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It took us more than 5 years from proposing the idea of visiting Tibet, to planning and actually completing it. Naturally, like all other travellers, we had many doubts & questions prior to our trip.
Most travellers will take the train from Chongqing, Chengdu or Xi’an. Train to Lhasa from these places will take around 37 hours. Travellers can reduce travelling time by flying direct to Lanzhou.
We decided to stay 1 night in Xining (2 hours by train from Lanzhou) instead to acclimatize the higher altitude before heading to Lhasa. Xining’s has an elevation of 2,275m while Lhasa’s elevation is 3,656m. Train from Xining to Lhasa takes less than 24 hours. This is the other reason for us to start in Xining as 37 hours train ride is too tiring.
Since our purpose in Xining is to acclimatize the high altitude hence we chose a luxury hotel to pamper ourselves before the rough adventure starts. We stayed in Sofitel Xining (Agoda/ Hotels.com) which was quite affordable at around RM285 (USD70) per night.
Qingzang Railway 拉薩青藏列車
All foreign travellers are required to engage a local travel agency for Tibet tour. Foreigners are not allowed to self travel in Tibet. Apart from that, you will also need to apply for a Tibet Visa (入藏涵) at least 1 or 2 months before your trip. Without it, you are unable to board the train or plane to Tibet.
It is best to leave the train ticket booking to the local travel agency as train tickets to Lhasa are often sold out within seconds (秒杀) due to syndicates racking profits from tickets resale. If you miss out on the train tickets, it might disrupt your travel dates or alternatively by flight to Lhasa.
Our local travel agency in Tibet which offer multi-language guides is very reliable. Facebook message us if you would like their contact.
Boarding our train to Lhasa
4 pax Soft Sleeper Cabin
There are 4 categories of train tickets available: Soft Sleeper, Hard Sleeper, Hard Seat & Standing ticket. We strongly suggest booking the soft sleeper cabin which is more comfortable.
Just a note, all of our train’s toilets were out of order 20 hours after departure due to erratic behaviours of the Chinese passengers. We could not imagine how horrible the state of the toilet if we took the 37 hours train.
The main reason to take the train is also to allow our body to acclimatize the high altitude and reducing the possibility of high altitude sickness upon arriving at Tibet. It is highly recommended to buy Diamox, a medicine that prevents high altitude sickness before the trip. Most of us started taking Diamox on the train.
An unusual view along the way to Tibet
Our dinner on the train
There is a canteen on the train that serves hot meals. Ample supply of hot water is available on the train as well. Remember to stock up instant noodle cups, wet tissues and mineral water before boarding the train. You will need them throughout your Tibet journey.
We arrived Lhasa after a 24 hours train journey and was greeted by our tour guide. There are a few key points to take note upon arriving Lhasa.
- It is important not to catch the flu before or when in Tibet. Catching flu in Tibet can be fatal due to fluid gathering in the lungs and it is the most common cause of death from altitude sickness.
- Do not bath on the first and second day upon arriving Tibet to allow our body to accustom with the high altitude environment. Bathing on the first day might cause dizziness or faint due to lack of oxygen.
- Avoid using the oxygen bottle if possible as natural acclimatization is the best way.
Attractions in Lhasa
1. Potala Palace 布达拉宫
Potala Palace, the highest palace in the world was originally commissioned by Tibetan king Songtsen Gambo for his marriage to Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. In the 7th century, monks came to rule Tibet and further enhanced it as the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas.
The dzong fortress symbolizes Tibetan Buddhism and its central role in the traditional administration of Tibet. The building measures 400 metres (1,300 ft) east-west and 350 metres (1,150 ft) north-south, with sloping stone walls averaging 3 metres (9.8 ft) thick, and 5 metres (16 ft) thick at the base, and with copper poured into the foundations to help proof it against earthquakes.
The thirteen storeys building contained over 1,000 rooms, 10,000 shrines and about 200,000 statues, soar 117 metres (384 ft) on top of Marpo Ri, the “Red Hill”, rising more than 300 metres (980 ft) in total above the valley floor.
Thousands of religious pilgrims circle the perimeter of the palace with prayer wheels and beads seeking blessings all year round.
Potala Palace is featured in the RMB 50 note
2. Jokhang Monastery 大昭寺
The Jokhang Temple and Monastery is the most sacred and important Buddhist temple in Tibet built by King Songsten Gampo.
The temple was built for the king’s two brides: Princess Wencheng of the Chinese Tang dynasty and Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal. Each of them brought a statue of Jowo Shakyamuni (佛祖) statue and Buddhist images from China and Nepal to Tibet as part of their dowries.
A walled enclosure in front of the Jokhang Temple is planted with willows. The architectural style was inspired by Buddhist monasteries (viharas) in India. The roof has two golden deer gazing at a Wheel of Dharma.
3. Bajiao Street 八角街等
Bajiao Street is the oldest street in Lhasa surrounding the famous Jokhang Temple. It is one of the main attraction in Lhasa with the place filled with plenty of Tibetian traditional wear, souvenir stalls and restaurants surrounding the famous Jokhang Temple.
Food in Lhasa
Liangfen is a Chinese dish consisting of starch jelly that is usually served cold with a spicy & savoury sauce. It is a common street food dish in Tibet.
This communal tea house is frequented by locals for their Tibetian milk tea & light bites and as a gathering spot. Huge local crowds often gather here throughout the day. Visitors can pay approx 1 RMB for a cup of milk tea.
Despite the popularity of Makye Ame restaurant, food tastes mediocre at a higher price range. You can stop by for a drink and light snack instead.
Traditional Wear Shoot in Lhasa
There are several shops renting traditional Tibetian wear including photography session in Bajiao Street. It was quite a memorable experience for us. The price of rental plus photography is around RM900 (USD230) per couple.
1. Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa is one of the few luxury hotels strategically located in the Lhasa city centre merely 2km away from the Potala Palace.
The luxury hotel offers 289 well-appointed rooms and suites decorated in a unique blend of traditional Tibetian architecture and modern flair. There is also an oxygen room dedicated to hotel guests.
Horizon Club Lounge
We rented our portable wifi from Roaming Man which offers 3GB data daily at a 4G speed for up to 5 devices.