The engine swapped into gear smoothly as it continued to ascend into the highest grasslands around the world. At 4,200 meters and rising, our trip on the Xining to Lhasa train wasn’t quite as luxurious as most Western European trains, but it would have been a long shot to say it was uncomfortable.
And with how scenic the surrounding lands were, you’d hardly even notice that the entire journey had taken about 24 hours; but it did. I sat in my hard sleeper and wondered what the trip was going to have in store for me. I expected a full on spiritual experience; after all we were traveling in Tibet.
As the train pulled up to the Lhasa Railway Station, everyone began to hastily pack their bags and disembark onto the platform. We finally arrived and the energy of all the tourist was a mixture of relief and excitement being we could finally get off the train and explore this long awaited destination.
Security was tight; two guards sat at each entrance/exit to view everyones passports, license & entry permits while military personnel patrolled the platform and surrounding areas.
Passing through the line like a breeze, I met a friendly local man who turned out to be my designated driver to the hotel that was pre-booked by Budget Tibet Tour (the tour company who would be accompanying me on my 10 day trip through Tibet). Jumping in the front seat of the van, we made our way to the hotel where I got a good nights rest and readied myself for the following days exploring Tibet and the outlining regions.
The budget Tibet tour begins
The first and second day of our tour began on the scenic train ride from Qinghai to Lhasa. It seemed more like acclimation days than anything but I did enjoy our free time walking around the city to get to know it better.
Once we all met up on Day 3, the group, 12 in total, met with our Tour Guide Tenzen in the lobby of the hotel where we paid our fees and took the private van to our first major destination: The Potala Palace.
The entire site was as clean as it was touristy. We were limited to a visit of only 1 hour due to the integrity of the structure (it could risk collapse from the weight of too many visitors) but all in all it was absolutely gorgeous. The temples were just breathtaking and I enjoyed watching the monks walking from room to room continuing their daily tasks all the while examining the hundreds of different rooms, shrines, and statues.
After taking in the Potala Palace, we were set free to enjoy Johkang Temple and the surrounding vicinity that’s known as the Backhor Streets. It was quite interesting to see the layers of culture in such a small place. Lhasa was a much larger city than I had anticipated. Shops and stalls lined every corner and were filled to the brim with Tibetan prayer beads, necklaces, singing bowls, yak blankets and many other ornaments. Tibetan & Chinese restaurants filled the streets with an almost intoxicating smell of yak meat, bread & other cultural foods.
As we continued our Lhasa city tour on day 4, we explored both the Drepung Monastery & Sera Monastery. The Drepung Monastery, which happened to be the Dalai Lama’s old winter residence (up until the 5th Dalai Lama moved it to the Potala Palace), happened to house the largest amounts of monks in Tibet. We were very lucky to arrive just as many of them were gathered for their afternoon lunch and meditation sessions. The energy that protruded from them was nothing short of intense!
Afterward, we visited the Sera Monastery.
Here we witnessed the largest scale of scripture debating I’ve ever seen. Nearly a hundred monks were gathered in a courtyard inside the monastery where they clapped their hands furiously in a motion that faced their hands to the ground to debate what was learned throughout the day. It was quite a site to see such peaceful and serene people at such an active & emotional state!
As the days rolled on, we found ourselves on tour day number 5. We started the day somewhat early (around 8:30am) and jumped into the Land Rovers where we began our journey out of the city and into the scarce backcountry.
As we continued the drive, the road was constantly rising in elevation thus changing the scenery dramatically every couple of hours. Before we knew it we had driven into four different weather patterns. It had rained, snowed and hailed for brief periods of time within a span of only a few hours. In the end, we ended up with clear blue skies and a very content 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Along the way we passed through Gangbala Pass with a quick pit stop at Yamdrok Lake where we took some very scenic pictures of turquoise blue waters that were overlooked by snow-peaked mountains. After having a typical Tibetan lunch, we made a surprise stop at one of the many humungous glaciers along the way where we found ourselves surrounded by cascading waterfalls pouring down from the cloudless skies.
In Gyantse, we stopped at the largest stupa in Tibet: Kumpa Stupa. Here we were given a mere 30 minutes to visit nearly 70+ Tibetan Buddhist shrines. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the opportunity to visit the Pelchor Monastery as we were told it was closed to tourism for renovations.
Day 6 began with a relaxing tour through Tashilump Monastery. As our guide Tenzen retrieved our Mt. Everest base-camp tickets, the group and I took our time walking around the monastery taking photos and chatting with other tourists about Tibetan culture. It was nice to have this free time to kind of explore wherever we liked without be constrained into one large group.
After we got our fill of the Monastery and filled up our memory cards with more photos of Tibetan monks/shrines, we all ate lunch at one of the local shops and met back up with Tenzen to continue our tour up to Mt. Everest base-camp.
The roads continued to rise in elevation under blue skies. With a few short scenic stops along the way, including lunch in a small local village, we finally arrived to Everest base-camp just in time to watch the sun set while the top of this colossal mountain peaked out for our viewing pleasure.
All in all, we were extremely lucky to have such cooperative weather during our trip in. We even got to see ALL 4 of the major mountain peaks along the Himalayas, something Tenzen ensured us rarely happens even for him!
The night skies at the Everest base-camp site were unlike any other. Millions of stars filled the skies on chilly nights and silence filled the air with the exception of small chatter, cooking stoves and a slight breeze howling in the distant valley. I could easily say that I had involved myself in some of the best stargazing in the world; after all, we were on top of the world. 😉
The following day we rose up early to to watch the sunrise and have a quick visit at the highest monastery in the world: Rongbuk Monastery. Afterwards, we made our way through the golden backcountry roads of Tibet towards the border city of Zhangmu where everyone crossed the border and I prepared for the next destination on my journey through Asia: Nepal.
All in all, for the price of the trip compared to other tour companies I recommend booking with Budget Tibet Tour. They do a satisfactory job working with a tight budget and I had a really good time exploring Lhasa, seeing the diverse backcountry and engulfing myself in local Tibetan culture.
Tibet Tour Itinerary Breakdown
Day 1/2: Qinghai to Lhasa Train & Acclimatization
In the morning of day 1, boarded the train from Qinghai to Lhasa to enjoy the railway scenery from the highest train in the world. Spent day 2 in Lhasa acclimating to the altitude with free time exploring Backhor Street; getting my first impression of Tibet.
Day 3: Lhasa City Tour – Potala Palace, Johkang Temple & Backhor Street
In the morning, visit the symbol or landmark of Lhasa-Potala Palace, the successive Dalai Lama’s winter residence. In the afternoon, visit the center of Tibetan Buddhism-Jorhkang Temple, where you will come across lots of devoted pilgrimages coming from every corner of Tibet. Both sites are under the list of the world cultural heritages by the UNISCO.
Day 4: Lhasa City Tour – Drepung Monastery & Sera Monastery
In the morning, we will visit Drepung Monastery which is the biggest Tibetan Buddhism College with the biggest number of monks in Tibet. The monastery used to be the winter residence of the Dalai Lama before the 5th Dalai Lama moved his residency to the Potala Palace. And in the afternoon, we will visit another influential Gelugpa Monastery’, Sera Monastery, where the largest scale of scripture debating among monks is famous all across Tibet. We will watch the debate session and you may join in too with the help your guide.
Day 5: Yamdrok Lake & Kumpa Stupa
In the morning, drive to the historic town of Gyantse via Yamdrok Lake, according to local mythology, Yamdrok Lake is the transformation of a goddess, on the Gangbala Pass, you will have a clear picture of this Tibetan holy lake in turquoise, in distance you can also see the snow capped Summit of Ninjingkangsang.
In Gyantse, you will find the largest stupa in Tibet-Kumpa Stupa (Ten-thousand stupa), just next to the Stupa is the Pelchor Monastery. Another important site in Gyantse is Dzong Castle which once was a battle field where Tibetan fought against British invasion.
**Note: We didn’t visit the Pelchor Monastery as it was under renovation & closed for tourism.
Day 6: Tashilump Monastery & Syaka Monastery
In the morning, visit Tashilumo Monastery which is the seat of Panchen Lama, the equally important religious figure in Tibet as Dalai Lama. The monastery was built by the first Dalai Lama in 1447, and inside the Monastery placed the highest statue of Buddha in Tibet which is 26.8 meters high.
Afterward, drive to Syaka Monastery which was built during the Yuan Dynasty when Syaka School dominated Tibet Buddhism. Syaka Monastery is reputed as the Second Dunhuang Grotto in China, the murals said to be the most beautiful in Tibet, and also in Syaka Monastery you can find the largest book written in gold at its Buddhism library.
**Note: We didn’t visit the Syaka Monastery as it was under renovation & closed for tourism.
Day 7: Rongbuk Monastery & Sunset over Everest Base Camp (EBC)
In the morning, drive to Mt. Everest Nature Reserve, if weather permits, on the top of the Gyalpo-la pass you can see 4 of the highest mountains over 8000 meters( Mt. Everest; Mt. Makalu; Mt. Lotse; Mt. Cho Oyu) in the world at the same time, what a great picture. Before arriving at the EBC, you will first visit the highest monastery in the world-Rongbuk Monastery, which is also a good position to watch the Everest, the sunset view is fantastic when weather is good.
Day 8: Sunrise over Everest Base Camp (EBC) & Zhangmu
Get up early in the morning to wait for the most exciting and holy moment when the first sunshine reaches the world at the peak of the Everest. The golden crown of the Everest will definitely be the killer of your camera, and then you will have a lot of time hiking at the EBC to discover the charm of the highest place you may reach through your life.
Next, after the lunch at the restaurant near the EBC, we will drive back to Tingri, overnight there.
Day 9: Zhangmu – Nepal (Border Transfer)
In the morning after breakfast, drive to border from Zhangmu; the views today are definitely different from what you see in previous days, your car will transverse along a green valley with waterfalls here and there. After arriving at border, your guide will help you go through border formality and you can You can cross the border bridge and check in Nepal side, Nepal visa is available upon arrival with 25USD, please prepare one photo of passport size to get Nepal Visa.
Next step, you need to find a car or bus towards Kathmandu, 50ms ahead from border bridge, dozens of car or bus are parking there to pick up travelers; about 3000 Nepali Rupee for a taxi rental or 50 Nepali Rupee (Appro. $1 USD) for a bus seat. Taxi will be a good choice for you.
**Note: Prices were ranging greatly from 2,700 Nepali Rupee to 11,000. Shop around through the “groups” of taxi drivers and be ruthless while haggling an agreed price. The bigger the group, the more discount you can receive.
Out of Pocket Expenses
1.) Lunches & Dinners. (RMB 30 per meal = $5 USD; Total cost for all meals: RMB 600 = $100 USD)
2.) Tips to driver & tour guide. (Total cost: RMB 450 = $75 USD)
3.) Entrance fee to all the scenic spots mentioned. (Total cost: RMB 780 = $139 USD)
Friendly local Tibetan guide.
Visited many cultural Monasteries & Temples.
A unique view of Tibet’s backcountry.
Camping at Mt. Everest Basecamp.
An unforgettable experience.
In-depth knowledge of cultural history could be improved.
I felt time was short lived at major sites.
Involvement & group assembly could be improved before talking about major sites.
Total Cost of Trip
The total cost of the 9 day trip excluding out-of-pocket expenses during my time of travel (September 2013) : RMB 4,435 = $720 USD
The Bottom Line
Although the tour did have it’s few downfalls, I’d still recommend choosing them for a budget trip through Tibet. The company itself was very organized and more than willing to assist in any situation that arose, positive or negative. All in all, the group & I had an unforgettable journey that has created stories for me to tell my friends & family members for years to come!
I want to give a special thanks to Budget Tibet Tour for such a successful trip through one of the most exotic regions of Asia. On your next holiday to China, be sure to book your trip to Tibet with Budget Tibet Tour!
This is a very helpful, thanks for going in-detail, specially about your expenses. I’ve been to Tibet, and it was wonderful there. I found a lot of things I could’ve done there while reading through you’re write up. I’m bookmarking this for my next visit there! Great job!
Anytime Agness, and congrats on being able to make it out to Tibet. Such a cool place with lots of things to see and do. 🙂
Thanks for such a helpful description! What time of year did you travel to Tibet? (Sorry if you already posted and I just didn’t see it!) Thanks!
Hey Robyn – no worries, and thank you for swinging by! I traveled through Tibet in early October! 😀 Are you making plans to go?
After visiting Tibet, I definitely felt a little sleepless just from missing the experience so much. I visited so many places during both of my trips (yes, I was lucky enough to visit twice) and have found myself to be very fond of both the countries beauty and culture. Thank you for sharing your post – it’s reminded me of my days traveling in Tibet.
Thanks for sharing Basanta – Tibet was definitely one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited. It’s not easy to describe such a unique culture in so few words…but I’m happy to see some enjoyment came from it! 🙂
Hi Ronald, thanks for a really great overview of the trip! We are seriously looking at booking onto this tour but I had a few questions and you might be the perfect person to answer if you get a chance. Is Just out of interest, do you think it is a suitable tour for two girls in their 20s to go on? And also, I was wondering about the part where they say they drop you at the border of Nepal and there are plenty of buses and taxis waiting to take you to Kathmandu, was this something you found straightforward? And I assume accommodation in Nepal is easy enough to organise? Sorry for all the questions, we are going into this completely blind 🙂 Thanks for your help!
Hey Claire, thanks for stopping by! To answer your questions, I personally think two girls in their 20’s would be absolutely fine traveling in this region. When you get to the border of Nepal, finding a taxi was very straightforward. But for some money saving tips, I would recommend skipping the first handful of taxis and finding one farther back in the line – the rates are usually cheaper. Also, teaming up with other fellow travelers and pitching in for a taxi is very doable and highly recommended to get some good rates into Kathmandu.
Accommodation in Nepal is pretty easy to come by. I never arranged it ahead of time but kind of booked it as I went. During the time of this trip, there was only one hostel in Kathmandu so if you’re going for budget friendly accommodations, I would look into this ahead of time and maybe make reservations. Hope that helps! 😀
I have read your article and I found its very useful while traveling to Tibet and most informative part is about expenses detail that you have given. Hope it has not changed now.
Hey Basanta! As with all things when you travel, prices are always in a constant changed and making adjustments according to the supply & demand. Hopefully the prices haven’t changed too much – not sure when I’ll be able to visit Tibet once again to find out! 🙂
Very informative post! I was just wondering about the accommodation. Namely, were you in private rooms and what the quality/cleanliness was like. Thanks!
Hey Andrew! Private rooms were available, however, I chose the more budget friendly path and decided to room with another person. We turned out to be great friends in the long run and have met up numerous times outside of Tibet.
In regards to the rooms, they were simple yet clean (for Tibet’s standards). I certainly have no complaints. Just look at the accommodation as a place to rest your head for the night in preparation for an awesome adventure! 😉
We took the BTT 8 day Lahsa to Nepal border via EBC from 16th April to 23rd April 2015. We experienced the earthquake tremors in Kathmandu. before taking our flight home
Rifgt from the moment we were picked up at the railway station to the moment we were dropped at the border on 23rd April, we were taken good care, delivered what we were promised except for minor glitches like the english and communication skills of our guide Jimmy were weak. However Jimmy was very gentle, kind and helpful beyond his call of duty. Our guide Tseten was simply super. She was communicative with good command of English, Se even made a trip to the hotel when one of the group seemed to have a medical problem
All in all, we found Budgettibet tours value for money. We would resommend them to any prospective travellers.
However it seems we were very fortunate, because we hear our group was the last to do the trip. Hope the area opens soon
Very informative, thank you for sharing
Oh, happy to answer to many comments:)
On that LP forum I find two comment about BTT. In one review was suggested seven different companies and mentioned too that BTT has decent reputation. And the other mail said that s/he have been very impressed with their correspondence thus far. Yes, I know that there are also some other reviews, some good some bad, but BTT used LP very misleading saying “LP recommended”.
BTT says its was “ambiguous and might be misleading”, but there is not “might”, it is pure customers misleading.
I asked compensation in the beginning, but because there was problems all the time, I finally thought its better not to take compensation but tell other people about problems in public, so some people don’t choose your company and there is pressure for you to change your behavior.
If you thing that its normal to put together customers from seven different companies with different tour programs etc., why don’t you let customers to make their own choice and tell on your homepage about this? I can tell you that many customers were angry when their noticed that! I haven’t asked more comfort (many other people on group were unhappy with hotels and bus), but just that you do what you promise in contract. And when you say that I shouldn’t complain about this, it just tells that you should’t work at customer service. Affordable price dont mean that you can make a lot of mistakes and break your promises.
You try to explain best way when you lied people about LP recommendation. On your home page was not only the LP logo, but text “Lonely Planet recommended”, so the fact is that you mislead people with false claim many years.
You admit only the fault on pickup service.So its your normal practice that 1) you make a lot of mistakes in office, 2) you don’t provide guides the information they need, 3) guides have attitude problems (all customers went out for smoking, but guides and drivers smoked in our hotels and at restaurants) and knowledge problem, etc.
And now I can give examples about some other problems.
On program reads that on day 5 from Shigatse to Rongbuk monastery there is 7-8 hours on wheels. On real life it took 13 hours (includes lunch break and some short break) and instead of promised nice Everest watching and sun set it was almost dark when we arrived. On our group was chinese speaking woman and she talked with drivers and was told that it’s not possible drive the route in that time what tour program tells. People were really angry about this and complained to guide, who looked so miserable that we had finally to say many time to him that it’s not his fault (but somebodys in office). There was also some other things what program promised but we didn’t see (like 4 of the highest mountains over 8000 meters).
On Shigatse the other tour guide put me on the same room with a woman (you have room mate if you don’t want to pay 20 dollars single supplement fee per night). It was ok for me, but my previous asian male room mate said that what a terrible situation. And I know that many women don’t want to share their room with a man. Is was some kind of practical joke to the other groups guide and even my own guide was not happy about that,
You style is just explain and explain and apologize, but when you don’t admit the problems, you cant fix them. So in future customers will have same problems with you.
I use a lot of budget/cheap services when travelling and in most cases I’m completely satisfied with them, in many cases they are even better than more expensive services. Maybe trivial example, but normally I dont use pick-up service, because I like to travel like normal people with public transport and I certainly see in that way more local life than some other people on taxi etc.
It not a good argument that not-pick-up is a common problem. So are rapes (before China I was in India) and robberies (before that I was in South-America). A common problem doesnt mean that you have to accept that.
Yes, tibetan people have suffered too much. China try to break tibetans spirit and there is silent genocide going, they try to make hole country as a vast amusement park for turists. But that’s not reason for companies for bad services (and besides all the companies are one or other way chinese controlled).
It was not one single mistake, but like I first write “lots of problem” which made me complain publicly. Like you say specially in Tibet people should enjoy the experince, not constant hassle with mistakes and wrong information.
I have worked many years in a managerial post, so I allways observe how people/companies etc. work. They made even before the trip so many mistakes in paper work, that I didnt trust them any more with pick-up. And I was right! In my work I have to think about different risks. When people make mistakes with contracts (like BTT), its risk that they make mistake with your Tibetan visa. And when they dont pick-up you (because office gave wrong information to driver) its risk that office gives wrong information when booking your train/flight tickets. I cant recommend that kind of company.
And when they have cross-company booking (what they dont tell customers beforehand), you cant know on which companys tour you will finally be! I think most people what know befofehand the company.
On my tour we were coming back to Lhasa from EBC and one woman said that she knows people from her tour company and can make complaint on behalf of all us about all the problems. And it was just this moment when people noticed that most of them had make contract with different company.
How can anyone recommend BTT to somebody when we dont know what company will really make the tour!
Tuomoh and all,
I was fortunate to do a tour with BTT last year. The price for a regular tour was beyond my budget. The tour went well for a budget tour and even though there was a slight problem with the guide that was quickly rectified when we called the main office. Tibet was an amazing place to be and the Tibetan people were humbling with their patience and kindness even though they have gone through so much sadness and suffering. These are the things you should remember about this trip. it sounds like the one mistake BTT made was not picking you up at the appropriate time? Which it seems they have apologized for and anyone that travels often know this is a common problem while traveling. I would recommend BTT to anyone that cannot afford a more expensive private trip. Its is a budget tour as the name claims. Tibet is a difficult place to travel and there should be some room for miscommunication and errors in travel, especially in this area of the world.
ONE NEGATIVE REVIEW DOES NOT DENY 1000 HAPPY TOURS.
Dear Tuomo, this is Sonam at http://www.budgettibettour.com, my colleague Sophie (your personal trip advisor) had apologized many times to you and also agreed to give you a compensation as you required, but you simply refused later. So, it’s not surprising to see you post something unfavorable to BTT here. However, anyway, on behalf of a responsible company, we still would like to give our explanation here and let customers make their own choice.
Firstly, we have to admit that it’s really our fault to get a wrong time for the pickup service from the train station, later we found it’s a stupid mistake but too late to make it up; and as you said, it’s easy to say sorry. Strangely, you asked compensation for this but later refused it when we said ok to compensate.
Secondly, about cross-companies booking & travel problem, if you expected more comfort and preferred to travel independently, why didn’t you book this tour as a private tour based on only one of you? We do offer such private tour and tailor-make service. As many tourists know that it’s very expensive to travel to Tibet due to many restrictions, and the group tour is a good solution to budget-control, to join in a group tour to Mt. Everest, you only have to pay one forth price on a private tour; based on this fact, you shouldn’t have complained cross-companies travel, because you you saved a lot of money at cost of comfort; and in that group, there were many single tourist like you, one one wanted to pay more than USD 2600 for a Mt. Everest tour if he or she could finish it at at only about USD 800. As you noticed, tourists on this group signed up this tour with different companies about 7, so, it’s not difficult for you to infer that not a single company of the 7 would like to launch this tour for their clients independently, because it’s a money-lose business. The only way for all of them to make money was to unite together ,and everybody made a little profit. Hope you do agree my explanation from a business perspective. By the way, though there were 15 ppl on this group, we did operate it by splitting into 2 independent groups (with two different vehicles and guides), so the comfort was not bad.
For the LP recommendation, LP did wrote email to us, and we have explained to LP why we put a LP logo there on our website, the reason is, we have a few groups traveled with us and felt very happy about our service (by the way, we have a few happy tourists with us on the TripAdvisor too) and they wrote some trip reports or reviews on LP forum to recommend our company; so we decided to show our potential clients those positive things and made a LP logo on our website with hyperlink to those reports or reviews on LP. In our eyes, LP is not just a travel book, it has a very powerful website and many pp using its online forum looking for useful info; We just deleted LP logo from our site two days ago because in the email from LP team, we know that our practice is ambiguous and might be misleading.
Last problem, you mentioned that there was client lost the deposit after we cancelled the tour; YES, IT’S TRUE, it happened one time in 2011, I still remember it was in beginning May, 2011 when Tibet was completely closed to all foreign tourists due to the a very very big anniversary celebration by local government, and that year Tibet was reopen again from November. The Australian ladies ( two) booked a tour with us at about beginning of April when there was no restriction, but later the tour had to be cancelled because the restriction came out at end of April; two ladies booked train tickets and air tickets via us by using their deposit, of course we thought it’s them to bear the all the cancellation fee instead of us, because it’s not our company’s fault to cancel the tour or train tickets or air tickets; firstly they insisted us to bear all the cancellation fee, and later they reluctantly agreed to bear it all but disagree on amount because they thought we overcharged them, gosh, we sent them all the papers about cancellation policies by train station and airlines( but in Chinese) , they refused it saying that they did not read any Chinese, and then we sent them the contact (phone number & email ) of Chinese Tourism Bureau in Beijing, we told them they could make complaint at us if they thought we cheated them, but heard nothing from government later. It was not a matter of money but principle, till now we still keep all the papers to prove we were right on that. And actually, you are not the first reading this and asked what happened, we’ve explained them clearly via email; but this is the first time, we write it on internet to all.
Dear Tuomo, at end of my explanation, once again, I want to say sorry though you might think it nothing. However, we admit only the fault on the pickup service, for everything else you pointed out, please allow my different views.
BTT still feels very proud that we have many many happy tourists year after year!!
ONE NEGATIVE REVIEW DOES NOT DENY 100 HAPPY TOURS.
I had 8-day Tibet Mt. Everest overland tour from Budget Tibet Tour (BTT) in the beginning of June with lots of problem.
Before the tour I was a couple of times in contact with them and they made many mistakes in office with my deposit and final contract (like they write to contract that entrance fees are not included to price, when we had agreed that they are included). And different persons gave different information about what documents you need to travel to Tibet. And they asked from me if I had sent something to them! There is more than one person in office and if somebody is away (sometimes a couple of days) the others don’t have your information.
So because there was so many mistakes and wrong information with paper work, I asked before arrival to Lhasa, what is the name of my hotel (on tour program there was two options). I liked to know my hotel name, because I didn’t trust them anymore and was afraid if they will pickup me from train station. My instinct was right, so when I arrived there was nobody waiting for me. I asked help from other company and they called to BTT and after one hour my guide came. He told me that he had information that I will arrive a couple of hours later. And then I had to wait one hour in hot car that some other people arrived, even they had time enough to take me to my hotel and come back to wait other customers.
Next morning we were waiting some people who were late in the lobby of my hotel until finally my tour guide noticed that they are in other hotel. So the other people were on right place on right time, but my guide was on wrong place. And this kind of things happened all the time. They make a lot of mistakes and then apologize, but they don’t improve their behavior. And that’s easy when customers change every week.
There is also a different kind of problem. On my group there was about 15 people who had made contract with different companies. So people had different tour programs but actually in practice everybody had same tour and breakfast or special accommodation was included for some people and not included for some other people (and guides didn’t had correct information about this). When they don’t have customers enough, they put together customers with some other companies who have different tour program! So when you carefully select that you like specially this company/program, you maybe will have other company and program.
I also didn’t like that our guides smoked in lobbies and at welcome dinner. I doesn’t show much respect to customers. Sometimes it was also difficult to understand their english and they didn’t had in-depth knowledge about tibetan culture.
Budget Tibet tour also purposely lied on their home page that they are Lonely Planed recommended (I send e-mail to LP and they took contact to BTT and now the false recommendation has disappeared).
After my bad experience I find out in internet, that some other customers had problems with BTT. Some people had lost their deposit when BTT cancelled their tour and I’m not the first person who they didn’t pickup.
So if you want to get what you have agreed with your tour company, avoid BTT.
I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t have a good experience. Initially, I wasn’t satisfied with the way our guide was handling things so, as a result, I contacted the main office and they did everything in their power to better satisfy my requests as well as the requests of my fellow travelers on the tour.
As it turned out, our guide had to make a trip to the hospital as he became extremely sick during the beginning of our tour and needed medication. Luckily towards the end he was feeling much better and able to accompany our requests.
Concerning the Lonely Planet recommendations, the company was not recommended (as I looked into this before booking my tour) however, they were spoken of in the Lonely Planet forums and they were recommended on numerous occasions by individuals posting there. Perhaps this is what BTT was referring to.
You can find that here: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/asia-north-east-asia/topics/tibet-tours-4ec51433-d422-471d-bd38-b42c1b3f8298?page=1
Granted our guide could have been more openly knowledgable with the Tibetan history, anytime we asked a specific question he was able to either answer them thoroughly or find an answer within 24 hours.
Now you must also keep in mind that the Tibetan people must be EXTREMELY careful of what they say to outsiders because of the political standings between China & Tibet. It’s no secret that the line between the two countries (now forcibly one) is quite sketchy and anything that the Tibetan people say can and will be acknowledged by the Chinese government.
If you had spent some time in other parts of China/Tibet as I had, you would know that their history has been completely re-written and most of the so-called “facts” are put in a way that it places a shimmering light over what China has done for the country despite of what has actually happened.
I even recall having a “secret dinner” with a particular Tibetan family that had risked putting themselves in the line of fire to help inform myself of what was occurring to the Tibetan people; but I digress as this is a story for a different time when more appropriate.
The bottom line being: the guides who were showing you around their homeland are putting their lives at risk and must be extremely careful of what historical information they give you.
In the end, while conversing with my fellow travelers we all agreed that we really enjoyed our trip through Tibet and would still recommend them to many individuals. I apologize if the tour had not lived up to your standards but, at the same time, I hope you can understand the delicate situation the Tibetan people are experiencing at the moment.
I’m thinking to book with the same agency. Do you know if they are Tibetan agency or are they a Chinese agency using local guides? Thanks
Hey Ele, thanks for stopping by! BTT is a locally registered company in Lhasa, that have two bosses (one Tibetan & one Chinese). When I asked, they said the operation team were all Tibetan and the sales team is a mix of Chinese & Tibetan people. 🙂
Sounds like a great trip! I would love to visit Everest Base Camp, and I’m surprised by your total out of pocket cost–that really doesn’t sound like much!
It wasn’t much at all compared to where I was visiting. Honestly thought it was going to be much more. I think the cost drives skyward once you actually try to climb Everest…starting around $50,000 and upwards of $100,000!
Thanks for the overview of the tour. Too bad the company doesn’t have more knowledgeable local tour guides.
That was the only downfall of taking this tour. Although our guide gave us a brief description of everything I didn’t feel he was quite up to par with the local history/culture. I would’ve preferred someone who was a little more enthusiastic and considering he had, at the time, worked for this company for 9 years he may have been a little burnt out.
Sounds like a great tour, especially for that price! I had no idea it was that cheap.
It was a pretty decent tour. I’ve always preferred to just roam around and get lost on my own but for the price I just couldn’t beat it.
What a great immersion into Tibet in such a short time and for such a reasonable price! It sounds like it would have been great to spend more time exploring. Perhaps you could use your experience to plan your own DIY route and visit again!
Thanks Charli; I definitely want to visit Tibet again and actually take my time going through the sites. I had a great time and would love to actually get to know the people more.
What a cool tour! The price is right too! Sounds like you had a really cool time. I really want to go to Tibet now and check it out, seems amazing.
That it was Leif! I learned a ton while going around there…the experience was nothing short of stunning, the people uber nice and the scenery breathtaking. Can’t wait to hear about it when you pass through the area!
I am surprised at how affordable this is. Average of $80/day to see the absolutely most magnificent places.
Yeah many people believe that visiting Tibet is VERY expensive but, in reality, it can be quite an affordable trip especially if you’re already in China or around the area.