2010 - Backpacking to Tibet > Part 4

Backpacking Adventure
6 days of Secret Tibet, China
Lhasa, Shigatse, Namtso Lake
(L-R) Chew Siang Peng and Ching Neng Bin at Potala Square, Lhasa
Day 23 (11.04.10) Chengdu > Lhasa (3,650 m)

Tashi Delek! Greetings from Tibet. Travel agency picked us up at 5am from our Inn and drove us to the Airport for our 8.10 am (1350km) domestic flight to Lhasa. It was a 2 hours flight to Lhasa Gongga Airport. Our tour guide, Mr. Tenzin Phuntsok, welcomed us by putting the traditional Tibetan scarves over our neck. From the airport, the new 70km road passed through the Brahmaputra River and a tunnel before reaching Lhasa in an hour.

After checking in our hotel, we went straight to the old town of Lhasa, i.e. the Barkhor Street near Jokhang Temple. No activity on this first day as we have to acclimatise ourselves to the thinner air at this high elevation of 3,650m or 12,000 feet. Both of us did not experience altitude sickness, so we did not have to take Diamox. Had lunch at New Mandala Restaurant in front of Jokhang Temple.

After a few telephone calls we managed to meet up with Mr. Cheah, a classmate of Mr. Chew, who migrated to Australia about 40 years ago. Mr. Cheah came in four days earlier and be flying back the next day. Mr. Cheah gave us a sumptuous dinner treat at Lhasa Kitchen which served superb Tibetan food. Thank you very much Mr. Cheah.

Sichuan Airlines return tickets is 2,500Y per person
Sleeping: Yuan Feng Hotel at 180Y a room for 2
Snow covered Tibetan mountain plateau. It occupies an area of around 1,000 by 2,500 kilometers, and has an average elevation of over 4,500 meters. Sometimes called "the roof of the world," it is the highest and biggest plateau in the world.

See just why Tibet is called 'the land of snows' and the 'rooftop of the world' as you fly over the Qinghai-Tibet plateau.

The Brahmaputra River runs to India

The new 70km road to Lhasa
The Brahmaputra River runs to India and join the Ganges.

Lhasa new town - very Chinese. By road from Chengdu is 3,360km.

Barkhor Street area. Lhasa has a population of 400 thousand.

(L-R) Mr Cheah from Australia and Mr Chew
Elderly man walking round the Jokhang Temple

Pilgrim holds the prayer wheel to walk clockwise there from dawn to dark.

Old town - along Barkhor Street Bazzar

Yak meat for sale on the street

Mr. Cheah gave us a sumptuous dinner treat at Lhasa Kitchen which served superb Tibetan food. Thank you Mr. Cheah. With us the driver and guide.
Day 24 (12.04.10) Lhasa - Potala Palace

This morning, we visited the Potala Palace which is the landmark of Lhasa and Lama Buddhism. It is a 13 storey and 1,000 rooms' palace and once winter residence of the Dalai Lama. The construction of the present structure began during the reign of the fifth Dalai Lama in 1645 and took more than 50 years to complete.

Had lunch at a typical local cafe for the tasty yak stew and yak milk tea. For the first time in my life, I had my head shaved bald for 8Y, just to be different, but same same as Dalai Lama. Afternoon was visiting the Muru Monastery for the aged Tibetan. This elderly Tibetan would stay here for two years and they normally do this before they die.

We walked round and round the Jokhang Temple.

Potala Palace entrance fee is 100Y pp
Sleeping: Mandala Hotel, No.31 South Barkhor St. -180Y a room for 2
Entrance to Potala Palace for foreign tourist - notice the long line of tourist.

A Tibetan prostrating at Potala Palace for hours.
Prostration is the placement of the body in a submissively prone position.
Door to the Dalai Lama prayer and sleeping room. Camera is prohibited.
Tibetan mural on the palace wall evolved from early rock paintings, and are influenced by Tibet's indigenous religion.

The Palace Square
View of Lhasa City from Potala Palace

Tenzin Phuntsok my guide. Very tasty yak stew rice and yak milk tea for lunch

Muru Monastery (Muru Ningba) for the aged Tibetan. It is located immediately behind and east of the Jokhang and may be accessed from the north side of the Barkhor.

It contains a number of fine murals — the central image being that of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), with images of the five Nyingma Yidam-Protectors and Tseumar and Tamdrin in glass cases around the walls.
Our hotel in the best location - Barkhor Street
Dinner at Mandala Restaurant
Day 25 (13.04.10) Lhasa > Shigatse (3,900 m)

After 9am breakfast at hotel, we proceed 350km to Shigatse by way of the old mountain road. We first stopped at Kambala Pass (4,700m, 15,420ft) to take picture of the Yomdrok Lake (The Blue Lake) at 4488m, one of the three largest lakes in Tibet, is also known as 'Scorpion Lake' because of its shape, is one of the three sacred Tibetan Lakes. It has fabulous shade of deep turquoise water colour and the snow peaks of Mt.Nojin Kangtsang (7,191m) in the distance. The coast of the lake is an ideal pasture.

Had lunch in Nangartse, a small town along the way.

We then continued the road all the way to The Pelkor Chode Monastery to see the Karola Glacier Pass (5,000m, 16,400ft), a breathtaking view of the Karola Glacier in an unforgettable experience.

The last pass was the Semela Pass (4,800m) with a fantastic view of the Yarlong Lake or The Green Lake.

We finally arrived at Shigatse at 4pm and visited Tashilhunpo Monastery. It is one of the Six Big Monasteries of Gelugpa in Tibet, also called the Heap of Glory. Founded by the First Dalai Lama in 1447, the monastery's structure was expanded by the Fourth and successive Panchen Lamas. Tashilhunpo is the seat of the Panchen Lama since the Fourth Panchen Lama took charge in the monastery, and there are now nearly 800 lamas. Standing on the entrance of Tashilunpo, visitors can see the grand buildings with golden roofs and white walls.

Had dinner at Songtsen Tibetan Restaurant. It has good Indian, Nepalese, Tibetan or Western fare.

Tashilhunpo Monastery entrance fee is 55Y
Sleeping: Tai Xing Hotel at 280Y a room for 2
The Brahmaputra River runs to India

The winding 350km mountain road

First stopped at Kambala Pass (4700m) to take picture of the Yomdrok Lake (The Blue Lake) at 4488m

A black yak

Had lunch in Nangartse, a small town along the way.

Our second stopped was to see the Karola Glacier Pass (5,000m), a breathtaking view of the Karola Glacier in an unforgettable experience.

The last pass was the Semela Pass (4,800m) with a fantastic view of the Yarlong Lake or The Green Lake.
Entrance to Tashilhunpo Monastery in Shigatse
Notice the white Thanka Wall at the back, overlooking the monastery. Originally, thangka painting became popular among traveling monks because the scroll paintings were easily rolled and transported from monastery to monastery. These thangka served as important teaching tools depicting the life of the Buddha, various influential lamas and other deities and Bodhisattva. One popular subject is The Wheel of Life, which is a visual representation of the Abhidharma teachings (Art of Enlightenment).
The novice monks laughed at my bald head
The monastery is the traditional seat of successive Panchen Lamas, the second highest ranking Tulku lineage in the Gelukpa tradition. The "Tashi" or Panchen Lama had temporal power over three small districts, though not over the town of Shigatse itself, which was administered by a Dzongpön (prefect) appointed from Lhasa. Located on a hill in the center of the Shigatse city, the full name in Tibetan of the monastery means: "all fortune and happiness gathered here" or "heap of glory.

Tashilhunpo Monastery. The two tiered gilded bronze structure of the roof chapels can be seen at the top of the picture
It is one of the four "Yellow-Hat Sect" monasteries of Tibetan Buddhist, was founded by Gedun Drupa (the first Dalia-Lama) in 1447. It has the highest sitting, Maitreya Buddha Statue in the world and was made of gold and copper alloy.

A perfect place for a Tibetan meal.
Day 26 (14.04.10) Shigatse > Lhasa

The return journey to Lhasa was by way of the Friendship Highway arriving at 3pm. At 4.20pm we met up with Chew's friend who is the number 2 man in the military. He gave us a very special dinner together with his military officers in the most famous Chinese restaurants in Lhasa - we talk on everything except politics.

Sleeping: Mandala Hotel, No.31 South Barkhor St. -180Y a room for 2

Our guide Mr. Tenzin Phuntsok stopped for lunch

A look at a typical farm house along the way back to Lhasa

Back at Barkhor circuit

Very old tree at Potala Square

Potala Palace at night
A very special dinner given by Chew's military friend
Day 27 (15.04.10) Lhasa - day trip to Namtso Lake

After breakfast at 8am, it was a four hours journey - 195km north of Lhasa. The scenery was breathtaking but so is the altitude: 4,718m (110m higher than Lhasa). Had very good view of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway which was officially started operations on 1st July 2006.

The Qinghai-Tibet Railway is the world's highest railway.

We visited a Tibetan house

The railway has 160km of bridges and elevated track were built over permafrost.

Yes, the highest lake in the world

Elevation stone at Lakenla, Namtso Lake behind. Lakenla is the mountain pass north-west of the Lhasa to the second-largest salt lake in Tibet - Namtso Lake with an elevation of 5,190m (over 17,000 ft), and that was the highest ground I have ever step on.

Some of the pastoral nomads camping near Namtso Lake behind.

At the southeastern corner of the lake near Tashi Dor Monastery. It offers food and accommodation around the monastery.
Puppy for sale and our guide bought one for 10Y.

Do not eat here, very expensive though the food is good.

Behind me is Namtso Lake

The lake is partly frozen at this time of year.
The color of the water are almost transcendent turquoise blue.
Day 28 (16.04.10) Lhasa > Chengdu

This was our last day in Tibet. In the morning we visited the Jokhang Temple and after that I did what a Tibetan would do and that is to prostrate in front of the 1,400 old Jokhang temple. After lunch I packed my clothing that I do not want to take back and some food for the elderly people at Muru Monastery. I have therefore duly completed my holy pilgrimage to the roof of the world, "The Secret Tibet". Our guide picked us up at 2pm for the airport and our flight back to Chengdu at 4.30 pm.

We got back to the Traffic Inn at about 7.30 pm. It was a big surprised to me at the Inn when Sharon and Chan who had also just came back from Xian came to wish me 'Happy Birthday' when I myself had totally forgotten. Yes, it was my birthday alright!

This Jokhang Temple was constructed in the middle of the 7th century by the great Tibet King-Songsten Gampo. Is located in central Lhasa with an area of 25,100 square meters (about 6 acres), it is the ultimate pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Pilgrims.

The Jokhang Temple is a four-storey timber complex with a golden top. It adopted the architectural styles of the Tang Dynasty, as well as those of Tibet and Nepal.

In the eastern section of the yard there are rows of lights. These lights provide a path leading all the way to the main hall. The main hall, over 1,300 years old, is the oldest shrine of the complex.

Dharma Wheel (chakra) flanked by two deer. This represents the unity of all things and symbolizes Sakyamuni himself.

Varied shops stand on both sides of the street and thousands of floating stands are on every corner. Most of them offer the prayer wheels, long-sleeve 'chuba' (the Tibetan people's traditional clothes), and religious articles for sale.
To sum up, Barkhor Street is a place full of religious atmosphere and a world of exotic articles. If you have been attracted by it, you should go there. Believe your eyes, and you will get a lot of surprise there.

This lady prostrating around the Temple

The continuous waves of pilgrims prostrating themselves outside the temple.
Finally, my time has come to prostrate and pray for world peace.

I did this 100 times in almost 30 minutes
The 6-days trip to Tibet was my most fascinating, adventurers and curious destination I could imagine. And it has somehow changed my life a bit. The environment, the people, its culture, fate and destiny had a strong impact on my perception of the way of life in Tibet. On the second day in Tibet, I shaved my head bald and on the last day I did what the Tibetan would do; I prostrated 100 times at the Jokhang Temple for world peace. It somehow possesses some mystical spiritual experience as I entered the temples and monastery. View the special video below.
Day 29 (17.04.10) Chengdu

It was a rest-day today. Walked out in the morning to buy our wine making jar and last minute shopping. Bought a China made GPS for 520Y. Evening was taking a taxi to airport (60Y) for our 11.55 pm AirAsia flight back to KL.

Taking a good rest at the Inn
Traffic Inn office

Day 30 (18.04.10) Chengdu >Kuala Lumpur

It was flight AirAsia touched down at LCCT at 4.30 am and I slept at the bus-stand until 6.45 am before taking my breakfast at the canteen. Took the 8 am Star Shuttle bus (RM43) back to Ipoh.

Total expenses for 24 days adventure inclusive of air tickets
to Sichuan and Yunnan was RM2,750-00 per person.

Total expenses for 6 days adventure inclusive of air tickets
to Tibet was RM2,600-00 per person.


  1. Eye-opening experience for you & also for me as a reader of your write-up. Very detail & descriptive. I was very touched when I saw the video with you prostraing 100 times.
    Thanks for sharing. I've forwarded your link to many of my friends & they were all very impressed.

  2. You must have taken a lot of photos. It is numerous.

  3. Wow , thks alot for sharing , Ching .
    Dream of making this trip in the not too distant future .
    Such trips always adds abit more to our short sojourn in this earth .
    TH Too

  4. Thanks for sharing your trip, it was very details with well taken photos & descriptions. After seeing all the photos, I walk away with feeling like already toured Tibet although I never been there.

    Congratulation for a Well documented tour experience.

  5. Au Kwok Heng06 July, 2010

    Hi, Ching,
    I feel excited to view your Blog. Full of facts, full of interesting articles and also full of adventurous events. Great !!! Also good to know that you went for Outward Bound School in 1975. One of your watch members, Nurul Azman, is actually from TNB. I went to OBS in 1966. Once again, Real Great Of You !!!

  6. Sally and Gunn07 July, 2010

    Dear Ching,
    We are glad, we cannot laugh at your bald head, and instead we admire your brave heart. Not everyone can do this. Congratulations on your successful trip. May God Bless you for the good deeds you have done.
    Warmest regards,

    Sally & Gunn

  7. Susan Chong07 July, 2010

    Awesome! I am truly touched by your experience. Your experience brought to my mind about God. It is true what He says about Love and Peace. About Love- ...God is love. (1 John 4:16). We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). About Peace- And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (1 Phillippians 4:7). Jesus Christ came in love and peace but the world did not recognise him and rejected him thus his persecution.The more I read about His words, the more I understand my purpose in life.

    Ching, I believe that you have been touched by God. What do you believe?

    Love-in-Christ, Susan

  8. Ling Yoke Tek07 July, 2010

    Dear Ching,
    Thanks for sharing your adventure with me. Enjoyed the picture very much, only wished could joint you in one of your trip.
    Best regards
    Yoke Tek

  9. Hi Ching
    Thanks for sharing your photos and videos on your trips overseas.It is indeed an eye opening experience for you and me by looking at the photos and the detail description.
    Thank You

  10. Ng Boon Kem12 July, 2010

    Dear Neng Bin
    This is the time, man ... nice to hear that you are enjoying and covering many places in this 30 days adventure which you truly and really deserve especially when you still have the stamina, energy and as usual the youthful vitality.
    Good and continue to enjoy life to the fullest!!
    Boon Kem
    Public Bank

  11. Lee Peng Too12 July, 2010

    Dear Mr. Ching,
    How jealous I am and envy you guys. Happy touring and enjoy yourself. Regards to the team.

  12. Capt Wong12 July, 2010

    Hey Ching,
    I envy you. I am still sitting by the side of the Komoro River in East Timor! What a great trip.

    Capt Wong
    Visit Capt Wong's blog at

  13. Rotarian Siaw Fuang13 July, 2010

    Dear Ching & Kee Moon,
    Glad to hear yours wonderful experience. Looking forward for more
    interesting sharing.
    God bless you.
    Rtn.Siaw Fuang

  14. Jackson Au13 July, 2010

    Hi Ching,
    It's always great to receive your interesting news about your travel
    itinerary. Wishing u a great holiday and great discoveries in your journey.
    Best wishes,

  15. Tan Poh Geok13 July, 2010

    Dear Ching,
    Thank you for updating n wish I could join - you are making me envious. The trip is too long for me because currently I am working n can't get long leave - I had told Bernard about it. Please send my regards to all. Take care
    Best regards,
    Poh Geok

  16. Lawrence Lee13 July, 2010

    You all really have a good time enjoying out there breathing the natural fresh and unpolluted air up on the mountain . Enjoy to the fullest.

  17. wow, thanks mate, this is about a very vivid expose' of the Tibet expedition and I certainly would use this reference material in the future.......cheers!

  18. Too Teng Hoong14 July, 2010

    Neng Bin,
    Wow, thanks a lot for sharing such wonderful trips. Dreams of making similar trip is impossible. Always add bit more to our 'self' making such trips in our short sojourn on this earth .
    TH Too

  19. Eddy Cheong14 July, 2010

    Dear Ching Neng Bin,

    Thank you indeed for sharing with us your excellent diary and photos of your amazing backpacking travels! :-)

    I enjoyed viewing your photos and getting to know the places you've been, but as I browsed through your blog, some persistent questions kept popping up, and they are:-

    1) To avoid getting lost in the vastness of China's mountains and hinterland, did you all hire a tour guide?

    2) On the average, how many miles or kilometers did you all cover per day, and how often do you guys stop to take a rest?

    3) Some of the terrain in your photos indicate that some parts are actually steep mountainous slopes. How high were they?

    4) How many kilos did your back packs weigh on the average?

    5) Did you all have any contingency plans in case someone fell down a sleep slope, or had an accident?

    6) What if someone fell sick or had diarrhea? Do you all wait or leave him behind?

    7) Was there an experienced medical officer, doctor who carried with him a well-stocked medical kit including urgent basic medication?

    8) At all times, you knew exactly where you were and you also knew how far was the nearest hospital, pharmacy or civilization, right?

    9) Do you have an experienced trekker who helped you planned your itinerary - including the most minute details?

    Each of the tours last as long as a month. How much luggage can you all bring along especially seeing that over quite a fair part of the journey, everything has to be hand carried - at times over steep and difficult treks and terrain? I mean, I would presume you would need a change of fresh underwear at least once a day, but there is no laundry facilities over much of the journey to speak of! If you don't get a shower and a fresh change of underwear at least once every two days, then I can see you guys facing a health issue with itchy rashes and skin problems.

    Apart from heavy jackets, woolens and thick underwear to keep out the cold, I imagine you need to pack a hundred other things like T-shirts, pants, towels, medicine, toiletries, comb, tooth paste and brush, eau de Cologne (in case you can't bathe or wash that day) tissue/toilet paper, GPS, maps,compass, sanitary towels and make-up (for females and some males) mob phone charges, at least a set of presentable clothing when you arrive in larger cities like Shanghai, reading material, eating utensils, rations, bottled water, etc., etc. So where is there space in your backpack and how much can you hand carry beyond 20 kilos with all that climbing as well?

    Of course, backpackers get to see much more compared to travelers on a fully conducted tour. However, apart from this and the savings in costs, is it really worth it when considering the risks, inconveniences and discomfort and greater dangers involved?

    Please do not take my questions in the wrong sense. I ask simply because I consider this as part of a learning and educational exercise for anyone considering to take up backpacking in a big way as you obviously have.

    Kind regards,

  20. Studying can be another smart way that will help you
    select the right gear for that trip to minimize discomfort and stress.
    This excursion is pretty suitable for family
    mainly because it brings different activities which will surely be well-liked by all
    family members. But the most thrilling for those very first time
    passengers will be the adrenaline felt at take-off.