Known as the Roof of the World for its high elevations, Tibet is a culturally rich region that sits on the southwest border of China.
Though modern in many respects, the region maintains distinct, ingrained customs that first time travelers will need to familiarize themselves with so as not to offend the locals.
In addition to Tibet’s cultural heritage and deeply rooted customs, it is also home to five impressive mountain peaks, including the highest in the world; Everest. Such breathtaking heights do not, however, come without consequences.
First time visitors are often surprised by bouts of acute mountain sickness, whose effects can be reduced with proper hydration, periodic rest periods, consuming high carbohydrate meals and ingesting a daily multivitamin.
Furthermore, with so many wonderful activities and attractions to choose from it can also be hard for first time visitors to decide on the best places to visit and spend the night.
What follows are suggestions for first time visitors on what to see and where to stay while in Lhasa, interspersed with a few caveats.
Must See Tibetan Monasteries, Palaces, Parks and Museums
While in Lhasa, travelers will want to make it a point to visit the following locations; the Potala Palace, Tibet Museum, Drepung Monastery, Sera Monastery, Gandan Monastery, Jokhang Monastery and the Norbulingka Park.
The 7th Century Potala Palace sits high atop Mt. Putup and is actually two palaces instead of one; the White Palace and the Red Palace. The palatial, one thousand room palaces were originally commissioned by Tubo King Srontsan Gampo and later went on to become the burial site of eight, venerable Dalai Llamas.
Travelers will want to pay particular attention to the gold, hand written Buddhist scriptures as well as the fifth Dali Llama burial pagoda. The more ostentatious of the burial pagodas, number five is adorned with gold and inlaid with pearls, turquoise, agates, coral and diamonds.
Also connected to the Dali Llamas is Norbulingka Park, where they use to conduct religious and political activities during the warmer months.
The Tibet Museum is accessible from the southeast corner of Norbulingka Park and affords visitors with an in-depth look at Tibetan art, culture and architecture.
Of the four monasteries, the Jokhang is perhaps best known for its incredible murals and historical vestiges whereas the Drepung, Sera and Gandan are more recognized for their magnificent architecture.
Before visiting those locations, travelers should make themselves aware of certain customary, Tibetan rules.
For example, travelers should be aware that smoking, photography, the touching or removal of items from alters as well as the wearing of shorts and skirts are prohibited in sacred, Tibetan areas.
In addition, when confronted with having to negotiate oneself around a religious object, travelers must walk clockwise around the object being sure to keep the shrine to their right side. To do otherwise would be offensive to the locals.
Where to Stay While in Tibet
Travelers not averse to the potential of acute mountain sickness may want to consider reserving a room at the St. Regis Lhasa Resort. Located 12,000 feet above sea level, the St. Regis Lhasa Resort overlooks the Potala Palace and is the epitome of luxury.
It features a barrage of opulent guest rooms, suites and private villas with such in-room amenities as complimentary 24 hour private butler service, a Bose Stereo Sound System, iPod Adapters, Wi-Fi access, 50 inch plasma televisions and luxuriant bathrooms complete with hair dryers.
Other hotel amenities include the Iridium Spa, which features a pool adorned with gold tile, treatment suites, a meditation garden and a yoga studio.
Furthermore, the hotel offers six dining options ranging from traditional to contemporary chic; Si Zi Tang, Yan Ting, Decanter by Haut-Brisson, The Drawing Room and the Social.
The Drawing Room would be an exceptionally good choice for travelers wishing to enjoy a cup of Tibetan butter tea and having a chance to practice their tea toasting etiquette.
In Tibet tea must not be consumed until presented by the host. After the tea is presented, it is customary to take a trio of sips before finishing off the rest of the tea, preferably in one long draught.
Of the remaining dining options mentioned, the Si Zi Tang offers Tibetan cuisine, the Yang Tin offers Chinese cuisine and the Social offers cuisine with a distinctly international flare.
The Decanter by Haut-Brisson, more wine bar than restaurant, is a great place for guests to gather after a satisfying meal.
Overnight accommodations at the St. Regis Lhasa Resort start at $2,300 CNY per night, double occupancy.
St. Regis Lhasa Resort
Lhasa, Tibet 850000