Travelogs
Nepal flag

NEPAL: Tips

Nepal pictures, travel thoughts and tips.

Bangkok and Kathmandu Airports

Flight connections through Bangkok? That airport is pretty nice. If you just have a layover overnight and will need to catch a plane to Nepal the next day, be careful where you stay. You may not want to go all the way into the heart of Bangkok as the traffic is incredibly congested and it may take 2-3 hours to get back. The airport has a booth where they will call and reserve a room for you. Take advantage of this if you fly in late at night. I got in around midnight. Ask them to write the hotel name down in English as well as Thai. Many taxi drivers will say they speak English, but once you are on your way, you will realize they don't. Ask the booth what the price of the taxi should cost to the hotel and make sure you negotiate that price before you get into the taxi. It will make it much more pleasant experience.

The Kathmandu airport is not exactly the nicest airport in the world. Anyway, before you land in Nepal, take advantage of the plane's facilities...the Nepal airport's bathrooms near the baggage claim are pretty raunchy. Prepare to be swarmed by taxi drivers when you walk outside. It was a pretty scary experience for me. I was tired from 24 hours of flying over 2-3 days, and it was dark, and I guess I wasn't prepared for the chaos. The police were clubbing people to keep order. This didn't make me very pleased. The outside of this airport has a booth where you can get a taxi. If too many cabbies are out front, this may be a good option. As always, negotiate a price before you get in. Somewhere between 200-300 rupees may be the going price to Thamel? The taxi ride in Kathmandu was the start of an amazing journey for me. It is a 20-minute ride, maybe a bit longer to the Thamel district where the overwhelming majority of tourists stay. I really suggest you do that for your first night of two until you get your legs and confidence. There are some really cheap places to stay and facilities are pretty good. There a few places around Thamel to get onto the internet and email home. Hopefully you have a web e-mail account. Makes it easy.

Oh yeah, one other important tip, make sure to confirm your return flight from Nepal as soon as possible. If you can do it at the airport when you arrive, great, if not, do it at least 3 days before leaving. This may require you to go down to the airline office within Kathmandu. I witnessed people getting bumped off flights because they did not do this and were stranded a couple more extra days. I am not sure if you will be able to call in to do this with the language barrier. Perhaps your nice Kathmandu hotel could that for you? Otherwise, you might need to find the office for your airline in Kathmandu to confirm the flight or do it at the airport?

Misc

As for shopping, Thamel is the most expensive area around Kathmandu due to the influx of tourists. Don't be fooled into buying what you think are inexpensive quality outdoor clothing and goods around there as they are really cheap knockoffs of North Face equipment and the like. But if you need sleeping bags or gear for you hiking, you may want to buy here or even in Pokhara as that is the gateway of all the trekkers.

"Hoinna, hajur" means "No sir". You can use it when you are being bothered to buy something. You will be continuously hounded by people trying to sell you things, especially in the Thamel District. You really need to be firm and say 'No' if you are not interested...you will do you both a favor. They will do the hard sell all day otherwise. If you are interested, remember, this is a bargaining economy. Never take the first price or second...part of the culture. Took me a while to figure it out. Once you get used to it, try not to undercut the prices too much as the general population really is very poor.

The Lonely Planet Guide is wonderful. If you want to use a guide book, use that one. You can get them in the bookstores in Thamel in Kathmandu. The food of Nepal is not like the rest of Asia. I love Asian food, but for some reason, much of Nepal is devoid of really good Asian food. In Kathmandu, there is an effort to make western food, which is done with varying degrees of success. Be sure to try momos (moh-mohs). It is a Tibetan dumpling. As there are many Hindus in Nepal, if you are vegetarian, you should not have a problem finding suitable food. Beware of eating meat as you will notice that meat is rarely refrigerated. Be sure to only drink bottled water or tea...the usual. Be considerate of their social norms, meaning, especially if you are a woman, try to keep properly covered up. They are used to tourists, but really do find a lot of the dress offensive. If hiking, shorts are fine, but in the cities, try to cover your legs and don't wear too revealing of tops. If you are a man, you have much more leniency, but don't walk around with your shirt off flexing your pecs.

You will be getting into Nepal at the second best time, weather-wise. Spring from March to May, is warm with rain showers. I went during the fall which is cool and clear. The crush of tourists in Kathmandu and going on to hike the Annapurna Range starting at Pokhara is large in November. No idea what it will be like when you are there. I didn't see many Americans, but lots of Canadians, Brits, Aussies, Dutch and Germans. Kathmandu is one of the most polluted areas in the world, as is Bangkok. The valley is a lot like Denver where the car pollution hovers in the valley in winter. I don't mean to sound so negative, but just trying to prepare you. There are many beautiful things about Kathmandu, and Nepal. I had a wonderful time there and just bizarre memories.

Entry to most temples, stupas and shrines is not restricted. However, some sensitive religious enclosures and sites may prohibit entry. If you wish to enter a shrine, where allowed, you may go around in a clockwise direction. Photography is generally not prohibited. There are usually a few Sadhus around the Durbar Square of Kathmandu. Definitely a great photo op! Ask before taking a photo… negotiate for 10 rupees, 5 if you are lucky. They will ask for 50.

Mission from Buddha

Here is the favor that I am hoping you are able to complete. It would make my day, actually year! There are a couple kids I met in Kathmandu that I fell in love with and still communicate with. They are 14 and 15 year old girls now. They sell postcards to tourists in the center of the city outside the Kumari House in Durbar Square to support their families and themselves. Great kids. Tamanna had to drop out of school at age 13/14 to bring money in for the family. Anyway, they hang outside one of the tourist sites that people visit. It makes for an interesting visit to see some nice temples, architecture, and Sadhus (boddisatvahs or gurus) next to the old "Freak Street" of the 60's. I am hoping that I could send out a bit of money to you, maybe $100, to give to Tamanna. Postal service is not to be trusted there unfortunately, and the kids don't have a real address, so knowing where she is about the only way I can get her something. A friend of mine from Bahrain that traveled with me in Nepal, recently went back and was able to locate her easily for me.

Tamanna does not have a home address, but works selling postcards for 5 or 10 rupees to tourists in the Durbar Square next to the Kumari House. Her English was very limited a couple years ago. It was 65 rupees to the dollar when I was there. Sweet kid that I adored. She is usually around the Kumari House in the afternoon by the entrance of the Kumari House next to the Lion Statues that guard that entrance. Ask around for her please. Refer to the pictures that I gave you to have an idea of who to look for. Also, I will give you a photo of myself to pass along to Tamanna and Phupa.

The kids I met in Durbar Square were an interesting mix of Newari, Tamang, and Gurung. The girl in the picture with the lion statue is Tamang, I believe. Phupa is Tibetan. I think Ishwori is Newari, maybe just Nepali? Tamanna is Indian, I think. Loads of various cultures. Hindus, Buddhists… all the temples seem to take from each other and meld the religions. I saw an occasional Sherpa in Kathmandu.

OK...here are some brief, or not so brief things to not miss around Kathmandu.

Durbar Square of Kathmandu

Kathmandu

Durbar Square of Kathmandu is where Tamanna hangs out. It is a nice walk from Thamel. Pretty cool buildings in Newari style architecture and nice photo ops. There are a couple places to eat around the square that are hard to locate. You can find nice restaurants on the second story of some of the buildings that line the square. Nice views down and around. As for a couple local that I met that hang out there selling things...Momo Saddek is a Muslim who sells flutes for a living. He is very quiet and unlike many of the pushy touts selling things. He makes a good guide for getting you places, though he does not speak much English and can't really tell you much about the area. There is a woman who looks older than she really is named Buna (boo-na) that has a young child and she sits near the entrance of the Kumari House by Tamanna. If you see her, order her a chai for me and give her 100-200 rupees! If you do see Tamanna or Ishwori, ask if they have a "chungi". It is a small, homemade rubberband ball that is played like a hackysack. I spent lots of time playing this with them. They made one for me for the cost of the rubberbands plus my own little sales tax I added on for them, around 5 or 10 rupees. Works great.

Swayambunath Stupa, better known as the Monkey Temple.

The Monkey Temple is the most important Buddhist shrine in the valley. Really makes a great first place to visit in the city. The monkeys have a reputation of being aggressive, so be careful...I did not have any problems. You can get pretty lost around the city, so easiest to take a taxi here as it is a bit out from the Thamel District. The "Monkey Temple" is a must see! It has a wonderful temple with a nice panorama of the city and valley. Take a tyempo to get there. It is one of the many 3-wheeled, polluting vehicles that should be banned some day...but it is cheap and abundant due to the many narrow, hilly, windy streets. I suggest this as your first activity, once you get settled.

The temple is also near the Tibetan restaurant owner Phupa that I am friends with. She runs the Swoyambhu Hill Top Restaurant somewhere around the bottom of the temple hill. Ask around if you want to stop in. She is very nice...mention my name and location and that I say "hello". She moved her place, but her letters state that is on the main street next to a pipal tree. Many streets don't have names or don't have them labeled and she moved her restaurant since I was there. Good luck with that! Stop by for lunch if you can. She is a very friendly, smiley woman. Phupa (poo-pah) is her name. Mention my name and being from Seattle, USA. Ask around if you want to stop in. She is very nice...mention my name and location and that I say "hello". She moved her place, but her letters state that is on the main street next to a pipal tree. Hope that helps! (; Please give her US $20 worth of rupees for me, and the music cassette, if you are willing to take it.

Pashupatinath Temple

Pashupatinath Temple is the most important Hindu temple in Nepal. It is along the Bagmati River which is the holiest river in Nepal. There is a large Hindu temple that you being a non-Hindu are not allowed to enter. But you can cross the river and walk around some very cool small stupas and other temples and buildings with lots of monkeys. Plus their is a great view overlooking the river and the Temple. You might happen upon a cremation along the river underneath the temple. Pretty incredible, but please be sensitive to the ceremonies. Many tourists will invade this by taking loads of pictures and being generally obnoxious. Best to take a taxi to the pedestrian sidewalk...that walk is interesting. I went at a time that I was the only western person in sight. A holy elephant was being walked down for a festival.

Bodnath

Bodnath is Nepal's biggest Buddhist stupa or temple. If you go early in the morning or late afternoon, as with other places around Kathmandu, you will be walking around with loads of Tibetans and Nepalis rather than German tourists. The goods tend to be a little cheaper than what you will find walking up the steps to the Monkey Temple, if I remember correctly.

Kathmandu food

Places to eat in Kathmandu. I enjoyed KC's for breakfasts. It is in Thamel near Kathmandu Guest House, kind across the street and straight down the road a couple doors. If you have to make an early start, buy food from a bakery the preceding night as it seems that many places don't open up too early. There is a place in Thamel for breakfast that is run by an American from Carleton College. Northfield Cafe is the name, and it is a couple doors right of the Kathmandu Guest House gate. I didn't think it was that great, but many people do, plus his original restaurant called Mike's Place in another area of the city is packed. My favorite place for dinner was in Thamel and I think it was called The Third Eye. Can't describe where it is other than somewhere in that district. Make sure to sit in the back where you can sprawl out on the benches and pillows. The front part is regular table seating. Kathmandu Guest House actually has very good dinners, but they are definitely much pricier than others.

I can’t remember many of the names of restaurants that I enjoyed. There are plenty of decent places to eat around in Thamel. Outside of the Thamel District, it gets harder to locate restaurants...they are around, just not as obvious. One of my friends is a Tibetan that runs a restaurant near the "Monkey Temple" called the Swoyambanuth Hill Restaurant. As many streets don't have names or don't have them labeled and she moved her restaurant since I was there. She describes it as being at the base of the hill near the pipal tree. Good luck with that! Stop by for lunch if you can. She is a very friendly, smiley woman. Phupa (poo-pah) is her name. Mention my name and being from Seattle, USA. Plus the "Monkey Temple" is a must see! It has a wonderful temple with a nice panorama of the city and valley. Take a tyempo to get there. It is one of the many 3-wheeled, polluting vehicles that should be banned some day...but it is cheap and abundant due to the many narrow, hilly, windy streets.

Kathmandu lodging

There are many places to stay in the Thamel (tam-el) District. One of the mainstays is the Kathmandu Guest House. I stayed there a couple of nights. It is packed and hard to get a room. I suggest that you have the taxi driver drop you off there is nothing else as it is in the heart of the district. I liked that place as it is set back from the main street which is very noisy. So, the Guesthouse is pretty quiet and a good refuge from the madness and dizzy activities around the city. At around 10-11PM, the area just shuts down and gets quiet. I was a bit surprised at first as I thought it would be 24 hour craziness.

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur makes for a nice side trip outside the city if you have a morning or afternoon. It is pretty close to Kathmandu in kilometers but takes maybe an hour to get there. From here you can see a couple of the world's largest peaks leering above the foothills around Kathmandu Valley. This is a UNESCO Heritage City. One of the few places that costs money to get into. The Bhaktapur's Durbar Square is quiet and peaceful compared to Kathmandu's Durbar Square. This is due to the fact cars are not allowed. It is important that you hire a taxi from Kathmandu for the roundtrip. They will wait for you to walk around. If you don't, you will be like me and have no ride back. There is a local bus that does go by the entry occasionally. It is very cheap...pennies...cramped, an experience, but takes a long time to make its way back to Kathmandu. If you want to spend a quiet night, you can find cheap guesthouses in the heart of Bhaktapur. People really clear out by early evening.

Kirtipur

This is a quick side trip from Kathmandu. About a 30 minute tyempo (3-wheeled vehicle called tuk-tuk in Thailand) ride from Thamel. Negotiate a return ride fare before leaving. Not too much to see, but there is a temple that has a nice view above the terraced fields and surrounding valley. It is an interesting walk around the hillside town. Very strange as very run-down town, and no tourists, but fun to walk around anyway. During the ride, you get to see some sights along the road, such as a women’s college, military people…

Nagarkot

Nagarkot makes for a nice overnight near Kathmandu. There are very nice views of the Himalayas that you can’t quite get from Kathmandu, and that you glimpse from Bhaktapur. Only do this if the weather will be good. Have a taxi drop you off near the hotels. You can walk and find a place you like. Tourists tend to go to Nagarkot in the afternoon for the sunset. If you do end up visiting here, definitely stay overnight. No one will be around in the morning. Not much to do here, except get up early for the sunrise, then head on your way. Nagarkot gets colder than Kathmandu due to the climb in elevation. The sun is intense, so cover up.

Pokhara

The best way to get to Pokhara is by plane. Flights are pretty cheap, maybe $75 each way for an under an hour flight. The bus is fine, though the trip is really long, 8 hours or so for just a 200 km, 120 mile trip. The roads get pretty bad a couple hours outside of Kathmandu. My back went out for a day due to all the jostling. A couple stops for the bathroom or food on the way, but they are pretty far apart, so if you have a small bladder... The road starts by winding up the foothills to a long windy, scary ride down! Fascinating, but it took me a couple hours of wincing each time cars were passed before I decided that worrying was not the way to deal with it.

The prettiest mountain in Nepal has to be the Fishtail. I forget the Nepali name... You will need a trekking permit. You can get them in Kathmandu or Pokhara. I couldn't locate the one in Kathmandu as it had just moved and no-one could seem to give me good directions to it. I suggest you get a small book on trekking at a bookstore in Kathmandu. One that may be in one of the stores is "Trekking in the Annapurna Region" by Thomas. It is very small, about the size of your hand. The Kathmandu Guest House sometimes has slide shows on trekking done by seasoned trekkers.

Pokhara is a nice getaway. There are some gorgeous views of the Himalayas. You can get there by bus or plane. This is the starting point for the Annapurna Sanctuary. There are many books out there. I suggest that you do not get in one of the many groups that pay large amounts of dollars to hike and stay in tents outside villages. First of all, you will be running into tons of people as the population is huge in such a tiny country. Second, it can get chilly at night in tents which won't be as comfortable as the teahouses along the way. Not that the teahouses are super deluxe places, they are cheap and basic. But you can easily hike on your own for next to nothing...staying at places as you come along them for easily under $10/night, maybe as little as $1/night. If you want company, some people hire porters or guides. As long as their English is good and their personality is good, that would be fine. Good way to support the local economy and learn a bit from locals. There is a flight from Pokhara to Jomson (?) way up in the Annapurna's. I would not suggest that as high altitude sickness is a real concern. Flying back is fine if you make it there, though the wait can be 2-3 days and that town is boring.

Royal Chitwan Park

Royal Chitwan Park Rhino

The Chitwan National park, covers an area of 930 km, is situated in the sub-tropical lowlands of southern Nepal. I took a side trip here for 3 days. I loved Kathmandu, but was happy to get out of the pollution, noise, and constant barrage of touts for a while. I stayed at the Island Jungle Resort. You would most likely want to stay here or Tiger Tops. My vote is here as it is on an island. Tiger Tops borders farming land. This area of Nepal is much warmer than Kathmandu as it is a much lower elevation. I would recommend Royal Chitwan Park with some general reservations. First, there is not tons of wildlife. So, if you are expecting the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania or Kenya, drop them now. Second, it is a long 6 hour trip by bus here that can get a bit jarring. The first leg out of Kathmandu Valley is cool as you fly up and over the mountain pass along a narrow road that follows a river. Pretty amazing. Third, you have to be very patient. You never quite know what is going on with the organization of getting there, but things end up fine. I did see barking deer, rhinos, crocs. Others saw monkeys. I did not see any tigers, which are rarely seen, nor the bear, though we could see where the bear dig. Oh yeah, the leeches are plentiful, so check your skin. Met some cool tourists here. All you see are tourists. You can’t wander from camp. You must follow their program. They have a couple jungle walks, rides through the bush on elephants and the like. I missed the washing of the elephants! People could ride into the water with them and they try to toss the people off… looked like a blast! Wish I wasn’t snoozing when it started. They only do that once for each group. I signed up with this trip at the Kathmandu Guest House. I am sure your hotel would have a travel office or contact. It was around $120 which is expensive for Nepal. I stayed in a tent. They have cabin lodging, also.

That is about all the information that I have. If you have any questions, just ask. You can email from Thamel or Pokhara very easily: rgrassy@hotmail.com

Have fun, Richard