Q. I have a question about your travels, if you can think back to Everest Base Camp. Can you tell me about how that worked? How long did it take? How much did it cost? Any other tips or tricks in booking and doing it? Anything you’d do differently if you were to do it again?
We took the train from Beijing to Lhasa during the worker’s holiday (late April early May) 2007, about a year after that train started running. At the time, there were also flights running from Chengdu directly to Lhasa that were just slightly more expensive. When we got in, we were swarmed by cab drivers and had one of them take us to the Yak Hotel. It’s a hostel run by a Danish? couple who lived in Tibet for around 20 years. Classic hostel situation – well run, good Western restaurant with decent bar attached called Dunya. I had Yak burger and Yak enchilada, both not bad. You have to try Yak momo. Delicious dumplings you can pick up from a street vendor.
The details are a little fuzzy, because my friend Scott was the one organizing the trip and I wasn’t involved in everything. I remember getting a permit to travel beyond Lhasa took longer than expected. I think we had the Everest trip reserved with a travel agency with an office in Beijing, but they canceled because of difficulties securing traveling permits. The gov stopped issuing permits because some Americans were protesting near base camp a week earlier. That set us back about 3 days. We ended up going to an agency in Lhasa that, I think, employed the drivers and guides directly. We spent a couple hours there every day filling out paperwork, then mostly waiting on nothing, hoping they would be able to come through with the permits. They final did. The total cost for a 5 day trip that included a land rover; guide; driver (your driver cannot count as your guide, you got to pay for both people); permits; and if I remember right, hotel stay (they had connections that discounted the hotel/hostel rates, but we may have given cash to our guide to pay the accommodations when we got there) were I think about 1600-2400 RMB which was about $200-300 per person, there were 5 of us… I’m not totally sure how accurate that number is. Definitely be sure to book a Tibetan driver and guide. Our guide, Jigme, and driver started laughing out of nowhere in the middle of the drive because they just learned that a Chinese tour guide’s tires got slashed. He said it happened often.
The yak pic was taken at Lake Namtso. It was well on its way to being a tourist trap when we went were there. We got ripped off for dinner in the only tent around serving food; pre-negotiating dinner prices in those places is a good idea, we forgot and paid for it. Right after Namtsu, we took a “45 minute” trip that turned into a 2 hour drive out of the way to some “hot springs.” we got there and saw an open sore in the earth that was surrounded by short concrete walls and a chain-link razor wired fence. There were a bunch of other groups there too. It smelt like sulfur and was really shitty. We stopped, then we left. Make sure that “hot springs” tour isn’t included in your package. I don’t remember it’s specific name, just that it was a popular scam, and that it was close to Lake Namtsu.
Let me know if you want some more specifics. Here’s the only email I sent while I was there, it was to my mom:
I spent this afternoon wandering around Barkor in Lhasa. This is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites for Buddhists as it surrounds Jokhang – the oldest wood frame building in Lhasa and a Buddhist monastery and former home to the Dali Llamas. Barkor is essentially a circular market street filled with Tibetans paying tribute to their religion and hordes of Chinese tourists taking pictures of them (often in an invading fashion). We also went out last night and tried a bunch of the local street foods ranging from Yak momo (a kind of Yak dumpling) to fried potatoes. Later on last night I meet a really cool Tibetan who spoke English quite well in a Tibetan bar. This man gave me a really good perception of the current state of things here in Tibet.
Most of everything has been going smoothly for us here, but we came across a snag in our trip today since we found out that the trip to Mount Everest and the surrounding monasteries is going to be more costly than the quotes we had earlier. The protesting that was done by a group of Americans about a week ago has made it considerably harder to get travelers permits (or at least that’s what the traveling agencies and travelers we’ve met with have been telling us) and it is now required that we have a guide other than our driver to escort us there. We did decide to go ahead and reserve a trip that will be either 3 or 4 days long beginning on either Friday or Saturday depending on the agencies ability to set us up with the permits in time.
Follow up questions:
Q. If I go, I’ll be going straight from SE Asia, with SE Asia clothes. How will that work, do I need heavy jackets and long underwear and everything? Did you bring your whole bag with you, or just a smaller bag?
Long underwear and heavy jackets are good. I think I wore sweats under my jeans or something ghetto, but that worked. I bought some good hiking boots, but my jacket was a counterfeit North Face from one of the big markets in Beijing. I had tested it out the winter before so I wasn’t too worried about it falling apart on me. Usually wore that with a hoodie underneath. It wasn’t layered in down or anything too hardcore, did a good job keeping the wind off and gave a good amount of insolation.
I brought a big trekking bag on the 5 day Everest trip filled with everything I packed for the full 10-13 day Tibet trip. Wasn’t too bad, the land rovers are the only cars they seem to use for tours up there and they’re spacious (even though I had to sit in the trunk for some of the drive). I just moved that from the car to my rooms (not much of a hassle) and had a day pack for the city and lake tours.
One thing I forgot to mention: you may want to take a trip that’s longer than 5 days or otherwise make sure you have an evening, full day, and early morning there. I really recommend visiting some of the old cities along the way, they have some impressive buddhist monasteries and other architecture. Driving straight to base camp without the breaks and touring wouldn’t be fun (they may have done a lot of construction on the Friendship Highway since I’ve been there, but I doubt it’s anything close to smooth) and the stubborn travel agents might force you into a similar package to mine anyway. Anyway, my 5 day trip put me at Everest base camp with just enough light to walk from the monastery/hostel (the farthest cars can go) to base camp and come back. You probably don’t want to be walking back at night. It’s just like a 5k walk or so, but it’s cold and windy and we were cutting through some boulders you wouldn’t want to roll your ankle on. We got lucky and happened to run into some chain smoking sherpas, get their stories, and take their picture, but it would’ve been dope to stop by the tents up there and talk to some of the climbers. I didn’t get to do it, but I recommend trying to spend a day just bullshitting around the tents, maybe bring some beers (they sell them at the restaurant by the monasteries) to give for an invite in. Those guys would be tight to kick it with.
Not having enough time at base camp was my only real regret.
Oh, you can send post cards too, but you gotta make sure you’re there when the office is open (you can ask a local to send one when it opens; we tried that, but the girls we were with wanted to send way too many post cards and he decided the cash was too much to justify wasting it on sending 30 post cards, so he kept it).
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