Samye Monastery


Two hours drive southeast of Lhasa sits Samye Monastery(བསམ་ཡས་དགོན་པ།) – the oldest Buddhist training institution in Tibet, established in the lifetime of Padmasambhava in the eight century. The temple monastery compound is enclosed by a circular brick wall. It is said that from above, the circular wall and its contents resemble a Mandala – a Hindu and Buddhist representation of the universe. Mandalas are typically balanced uniformly with circle, square and triangle shapes throughout. Legend has it that Samye was constructed as a joint partnership between humans and demons – humans worked on it through the day and demons worked through the night.


Travelers can purchase an entrance ticket and enjoy access to the temple. There are three main levels to the temple in the center. The main level is stylistically Tibetan; the second level has a Chinese influence; and the third level, Indian. Though Samye Monastery now belongs to the majority Gelugpa sect, it still leans heavily toward its Nyingma sect origins, which is Tantric in nature. All around the typical cast of idols, there are offerings of tsampa and butter in overtly phallic molds. There are four identical stupas, apart from their color, outside the four corners of the temple. If you enjoy photography, a decent photo can be got of the whole compound from a hill nearby.

There is a convenience store oddly placed within the temple grounds. Surprisingly, the store has many import foods and drinks that are difficult to find in other areas in China. If you’re thirsting for a vanilla Coke, you have come to the right place!


Visiting Samye is a day trip from either Lhasa or nearby Tsedang. Some people prefer to head directly to Tsedang after arriving at Lhasa Gonggar Airport and begin their trip by visiting the cradle of Tibet’s civilization (including Samye). As with travel throughout all of Central Tibet, you must pre-arrange transportation through the travel company that arranged your Tibet Travel Permit (TTP).