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Lhasa to EBC Trip Report and SNOWLIONS agency review!

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Toronto, Canada
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Lhasa to EBC Trip Report and SNOWLIONS agency review!

just got back from 9 days in tibet and i know how annoying it is to plan so hopefully this helps someone planning a trip in the future. we went with snowlions as i'd read in a couple of places that they're a tibetan travel agency and their website is quite nice. while we had a tibetan guide, driver, and their lhasa manager is tibetan. the main office is in china though.. so i'm not sure how "tibetan" the company is :) when organizing the trip we dealt with pema via email who was absolutely wonderful. the group was myself, my girlfriend and two other people we'd never met before who we found through sim's cozy guesthouse in chengdu and snowlions. i emailed both telling them to contact me if they were contacted by any people looking to join or form a group for an ebc trip. we lucked out and got along great. our guide in tibet was tenzin who a devout buddhist who's never left tibet and probably never will. his english was good but not great and we had trouble understanding him sometimes but it was fine for us. if you're the type that asks lots of questions and expects very detailed information about everything, -really- stress to your agency that this is important because most of the guides we encountered were like ours. if you go to tibet make sure your guide is tibetan though, i can't stress this enough.

we had one issue and that was with the lhasa manager who's name was also tenzin. he was a greasy guy, we booked our hotel in lhasa in advance (tashi choten, loved it! see my review) and when we arrived he spoke to us on the phone and said we couldn't stay there, that foreigners couldn't stay there. this was a lie and he just wanted us to go to a hotel where he likely gets a kickback, the banok shol hotel. this hotel was not very nice, didn't have any internet, etc.. so we declined to stay there. when faced with the possibility of driving us around to a half dozen hotels until we were happy the manager told our guide to just bring us to the hotel we had originally booked. lo and behold, it was now ok to stay there. it was not a good start to the trip and i was very annoyed but luckily we never dealt with the lhasa manager again and everything went smoothly from then on. we paid 10,000 rmb for four people for a landcruiser 4500 which included everything except hotels, meals, and entrance fees (which rack up pretty fast, i think we spent over 800rmb each).

two in our group took 250mg of diamox a day and two took 500mg. no one had any problems with the altitude (other than shortness of breath going up stairs) except for the night at EBC in the tent. we spent all day at EBC but when around 9pm the two people in the group that took 250mg of diamox both got pounding headaches that lasted most of the night. the other two were fine. could be a coincidence but if i had to do it again i'd take 500mg of diamox. i was one of the unfortunate people who got altitude sickness :) it was extremely miserable, migraine level headache. we were all leary about taking diamox initially but it was ok, the main side affect is your feet and hands will go numb and tingly very easily. its weird at first but you get used to it. drink lots of water too, you won't feel like drinking water either which makes it that much harder but you really need to stay hydrated whether you take diamox or not.

we were at EBC august 20th and it was raining, when we got there it didn't look like we'd have a chance of seeing everest. the people at base camp had said it had been 4 days since they saw it. we got lucky and the clouds broke up in the evening, we didn't get a perfect view but it would have really be disappointing if we never saw any of it. we had no choice but to travel in august but really its no joke, when they say its rainy season it really is. odds are definitely against you if you travel during july/august.

day 1-3: lhasa. jokhang temple is interesting, barkhor street is primarily and endless row of tourist knick knack stalls but you'll end up visiting it 2-3 times while in lhasa. its a nice part of town.. i really enjoyed potala palace, very grand. sera monastery was nice, we didn't go to deprung monastery as we were getting a bit over-monasteried. norbulinka summer palace was ok, don't visit the zoo unless you want to get really upset. it's awful, you'll want to free the animals and lock up the zookeepers. the tibetan museum is next door, its ok, its run by the chinese so it's very one sided. it's free.

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day 4: 8 hour drive to shigatse, stops in gyantse and yamdrok tso lake. stayed at the tenzin hotel. it was 150rmb for a double room with bathroom. bathroom -stunk- but otherwise not a bad place. ate at tashi restaurant, good indian food.

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day 5: 4 hours to new tingri/shegar at 4300m, stopped in lhatse. we stayed at the sunshine hotel for 200rmb, double room with bathroom. again, nice place but bathroom was not great. pretty cold outside. make sure you list sakya monestary on your itinerary for your permit, we did not and couldn't visit it, it would have filled out the day a lot more.

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day 6: 4 hours to EBC, only 117km, its a ROUGH dirt road. first you reach rongbuk monastery, then about 4km up the road is the tent city where you sleep, then from there you can walk or take a bus another couple of km up the road to the official tourist base camp. there is nothing at base camp other than a military concrete building and permit checkpoint. climber base camp is further up but they're only around in the spring. the view is not that different from tent city than base camp but if the skies are clearing and you want the best possible view take the bus up and get off about 3/4 of the way when you get up over the big dirt hills. the best view is on top of the dirt hills. or just walk up, it'll take about an hour. its cold at EBC, near 0 degrees celsius. bring good clothes, gloves, etc..

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day 7: 8 hour drive back to shigatse, the drive is a lot less interesting on the way back.

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day 8: 8 hour drive back to lhasa. it would have been much faster if the new highway was open but it wasn't. you will be very happy to get back to lhasa.

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day 9: leave lhasa

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it was a great trip, the tibetan people are SO friendly. the old city in lhasa oozes with charm. the rest of the towns (shigatse, gyantse, lhatse, new tingri, etc) are not exactly charming. its a fun experience but make sure you have a good group because you will be spending a LOT of time with them :)

Edited: 31 August 2010, 15:48
hong kong
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1. Re: Lhasa to EBC Trip Report and SNOWLIONS agency review!

Thanks very much for the detailed trip report.

Austin, Texas
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2. Re: Lhasa to EBC Trip Report and SNOWLIONS agency review!

Excellent honest and thorough report. Thanks for taking the time to post.

Tokyo
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3. Re: Lhasa to EBC Trip Report and SNOWLIONS agency review!

Thank for the posting. I'm going in 1 week and was looking for just this kind of information.

Austin, Texas
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4. Re: Lhasa to EBC Trip Report and SNOWLIONS agency review!

Thanks again for a great trip report post! Would you recommend 4wd Landcruisers or a bus to do the trip from Lhasa to EBC? Also, would you recommend staying at the EBC tent city or at the Ronbuk Monastery guesthouse? I'm thinking about bringing a group to Tibet so your feedback is important.

Thanks again!

Toronto, Canada
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5. Re: Lhasa to EBC Trip Report and SNOWLIONS agency review!

the roads are all nice except for the very last 4 hours stretch to EBC from new tingri which is a dirt road and is very slow and trough.. i don't recall seeing any buses that far along but if you're a big group and the drivers say it isn't a problem then it probably isn't.. maybe just a bit slow. i would definitely stay in tent city, no question. you are 4km closer to the mountain, have a great view right outside the tent, and the tents are a great part of the experience. very warm and comfortable. i would also try to get everyone to take diamox

Dallas
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6. Re: Lhasa to EBC Trip Report and SNOWLIONS agency review!

Hi. I'm hoping for feedback from your recent trip. I'm going in Oct and want to make sure I'm staying at the best places. My travel agent reccomends:

Oct.21 Drive to EBC,via Shegar. Overnight at Shegar.

Oct.22 Drive to Gyantse.Overnight at Gyantse.

Any thoughts would greatly be appreciated! Thanks so much for your help!

Toronto, Canada
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7. Re: Lhasa to EBC Trip Report and SNOWLIONS agency review!

lhasa to shegar (new tingri) is about a 12 hour drive, make sure you spend at least three days in lhasa beforehand to acclimatize, i would recommend four since you are not spending a night in shigatse on the way up. on the way back stay in shigatse instead of gyantse, its a bigger town with better hotels and restaurants and you'll want to visit the shigatse monastery anyways as its the seat of the panchen lama. its also the halfway point from lhasa to ebc so you have two 8 hours days of driving. gyantse is not a terribly charming place, i wouldn't stay there.

Singapore, Singapore
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8. Re: Lhasa to EBC Trip Report and SNOWLIONS agency review!

Commented in another discussion forum earlier... paste here for reader's convenience:

We just returned from Lhasa from a 11-day trip incl. train from Xining to Lhasa and hike from Tingri to EBC (shortened to 9 days because the route is disappointing) - booked through Snowlion. Summarized the good, bad and ugly of the agent and the overall trip itself:

Good:

+ Training into Tibet via the Qinghai-Tibet Railway is a pleasent experience, except for the toilet... though on hindsight... the train toilet is much cleaner than average toilets in Tibet

+ Sunset at EBC

Bad:

- Toilets in Tibet... you are much better off looking for a quiet corner in the open

- Oily food

- take taxis with proper meter... our guide used a non-metered taxi and we had to pay a premium for the trip from train station to the hotel (as part of meet and greet)

Ugly:

- - Do take your guide's recommendation on hotel with a big pinch of salt - they tend to be of poor quality and overpriced. When we insisted on our choice of hotel (through guidebooks)... the guide and driver kept insisting that the hotel we chose is of poor quality and not well maintained. We stood our ground, and ended up paying half the price and staying in a hotel that is much better than the ones they recommended (much cleaner and with hot water)

-- The trek (recommended by Snowlion) from Tingri to EBC is a complete waste of time... the route is basically the same dirt track that all 4x4, tour buses and bikes will take... unless you enjoy having to cover your mouth / nose every 10 min when a 4x4 zoom by, raising a screen of dust... this is definitely a no no. Apart from Everest view on the last day... all you see is rocky roads / slopes... not scenic at all

Also throughout our hike, there was no other groups hiking ... met a group at EBC who completed the 4 days hike, and we both agreed that the hike was disappointing indeed.

Thankfully, it was just me and my wife on the tour, and we managed to shorten the 4 days hike to 2 days instead.

-- Pre-planning for the trip.. we asked Snowlion (wangden) a few times prior to the trip if we could shorten the hike (due to our schedule)... he insisted that the entire hike needs 4 days (and donkey cart). We naturally assumed that we had to trek the entire route. Turns out that we are walking with 4x4 behind us... (and we easily negotiated with our driver / guide to shorten the trip).

-- After leaving Lhasa... our guide started to get a bit lazier...apart from joining us in our trek for first 3 hours... he ended up staying in the car with the driver... and kept insisting that we can trek outselves, given that there is only 1 route up... totally not professional on this front. Even at Rombuk monastry, he did not bother to bring us around the monastery and left us on our own.

Granted the above points, it is important to be mindful of the following:

- Tibet is still a very under-developed region, one cannot set high expectations on food, hygiene and sanitation quality, as well as hotel standards

- Guides are hit and miss. The first few days in Lhasa allows for you to assess the guide, but as our experience shows, he was great in Lhasa, but changed attitude totally once the road trip started (when we became "captive tourists"

- From conversations with our guides and drivers - they are generally freelance and not tied to any agents. Believe Snowlion is also an intermediary and partnered with another agent in Lhasa (CITS) who handled our tour instead. Whichever agent you are using, if you prefer to support the local community, just make sure you clearly request for a Tibetan guide.

Toronto, Canada
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9. Re: Lhasa to EBC Trip Report and SNOWLIONS agency review!

To comment on the previous post, i'm shocked that anyone would reccomend a hike from Tingri to EBC. We saw lots of people cycling on it (though I certainly wouldn't try it at that altitude), but it is not a charming hike whatsoever. You are on a dirty, dusty, swtichbacking road the entire time. It is not a trail and it is not scenic. Take the 4X4, if you want to trek for 3-4 day go to Kailash, if you want to trek for longer than that go to Nepal. There's no comparison, Nepal is a trekkers paradise, Tibet is not.

Regarding the guides, as I mentioned our guide was Tenzin and other than the hotel in Lhasa we had no issues with him. We found two people to share our 4x4 with, I highly reccomend this, not only does it save you a lot of money but it will make the 32 hours on the road much much more enjoyable. We had an amazing time with the people we shared the 4x4 with, total strangers but I can't imagine having done it without them, it would have been a lot lot less fun. Just make sure you pick the right people :)

Ps. wkarkat, feel free to link to the original thread on the other forum

10. Re: Lhasa to EBC Trip Report and SNOWLIONS agency review!

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