Visiting Tibet was a life long dream, and while I am an experienced traveler, I had to be sure to do a lot of preparation for my seven-day overland journey. It would start with a long train ride, I would have to prepare for the altitude, the weather could change drastically, I wasn’t sure that credit cards would work many places, and I just wasn’t sure what to expect.
Arrived at the Lhasa Railway Station
How Did I Prepare for My Tibet Tour?
I was lucky to already have a visa to visit China. I highly recommend that anyone traveling there just apply for the ten-year visa. You really never know when you may need it. It was very straightforward to just let the tour company handle the Tibet part of mine and my husband’s visas, and it was money well spent. They arrived in plenty of time for the trip. Friends traveling with us that waited until the last minute to apply, as well as friends that did not have Chinese visas already easily got theirs on time as well. The paperwork was checked on a few occasions so we brought a stiff envelope with us so we could keep everything in one place and would know where it was. - Expert’s tips for getting a Tibet Travel Permit.
I did not get any vaccinations for the trip. But I did bring some Clif bars and a few bagged snacks that I knew could clear customs just in case. As it turned out, it was fairly easy to get snacks and decent vegetarian food in Tibet - but there wasn’t as much as I was expecting. Unlike many other places in China, there aren’t many Western chains in Tibet either. We did see a few here and there - KFC and Burger King. I didn’t feel it necessary to eat there, however, and was satisfied by the local food joints, almost all of which offered some variation on vegetarian fried rice or noodles. There were also tons of options for meat eaters. Some restaurants also have pictures of their meals or English descriptions. - Check the guide to dining in Lhasa.
Tibetan ladies having a good lunch near our table
I brought a small amount of medicine - mostly for headaches, stomachaches, and allergies. It was also good to have a few bandaids. Dramamine doesn’t work for me but if you get carsick, bring it. Mint gum can settle the stomach a bit too. I think you can get this stuff in Tibet too, but why not take a small amount and avoid the hassle?
I had no problems with the walking during our tour - and there was plenty of it, but I did end up with a few blisters. We were thrilled to find out that during our free time from the tour in Lhasa, we could wander around the city pretty much wherever we wanted without needing to have our guide with us, and we did. I would expect that during the warmer months (we went in early April), bug spray would be important to have as well. One thing that some may not think of is a product called Poo-pourri. It’s s freshening spray to cover up bathroom smells. I didn’t need it many places, but it came in handy when I did!
I brought a range of clothing that could be easily layered, which was a good choice. The weather could change quickly, and it was nice to have wool clothes that are versatile in changing weather conditions. It was windy too, so I was glad to have a scarf and a hat, which are also nice to have on long plane and bus rides.
Other things we don’t like to leave behind on long trips: a power pack for charging electronics when electricity is in short supply, and the necessary converters. Hand sanitizer is nice if you want to have snacks on the road. Keep packets of tissues with you as well, the rest stops on the road don’t always have toilet paper.
After a lot of preparation, it was finally time to go on the trip. After our flight was thankfully uneventful, we got to Xi’an. I booked a place near their train station. But after looking at our tickets, we realized we were not close to the proper train station - Xi’an North, where the high-speed trains run. We made sure to get up early the next day. You have to acquire your train ticket after finding the English-speaking ticket window and presenting a voucher, then traverse the security at Chinese train stations. It can be a long process so arrive early. We left a little over an hour ahead of time and just barely had a little extra time to grab food and some snacks in the station before it was time to go to the platform. - Check the Tibet train to Lhasa book your Tibet train journey with us.
We started our journey with a high-speed train in Xi’an
The train ride was pretty nice, especially the first leg to XXXX, on the high speed. Then we had to make our connection. We had enough time to stop in the convenience store here too, but not much extra. When it was time to board our train, our documents were examined closely, then we made our way on board.
One of the many great views from the train
My Adventure Officially Began in Lhasa
It was a pretty comfortable ride for me, but some of my friends did not feel well and didn't sleep well. They were happy to get to Lhasa, and feeling better by then. It’s a short van ride from the train station to the comfortable hotel and we were glad to have some time to relax.
While waiting to get into Potala Palace, we enjoyed a lovely view
Holy view while waiting to get into Jokhang Temples
Later that evening we began to wander around the city and had a wonderful time checking out the locals. People are generally friendly and many will let you take their photo - but it’s good to ask first. Avoid taking pictures of police stations, by the way. As the tour began many things were taken care of for us, but we had to venture out and take a few chances to find food on a few occasions. Water was always provided and the breakfasts at the hotels were usually buffet-style and filling. Most of the time we were pleased with what we got from restaurants or markets as well - even if we had to just point at things to ask for what wanted.
During the tour there were several temples that we visited. Now that we’re home, I’m glad that I just forked over a few dollars here are there at temples, as requested, to be able to take photos. It was worth it. I was also glad to be appropriately dressed at all times so I was never denied admission - a good rule of thumb is to keep your knees and elbows covered.
The overland journey was not always comfortable, but the scenery is stunning. There are many switches on the road - try to sit near the front of the bus if your stomach gets upset, or drink flat coke. There are also many road side stands selling souvenirs and trinkets. It’s nice to have a little extra cash along for these times.
The road to Everest is packed with switchbacks
Capturing the imposing Mt.Everest from Gawula Pass
Try not to be disappointed if you don’t see Everest at first like us. As we made our way there, it was obstructed by clouds. After finally making it to the primitive base camp, we barely made it through the night. We had some oxygen but we weren’t great at using it or it didn’t have a huge impact. The bottles are not easy to use and it feels like you are just spraying your face with air... which I guess is exactly what’s happening. I also used the ‘bathroom’ there as few times as I could. It’s just a hole in a concrete floor. It is cold there though, and while smelly, probably could have been much worse. But it was nice to have my spray. I was actually pretty happy to get a certificate of completion after that night was over.
The next morning the clouds had cleared. It was a stunner. We were thrilled to see it, and maybe just as happy to be leaving. Finally, we were making our way toward the border to finish up our trip in Nepal. There would still be more temples, more stunning scenery, and more to learn on the way. It’s surely a trip I won’t forget.