This is where we stayed. This hotel is said to be the second best in the city (after Lhasa Hotel), and it was indeed acceptable and a pleasant retreat from the conditions outside. The rooms are comfortable and well-equipped, altohugh it took me 10 minutes to master how to get hot water in the shower. The other problem is that heating is turned off during the summer (that is from May 1 - the day we arrived) and it was freezing inside. The only way I could keep warm was a shot of cognac and three blankets.
Onemore thing: the breakfast buffet was good - starting the day with Western-style food helped a lot.
"Roof of the world"
Tibet is a beautiful country which lives up to its nickname of being the roof of the world. The vastness of its mountain ranges, and the simple Buddhist lifestyle have worked together to make a rugged beautiful people. Tibet is about as remote as it gets even for people in China and Asia – very few travel to this isolated part of the world. As a result Tibet’s culture is still very much its own, though it is clear they are embracing more western and Asian cultures rapidly. Walking through Lhasa’s streets you’ll pass Tibetans in exotic traditional clothing as well as business suits. Nearly everyone has a cell phone – Monks especially!
No one can dismiss the incredible similarities to the American Indian culture and features. The buildings are very similar to Navajo adobes in New Mexico. Their beautiful faces are very similar with high cheek bones and almond shaped eyes. One can only imagine had the United States allowed the Indian cultures to exist more freely and independently that they too would have developed into a similar strong culture with its own since of direction and independence. With Tibet’s first railroad finishing in 2006, one can only wonder if it will have the same effect on the Tibetans as it did to the American Indian in the 1800s – Let us hope not.
I’m not going to rehash the same old stuff you can find in a travel guide. I’m also not going to get into the complex political environment – there is not enough space to cover this topic. Shopping and eating are well covered in most guides – My only recommendation is to spend some time exploring the carts and wares put out by the local Tibetans – these are always good and every price is negotiable. I did find that prices in general are higher than other parts of China.
"Hotels and Sleep"
For those of you who prefer nicer hotels and have moved away from the backpacker experience here’s some advice for you. If your traveling on a shoestring budget or enjoy sleeping on the ground then this advice is probably not for you – I just turned 40 and I don’t think of those things as being fun any more.
Lhasa Hotel – The hotels in Lhasa are still fairly primitive by most standards – how anyone could call it 4 stars is completely out of the question. Hotels like Lhasa and the Tibet hotel both have an exterior that gives the perception that it is a 4 star hotel, however when you get inside it is a completely different story. Our travel agency was to have us in the Tibet Hotel and actually placed us in the Lhasa for one night due to government officials kicking everyone out of the Tibet Hotel. The Lhasa first put us in a room that had stains and mildew actually growing on the walls. We have traveled to some obscure places but this one won the award on disgusting – especially when your paying 125 to 200 USD a night! We complained they moved us to a better room however the bed is was rock hard. I will say the restaurants and food was good compared to Tibet Hotel. Good selection and prices were very reasonable.
Tibet Hotel – This is supposed to be the very best hotel in Tibet – 4 stars – I can’t see this getting better than 2. Very interesting exterior – as a building became outdated instead of fix it they abandon it. We were in their VIP room and it too had a bed that was ROCK HARD. The view of the mountains from our room was quite nice. The room was nice enough, however it like much of the rest of the hotel was in deep need of improvements/upgrades. The breakfast area was scary; various food items which looked like they reheated them from the previous day. Coffee is instant, no cereal for starters. The food was far better at the Lhasa Hotel. The hotel caters to high end western groups but is evidently struggling to keep up. They had closed the three restaurants and had put up a buffet for groups and paying customers alike in an old part of a ballroom. We wouldn’t consider staying here again.
Advice: Bring your own inflatable sleeping pad you find in Outdoors store. This will make a world of difference in your sleeping. No matter the hotel, none have western beds and all are hard as a rock.
Advice: Altitude & Sleep – This was the topic of every traveler we met. It is very hard not to get some amount of insomnia here. Add to that a hard mattress and the incredibly dry air and you will find yourself getting tired easily and having a tough time enjoying the beauty of Tibet. Try going two or three nights of sporadic sleep and see how fun you are.. Bring your own air mattress and take aspirins before you go to sleep.
If you struggle for more than a day getting acclimated to the altitude I suggest you get Oxygen in your room – Most good hotels have them built into the rooms. It does help you sleep and in the end if you sleep well you will get more out of your days.
"Clothes and Food"
Clothes – If you wear an XL in the USA your pretty much out of luck here – The largest sizes here are 48 which is just at or slightly below an XL and since everything shrinks (absolutely they will.) This is the first country I didn’t buy a t-shirt. GREAT BUYS on treking gear – North Face jackets and backpacks all at a fraction of the price – 20 USD for a 300 USD bag. You can get XL and XXL sizes here.
OTC Medications – You can find just about anything you can get in the states here – Sinus or cold medications especially. One major exception – Tampons: Chinese and Tibetan cultures do not subscribe to them so you will not find them anywhere.
Shoes – Tibet and China have some incredibly cool shoe styles at incredible prices (15 to 20 USD for an equivalent 100-200 USD shoe.) Downside: No shoes larger than size 10 Mens. My wife has a shoe problem and she found numerous designs which were not available in the US which she picked up for next to nothing and made very (very) well.
Tibet Kitchen – good food at a good price. Has some very good Indian and Nepal food as well. Yak Curry was very good with Naan.
From Lhasa to Kathmandu via Everest basecamp
"By Jeep into China, by bike to Mt.Everest..."
7 guys and one girl (Tyrolian guide Tobias, Austrian couple Margit and Kurt, and 5 Germans: Simon, Klaus, Arnd, Günter and Gerd).
From Kathmandu to Lhasa we could not catch a flight, so we were obliged to hire two Jeeps plus drivers, and a little van for our mountainbikes.
Over muddy roads we drove up to the Nepal-/China-border in Zhangmu, which is at app. 2.800 m above sea-level.
We spent the night in a simple hotel with good food,though.
The next day brought us from Zhangmu up to the first Tibetan pass at an elevation of more than 5.000 m.
Everybody had to fight his headache, it took one more day to adapt to the Tibetan highland elevation. (Tibet's average elevation is about 4.400 m)
Late afternoon we arrived in Lhasa, capitol of Tibet.
Everything was quiet at that time in fall 2006, we didn't experience any problems.
The next two days went by with sightseeing, visits at Potala Palace and Jokhang temple, and in the historical parts of Lhasa.
Then we had to put our bikes together, our three sherpas loaded masses of water, food, kitchen equipment and tents on the truck - and off we went:
over Kamba-La pass and Yamdrok lake to Karo-La pass (over 5.000 m high), downhill to Gyantse (very dusty and Kurt had a couple of flat tires),
smooth ride to Shigatse (back to a Hotel, civilization and a good beer), over Tso-La pass and downhill to Lhartse, up to windy Lhakpa-La pass (5.200 m), and down again to Shegar (lowsy hotel), from here our direction:
Mt.Everest National Park. Bumpy road up to Pang-La pass, where for the first time we could see Mt.Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu and Shisa Pangma. Overwhelming view! Long and breathtaking downhill to Peruche, where we stayed over night in our tents, only about 50 km away from Mt.Everest.
Next morning: cold and icy, bikes all white from the cold.
Around noon I reach Rongbuk monastery, which is about 8 km before you get to Mt.Everest basecamp.
Next to the monastery our sherpas set up our tents, and in the late afternoon we made a quick bikeride to the basecamp - for me this Oct. 6, 2006, has become a dream-come-true.
Mt.Everest in full sunshine and without clouds stood right in front of me.
--Thank you, Chomolungma, may the goods prepare a good and peaceful future for all Tibetans!--
(And only today, April 25, 2008, I heard on the radio that Chinese government officials agreed to meet delegates of the Dalai Lama)
Next morning is was very cold again, downhill and up again to Lamma-La pass, through a moon-like landscape down to Tingri, tents already set up and hot tea ready...
Tough ride up to the double pass Lalung-Leh, late dinner around midnight, but everybody is in a good mood.
Up to Thong-La pass, Shisha Pangma right in front of us, beautiful weather all the time and perfect view.
Over 30 km long downhill into Nyalam Valley - bikerider's orgasm pure!!!
Around 6 pm Klaus and I reach Zhangmu, the border post on the China-Nepal-border.
Next day is mostly downhill into Nepal, stay overnight in a beautiful lodge only 40 km out of Kathmandu.
Last day: get back into the traffic-jungle of Kathmandu, where we stayed one more day for shaving, shopping and beer...
Flight back to Germany after a challenging adventure.
Tashi delek, and thank you, Tibet.
"Hotel at Mt. Everest basecamp"
Look at the picture:
What a nice place to stay...
Road to Lhasa, Part 3
This morning started off on the wrong foot, or should I say, the wrong wheel. Our driver ran into a ditch while leaving our Markham, Tibet hotel. He broke the jeep's steering. Luckily a repair shop in town was repairing a similar model and took the part from that jeep. It sounded like they did not charge our driver for the part but were ordering a new part and charging the other jeep's owner for the new part. We only lost an hour or two.
Our car also had problems with heating and AC earlier in the trip. It turned out that the driver had the heater disconnected, he connected it and the heat was ok. The AC control wires were taped and came loose. He re-taped them and the AC was OK. We needed heat and AC because we were going up and down mountains.
"Some of Today's Scenery"
We went over a 5008-meter pass today, over 16430 feet! We are getting use to high elevations so it was no problem.
We came to a beautiful, wide, long, flat, green valley. We could see a mountain blocking the clouds with all the clouds were on one side of the mountain. As we got closer, the clouds went over the top and around the side of the mountain. The clouds were flowing down the valley, like an old Frankenstein or 'The Blob' movie. I got out to take pictures, as I was engulf by the clouds, the temperature went from the upper 60s F to the lower 40s in seconds!
"Road Problems Ahead?"
We have been hearing rumors of a problem with a bridge a few days ahead but cannot get detail information. Our driver called the main office but they did not give any information. The rumors range from routine maintained to the bridge collapsing. Our driver finally got notice that the bridge will be closed for about a week and there is no detour. No additional information was received. We decided to head to an airport in eastern Tibet to get a flight to Lhasa.
"World's Highest Airport"
I am told that the Chamdo/Pomda/Bangda airport in Tibet is the world highest airport at 4334 meters, about 14300 feet. We arrived in the snow and fog before dark. We were told the airport has no landing aids so is a VFR airport. Flights were canceled for days because of the weather and would probably be canceled tomorrow. We were also told that sometimes flights are canceled for over a month!
"World's Worst Airport Hotel"
The guidebook description of the airport hotel as 'poor value' is an understatement. The problem was we were over 14300 feet and the room had no heat, no hot water, and no heating pads for the beds. The hotel's cook wore a ski hat because it was so cold.
They did give us a space heater but there are several types of plugs in China. The space heater plug did not fit the one working outlet in the room. They then gave us an extension cord but its plug also did not fit. They said we could stay is the suite which had heating bed pads for an extra charge. We told them our trip was prepaid and we had no money so they let us say in the suite (a dump) without the extra charge. We also put the space heater into the dumpy suite.
Flights were canceled again the next day. We had 4 options.
1. Stay at the airport and hope there are flights tomorrow. Not a good option in our opinion. We later found out flights were canceled for days after we left.
2. Continue on and hope the reports were wrong or road conditions would change.
3. Turn back to Zhongdan, about 3 days away, and fly to Lhasa. However Zhongdan (Shangri-la) only had one or two flights a day to Lhasa.
4. Turn back to Chengdu to get a Lhasa flight, about 4 days away. Chengdu has over 15 flights a day to Lhasa.
We talked to people who were planning on driving to the bridge. They heard the bridge was walkable but you had to walk 10 km with your luggage. They planned to hire a vehicle to Lhasa on the other side of the bridge. They wanted us to come to share expenses. I checked their IDs, both were in the military with one being a doctor. I did not like this plan because there were too many unknowns. We ran into these people later in a Lhasa market. They told us that the bridge was ok but there were massive mud/rock slides, which is why the bridge and road was closed for over 10 km.
Our driver called the Zhongdan travel office. They said all flights to Lhasa were full for the next 5 or 6 days.
We decided to turn back to Chengdu. Our driver said he could do it in 3 days but had to do some driving at night.
Need Help with a Hotel in Lhasa - central and quiet
can you recommend me a good, QUIET and centrally located hotel in Lhasa?
Everybody writes that Tibet Hotel is bad.
What about Shambala hotel? Or Yak Hotel? Or Tianhe Hotel?
I want to sleep at night, so my hotel must be on quiet street. And, on the other part, I want to be close to everything, and be able to walk and shop evenings.
Who can recommend me a quiet hotel, close to Potala/Barkhor market?
RE: Need Help with a Hotel in Lhasa - central and quiet
I stayed at the Shambala Hotel in December. The staff was friendly, and the hotel neat and clean. It was also cheap (150 yuan/night-but those are winter rates). They have a lift that operates outside the building, so you don't have to climb up stairs (an important consideration at high altitudes). The breakfast is the same every morning--scrambled eggs, toast, coffee, fruit, bacon. They can exchange money right at the desk for almost exactly what you'd get at the Bank of China (not worth the walk to the bank). It's right near the Barkor and Johkang Temple. Right across the street from Snowland Hotel and Restaurant (prob. the best restaurant in Lhasa). But best of all, the STARBUCKS of Lhasa, the Summit Coffeehouse is on the same property as the hotel. They offer good expresso coffee, fast internet connection, and good western-style desserts for when you're sick of butter tea and yak everything-else. It was pretty quiet when I was there. Not much of a view from the windows if that's what you want in a hotel...you can sort-of get a glimpse of the Potala from some of the rooms.