We just had a similar 9 days trip in Tibet, including Lhasa to EBC as Ironman224 @ tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g294223-i8162-k389… .... but we decided to use Spinn Cafe after reading other reports in various forums. I've read many reports written by seemingly male travellers so I would like to contribute report from a woman's point of view. Many women travellers are quite anxious over toilet & hygiene issues because we are a special specie.
We used Spinn Cafe because it is based in Lhasa (in Barkhor area), the person behind this agency is a real person that you get to meet in his cute cafe when you are in Lhasa. His cafe has a “No Smoking” sign, which is rare in Tibet/China. He is the one you correspond with, and he is the one you are paying. Though Pazu Kong is not a Tibetan, he loves and supports the Tibetan people; he uses Tibetan drivers and guides. Among his support staff are also his two cute cats. His very detailed quote is well spelt out, what is included & what is not, no hidden agenda. If you still have any concern, just clarify with him. He is very friendly, very approachable and I find him trustworthy.
The other thing I found out is: whichever Tibetan agency you use, there is a pool/pools of Tibetan drivers & guides for all Tibetan agencies. The drivers & guides are freelance. So if you are comfortable with any Tibetan tour agency, and you know a particular driver & guide that you like to have, I suppose you can make a request through your agency.
We have a very good Tibetan driver & guide. We were so lucky to get this non-smoking couple because I forgot to request for non-smoking driver & guide. Bear in mind that sitting long hours in a car with lingering smoke smell with your reduced functionality of your breathing aparatus, is not pleasant at all. The driver couldn't speak English but we could somehow converse, he is a devout Buddhist and you do get to listen to his quiet chanting in low resonating tone which I grew to enjoy. He is an experienced mature driver in his 40s, family man and very caring person. The guide is a young bubbly lady, I reckon any young traveller would enjoy her company. Though her knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism etc is not as in depth as other guides which I had observed, her caring and fun loving nature makes up for a good company on long car rides. She seems to have good network of contacts too. She got us a nice tent “hotel” at EBC which we felt such a privilege. The “hotel” owner is a nice chap too. You got to have nice folks with you as you will be sleeping with them in the same tent! At the basecamp, we heard of some travellers put in cold tents.
Toilet issue: yes it's true, ladies, you have to leave your modesty and maybe your brain behind (just don't think) when you have to visit any toilet outside your hotel. Many of them are squatting latrines, and many of them either have a low wall separating each latrine, or just a row of latrines so you may be doing your business with your sister next to you. The other thing is, apparently the sewer is not able to handle toilet tissues etc except human waste, so any tissue used has to be put into a bucket next to it. You would want to get in and out as fast as you could. Many has no hand washing facilities. There are no tissues provided and sometimes you can't figure out if you can flush the toilet. Bring your own toilet tissues, wipes & hand sanitizers, can't stress that enough. Best to wear slacks with elastic waistband, as you can whip it down, & pull it up in a jiffy, no time wasted fiddling with zip & buttons. Especially if you have to do it in the open nature behind some rocks along the road, you would want to do it quick before another car/person passes by. However, I prefer the open air toilet with natural fresh air any time than trying to maneuver around those muck filled latrines or pits/long drop. Another suggestion is to wear sanitary pads for all sort of situations, whether you are menstruating or not.
The bathroom/toilet in hotels especially outside Lhasa can give you annoyance. We found that there is always something wrong in all the places we went. Some of problems we can live with, especially when we are just staying a night. Problems like leaking shower box, leaking sink, flooding bathroom, toilet cannot flush, the hot & cold water doesn't follow the red & blue indicator on the tap, stinking bathroom etc.
Having said all that, please bear in mind that you are in Tibet, not some westernised places, so these lovely people are trying their best to provide some westernised facilities which are not their norm.
It is a good idea to wear good support bras for travelling outside Lhasa, especially higher altitude places. The roads are not well maintained, they are full of potholes, broken or dug up unrepaired roads, dirt roads, possible river crossings due to diversions. You may like to bring along anti-motion sickness medication if you are prone to car sickness. The guide will be sitting in front while the travellers will be sitting at the back. If you have the 4th person, he/she will be sitting on a drop down seat at the Land Cruiser luggage compartment. We were quite comfortable as both of us were the only travellers in the Land Cruiser.
We had no particular problems with the altitude except short of breath going up stairs. We were prescribed with 250mg Diamox a day (half a tablet every 12 hrs), started 24 hrs before we flew in Lhasa from Beijing. I have no problem at EBC, in fact I slept v well, very warm & comfortable. However, my husband got up with an unpleasant headache so he took a whole tablet instead of half a tablet that morning. It worked for him. Our doc instructed us to double the dose if problem of altitude arises. By the way, we are in our late 50s.
That morning EBC was a white out, blanketed with snow, we had little hope of seeing Everest. With lots of prayers & hope, snowing stopped, sun peeped out, and clouds moving in & out, and we did get to have glimpses of the big One. Unfortunately many travellers who came in buses couldn't wait and they left before the weather improved. Those of us with Land Cruisers were a bit more flexible. With excitement we were told to hop on a minibus to the military basecamp (another checkpoint to enter) for a better view on top of a snow covered hill. With the thin air, everyone was breathing hard to climb that slippery hill. It was well worth the suffering! If only we were told that we had to climb a hill, we would use our trekking poles which were nicely packed in our bags in the tent.
We have enjoyed our travel in Tibet; their people, culture and religion are mesmerizing, and our highlight is the EBC trip. We were prepared that we may not be able to see Everest as we are at the mercy of nature, but will appreciate our experience at the basecamp. However, we did have glimpses of the Everest, bucket list is checked!