Tibetan Home stay in China – Survival tips

If you ever decide to travel to Tibet, but you think it’s too much paperwork and too expensive, I recommend you to visit Southwest China instead. There you can easily find Tibetan villages in which people are still living in their own traditional environment and hardly spoiled by China’s modernization. 

It is important to know that before you decide to accept some invitation from a Tibetan person to be his/her guest you have to be prepared for the extreme.

Western Comfort

You must understand that the place they will offer you might also be the place where their relatives or good friends stay on their visit from far away. Even if it would look for you like “the worst place”, it might actually be the best place they could offer you.

For your personal care, it is very uncommon that people in little villages have a toilet or a shower. They would obviously provide you with some fresh water to wash your face and to brush your teeth, but you must take care of your other needs in the nature and if you’re lucky enough to stay in a village where the river flows, you can have a full body wash, if not – then you’re in deep shit. 😉

Even though I stayed in a village which had some small stream, I didn’t feel comfortable to show off that I am westerner and I like to be very clean. However, when I returned to a small city after 4 days of not washing myself the first stop was a public shower. Believe me, it was the best shower I have ever had. Not only because of the itchy body, but also the hot water flowing through my skin was awesome!


If you are vegetarian like me, don’t worry!

Your hosts will cook for you some vegetables (usually it will contain leafy vegetables, pepper and tomato) and maybe eggs. Some families have rice for their Chinese friends or just because they like it as well, but others are basically consuming barley flour in a form of tsampa. It is not gluten-free grain, if you are allergic to it, then you will miss out on a lot.

However, I will cheer you up! You can still try the authentic Tibetan butter tea with yak milk – in which they put barley flour to make tsampa, but nobody will force you to do that, you can skip it and enjoy the tea part only.

At the time I traveled (summer of 2012) I was told that in the summer time Tibetan people doesn’t consume much of meat (yak meat) so couldn’t see anyone eating any type of meat.

Social behavior*

  • You will not be overwhelmed in villages, they don’t really care about the foreigners.
  • Old people doesn’t speak English and very few do speak Chinese. High percentage of younger generation do speak Chinese and some English – but even if they do, they are usually shy to start using it.
  • When you’re invited to eat or drink some beverage, and you don’t want to because it doesn’t look good, then it’s okay to say “No, thank you”, but be prepared to refuse couple of times, before they give up on you. I know that sometimes the bread or cheese they eat look pretty old and not yummy, but if it’s on the table, it must edible, so don’t be moron, taste it!
  • They usually provide you food and won’t let you buy products, but me & my Chinese friend desired to cook for the family even if it’s not a common thing to do.
  • Be prepared to be touched and hugged by your new Tibetan friends. It’s not “gay-ness”, but rather the sign of sincere friendship.
  • If you have some gadgets with you which you don’t want anyone to take, I especially recommend you to hide them from children. They are very curious creatures who want to know about the things you brought with you. Just don’t get me wrong, they usually know their boundaries and won’t brake or steal your things.
  • If it happens so that you’re invited to stay for 2 days at a Tibetan family’s home, after that period they might offer you to stay longer. Don’t be scared to decline their offer and keep on with your travel plan – they won’t get offended.
  • On the departure they often give people gifts, be prepared to give one for the host family as well.

*Of course there are many types of Tibetan people with different customs, but I didn’t spend enough time to talk about majority of people, so I will only try explain it from my short time experience of  spending time with them.

More pictures of Tibetan life:

Pictures were taken in: Pengbuxi, Sichuan and it’s surroundings.

[Text and pictures by M.Borgarbúi]

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