Tibet probably isn’t a kid’s first choice for vacation and the adults who choose to take their children to Tibet may not get to do everything they’d otherwise do, but traveling in Tibet with children is possible and leads to many experiences you might not otherwise have. I’ve wanted to visit Tibet for a long time now and when the opportunity presented itself I jumped at it. We were stationed in Shanghai for my husband’s work and at the end of the contract we could fly straight home or take a credit for the plane tickets and use the money to go to Tibet instead. This had several advantages:
- We stayed in China’s huge single time zone so we suffered no jet lag
- We had a short flight to Lhasa instead of a 26 hour epic
- We saved a bundle of money on flights
- It happened to be June, the perfect time to visit
Travel in Tibet requires a special permit issued by the Chinese government. This permit can only be issued if you have booked a tour that includes a guide and, if you are leaving Lhasa, a driver. Normally the tour company handles the permitting process so it’s not something that you have to worry about, but you can’t just book a train or a flight to Lhasa and call it good. We had a very good experience with Snow Lion Tours. They allowed us to arrange a custom itinerary for our family that had a slower pace than the standard tour and included all the things we wanted to see and none of the things we didn’t. Since our tour included a private guide and driver we were able to change it as we went along and discovered that conditions on the ground aren’t always as good as they sound in the guidebook.
We had two different guides during the trip and both were fabulous, if a little over indulgent, with the kids. The guides gave the kids candy regularly and made note of the children’s favorite drinks so they could be purchased at the next break point. Elizabeth, in particular, received many more piggy backs than she would have from us. One of our guides remarked that our kids were much more clever than Tibetan kids. This only makes sense since at age 7 Andrew has already had 3 full years of school while local kids are just getting started. In her 3 years of guiding she had never had clients bring their children before.
It is possible to find things for the kids to do that they will really enjoy in Tibet. There are no theme parks, but there are a few swimming pools. I think my kids are a bit too young to truly appreciate the fact that many people in the world deal with hardships, great and small, that they do not have to. They went along with the flow and endured and learned a lot about life outside the pampered confines of the American suburbs.
Elizabeth even conquered her fear of squat toilets. In one conversation that left me shaking my head she was questioning the lack of a subway system in Nam Tso (population 500 including tourists in the summer) but didn’t seem to mind the fact that there was no running water. We adults also learned a lot about Tibetan Buddhism and the politics of Tibet. We also came to realize that our tolerance for cheap guesthouses and primitive conditions has significantly changed in the last 8 years. Whether it is because we have two kids to worry about keeping bed bug free or because we have more money to spend now I don’t know, but spending a little to get a lot seems to happen more frequently these days.
Our Tibetan journey consisted of the following:
- Day 1 – Arrive from Shanghai transfer to Rama Kharpo Guesthouse
- Day 2 – Jokhang Temple and Norbulingka Summer Palace
- Day 3 – Potala Palace and Sera Monastery
- Day 4 – Depart Lhasa for Ganden Monastery, Drigung Til and Tidrum Nunery. Overnight at the Tidrum Nunery Guesthouse
- Day 5 – Drive to Damxung. Overnight at the White Horse Hotel
- Day 6 – Drive to Nam Tso. Overnight at the Sheep Hotel.
- Day 7 – Hang out at Nam Tso and drive to Yangpachen Hot Springs. Overnight at the Yangpachen Hot Springs Hotel.
- Day 8 – Swim at the hot springs and return to Lhasa. Overnight at the Hotel Kyichu. Dinner at Tashi I.
- Day 9 – Day trip to Drak Yerpa. Dinner at La Bon Vie.
- Day 10- Attempted to visit the Tibet Museum, but it was closed on Mondays so we could only visit the museum shop. Spent the rest of the day shopping. Dinner at Tashi I.
- Day 11- Depart for home.