In August 2011, Tibet was reopened to foreigners after having been closed for several months in anticipation of problems surrounding the 60th anniversary of what Chinese television was calling ‘the peaceful liberation of Tibet’. We were on holidays in Sichuan at the time and travelled on to Tibet with our daughters. Pazu Kong, the local travel agent who booked the tickets for us and arranged our Tibet Travel Permit (which all foreigners must get in advance before entering) said our girls, at 3 and 4 1/2 years of age, were the youngest Western children he’d ever seen in Tibet (more on that below).

Tibet really is a magical place, but the altitude certainly knocks you around. We had to take things very slowly. For the first few days, I felt like I had a hangover I just couldn’t shake.

Soon after our trip to Tibet, Pazu Kong, the wonderful and very knowledgeable travel agent, author (and skilled magician, as my daughters discovered when they met him) who organised our trip, asked me to write some tips he could give other parents interested in traveling to Tibet with their kids. He said he often receives emails from families wanting to know about the practicalities or dangers of doing so. Pazu has since included my tips on his website’s list of things to pack/consider before coming to Tibet, and I’ll also reproduce the list below.

For anyone interested in travelling to Tibet (remember, you MUST organise your trip through a travel agent; you cannot get permission to go to Tibet any other way), I would strongly recommend Pazu’s services. He did a great job organising our visit to Tibet and was very sensitive to our needs as parents. You can contact Pazu via his website, http://www.cafespinn.com/.

Some Tips for Parents Taking Small Kids to Tibet…

I guess the number one concern of parents taking their children to Tibet would have to be altitude sickness. Here are a few tips to help kids deal with it…

  • Don’t worry if they don’t eat too much. Decreased appetite is normal when arriving at higher altitudes. But do make them drink plenty of water. Liquids help with acclimatisation.
  • Explain to your kids that they might feel a little unwell when they arrive in Tibet. Make it clear that they should tell you if they feel headachy or nauseous so that you can get help. But don’t overreact! Our kids were 3 and 4 ½ when we went to Tibet, and other than being a bit irritable at first, they didn’t suffer any ill effects from the altitude.
  • Take things very easy for the first two or three days. Make sure your kids have plenty of time to rest to allow their bodies to acclimatise.
  • Remember to take care of yourself! Altitude sickness can be exacerbated by carrying weights, and that includes carrying your children. We found ourselves really over-exhausted after carrying our kids a lot on our first couple of days in Lhasa. Investing in a stroller might be a good idea!
  • Leave your visit to the Potala Palace for the last days of your time in Lhasa. There are a lot of steep stairs there, and children will struggle with them. So will you, when you end up carrying your kids up them.

Finally, keep in mind that small kids have very different interests than adults when it comes to sightseeing! We’ve found that our children generally enjoy outdoor activities far more than exploring temples. In fact, our youngest daughter was a little frightened by the monasteries in Tibet– the enormous statues, the dimness, the smoky air. The things she enjoyed most in Tibet were playing in the park outside the Potala Palace, having a ride on a yak at Lake Yamdrok-Tso, and running around Barkhor Square with the local kids. The other experience that both children were completely taken with was watching the monks debate in the courtyard at the Sera Monastery — they were absolutely fascinated.

Well, I hope these brief tips help! Enjoy your family holiday in Tibet and please feel free to contact me if you’d like to ask anything else!

–         Karen

Below are some photos of our trip to Tibet.