What to buy in Tibet
In Tibet, the currency in circulation is RMB (Renminbi). Foreign currency can not be used directly and can be exchanged only in big cities, such as Lhasa and Shigatse . Foreign currency can be exchanged in these cities either at the Bank of China or at some of the large hotels. Passports must be shown to exchange currency.
A bankbook (for a China bank account) or a credit card may be useful in some cases. Presently in Tibet, there are only branches of three state-owned banks, the Bank of China, China Construction Bank and the Agricultural Bank of China. You can withdraw money at these branches if you have an account at any branch of the corresponding bank. Major credit cards of these three banks can be used in some supermarkets, restaurants and hotels within limited areas. ATMs of these banks are sparse in Tibet and may not work flawlessly, so it is advisable to carry both your bankbook and a major credit card. The Green Card issued by China Post is more convenient than a credit card. It can be used in some relatively remote areas, such as Shannan and Nyingchi . Traveler's checks can be exchanged for RMB in branches of the Bank of China. Be aware that banks will be open for unusually short hours during the week and will be closed on weekends. Although it has risks, the most convenient way to travel in Tibet is to take along enough RMB in cash to serve your needs.
Popular things to buy here are carpets, daggers, jewelry, aprons and hats, all of which can be found in the famous Barkhor Street. The vendors on the street outside the Holiday Inn have basically the same range, but in smaller quantities and at higher prices. Besides this, plenty of department stores line the Yuthok Lu, selling more routine articles. Those interested with Chinese herbal medicines also have the chance here to pick up some potions rarely seen in other Chinese cities.
Tibetan daggers are seen as indispensable part of the ordinary Tibetan's basic paraphernalia. Not just used as a tool for cutting meat and protecting themselves, the dagger is also a critical fashion accessory. This is especially true of daggers that may be carried by Tibetan women. These tend to be more decorative and delicate. Based on the materials used and the level of craftsmanship in the making of the dagger, prices can range from a few RMB to several thousand. Actually, daggers from Shigatse are particularly famous and are characterized by hard to imitate intricately designed silver sheaths.
There are numerous varieties of jewelry and ornaments in Tibet, including pearl, agate, jade containers and golden-silver products, etc. Generally, it is more graceful in ancient style. You could get them in some used-goods market of Barkhor Square or some special shops for tourists. They have all the decorations you could wish for, which can be pulled on the neck, adorned the wrist, hung on the ears, or some daggers embellished the waist, and all of them are exquisite and decorative; while for those ornaments bigger than others, you could hang them in your rooms or some public locations, thus it would bring you a kind of special environment.
Where to Buy
Shopping in Lhasa
Barkhor is the best shopping market in Lhasa. Tourist can find lots of odd and fascinating stuff, for religious and secular uses. Small shops and stalls on the street sell a variety of items like prayers flags, Buddha figures, conch-shell trumpets, rosaries, amulets, fur hats, horse bells, bridles, copper teapots, wooden bowl, inlaid knives and jewelry inlaid with turquoise and other gems. However, attention shall be paid to the quality of the jewelry since many items are coarse. Exotic Tibetan opera masks and costumes are interesting items to buy. Bright and beautiful homespun Tibetan rugs and Tibetan khaddar are also popular souvenirs. Tourists can easily find things which are of individuality and appeal to them. The most interesting thing to shop in Barkhor is that you can bargain with local people and may buy nice things in a lower price. Just cut the price by 50 percent!
Shopping along the street accompanied by hundreds of pilgrims prostrating will be a thrilling experience. Tibet carpet and tent can be bought at Lhasa Carpet Factory and Lhasa Tent and Banner Factory respectively.
Department stores, mostly on Yuthok Lu and for everyday requirement, are becoming usual in Lhasa. Lhasa Department Store (General Department Store), on the west end of Yuthok Lu, is the largest and famous one in Lhasa. It sells handicrafts as well as practical items, such as cotton clothing, mugs, canned food, towels and toothpaste and other stuff tourist may need to buy before they move to other remote towns. Supermarkets can also be found in Lhasa.
There are three Xinhua book stores in Lhasa, one on Yuthok Lu, another on east Barkhor and the other on Beijing Zhong Lu, west of Tibet Hotel. They sell maps of Lhasa, Tibetan primers, Tibetan-Chinese dictionaries, and Chinese and Tibetan books. A bookshop carrying Tibetan literature is on north Barkhor.
Shopping in Shigatse
The best place to go shopping in Shigatse is the market opposite the Tenzin Hotel. There is the usual array of jewelry, antiques and religious objects on display here. However, the market is much smaller than the one in the Barkhor in Lhasa. What is the same here are the shrewd vendors hanging around, hunting for potential buyers. So be prepared to bargain!!
An alternative is to go to the Tibet Gang-Gyen Carpet Factory on Qomolangma Lu, several minutes' walk from the entrance of Tashilunpo (open weekdays). Here, you will be given the chance to see how carpets are made. Of course, the real reason tourists are allowed in here, is to be encouraged to buy something! Prices range from between RMB200 to RMB3000. The factory even arranges shipping!