As mentioned in our prior Introductory Guide to Kathmandu, 3 days was plenty for us in this city. Of course, we could have explored outer Kathmandu for a few more days but we stuck solely to the main city of Thamel.
How to spend 3 days in Kathmandu
1. Walk the streets & take in the Nepali culture
Let us start with walking the streets of Kathmandu. This is an adventure in itself! We spent an entire day walking around Thamel, bargaining with the trekking shop owners, sampling street food, chatting with the locals and taking in the city life of Kathmandu. Everyone greets you with “Namaste” (hello in Hindi). It’s a very easy word to remember so don’t be shy, say it right back, it’s very polite & the locals love it.
The streets of Kathmandu had us fascinated but slightly agitated. Here’s why…
Smells – Sometimes smells enter your nose when you wish they hadn’t. Combine that with the dust & smog and you clearly need a gas mask. Rather than buying one, we made a makeshift mask with our map 🙂 No one even looked twice at this new creation, hey it worked!
Honking – The honking, oh the honking! It is a never-ending chorus of sounds in Kathmandu and enough to drive you bonkers! They honk to move you, honk to overtake, honk to say hello, honk to just honk because there is something in front of them that looks fun to press! I swear it was mind-boggling and extremely bothersome to our poor ears!
Spitting – Another thing we couldn’t grasp was the constant spitting. It does not matter where you are, who you are talking to or where you are standing, if they have to spit, they’ll spit, spit again and then once more. And big loogies at that! Including women! No one (apart from the westerners) even turns an eye to this and it was seriously disgusting.
Street Crossing Then we have the street crossing. Let’s talk about crossing the streets in Kathmandu (*hands over face, shakes head*). Don’t expect to find zebra crossings or the “walk signal” or even traffic lights for that matter. Crossing the streets was a serious life gamble and one we found quite entertaining as we giggled our way zigzagging through motorbikes, cars, buses, cows and people. It reminded us of the game, Frogger (look it up if you’re not familiar!). Say no more.
If the walking gets too much, rickshaws are on every corner but watch your clothes as nails and broken pieces of bamboo often stick out of the side and snag on your clothes. These rickshaws are made up of what looks like trash bags (plastic for rain protection) and all sorts of bits and bods. Each of them looks different and often the drivers take great pride in their rickshaws. From the back, they look giant baby bonnets! Again, bargain the price before you take the ride and hold on!
2. Take A Pay-What-You-Want Cooking Class
We stumbled upon Social Tours whilst walking the streets of Kathmandu. They run all sorts of tours from hikes to mountain biking and city tours, but the one tour that caught our eye (surprise surprise) was the cooking class. What made this cooking class different to many that we’ve done before was the opportunity to pay what you thought the class was worth. Similar to the free walking tours located throughout the world.
During our 4 hour class, we walked to the markets to buy all our ingredients and set up to make a selection of Momos (dumplings), a whole 120 of them! These delicious creations were made entirely from scratch, from the dough to the fillings and even the dipping sauces. The most difficult part, for what the staff made seem easy, was folding the dough. You have to have a real knack for this and it took us almost all 120 to get the hang of it! The ladies in charge couldn’t hold back their laughs. We made chicken and herbs, spinach-cheese-garlic and finished off with a Mars Bar momo for dessert. Yes, Mars Bars! Yummmmmo!
3. Get Lost Within Durbar Square
Located in the heart of Kathmandu is Hanuman- Dhoka Durbar Square. It is a complex of shrines & temples both Hindu and Buddist. The square represents the religious and cultural life of the people in Nepal. Until the early 20th century the square was the kings’ residence and used for a public trading square for produce work and business, but now, although these things still take part here, it is also a living open museum.
Due to the 2015 earthquake, many temples have been destroyed & many of them are being held up by wooden beams. The square looks and feels very old but still has a cultural atmosphere. During the nation’s festivals, the square comes alive with a variety of festivities.
Be prepared for the continuous offerings of guides as you walk through! As soon as they worked out we were Australian, we were followed by an echo of “g’day mate, hey mate, kangaroo, mate, mate let me be your guide mate!” Omg…
Considering this is a public space, the Nepalese government sees it as a great opportunity to put some more money in the bank and foreigners are now charged 1000 NPR ($10 USD) to enter here. Although the entry points are scattered, police circle the grounds to check the foreigners have tickets. It’s a shame you have to pay for a public space, can you imagine paying to enter Times Square?
4. Escape The Madness at Garden of Dreams
The Garden of Dreams is a neo-classical garden built in 1920. Apart from slight damage, inside the garden, you’ll find yourself a million miles away from the crazy chaos of Thamel. Bring a book or a picnic or enjoy a light lunch at the Cafe inside. Entry is 200 NRP ($2 USD).
5. Indulge & Relax with a Spa Day
Who doesn’t love a good massage! We’re used to paying upwards of US$60 for an hour-long massage so you can imagine it’s a pleasant surprise when you can pay 1/4 of the cost. After our 4 day trek in Pokhara, we treated ourselves to an afternoon at the Spa. For only $25 USD we had a foot massage, full body scrub and the most amazing 60-minute deep tissue massage we’ve had in a long time. There are plenty of spas in Thamel but we recommend Tranquility Spa and also Seeing Hands Clinic. Seeing Hands Clinic is a massage centre employing only the deaf and blind.
6. Climb The Stairs at Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple)
The Swayambhunath Temple also known as the monkey temple is a very famous Buddist temple that sits high on a hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley. The temple gets its nickname of Monkey Temple due to monkeys that live and roam freely around the temple. The temple is best visited just before sunset for magnificent views of the valley below. After a long 45-minute walk from our hotel and a climb up 300 or so steep stairs, we reached the top and we’re not disappointed with the views in front of us. Cost 200 NPR ($2 USD).
7. Visit Temples & More Temples
Bouddhanath – Bouddhanath is one of the largest Buddhist stupas in Asia. You can see first-hand many monks praying inside. Unfortunately, a lot of Bouddhanath is under construction at the moment.
Pashupatinath Temple – This is Nepal’s most sacred Hindu temple and is dedicated to Pashupatinath. It is located on the Bagmati River on the eastern outskirts of Kathmandu. Every year this temple attracts hundreds of elderly followers of Hinduism. Hinduists from every corner of Nepal and India are arriving here to die. Depending on when you go, you can witness a Hindu cremation.
The Best Activity… Replacing my Backpack!
When arriving in Estonia, you may have seen my backpack was unfortunately broken :(. Since then, Jacob created a makeshift strap to transport my heavy nugget around the world for 8 weeks. After a few back and forth emails with Osprey and due to their guarantee, they finally agreed to replace my bag with a brand spanking new one. Fortunately, in Kathmandu, there are trekking stores galore and I was able to grab the last women’s back on the shelf. It feels good to wear a normal pack again!
And we’re off…
After a hectic 3 days in the city, we were pretty ready to move on. Roaming the streets of Kathmandu was eye-opening for the both of us and definitely prepared us for the next 4 months through Asia. Apart from the air pollution, constant spitting, honking & complete chaos, what we loved the most about Kathmandu was the people. The Nepali people are so welcoming and polite. They never want to let you down and will go above and beyond to help you. It is often said that people first come to Nepal for the mountains, but return for the people. I can totally understand where that saying came from.
Although this post scratches the surface with things to do in Kathmandu, there’s still so much more to see & learn! For more information on Nepal, we found The Longest Way Home to be a very helpful blog with up to date information.
Married days survived; 552