoints where I have been made to turn around. In the past I definitely have, but have often been able to negotiate my way around it. Owning and driving my own 4WD vehicle helps. I do know of many others, especially students and expats from Chengdu, who were denied entrance to certain counties of Aba and Ganzi during the last week of April and first week of May. These expats were hoping to get out of the city for a week during May Holiday, but were forced to return to Chengdu.
China Travel: How does this affect your business if at all?Land of Snows: Yes, business has been affected some. We were expecting to be a lot fuller during the May Holiday, but I think that since many people think the region is still closed, they didn't attempt to come out. They did not want to risk getting turned around. Business the past week seems to have returned to normal. Hopefully everything remains stable in Kham so that we will have a good business year, but having lived in Tibet for many years, we know that the whole region could close again tomorrow.