Hey travelers! Thanks for stopping by my travel guide on Tibet – one of the most unique places I have ever visited. My name is Sarah Schulte. I’m a 28 year old from Kansas City, Missouri who works as an architectural drafter. It was my grandparents who definitely inspired my passion for traveling.
I grew up seeing pictures of them traveling around the world and hearing all of their stories from abroad. When I was a kid, my grandpa and I spent time sifting through his Encyclopedia Britannica collection, looking at maps and discussing all of the places that he and my grandma had visited.
My grandma was supportive of me traveling and loaned me some money when I was studying abroad in Rome so that I could see more of Europe while I was there. After my grandma died in 2017, I realized that I was kind of wasting my life just sitting in an office working all day every day, so I decided to take a sabbatical from my job and use my savings to travel.
I decided to head to Asia and New Zealand for eight months. I wanted to see as much of Asia as possible while I was there and I was intrigued by Tibet because it’s a less visited place: not as touristy and I didn’t personally know anyone who had ever visited Tibet. I also really wanted to see Mount Everest and I heard that the view from Tibet is better than from Nepal.
Two-Week Tour of Tibet with G Adventures
I did a two-week small group tour with G Adventures from Beijing to Kathmandu. It included a 48-hour train ride from Beijing to Lhasa to help us adjust to the elevation in Tibet more gradually than taking an airplane. I decided to do a tour because (at least in 2018 when I went) you had to have a guide. You are not allowed to travel through Tibet on your own.
You also need a special permit to visit Tibet in addition to your Chinese visa and it’s kind of a complicated process, so it was convenient to have a tour company that would deal with all of that for us and could help us through the process. Plus, it was nice to travel with a group of like-minded people from all over the world who were as excited to see Tibet as I was.
My Two Favorite Places in Tibet
One of my favorite places in Tibet was Yamdrok Lake. It was so beautiful! The water was crystal blue and it’s surrounded by snow-capped mountains. On a sunny day when the water is calm, the mountains are visibly reflected on the water. We stopped there as we drove through the mountains from Lhasa to Rongbuk Monastery, near Everest Base Camp on the Tibetan side.
Rongbuk Monastery Guesthouse was another favorite place of mine from my trip to Tibet because we had an incredible view of Mount Everest right out of our window and there was a cute little herd of yaks next door!
10 Bucket-List Things To Do in Tibet
Tibet is not really a destination where you go around ticking off bucket list items. It’s more of a place to immerse yourself in the culture, marvel at the monasteries and admire the breathtaking natural surroundings. That being said, there are a few must-do experiences that I believe every traveler to Tibet should have. Here is my list of the top 10 things to do:
- Potala Palace
- Karola Glacier
- Yamdrok Lake
- Try Yak Momos
- Everest Base Camp
- Drepung Monastery
- Find some Prayer Flags
- People-watch at Jokhang Temple
- Monks Debating at Sera Monastery
- Pelkor Chode Monastery and Kumbum Stupa.
Meeting the Wonderful Tibetan People
Our tour guides Jinba and Jimmy were locals from Tibet, so we were able to talk to them about the rich Tibetan culture. We learned that Tibetan people don’t have passports and so they can’t travel freely, which I thought was really sad. And they aren’t really allowed to say anything negative about the Chinese government invading their territory and taking over.
When I was in Nepal, I met a woman who had escaped the violence in Tibet by coming to Nepal. But she didn’t have any papers or a passport and so she didn’t have any way of ever going home or leaving Nepal. I bought a bracelet from her at the end of a trek in Annapurna. I have worn that bracelet everyday for three years and it’s still holding up perfectly.
Many Tibetans wear masks over their nose and mouth to help prevent the spread of illnesses, but also to keep their face warm. Most of our group bought face masks to fit in. Tibetan women also wear a striped apron that traditionally meant they were married, but now single women wear it too. The size and colors of the stripes represent what region the woman is from.
Interesting Food Experiences in Tibet
Momos were by far my favorite Tibetan food – they are basically dumplings. We ate a ton of them and would eat them at least once a day. My favorite was veggie momos but we also tried yak, cheese, spinach and chive.
At one restaurant we ordered cheese momos (at least that is what they were called on the menu). However, when they came out, they were filled with yak butter/cheese which wasn’t what we were expecting and they didn’t taste good to us. We gave them to our guide and he loved them!
Yak butter is a common offering for people to bring to monasteries. Locals will take a bucket of yak butter and add a scoop of it to each of the candles in the monastery, which makes the monasteries smell of yak butter and the yak butter/cheese momos tasted exactly how the monasteries smell.
Accommodation Organized by G Adventures
We didn’t get to choose where we stayed since the tour company booked our accommodation for us. But everyone who worked at the hotels and guest houses were kind. We stayed at the Yak Hotel in Lhasa, which was a great location – everything was within walking distance from there.
Rongbuk Monastery Guesthouse near Mount Everest was also a great place to stay. We enjoyed having beautiful views of Mount Everest right out of our window. However, there is no heat and the toilets are just rectangles cut out of the floor – but they do provide a heated blanket for when you sleep.
Best Memory from my Trip to Tibet
We woke up early one morning to go watch the sunrise and catch our first glimpse of Mount Everest from Gyawu La Pass. The elevation is about 5,000m and it’s one of the best places to view Everest from a distance. You get to see a panoramic view of the Himalayas. It was a special moment!
Need to Know Before you Go
- Bring warm clothes and layer up because it’s pretty cold.
- You need a special permit to travel through Tibet in addition to your Chinese visa, so it’s kind of hard to do it as a last minute trip and probably needs to be pre-planned. The military in Tibet will often pull buses over to check for permits. Don’t try to go there without one!
- Altitude sickness is no joke. Make sure to stay hydrated or else you will wake up feeling like you have an awful hangover (this happened to me when we stayed at Rombuk Monastery – I could barely turn over in bed without my heart racing and a pounding headache. I thought I was going to throw up when I bent over to put my shoes on because my head hurt so bad). I even took altitude sickness pills with me from a travel doctor in the US to help, but the altitude still affected me.
- If you are sensitive to smells (like me), the yak butter scent in the monasteries can be really overwhelming. It’s a good idea to buy a mask to help filter out the smell and to fit in on your travels around Tibet.
- Most of the rest stops have a hole in the floor for a toilet. Be prepared to squat and always carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Also the “stalls” rarely have doors and often just have a short wall to separate them.
- Everest Base Camp might be closed when you go (it was closed for us). Apparently the military closes it often without much warning. You might not be able to go all the way to base camp, but there are still beautiful views of Everest from the point where they block off the road.
- Lastly, enjoy your time in Tibet and try to take in as much as you can. You will be visiting one of the most unique places on earth!