Arriving into Kathmandu, Nepal was a mix of emotions. If you could put them all in a bag it would look a little something like this: tired (it only took us 49 hours to get here from Crete!), excited, curious, nervous and I guess, somewhat scared. We were about to embark on a 4 month trip through Asia and experience new cultures, traditions, foods and environments we hadn’t before, but this is exactly what travelling is all about. There was no time to waste, it was time to get cultured!
The second we stepped off the plane at Kathmandu’s international airport, the heat smacked us square in the face. There’s something about the heat in Asia that’s different from everywhere else we’ve been. The air is thick, often polluted and borders on 100% humidity. Let the frizzy hair begin!
The first thing about Kathmandu that caught our eye was the devastating effects of the 2015 Earthquake. Although many buildings were in piles, Kathmandu still maintained its charm. Chaotic charm, but it was there. Every corner was a new surprise and we found ourselves looking at each other more often than not with that “did you just see that” look. You couldn’t help but notice the severity of the damage from the earthquake but at the same time, notice all the efforts in trying to rebuild their city.
Nepali people are some of the friendliest people we’ve come across. Although often quiet, they always want to help and they are over the moon you have chosen their country to visit. After all, tourism is the main industry for Nepal.
Top tips for Kathmandu
- You can bargain for almost everything, especially tour prices and shopping. Never settle on the price they give you.
- Always have enough cash. Restaurants, buses, tours all charge 3-4% surcharge to use credit cards and not all of them have the machines. USD is also accepted sometimes.
- Nepal does not have the infrastructure to provide electricity 24/7. This results in power cuts constantly throughout the day. They refer to this as “load shedding“. Keep your electronics charged whenever possible!
- 90% of restaurants add an extra 10% + 13% on top of your bill.
- Laundry is cheap… $1 a kg and they line dry it. No more shrunken clothes!
- If you’re planning to stay in Nepal longer than 7 days, we suggest getting a local Sim with Ncell. The sim is $2 and 1GB of data is $7.
- It’s handy to carry extra passport photos with you, you’ll need them for your trek permit, to get a sim card, and sometimes just to give the tour agencies. The Nepalese people love to stick a photo of you on their wall to show how many tourists have been in their office (below is our trekking office).
- At the typical Nepalese style restaurants, you’ll have to remove your shoes before you sit down on the ground to eat.
- Every single restaurant has Wi-Fi so if your hotel doesn’t, head to one of the many restaurants. TripAdvisor and FourSquare are both used extensively for restaurants.
When to go to Kathmandu
Nepal has 4 seasons. We strongly recommend visiting outside of the monsoon season. We had the tail end of this glorious rain and struggled at times with the intensity of the rain.
- Spring (March to May) – The shoulder season. The flowers bloom during April and many people come to trek Everest Base Camp during these months.
- Summer (June to August) The monsoon season! Although it makes the vegetation a bright green colour, it rains every day with constant thunderstorms and strong winds. Definitely not a recommended time to visit.
- Autumn (September to November) This is the high season due to comfortable temperatures and clear skies. Trekkers flock to Nepal during this time of year.
- Winter (December to February) Colder temperatures, clear skies and a popular time to visit for low altitude trekking.
Getting a Visa for Nepal
We find ourselves googling this extensively before we ever head to a new country. No thanks to our European visa mistake and the troubles that came with trying to get our Brazilian visa last minute last year.
Nepali Visa Requirments:
- Each passport must have at least 6 months before the expiry and 2 blank pages available (this rule never makes sense to me, they never use both pages anyway!)
- Tourist visas can be obtained on arrival: US $5 (transit), US$25 (15 days), US$40 (30 days), US$100 (90 days).
- 10 countries are not permitted visa upon arrival so be sure to check your nationality here.
- Fill the form out at the machines provided, pay your visa fee (with cash only) based on the days you plan to say, go to immigration to get your stamp and off you go. The whole procedure took about 30-40 minutes.
Getting to the city centre from the airport
Most of the hotels will provide an airport pick up service for an extra charge of $5-$8 USD. We strongly advise taking this option to avoid the confrontation and hassle of every man and their dog trying to get you in their taxi. Although they are trying to be helpful, it is extremely overwhelming. If you don’t pre-arrange a transfer with your hotel, there are taxis available but make sure you negotiate before getting in the cab. Pay no more than 250-400 NPR ($2.50-$4.00 USD). If you want to be extra adventurous, you can take the local bus. The buses generally have no fixed schedules and are often crowded and extremely uncomfortable. The local bus will set you back a whopping 10-20 NPR ( $o.10- $o.20 ). Goodluck!
How long do you need in Kathmandu?
3-4 days is plenty of time to explore the chaotic streets, visit some of the most famous temples, indulge in the Nepali cuisine, bargain your way through the shops and of course, get a taste into the lifestyle. There are many day trips outside of the city that will involve spending some more time but for the “must do’s”, 3-4 days is sufficient in the city.
Where to stay in Kathmandu?
Thamel (see map) is the heart of Kathmandu and where you will find the majority of restaurants, nightlife venues, hotels, trekking shops & souvenir shops. Thamel definitely boasts a western vibe but the area is still no doubt crowded with Nepalese locals.
Kathmandu was a city that no matter how many filters you put on your search, you were still left with 100’s of places to sift through!
It becomes extremely overwhelming and time-consuming to go through all of the choices. Simply pick 2 things that are important and stick with them. For us, it was cleanliness and of course, WiFi. Both of which we were satisfied with our choice. We stayed at Elbrus Home which was located a short 5-minute stroll away from the centre of Thamel and then again at a very budget friendly hotel, Pariwar which had a much better location that Elbrus Home.
Accommodation in Thamel ranges from as low as $6 USD a night to $100 USD. There is such an extensive range. You’ll find a large selection at Booking.com and Hostel World. One thing we recommend: just lower your expectations and then there’s no room (no pun intended) for disappointment 😉
The Nepalese love to cook, they love to share and they love to please! If you’re disappointed with a meal, they share the same disappointment with you and are extremely apologetic. We ordered a dish that was supposed to come with guacamole but it didn’t (they weren’t in season) and the waiter profusely apologised, brought us free drinks and said sorry more times than I’ve ever heard out of a single waiter’s mouth. Even if you don’t like a meal, do me a favour and pretend you do anyway, you won’t be able to bear the look on their faces!
Two quintessential local Nepali dishes are Dal Bhat & Momos. Dal Baht is eaten consistently for lunch and dinner among the Nepalese culture. The dish consists of steamed rice, a cooked lentil soup, often mixed with a variety of spices and herbs and served with seasoned vegetables. It can be vegetarian or with meat. The best Dal Baht is from the local restaurants or ‘hole in the walls’ through the city. You can also ask for extra servings and they don’t charge.
Momos are a South Asian steamed or fried dumpling filled with either buffalo, chicken or vegetables. We weren’t sure how these differed from dumplings in China or Japan, however, during our cooking class we learnt it’s simply because momos in Nepal are filled with a variety of spices, so many spices. Walking the streets in Kathmandu, you’ll see locals making 100’s of them in tiny kitchens and you can get a plate of 10 for under $0.50c.
You can get just about any food you want in Nepal. Apart from the delicious local cuisine, you can find pasta, pizzas, steaks, Thai, Mexican, you name it and you’ll find it. I mean, out of all the countries we’ve been in this world, a restaurant in Pokhara even served vegemite toast!
72 Hours in Kathmandu
So now we’ve overloaded you with the basics of Kathmandu, check out how we spent our 3 days in this city in our next post.
Married days survived; 552