We needed to be in Guangzhou, China for a family event in late July and started planning a trip to Tibet a few months ago. This one’s been on the bucket list for a while. This blog and the next few ones are personal observations about our journey. After looking at various options, we saw that Tibet Vista Travel was rated pretty high on Trip Advisor and started working with them to sort through the logistics. We also wanted a local tour guide to help us orient and navigate better and from what we heard (and experienced) all of the tour guides at Tibet Vista are locals. I have to say, we are very satisfied with their support and how helpful they were in accommodating our various requests. As my Suunto shows below, this would be the highest my family’s been.
Traveling to Tibet – Visas and Permits
As US citizens, we not only needed Chinese visas, but also needed special permits to enter Tibet and yet another permit to access Everest base camp. You really can’t get anywhere without these permits. Tibet Vista helped us with getting the permits as well as making the various reservations – hotel, air, car, train, etc. Also included were all the entrance tickets to the palaces, monasteries, temples and so on. Early August, while monsoon season in Tibet, was also the only time we really had, what with the summer break and all. The weather averaged between low 50’s at night to low 70’s in the afternoon. Other than the Everest base camp where it got a bit cold at night, I was able to get away with shorts and a warm jacket for most of the trip.
After considering various options, we decided to fly to Xining (7,200 ft) from Guangzhou and then take the Qinghai-Tibet train (more on this later). This was a conscious decision to help us acclimatize over 22 hours and also because the pictures of the train journey just looked fantastic. If we had a bit more time, we would’ve checked out the Qinghai lake too.
Given that it was the peak season, the train tickets really came in at the last minute. Made us a little nervous, but Tibet Vista was super communicative and helpful about these. We picked an 8-day tour that started in Lhasa working our way west towards Everest Base Camp (5,200m/~16,000ft) through Shigatse and back. This journey covered some seriously high mountain passes, glaciers, fantastic monasteries and stunning views all around. Given how huge and mountainous Tibet is, driving really is the only option to get around anywhere. And the permits mandate a tour guide to be with us at all times. Outside of Lhasa, foreigners cannot travel or explore alone.
Acute Mountain Sickness
With an average altitude of above 4,000m all around Tibet, Acute Mountain Sickness is something to take very seriously as it can be fatal. We packed Diamox and popped one in Xining before boarding the train. Going from sea-level to 16,000ft is no joke and we all took turns with low appetite, poor sleep & minor headaches, but luckily nothing major to warrant a trip to emergency. Just had to take it slow. I tried walking up 4 flights of stairs at our hotel on the first day and was completely winded when I got to the top.
Given my wife and I are vegetarian/vegan, we weren’t really sure how the food was going to be outside of Lhasa. We even packed a bunch of freeze-dried food (the Himalayan Lentils with Rice seemed apt!) with us. But not to worry. We were treated with rice, noodles and lots of vegetables everywhere we went. Given that Tibet borders Sichuan, you can get spicy food too! You don’t HAVE TO eat yak meat to survive out here. 🙂
Next up, our experience taking the 22-hour, world’s highest Qinghai-Tibet train.
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