Tibet. It’s on all of our ‘bucket’ lists. You’ve seen the pictures of the Potala Palace, the Himalayas, and the majestic Tibetan Plateau, and now you’re ready to go. This journey of a lifetime can be made even more epic, with a few awesome additions to your experience; here are my top 10 suggestions:
Take the train there from Beijing or Shanghai
Taking the train to Tibet adds 48 hours to your journey, and a lifetime of visual experiences. It is, quite simply, an utterly amazing voyage. The trip pans over 5,000kms and gives you a view of China and the Tibetan plateau that you would never see otherwise. One of the highlights of the trip is passing through Tangula Pass, which at just over 5,000 meters is the highest train pass in the world (and another stunning place to experience a sunrise!). Travel in ‘Soft Sleeper’ class for the VIP experience, and consider also buying all four places in the cabin. Make friends on the train, the Chinese are a friendly and curious bunch!
Stay at the St. Regis
The St. Regis is the best hotel in Tibet, and apart from the incredible views of Potala Palace from the lobby and many rooms, is designed with maximizing the guest experience in Tibet. The rooms are huge, the service beyond compare. It will be a welcome oasis after a long day of walking or climbing stairs (of which the monasteries have an abundance). It is pricey, but worth every penny. Spoil yourself!
Go to Chakpori Hill before dawn
Chakpori Hill is adjacent to Potala Palace, and is THE viewing area for dawn breaking over the mountains and the Potala Palace. It is especially popular with photographers, providing you with an elevation and unobstructed view of the Palace, and the mountains ringing Lhasa.
Go to the Tibet Peaceful Liberation Square at night
Its name notwithstanding, this is the best place to view the Potala Palace at night, an experience as majestic as visiting it at dawn or during the day. At night, the Potala Palace is lit with floodlights to give you a spectacular perspective of this amazing structure. If you time it right, you can also participate in the evening dances the Chinese like to perform in the square.
Picnic at Yamdrok Lake
Pack a picnic for Yamdrok Lake, at almost 4,500 meters one of the highest altitude lakes in the world with water an incredible hue of turquoise and teal. The views from above the lake are stunning, and with almost nobody around, you are sure to experience a very unique picnic and day out.
Don’t skimp on the monasteries
Tibet has a number of monasteries, and it is easy to imagine that there will be similarities. They’re all different, and they are all amazing. My favorites were the Ganden Monastery, a massive town-like structure accommodating hundreds of monks, which travel to reach it is an experience all of its own; the Sera Monastery, famous for its ‘debating monks’ and an experience that is not to be missed and incredible to watch; and the Drepung Monastery, with its incredible views of Lhasa, it’s astonishing library of ancient Buddhist texts and printing house, and it’s extraordinary Great Assembly Hall. No two monasteries are alike, and their individual histories are inspiring.
Admittedly, the thought of eating yak meat doesn’t initially inspire much excitement. But it would be a big mistake to forgo this delicacy! Go to the Lhasa Steak House and order the ‘Sizzling Yak Filet’, you’ll be back there the next day. Lhasa also has a terrific, and modest, restaurant in the Mandala Restaurant, right off Bharkor Square and the Jokhang Temple.
Karaoke with the Tibetans
Tibetan culture is closely tied with music and singing, and it is one of the favourite ways for Tibetans to enjoy themselves. Joining in with Tibetans in singing Karaoke is a wonderful way to make friends fast in Lhasa, and have a great time. Karaoke bars are fairly plentiful, but try The Queen just off Beijing Middle Road not far from the Potala Palace.
Walk the town
Lhasa is not a big city, and it is very accessible. The Tibetans are incredibly friendly and inviting, and exploring their city and everything it has to offer is not to be missed. The little alleyways that dot the area around Barkhor Square are rich with local handicrafts, eateries, and unexpected surprises.
Enjoy doing some good
Tibet, like many other countries, has had its share of hardships. Keep a day free to donate your time to a worthwhile cause, of which there are many that need our help. Spend a day at an orphanage, or helping at a school: the reception you will get from the children and the adults will be life-informing, and a highlight of your trip. There are numerous local NGOs that can help, and my favorite was the Lhasa Jatson Chumig Welfare Special School.
Shop on Yutuo Road
Finding really interesting and reasonably priced antiques in Lhasa is certainly possible with some effort, but a whole trove of inexpensive treasures and mementos awaits you on Yutuo road. Many of the handicrafts displayed in the stalls are exquisitely made, and buying them goes a long way to supporting the Tibetan people. They relish an interest in them and their life, and a friendly conversation goes a long way in any negotiations.