In early April, I made an unexpected trip to Tibet. The opportunity came to me as a surprise, as my friend popped the question to me one night and it was only 1+ month prior to departure. I hesitated for a while because it also coincided with my (job) contract date. I didn’t know much about Tibet nor was it ever on my bucket list. I’ve heard of Mount Everest and the Himalayas from Geography class but I must admit, I didn’t know it was in Tibet. In the back of my mind, I wondered if it was even a safe place to go. At that time, there were a lot of ‘scary’ news and I really did fear for my safety. Even the thought of flying on an airplane made me nervous! However, after some research and many debates, I decided this trip would be a yes. And I am really glad that I made the decision to go on this trip.
This trip was truly an eye-opening and memorable trip for me. I am a city girl who also enjoys the peacefulness of a country side, but I’ve never been to a place quite like this before… and this experience really opened my eyes to a whole new world and allowed me to look beyond my own life…
I will be posting a 3 part Tibet blog series to share with you my trip. In this first post, I’ll be mostly focusing on before my trip and recommendations on what to bring. I hope you’ll find this useful if you are planning a trip to Tibet or hopefully, it’ll inspire you to go there if it’s always been on your bucket list.
We went as a group of 4 (girls) including me, and we hired a local Tibetan driver which was recommended by my friend’s friend. My friend made all the arrangements with the driver via WeChat whereas my other friend made the bookings for my airfare. So for my part, there really wasn’t much for me to prep besides packing my own bags!
Getting to Lhasa, Tibet. Two friends departed about 2-3 days before me and my friend, and they took the train from Shenzhen to Lhasa. The train ride took about 2 days, I believe. Since my friend and I left later, we were short on time, we decided to get there by air – from HKG to Chengdu. Layover overnight. Chengdu to Lhasa.
Prior to this decision, we also did consider taking the train as we read that it may be easier to adjust to the high altitude sickness and the view/scenery is worthwhile. However, the downside is that the duration is too long and… it may agitate us. Overall, I still don’t regret not taking the train.
Initially, we had to spend about 7-8 hours in Chengdu airport as our layover but at that time, due to poor weather, we had to fly to Kunming airport. We ended up staying there for about 4 hours but we were inside the plane. It was actually a blessing though because we were able to get some sleep and it was much better than sleeping in the airport 😉
What to Pack to Tibet
I won’t provide an entire list of what to pack as I am sure you’ll find plenty on the internet but here, I will include some must haves based on my experience. Please bare in mind that I went in early April where the temperature ranged from -7 to 17, so there was a huge temperature difference between day and night. I recommend you follow the temperature prior to your departure and that you bring more warm clothes (and not less). I also recommend that you bring old items, in case you may want to simply donate or leave behind your thick (dirty) clothes behind.
I brought a 40L backpack (carry on) and a fairly large duffel bag (checked-in). Most of my items were in the duffel bag. I also bought a fanny pack and a foldable duffle backpack/side bag with me. When we were on the road, our bags were in the car most of the time… so the fanny pack came in handy when we needed to get out of the car for a quick site visit or when we stopped to have lunch. The foldable duffle bag came in handy on the days when we didn’t have our driver and explored the city on our own.
- Diamox medications for high altitude sickness. In HK, there’s 2 way to purchase this medication – 1) the ‘legal’ way which is through franchised drugstores like Watsons and Mannings but this require a doctor’s note, 2) the ‘illegal’ way through neighborhood drugstores which doesn’t require a doctor’s note. As for me, initially, to be on the safe side, I went to my family doctor to get the medicine but I was only prescribed 4 days of medication so I ended up going to the neighborhood drugstore to purchase more since it was just the same. It also turned out that my insurance didn’t covered the medication so it was way overpriced/overcharged vs simply buying from the neighborhood pharmacy. I took the medication 1 day prior to my departure and continued to take the meds until my last day of the trip (1 tablet in the morning and before bed time). I honestly didn’t experience too much of an issue with high altitude sickness. I did experience a minor headache on the first day and shortness of breath during my trip especially while walking uphill as well as slight fatigueness but overall, it was tolerable and did not interfere with my trip too much. Diamox did had a side effect on me and it was this tingly numbness on either my fingers, feet or my face and I would experience it on random times.
- Tissues. I bought a package of 12 with me for my 8 day trip and it was just enough. In Tibet, most washrooms do not include tissue and even at hostels, tissue seems to be a precious item as they only provide you half a roll of toilet paper. So make sure you bring plenty!
- Wet wipes & sanitizer. These are not as important as tissue but these do come in handy when you cannot wash your hands (which is most of the time?)
- Makeup remover wipes. These actually came in pretty handy especially when I was staying overnight at the base camp and at Namtso’s hostel. Even when I did have a sink and water to wash my face, there were times when I felt a bit afraid that washing my face may be too harsh for my skin (as the weather was cold and dry).
- Flashlight. Handy during Base Camp and Namtso lake when you need to go outside at night to find a toilet spot.
- Heat pads. I am really glad I bought these because these came in really handy during Base Camp, Namtso lake and all the other times when it was freezing cold & windy outside. I really recommend this as they last longer than 24 hours. Quite amazing! However, be cautious when you use it while sleeping or near an electric plug as the packaging did indicate a warning.
- Sunscreen for your face. Although it’s cold and windy, but it’s also very sunny… so make sure you use the highest SPF you can get your hands on and ensure you re-apply it whenever you need. I applied it each morning and probably re-applied it mid-day. The rest of my body was fairly covered so I actually didn’t use my body sunscreen at all.
- Lip balm, hand cream, body lotion. It is extremely dry in Tibet so ensure you bring these to keep yourself moisturized. I found myself constantly reaching for the lip balm when I was on the road.
- Band-aids. These came in more handy than I expected. Again, due to the dry water and maybe lack of nutrients, my friends and I easily got ‘cuts’ near our fingernails.
- Cream for rashes, itchiness. I actually didn’t bring this with me and didn’t realize it came in handy until halfway through my trip. I think due to the harsh weather, my friends and I all had rashes on our ankles which caused itchiness. However, I think mine was on a more serious side as I didn’t fully recovered from the rash until 2 weeks after my trip.
- Stomachache medications. I brought this for emergency but I didn’t think I would need it until the very last day, I had this super spicy food at a local restaurant. I don’t know what went wrong but I had really bad diarrhea that night.
- Thick thermal insulated long-sleeve and pants/leggings. Really important to pack in layers!
- Thick gloves, scarf, beanie/tuque. I packed these knowing that I’ll need them but didn’t know that they became my essentials. I actually bought 2 pairs of gloves with me – one winter gloves and one hiking one. I lost my pair of winter ones quite early on in the trip so it was good that I at least had a pair of hiking ones with me to keep me (somewhat) warm.
- Candies. I am a big fan of chewy/gummy fruity candies and these definitely made me a happy girl when I was on the road and felt so dehydrated from the harsh weather. So bring something from home that will delight your taste buds! I also recommend bringing some individually packed candies to give out to children you come across. During our trip, when we passed by villages, our driver actually stopped a bit and we gave candies out to random children. They were so delighted! There were also times when we were eating at a restaurant or visiting a site, children would greet us with Hello… and we will end up giving them a candy.
- Nutritious bars. I only brought a pack of 6 with me… and I had to endeavour them like they were precious haha. These came in handy when I was on the road or those hungry mornings. So I recommend bringing enough for at least one bar a day.
- Flip flops. You won’t be wearing these outside but these are handy for your hostel stay. In fact, these are my essentials for travelling as I have a taboo for walking into shower stalls, washrooms or even hostel/hotel’s carpet barefoot. The washroom in hostels are really not the cleanest place so it’s highly recommended you bring flip flops with you, unless you don’t mind being barefoot.
- A pair of good support and goretex (waterproof) shoes. I wore my Nike mid internationalist shoes. I felt that it had a good enough support and it was light to wear it all day. However, the down side is that it’s not waterproof. When we were at Namdrok Lake, walking by the shore line, it was quite muddy and got my shoe quite dirty. On the other hand, my friend’s waterproof hiking shoes made it really easy to clean though… even though one of her shoe got stuck in the mud. It’s also important to have a good grip for the bottom of your shoe especially during your time at Mount Everest.