If you’re thinking of travelling with us on our exciting upcoming Journey to Tibet trip, there’s a few things we think you should know before you go! From health to packing and everything in between, read on to find out everything you need to know before booking this once in a lifetime trip to Tibet.
Firstly, it is impossible to travel to Tibet independently – what a great reason to join us! The political situation between Tibet and China, as we’re sure you’re aware, is not great. But don’t let that put you off. There are a few extra hurdles to jump for this trip, but we guarantee you will be fully rewarded when you get there. Now firmly on the tourist map, it is becoming ever easier to travel to Tibet, compared with just a few years ago when you would have certainly been without your creature comforts. The friendliness of the Tibetan people, the awe-inspiring landscapes and the sense of adventure involved in this trip should be enough to have you reaching for your passport right now.
There are many things to consider before embarking upon your journey to Tibet, and health is one of the main ones. We’ve put together this handy guide to travelling in this part of the world, highlighting potential problems that may occur and the best ways to ensure a happy and healthy trip.
If you wear glasses, take a spare pair as well as your prescription. If you require medication for pre-existing conditions, make sure that you take enough to last you for the whole trip as access to pharmacies will be limited. It’s also recommended to take a letter from your doctor explaining why you need this medication, recommended dosage and that it is for personal use only. This will help to avoid problems.
Medical Problems & Treatment
Self-diagnosis and treatment can be risky and is not encouraged. In Tibet, the top end hotels can usually recommend a good place to go for advice if you are feeling unwell. For some ailments, the best advise is to go to Lhasa and in extreme cases catch a flight to Chengdu.
Lack of oxygen at high altitudes will affect most people, but with differing levels of severity. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is common at high altitudes and depends on the height of elevation, the rate of ascent, and individual susceptibility. The major risk factor is the speed at which you make your ascent. For example, those choosing to fly straight into Lhasa are more likely to experience symptoms of AMS than those taking the train. You should take care to acclimatise slowly, taking things easy for the first couple of days and making sure you drink plenty of fluids.
Symptoms of AMS
Mild symptoms of AMS are pretty common and usually occur within the first 24-hours at altitude. Most travellers to Tibet will experience some symptoms of altitude sickness, but generally these will disappear once you have acclimatised. This can take hours, or in worse cases, days.
Symptoms tend to be worse at night and will include headache, dizziness, feeling lethargic, loss of appetite, nausea, breathlessness and irritability. You may also have difficulty sleeping for the first few nights whilst you acclimatise.
AMS can become more serious without much warning and, on rare occasions, has proved fatal. If you are experiencing symptoms such as severe headaches, lack of coordination, you are unable to walk, or have been coughing up frothy sputum, you must take these symptoms seriously. Let your guide know that you are feeling unwell; they are trained to deal with any situations that arise.
Prevention of AMS
The best form of prevention against AMS is to avoid rapid ascents, and if these cannot be avoided, make sure you take it easy when you arrive at higher altitudes. Do not push yourself to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Drink extra fluids, eat light high-carb meals for energy, avoid alcohol and do not smoke.
Treatment of AMS
Most people will only suffer the symptoms of altitude sickness for a couple of days during the acclimatisation process. However, if your symptoms persist, the most effective treatment is to get down to a lower altitude as quickly as you can.
Hypothermia, Heatstroke & Sunburn
All three of these health issues occur at high altitudes. The best thing you can do is go prepared. Make sure you take layers to keep warm but can also remove when you get hot. Always keep your head covered with a hat and make sure you have adequately factored sun protection as well as good quality sunglasses to protect your eyes.
What to Pack
You will not need to take any special equipment with you for our tour to Tibet, however, please take a look at our packing list below for an idea of what you will need.
High SPF sun protection
Lip balms with SPF rating
Towel (quick-drying travel towels are best)
Warm, waterproof jacket
Wool or wool-mix sweater (ideally with a high neck)
Hat to keep your head warm (ski-style hats are ideal)
Hat to protect you from the sun
Scarf & gloves or mittens
Sturdy and comfortable shoes that will keep your feet warm
Cameras – you’d be a fool to forget this
Binoculars for observing wildlife
Money pouch or belt
Refillable water bottle to reduce environmental impact
Hand sanitiser & travel wipes
Small first-aid kit with paracetamol, electrolytes, Imodium, etc.
Applying for your China Visa & Tibet Permits
You will need to apply for your China visa well in advance of the trip departure date so that we have enough to apply for the Tibet permits. When applying for your visa, it is important that you do not mention that you will be travelling to Tibet. In order to obtain the Tibet permits, you will need to provide us with the following:
Exact dates of entering and exiting China
Copies of Passports
Copies of China visa
These must be submitted to us no later than 6 weeks before departure date to give us enough time to apply for your Tibet permits.
Money & Costs
Whilst ATM’s are available, we recommend changing up some money into Chinese Yuan before you go so that you have some when you arrive, as well as taking a debit or credit card with you to take more out if and when you need it. The best currencies to bring if you want to exchange when you arrive are USD or EUR. Your guide will show you the best places to exchange your money. Whilst most meals are included on this trip, we recommend a budget of £20 per day to cover drinks, meals not included and tipping. Whilst tipping is not compulsory, it recognises and encourages good service. We suggest between USD3.00 – USD5.00 per person per day for your guides, and between USD2.00 – USD3.00 per person per day for your drivers.
Most monasteries extend a warm welcome to foreign visitors, but please maintain good faith by observing the following courtesies.
Don’t touch or remove anything from an altar
Don’t take prayer flags or mani stones
Don’t take photos during a prayer meeting
Always ask before taking photos with flash or of monks
Don’t wear shorts or short skirts in the monasteries
Take your hat off when you enter a chapel
Do not smoke inside the monasteries
Food & Drinks in Tibet
A traditional Tibetan meal is Tsampa, a dough made with roasted barley flour and yak with butter – you should try this once but probably no more than that! Chinese food in Tibet is mostly Sichuanese, and whilst this is the often the spiciest cuisine in China, in Tibet it is rarely made too hot. Vegetarians and vegans shouldn’t have any problems in China as there are normally many veggie options; if in doubt, ask your guide. The local beverage that most people will end up trying is yak butter tea. It’s made from yak butter mixed with salt, milk, soda and tea leaves – you may well be offered it in monasteries. The Tibetan brew is known as Chang, a fermented barley beer. In our experience this can be pretty good, but also pretty awful!