Tibet is an alpine region with severe weather conditions, and the stay of foreign tourists is strictly regulated by the People’s Republic of China government. It is necessary to prepare for such a trip in advance and, probably, in some aspects more carefully than on other trips.
In this article, we have collected the 10 most important tips that we give travellers before the trip. We hope this checklist helps you pack up and get to Lhasa with a minimum of adventure.
1. Mountain sickness and acclimatization
In the early days in Tibet, many people unaccustomed to height experience symptoms of mountain sickness: headache, lack of appetite, mild nausea, insomnia, and so on. This is absolutely normal! If you feel unwell, in the first days it is better to relax more, drink a lot and skip some excursions. The body will get used to the height, and you can continue the trip.
Just in case, you can buy diacarb / Diamox – a remedy for mountain sickness at home. This medicine is not sold in China / Tibet.
If you didn’t buy the medicine in advance, but the symptoms of mountain sickness seem strong, already in Lhasa, you can buy a local natural remedy for mountain sickness: 红景天 (“hong jing tian”). It is sold in all pharmacies (your guide will help you buy it). You can also buy 1-3 small oxygen tanks for the whole trip in Tibet. With dizziness and insomnia, it helps to breathe a little oxygen before bedtime. Oxygen cylinders are also better to buy in Lhasa on the first day of the tour, just tell your guide that you need to do this.
2. Other diseases and health
We highly recommend that you take out medical insurance in your homeland and familiarize yourself with how to use it in advance.
If you take any medications regularly, you need to take them with you with a reserve for the entire duration of the tour, since it can be very difficult to buy Western medicines in China / Tibet.
We also recommend that you start a course of vitamins in advance because colds in the mountains are more difficult to treat than at home.
You yourself, most likely, know your weaknesses in terms of health, you know the means that will help you. Do not be too lazy to carefully assemble a first-aid kit in advance, because in the remote regions of Tibet, where you will travel, you will not be able to buy most of the medicines. And you probably will not find any Western medicine you know in Lhasa.
In Tibet, as in all of China, the Chinese yuan is in use. If you have the opportunity, it is best to buy the yuan in advance at home. If you plan to pay the rest of the amount for the tour in cash, then payment can be made in both RMB and USD.
If you cannot buy the yuan in advance, you can borrow cash in US dollars or euros. Rubles in China will not work. At the same time, be prepared that exchanging money in China (throughout China) is a lengthy and rather dreary procedure, not all banks and not all branches of even the bank you need provide this service, and the process takes about an hour, and often more. A very good option would be to exchange money in advance in China if you are flying through a Chinese city.
We highly recommend that you do not rely on bank cards. Firstly, you can hardly pay with a foreign card anywhere in China. Secondly, in Lhasa, it can be problematic to withdraw money from a card at an ATM: there are often cases when the card simply does not work at any ATM. So on the map, it’s best to carry only NZ.
If it’s completely impossible to do without removing from the card, it is better to do this before arriving in Lhasa, in the Chinese city through which you fly. In China, unlike the cities of TAR, it is not a problem to find an ATM, and they, as a rule, service foreign cards without problems. Many of them even have menus in English. Please note that in Chinese ATMs there is a cash withdrawal limit (often 3000-5000 yuan per transaction), and your card may also have a cash withdrawal limit per day (this is best to check with your bank in advance).
Google blocked services in China, as well as Facebook and Instagram. If you need mail on a trip, and a mailbox on Gmail, the easiest way out of the situation is to set up temporary mail, for example, on Yandex, and set up forwarding mail from Gmail to this mailbox.
You may also have problems with the Chrome browser, especially if you installed Google services on it. The Google search engine also does not work (pay attention to this if it is installed as the default search engine). We recommend downloading a backup browser in advance and using other search services. In China, the most common is baidu.com.
Also, be prepared that the WhatsApp messenger may not work well in China. It is better to warn friends and family in advance and use something else (the Chinese analogue of WhatsApp – WeChat, or Skype).
Please note that Wi-Fi will be at the hotel in Lhasa, further along, the route, especially in guesthouses, there are problems with Wi-Fi. If you need to be in touch, find out the roaming issue in advance or buy a Chinese SIM card.
5. SIM card and communication
If you need to constantly be in touch, the most appropriate solution would be to buy a local SIM card. Ideally, if you are flying through a major Chinese city, do it there. Take the tariff for the Internet and be sure to specify that the tariff you need is valid throughout China, and not just the province where you bought it.
You can buy a SIM card both in large offices and in small stalls. Another thing is that somewhere you may be denied because buying a SIM card requires registration using a passport, and not all employees know how to do it. If somewhere you were told that the SIM card will not be sold, just ask elsewhere. I repeat, in a large city (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou) there should be no problems with buying a SIM card. But in Lhasa, buying a SIM card can be problematic.
A few words about the operators. There are two of them: China Mobile and China Unicom. That is, there are three of them, but we recommend considering the above two. They catch roughly the same, but China Mobile in remote places catches better. Mobile Internet will be 90% of the route. Communication will be at all nights. In doubt: one night on the bark around Kailash (sometimes catches there, sometimes not), and night on the Everest base camp (catches there if there is no storm). There is no connection when the bus travels through a mountain pass, into a gorge or along a remote road.
6. Things on the road
Regardless of the season of your trip, we recommend that you bring a sleeping bag with you. If you do not have a sleeping bag, you can buy it in Lhasa ($ 70-120). Not all guesthouses on the route have heating (especially on the crust around Kailash and in Everest Base Camp), it will be more comfortable with your sleeping bag.
In Western Tibet at any time of the year it can be quite cold: minus temperatures, snow, strong winds. Please take warm winter clothes.
We also recommend that you pay special attention to shoes: they should be worn, comfortable for walking, and not rub your feet.
If you plan to go around Kailash or go on a trekking tour, it is best to stock up on trekking sticks.
7. Food in Tibet
Please note: in the price of the tour we only include breakfast as a standard, you will pay for other meals separately. The approximate cost of food per day in Tibet is 12-20 US dollars. Lunches and dinners, as a rule, in a cafe, where you can order yourself something on the menu. Food in Tibet is quite simple, but tasty and satisfying: meat, noodles, potatoes, momo dumplings. You can read in detail about the main dishes of Tibetan cuisine on the site: ” Tibetan food .”
We recommend vegetarians to take nuts or other protein snacks from home, as in a cafe outside Lhasa there can be quite a few options without meat. In any case, be sure to tell the guide (and better to us at the time of booking the tour) about the features of your food.
8. Fly to Tibet
We would like to remind you separately that both on international flights and on domestic flights, batteries/accumulators cannot be checked in at airports. You can take them with you in your hand luggage. In China, compliance with this rule is strictly monitored. Even a small iPod packed in a suitcase can cause questions for airport employees and they will force you to open the suitcase with them and show what it is. It is better to pack in advance to avoid these unpleasant moments. Also read “How to get to Tibet via Nepal“