Jun 3, 2024 7 min read

Family Adventure: Exploring Tibet, the Roof of the World

The story of our family adventure - the trip on the Qinghai-Tibet railway to experience Tibetan countryside with children.

Our 2.5 year old daughter on the rooftop of the hotel in Lhasa
Our 2.5 year old daughter on the rooftop of the hotel in Lhasa

Welcome to the roof of the world! In this blog post, I want take you along on a journey to the rural Tibet—a place of spirituality, simple life and beautiful landscapes.

Join me and see how we travelled to this remote part of China with our 2 daughters - 2.5 years and 5 month old. I hope this will inspire you to never think your dream trips are off limits once you start a family!

Why Tibet?

Tibet is a stunning and mystical place, holding a firm spot on many people's bucket list.

However, planning our 5 week trip to China, we did not consider Tibet to be suitable - partly because of altitude, and partly because in Tibet you cannot travel independently. You need to have a guide inside all tourist attractions and everywhere outside of Lhasa. We assumed that this has to be either an organised tour (not that interesting) or very expensive (not worth it).

It was only after seeing a video on Youtube showing life in rural Tibet posted by a travel agency, we had experienced a rush of excitement - maybe an authentic experience is just within reach.

In our previous life, one before starting a family, our best experiences have never been on the grand sites like Great Wall or Terracotta Warriors - it was always humble homestays and casual interactions with people that we remember and cherish.

We immediately contacted the agency to ask whether it is possible to go to a village like the one in the video, just us and the guide, in a place that is not a tourist hot spot, is not too far away from Lhasa and is not too high up. They got back to us quickly and it turned out it was indeed possible. We didn't need much more consideration after that - we simply said yes and asked them to tell us what to do next.


Before making a final decision about whether or not we should take our kids to such high altitude, we made a thorough research and made sure we take the necessary precautions to avoid the altitude sickness.

But after reading extensively about altitude sickness and ways to avoid it, and having seen that some places we intended to visit in China were already at high altitudes, we decided to give it a go - after all we would be staying around Lhasa and worst case we could always fly out on the same day if we were feeling bad.

We stayed in Xining for few days and took a trip to the Qinghai Lake at around 3200m to see how we react to altitude. Kids were taking it better than - not so surprising given we were the ones carrying them around.

With that boost of confidence that we are not doing anything crazy, we were ready to set out for our adventure.

The journey

We are in love with long, awe-inspiring train journeys, so we could not have missed the opportunity to arrive to Tibet by Qinghai-Tibet railway - an engineering marvel and the highest railway in the world, that reaches over 5000m above sea level on its highest point.

The journey is not only a beautiful experience, it is also a necessity if one wants to minimise the the risk of the altitude sickness.

The Qinghai-Tibet railway starts in Xining, above 2000m of elevation and it already gives you a chance to acclimatise a little.

We were very excited to embark on this journey as we love night trains and the views were supposed to be spectacular. We were not disappointed - if it wasn’t for the fact that we constantly had to provide entertainment for our daughters, we would have spent the whole journey staring out of the window.

The restaurant carriage offered a great way to sample some Chinese food and tea - surprisingly good given that it was just train food, but it was a proper feast with multiple options to choose from.

The carriage was not busy as the majority of people brings their own food on board, usually instant noodles and takes advantage of hot water available in every carriage. But for us sitting in the restaurant was an opportunity to change the scenery and take a little walk along the train.

Some people were saying that the journey was beautiful but a bit too long - around 22 hours - but we really enjoyed it, it didn’t even come close to our record of spending 5 days on the train across Siberia. We loved every minute of the journey, even though we were quite tired from entertaining the kids.

Real feast on the night train to Tibet

Arriving in Lhasa

The capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Lhasa, is a beautiful experience - we were greeted by our driver who gave us all traditional Tibetan scarf called khata which is meant to show respect to the guest.

We spent a few days in Lhasa and we really enjoyed it. It is indeed a special place, many people are still wearing traditional clothing and practice buddhism, but it is also a bustling city slowly giving way to modernity.

We are rarely impressed by sightseeing, but visiting Potala Palace that overlooks the city and used to be a winter palace for Dalai Lamas. It is a beautiful building on top of a hill, full of buddha monuments, very spiritual.

Staying in Lhasa made us only more excited about getting out of the city into the countryside.

An authentic Tibetan homestay

For someone who has not experienced staying in a homestay it is really hard to explain what is the charm of it. In the end you are staying just in somebody's house (and in most cases a humble one, the one in Tibet had an outside hole-in-the-ground type of toilet). But it is a unique experience that allows you to meet local people, get a glimpse into their real life, and imagine how is it to live there.

And for children it was a truly wonderful time - they got a lot of attention from the hosts and other villagers - after all they stood out a lot. And my older daughter had a chance to play with local children.

And since our hosts' nephew was starting kindergarten the next day, we asked out guide to help us visit the kindergarten which was really fun. I was surprised to see that a small village 1.5 hours away from Lhasa has such a colourful, nicely decorated kindergarten with a big playground, that doesn't look any worse than ones we see back home.

We spend 3 days just walking around the village, looking at yaks, taking photos, eating home made food and drinking butter yak tea - traditional Tibetan drink that according to our guide is 'good for health' (but unfortunately doesn't taste very nice).

The homestay turned out, as expected, one of the highlights of the whole trip around China and a proof that children, even small ones can enjoy adventurous traveling in basic conditions, like in Tibet, not only poolside ice cream in all-inclusive family resorts.

Final thoughts

Many people, once they have children, settle for very boring, predictable holiday because they believe they "have to" and they are going on holiday that "kids can enjoy".

Having seen the curiosity traveling around China, and in Tibet, sparked in our then 2.5 year old daughter, I am convinced that one does not have to cater for children - they are happy wherever their parents are happy and, more importantly, we often underestimate their capacity to take joy from simple experiences - meeting people on a train, looking at yaks and playing with local children.

These days traveling is not as expensive or risky as it used to be, and while it might mean less excitement for a seasoned traveler, it also means that it is easier than ever to continue traveling as a family, which we intend to do as long as our kids are willing to do so.

Before embarking on your family adventure, be aware of high altitudes and precautions needed to minimise the risk of altitude sickness. Check out my essential tips for traveling to Tibet with kids.

Pack your sense of wonder and do not postpone your dream trip just because you think it is not the textbook family destination!

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