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Tibet Trip Report (11 June 2013 to 20 June 2013)

Singapore, Singapore
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672 posts
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Tibet Trip Report (11 June 2013 to 20 June 2013)

After visited Bhutan twice, I decided to plan for a trip to Tibet this year. The planning stage wasn’t that smooth. First, I realized that there is no such thing as free and easy tour for foreigners in Tibet. As a Singaporean, I don’t need to apply VISA to enter into China, but I still need to apply special permit to visit Tibet with a group of at least 5 of the same nationalities. Only recently, China Government has relaxed on this permit rule.

There are a lot of considerations in choosing between the tour with a local Tibetan tour agency or a tour package in Singapore. One consideration was that my friends wanted to try the Tibetan Railway ride to Lhasa. Purchasing the Tibetan Railway ride ticket is not that simple as just purchasing online. You need to get a China tour agency to purchase for you.

Cost is another factor. The cost of booking of the airtickets, hotels, transport and Tibetan local tour on my own is at least 40% to 50% higher. Hence, the final decision is to book a tour in Singapore since we need to be on a guided tour anyway.

Below is the outline of my 10 days tour to Tibet. For this trip report, I will focus on my experience rather than describing the different places of interests. If you need more information from me on the different places of interests, you can post your questions on this post or send me a separate private message. I am more delightful to be of help to anyone if I can. Sorry if this trip report is so much longer than the usual trip report here.

Day 1 : Singapore - Kuming – Xi Ning

Day 2 : Xi Ning – Tibetan Railway

Day 3 : Tibet Railway – Lhasa

Day 4 : Lhasa

Day 5 : Lhasa – Linzhi

Day 6 : Linzhi – Lhasa

Day 7 : Lhasa – Xigaze

Day 8 : Xigaze – Lhasa

Day 9 : Lhasa – Namtso – Lhasa

Day 10 : Lhasa – Xi An – Kuming – Singapore

Singapore, Singapore
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1. Re: Tibet Trip Report (11 June 2013 to 20 June 2013)

TIBETAN RAILWAY RIDE

The train ride is almost 24 hours from Xi Ning station to Lhasa station. Don’t expect the fast bullet train type for this ride. However, the train ride is rather smooth and not so bumpy.

My train ride was scheduled at 10pm and I reached at 9.30pm the next day. I don’t see any lift available to the train platform. Maybe I am not aware. I just dragged my big luggage bag for 2 storeys up via the stairs before I reach the train platform at Xi Ning station.

I didn’t get the right luggage size information from my Singapore travel agent. Hence, I would like to share my experience on the luggage storage space of a soft sleeper cabin of 4. Please read my below posting for more information.

tripadvisor.com/…50610775

Our agent in Xi Ning didn’t manage to get the whole cabin for our group. All of us got different beds in different cabins, upper deck or lower deck. You may be sleeping with a stranger in the same cabin, man or woman. Our group was not happy with this kind of arrangement. Even husband and wife had to sleep in different cabins. In the end, we had to swap our beds with others.

Although the train ride was rather silent and smooth, I couldn’t sleep as I am a light sleeper. When the day break the next day, the landscape unfold before us is beautiful. The landscape is constantly changing during the train ride. You will get to see the below different landscapes.

1) Desert landscape

2) Snow Capped Mountains

3) Snowing at the highest pass (5,190 meters)

4) Namtso Lake (one of the scared lakes in Tibet)

5) Grassland with sheep or cow herd grazing around

6) Farmlands

Personally, the train ride is worth to try if you have the extra time. The whole ride gives you different feelings with the changing landscape.

Singapore, Singapore
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2. Re: Tibet Trip Report (11 June 2013 to 20 June 2013)

HIGH ALTITUDE SICKNESS

We were very lucky to see snow falling at the pass. However, most of us got high altitude sickness when we approached the 5,190 meters pass. Headache is the most common high altitude sickness, which is normal. However, my friend got very bad nausea feeling after 8 hours of train ride. We called the train doctor to examine her and she got a breathing tube to attach to the oxygen outlet near her bed.

I didn’t take any high altitude sickness medication and I had slight headache during the train ride. The strange thing was my headache was gone when I reached Lhasa station. So my guess is my sickness was due to motion sickness and not high altitude sickness. After a few days of acclimatization, the high altitude sickness never occurred to me anymore.

Don’t refrain from travelling to Tibet just because of high altitude sickness worries. In my tour group, we have a couple who is more than 60 years old. The only tedious walking we had was at Potala Palace where we need to climb 4/5 storeys to reach the temples. Unless you are doing trekking in Tibet, normal cultural tours will not give you serious high altitude sickness. Just remember the following few pointers when you reach Tibet on the first 2/3 days.

1) Eat light meals, no heavy meals on your first day in Tibet.

2) No alcoholic drink in the few days in Tibet. However, I have Lhasa beer (cost RMB5 or RMB10) on my last 2/3 days of the tour. The alcohol level is only 3.80% and it is one of the nicer beers I tried in my life. Smooth and little gas in the beer.

3) Do things twice slower than your normal speed back at home.

4) Don’t shower on the first day you arrive at Tibet, to avoid getting flu.

5) Don’t fall sick, especially flu. The tour guide told us that she once received a man who got flu before he arrived at Tibet. The next day, he was admitted to hospital due to water in his lung and brain. When you are sick, the high altitude will make your illness worsen. Hence, if you suspect you are not feeling well, please alert your guide immediately before the illness get worsen.

6) Prepare enough warm clothing, scarf and hat. Tibet is one area where one can experience the harshest temperatures on earth. The daytime and nighttime temperature can be 20 degree apart. Last year, 2 elderly Singaporean women died in Tibet as they didn’t have enough warm clothing. Despite their guide’s warnings, they insisted to go on their praying around one of the scared mountains in Tibet with their light clothing. Even in June (their summer time), the wind in mountainous areas and passes is very chill.

Singapore, Singapore
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3. Re: Tibet Trip Report (11 June 2013 to 20 June 2013)

HIGHTLIGHT OF THE TOUR (SOUTHERN TIBET – LINZHI)

Linzhi is located in the Southern part of Tibet. According to my tour guide, this area is only opened to foreigners a few years ago and foreigners are restricted to only 2 places of interests in Linzhi.

The journey to Linzhi might be a torture to most people, because the coach ride is at least 10 hours, not including toilet break and lunch break. But the rewarding part is you will get to see very beautiful landscape, passing through desert lands and green pasture with sheep or cow herd.

First, we visited the Lulanglin Sea of Cypress trees. We are very lucky to see the peak of the snow-capped mountain of Nangabawa Mountain Peak 南迦巴瓦峰, the 7,787 meters mountain which is not conquered by mankind till now. We also visited the 2,500 years old Cypress tree and make prayers for longevity for our love ones.

The best part I like about the trip to Linzhi is the 4 stars place of interest in China, Basongcuo 八松錯. It is the national park and we need special permit from the China Police in order to enter. This is a very beautiful park with clear blue lake. However, we only have time to visit a special temple which is situated on a small island in the middle of the lake.

This temple is founded by Guru Padmasambhava, the Second Buddha in Tibetan Buddhism. He was invited to Tibet from India in 7th Century by the King to subdue evils in the Himalayan Mountains. He founded this temple and started the first monastery in Tibet with 7 sons from the rich families. This is the first temple of the Lima sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Hence, this is a rather holy and scared temple in Southern Tibet.

TIBETAN PEOPLE (IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE)

I was rather disturbed by how Tibetan people have changed with the society. To my knowledge, Tibet is a very religious Buddhist place on earth, given the long history of Buddhist influence on this land. Buddhism flourished when Princess Wen Cheng from Tang Dynasty married to Tibetan Emperor Songtsan Gampo in the 7th century.

During my trip, I saw Tibetan children begging me for money. I was rather sad, wondering why their parents don’t let their children attend school and want them to beg money from tourists to survive. Education is the only way to change their life and move out of poverty.

On one occasion, I took a photo of a Tibetan girl in Xi Ning. Guess what happen to me? A Tibetan man rode his bike and chased after me, demanding me to pay RMB10 to the girl since I took her picture. The girl also realized I took a photo of her. She chased after me and demanded me to pay her RMB20. I refused to pay. She ran after me for quite a distance and will not let me go. I took out RMB1 and told her to take it or leave it. In the end, she knew I am very firm with my decision, took the RMB1 and left me.

On another occasion at Yamdrok Lake (one of the 3 holy lakes in Tibet), our tour guide had warned us on the Tibetan shopkeepers and horse ride to the lake which is about 10-15 mins walk from the car park. Make sure you bargain with the Tibetan and fix your price on the horse ride. Don’t try your luck to bargain for cheap stuffs at Yamdrok Lake. If you don’t know how to handle Tibetans, you will get yourself into hostile arguments with the Tibetans.

As one of my group mates had high altitude sickness, she and her husband decided to take the horse ride to the lake with a bargain price of RMB20 per person. In the end, she paid RMB100 per person to the Tibetan man. If not, the Tibetan man will not let her go. The Tibetan tricked her to let her ride the horse by her own, help her take pictures with the horse, and lead her a bit further down the lake. The Tibetan man was very hostile to her and her husband. He demanded them to pay him RMB200 in total for all the services he offered to them.

My last encounter with Tibetan was on the way back to Lhasa. My tour guide warned us not to take photos of animals which are owned by the Tibetan. On the way, we stopped by a very beautiful landscape with the snow-capped mountains as the background. I helped my group mate to take pictures of her with the snow-capped mountains as the background. Guess what happen? A Tibetan man came forward and insisted that we took pictures of the animals he reared. He demanded us to pay him money since we took pictures of his animals. We insisted we never took pictures of his animals and he insisted to view the photos in the camera. We showed him the photos we took. In the end, the Tibetan had to let us go because we never took photos of his animals.

Of course, these unhappy encounters with Tibetans don’t represent all the Tibetans. There are always black sheep in every herd. If you are visiting Tibet, listen very carefully to your local Tibetan guide on the “do and don’t” in Tibet. Don’t fall into any unpleasant and hostile situation with the Tibetan.

Singapore, Singapore
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4. Re: Tibet Trip Report (11 June 2013 to 20 June 2013)

TIBET VS BHUTAN

Tibet and Bhutan are neighbours geographically. They are similar in certain ways. Both have Buddhism as their main religion since 7th Century. Both must be on guided tour organized by the local travel agencies. Tibet requires special permits while Bhutan requires VISAs for all foreigners.

One of the main differences between Tibet and Bhutan is its people. So far, my encounters with Bhutanese are much friendlier and humble than Tibetans. Bhutanese allow you to take their photos without any monetary reward. Sometimes, Bhutanese children will even pose for you. Generally, most Bhutanese are very accommodating to tourist’s requests.

However, Tibet has nicer scenery than Bhutan. Tibet has different landscape as mentioned above, while Bhutan has mainly green mountain landscape. Besides, the infrastructure in Tibet (telecommunication, internet access, highways etc) is much more developed than Bhutan.

The cost to tour in Bhutan is more expensive than Tibet. The minimum daily tariff set by Bhutan Government is USD250 for high season and USD 200 for low season per person. This is because 30% of this daily tariff goes to the Government as royalty’s taxes to fund for its infrastructure for its own people. The daily tariff will include guide, food, transport and accommodation in Bhutan.

As Bhutan Government wants to preserve their culture and nature, it discourages mass tourism and limits the no. of tourists visiting Bhutan. Hence, when you are visiting each temple, Dzong and other places of interest, you don’t see a lot of tourists. In Bhutan, the tour guide has more time to give you explanations on the wall paintings and status in temples and Dzongs. I have longer time to do my prayers at the temples in Bhutan. I even requested to do a short session of mediation in Tiger Nest Temple in Paro. In Tibet, every temple I visited, my tour guide only allows me a few minutes of prayers. When you visit Potala Palace in Tibet, you are limited to one hour tour in the palace due to high influx of visitors.

In Bhutan, you get to see more historical cultural heritage and buildings. All houses in Bhutan need to be built in Bhutanese style architecture. All Bhutanese are required by law to wear their 17th century costumes to work. No modern buildings and there are a lot of temples and Dzongs, which are built centuries ago, still survived till today. However, in Tibet, most of the temples, cultural heritage, scriptures, historical documents and other works of art are either removed, damaged or destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Even Chinese Government needs to provide RMB180 million to fund for the restoration of Potala Palace in 2002. Around Potala Palace, you will get to see modern buildings.

Milan, Italy
Destination Expert
for Tibet, Montagna e sport invernali, Milan, Nepal, Bhaktapur, Kathmandu, Jomsom, Mustang Region, Namche Bazaar, Sagarmatha National Park, Ladakh, Annapurna Region
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5. Re: Tibet Trip Report (11 June 2013 to 20 June 2013)

I'm sorry you've had not so good relationship with tibetans. I've never had any kind of problems, always asking the permit to take pictures and Always being friendly with them, nobody asked me money (lucky ahhh). I know that in the touristic stops, where there's scenic landscape and jeep has the program to stop during the visits, local or chinese dressed like locals usually asked money for pics, so I avoid to do in those prepared places. Really sorry for you I think you've been unlucky.

Thanks for sharing your precious experience in Tibet. This can be useful to other travellers.

rongpuk

Singapore, Singapore
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6. Re: Tibet Trip Report (11 June 2013 to 20 June 2013)

Yap. I was rather upset and distrubed by my encounters with the Tibetans or "fake Tibetans". Nevertheless, I still enjoyed myself with the cultural and beautiful scenery of Tibet.

France
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for Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, Bhaktapur, Kathmandu, Jomsom, Mustang Region, Namche Bazaar, Sagarmatha National Park, Annapurna Region
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7. Re: Tibet Trip Report (11 June 2013 to 20 June 2013)

Thank you for sharing your experiences, I also encountered with this pay for photo things. Tibet is a beautiful place so forget the difficulties and remember only the beautiful things!

Thank you for sharing your opinions, it will help many other travelers!

Chengdu, China
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8. Re: Tibet Trip Report (11 June 2013 to 20 June 2013)

Thanks for sharing!

I feel sorry you encountered such bad experience with Tibetans. Most people seemed have the similar experience, finally we just ignored it after seeing more of Tibet.

There are many children begging for money in Lhasa, if you give one, you will probably be besieged with many more children. I asked once why there’re so many children begging for money. It is said the children were from remote areas and even don’t know their parents. They were abandoned because of poverty, diseases or any other reasons. Not sure if this is true.

With the rampant modernization, the Tibetans at the tourist spots are more ‘commercial’ and always ready to bargain. We stopped at the viewing spot of the Yamdrok tso. There are yaks and Tibetan Mastiff for pictures shooting. If you took a picture which accidently has these animals in, the owners will never let you go unless you pay the money to them. But most Tibetans are more pure and shy to talk to strangers.

The tourist spot never tell the truth. Have a nice day and just remeber the beautiful things only!

Kathy

Italy
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9. Re: Tibet Trip Report (11 June 2013 to 20 June 2013)

What a great report, better than a guide book, thanks for sharing, sorry you were disappointed with the Tibetans and hope it didn't spoil your trip.

Beijing, China
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10. Re: Tibet Trip Report (11 June 2013 to 20 June 2013)

Very good report of impressions and I particularly note your opinions of the contrast with Bhutan and the Bhutanese.

What's so unfortunate about the Tibet/Tibetan situation with tourism are two side effects of the Chinese policy of restriction on foreign visitors and where they can go/what they can see.

1) Most tourists are now concentrated along fairly predictable routes into relatively few places. Locals along these routes develop quite the money-grubbing attitude, though of course it's a survival proposition for them. Unlike the rest of China, where the foreign visitor can still seek out and find plenty of non-touristed places with locals without nasty attitudes just going about their daily lives...in Tibet this potential self-dispersion of tourists over a wide area just can't happen anymore.

2) The flow of foreigner tourism has been so erratic in past few years due to the Chinese government turning the Permit faucet on and off. This means that the locals get that much more aggressive at performing their revenue shakedowns when that tourist faucet tap is on, since they never can predict when this source of cash flow will be curtailed.