21 February 2007
• Entering Tibet
o My travel agency – CITS. My agent – Peggy Yu (firstname.lastname@example.org). She speaks perfect English.
o It is next to impossible anymore to enter Tibet as an independent traveler. Most travel books will tell you it’s possible through Chengdu, but that has not been my experience. You can join a tour in Chengdu, which does make it possible, but somewhat stressful.
o You must be part of a tour group (large or private) to get Tibet entrance approval, especially if you plan to take the train from Beijing or Shanghai to Lhasa. It costs 50 kuai (about $7) and MUST be arranged by an approved travel agent. I recommend CITS, China’s “official” travel agency. They are also able to book train tickets departing from multiple locations, as you are restricted at the train station to only tickets departing from that location. Rarely can you buy a return ticket. Also, tickets usually only go on sale three to ten days before departure and they sell out fast. CITS is able to buy tickets before this three to ten day window, which is another bonus.
o Basically, contact a travel agent, give them your preferred dates of travel and a photocopy of your passport and visa and let them take care of everything. Trust me, I spent two weeks speaking with about a dozen different people on how I could organize this trip by myself (I am a very independent traveler) and had no luck.
• For The Train Don’t Forget…
o A Towel – They are not supplied to you, though all linens are.
o Tissues – There are very few in the toilet.
• There are three classes of travel – Soft sleeper, Hard sleeper, and Soft Seat.
o Soft Sleeper is four people sharing one cabin, TVs in every bunk, linens provided, power outlets and room-to-room climate control. There are three sinks (with hot water) in every car, as well as two toilets – one squatter and one western. This option costs 1262 kuai, roughly $161 US.
o Hard Sleeper is six people sharing one cabin (stacked three high with no room to sit up on the second and third bunks). Again, linens are provided but no TVs and no room-to-room climate control. The sink and toilet facilities are the same, but no hot water.
o Soft Seat is comparable to economy class seating on an airplane. People are six to a row, three on each side of the aisle. No lines. No TVs. No climate control. No laying down. People standing in the aisle (they purchased a standing ticket). The sink and toilet facilities are the same, but no hot water and they’re shared by three times as many people.
o All sleepers and seats are equipped with oxygen outlets for when the train begins its accent to 15000 feet.
• In Tibet…
o Make sure to stay in “Old Tibet.” Almost everything happens in this very small part of town. It is home to Jokhang Temple & The Barkhor Market, not to mention countless outdoors shops and backpacker restaurants.
• Accommodation Recommendations:
• Going Cheap – Pentoc Guesthouse
• A Real Hotel – ShangBaLa Hotel or the Yak Hotel.
• Internet Is Readily Available. Try The Yak Hotel For Great Conditions and Dirt Cheap Prices (5 Yuan, or about 60 cents US an hour).
• As far as eating is concerned, there are a number of cheap restaurants that serve Tibetan, Chinese, Indian, & Western cuisine all in the same place. If you buy a package deal, do not include lunch and dinner. Save that money and eat on your own. We included our meals and ended up not using half of them because they were all in our hotel. Where’s the fun in that?
• Restaurant Recommendations:
o New Mandala Restaurant – They serve pretty much anything and everything your heart might desire. Try their Chicken Tikka with Butter Naan.
o Dunya – French cuisine (only open in the spring and summer).
o Tashi #1 – The best Yak burger in town.
o Dicos – Tibetan McDonald’s. Don’t eat a meal here, but at least take a peek. Interesting cultural studies piece.
• Why know detailed location info on these places? As I said, the downtown hotspot area (just go to the Barkhor Market and you’re right in the middle of it) is no more than five blocks long and literally one block wide. You’ll see these places, I promise.
• Note For Winter Travelers – Tibet is really geared for April to October travel. A number of sites and restaurants are closed November to March, particularly around Tibetan New Year. There is a benefit, of course. You get to celebrate with the people in the streets. The fireworks and mayhem were easily one of the ten most incredible events I’ve ever experienced, period.