- Information we've gathered during our time in Nepal that might be useful to others -

Nepal – travel information

This page contains information related to traveling around Nepal, covering things to do & see, places to eat & stay, costs and other useful info; focussing on Kathmandu, Pokhara and the Everest Base Camp trek.

Getting around

Getting around Kathmandu (and Nepal) is fairly straightforward; it’s a big city – but a lot of what many people go and see is fairly close to Thamel, which is the backpacker district.

You can walk from here to most restaurants, hostels, hotels etc, as well as a number of sightslike Kathmandu Durbar Square.

That said, if you’re not a fan of walking; you can get taxis very easily – in fact you’ll be offered a taxi every 5 seconds, which can irritate. The more run down cars cost less, and don’t forget that regardless of the car – you should negotiate the price – they tend not to use meters – but you can obviously ask for them to (they may refuse); hence be sure to haggle a good price.

There are also rickshaws – powered & cycle types around. Again, prices are highly negotiable.


Things to do & see (or not)

You can find our TripAdvisor reviews by clicking the TripAdvisor logo on the right of this page, or clicking here. We have tried to review most things we’ve been and seen, where possible. Our summary rating is given in each place’s title if we’ve been (maximum score is ♦♦♦♦♦)

Kathmandu Durbar Square ♦♦♦

The palace, temples and other structures had suffered some damage from the fairly recent earthquake, but it’s still worth a visit. It’s walking distance from Thamel. There was a 1000 NPR fee (£8, $10) at the time of writing for foreigners. The information around the place is a bit limited, but the structures and carvings are lovely. More pictures available in full in the Photos section.

Kathmandu Durbar Square Temple

Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath) ♦♦♦♦♦

This place is pretty awesome, it’s over the river from Thamel, and should cost around 200 NPR to get there in a taxi (although we were quoted 700 NPR at one point – which accentuates the point – negotiate!)

The temple sits atop a large hill that overlooks Kathmandu. It’s quite a walk up the steps to the top, but it’s worth it. Naturally it’s called the Monkey Temple due to it being inhabited by holy monkeys. They are believed to be holy because Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning was thought to have raised the hill which the Temple is built on. He made his hair grow long and head lice grew, which is believed to have transformed into these monkeys. I’m not so sure, but they’re very cute.

The views of the city are incredible from there, particularly around sunrise / sunset. If you hang around the North-west, where the monkeys mostly reside – you’ll eventually see some Nepalese throw out buckets of bananas for them – it’s crazy watching them get fed! You’ll also likely see local birds of prey circling the temple. More pictures available in full in the Photos section.

Swyambhunath Monkey Temple, Kathmandu

Garden of dreams

We didn’t end up going here, due to time constraints. It sounds quite lovely if you have time. It may seem out of place in somewhere like Kathmandu from the sounds of it.

Trip Advisor reviews link here.

Shopping in Thamel ♦♦♦♦

There are tonnes of shops around Thamel, for pretty much anything you could want.

Trekking equipment – clearly a huge variety of trekking shops, mostly selling knock-off imitations of famous branded clothes. Probably good enough for 1-2 treks, but aren’t going to last. I wonder about things like UV protection as well for some of this stuff – so be cautious as you’ll need proper UV protection at altitude.

Food / drink shops – you will find the prices vary significantly from shop to shop; that’s because the vendors make a judgment before telling you the price. We paid over the odds on a number of occasions at first for simple things like water or crisps. Always make them a counter-offer, or walk away. It is possible to get food & drink very cheaply in Nepal, but some of these places try and charge western prices.

Pharmacies – it’s fairly common to find a small pharmacy open to the late hours, that sells all sorts of things if you’re suffering with anything. Charlie had a chest infection after our trek; they tend to jump straight to an anti-biotic suggestion without understanding the issue sometimes, so be conscious of that. They may also try and over-charge again – but we did find that the prices for pharmaceuticals are very low too (I seem to recall it being about 30 NPR (20p, $0.30) for some decongestants).

Massages ♦♦♦♦

There’s a huge massage industry in Nepal, partly due to the amount of people that go there for trekking. We had a massage, so were only able to review one place, which was Kinjjala Spa – you can read our review here (♦♦♦♦).

Generally speaking I’d recommend the massages; they tend to be very cheap, and you can find a pretty good one fairly easily. We chose on the basis of proximity to our location & the TripAdvisor reviews it had received already.

Rum Doodle

Charlie read the book, The Ascent of Rum Doodle before we’d arrived here, which is a cult spoof about the ascent of a 40,000-and-a-half-foot peak, named Rum Doodle. There is a bar in Kathmandu named Rum Doodle, and we looked around for it, for ages -it is meant to have loads of memorabilia & is where trekkers & climbers would hang out. However, note that it’s moved out of the Thamel district (which is why we couldn’t find it) – and apparently has lost a lot of its charm & character now.


Places to stay

You can find our TripAdvisor reviews by clicking the TripAdvisor logo on the right of this page, or clicking here. We have reviewed places we’ve stayed. Our summary rating is given in each place’s title (maximum score is ♦♦♦♦♦)

Area

Travel sites tend to be fairly unanimous in suggesting Thamel as the district to stay in. We stayed there, and we would tend to agree. It is possible, and in our view, slightly better – to stay on the edge of, or slightly outside of Thamel. This will mean less noise throughout the night, which can be an issue if you’re a light sleeper. This can literally mean just a 1-2 minute walk into central Thamel.

Royal Penguin Hotel (♦♦)

You’ll see in our TripAdvisor Review that we didn’t rate this very highly. The location is good, and it’s a nice hotel – but it’s simply way way way too expensive for what it is. We stayed here for free thanks to some Nectar points we used through Expedia, but if we’d actually paid $80 a night, we’d have been pretty upset about it. Don’t get me wrong, the service was great, the place was clean etc – no complaints like that; it just wasn’t worth the money. However the hotel below is 80% cheaper, and when we stayed there, we still had all the conveniences we needed.

Hotel Green Orchid (♦♦♦♦)

We stayed here after our trek for a few nights, and then again after our trip to Pokhara as we were happy with it. We paid $16 B&B per night and were pretty happy with this place as you’ll see in the TripAdvisor review we gave it. I think these prices are quite negotiable, and they have a variety of rooms available – some will be less. We had a private bathroom, hot shower, WiFi and a TV. Fairly clean and tidy. Very basic, but perfect really for what we needed – and certainly good for $16 a night – when compared to the $80 Penguin hotel above. It’s actually closer to Thamel than the Penguin hotel too.

Other info on places to stay

There are so many options, as you’ll see. We would recommend arranging when you’re in Nepal, as you’ll pay over the odds on western websites. We tried a few places on foot, including the fairly popular Kathmandu Guest House; but found that we were sometimes offered much higher prices than what we’d read online – possibly because Andy had his expensive camera on show. Still, eventually you’ll find somewhere very reasonably priced & fitting to your needs pretty easily.


Places to eat

For this section, we’ll simply provide links to our TripAdvisor reviews for your consideration 🙂


Costs

  • Meals (per person)
    • Breakfast – expect to add 100-200 NPR to a room bill
    • Single course lunch – 250 NPR (£2, $2.50)
    • 2 course average dinner – 400-500 NPR (£3.50-4, $4-5)
    • Local beer in restaurant – 150-250 NPR (£1 – £1.75, %1.50-2.50)
  • Accommodation (per night)
    • Basic double room, shared bathroom – 500-1000 NPR (£3.50 – 8, $5-10)
    • Average double, private bathroom 1000-2000 NPR (£8 – 16, $10-20)
    • Higher standard (cleanliness / service) -2500 – 4000 NPR (£19 – 30, $25-40)
    • Over-priced – 4000 NPR + (£30+, $40+)
  • Taxis
    • Depends on location, but as a rough idea, don’t pay more than around 200 NPR (£1.50, $2) for a15 minute ride
    • Airport to Thamel around 600 NPR (£4.50, $6)

 

Booking a trek

We decided that we’d book our trek in Kathmandu, rather than in advance. This is, of course only a real option if you’ve got a bit of time before you’d need to start a trek, so if you have a 3 week holiday or are travelling for longer.

If you can, then we would highly recommend doing that though, and this is why:

Price: we managed to negotiate a price that was significantly lower than pre-book options. Ours was 1 guide, 1 porter, all food & accommodation, 15 days, 14 nights, all flights, all passes to the national park, airport transfers etc for $1100 each. Pre-booking can cost up to $2000 a head, although it is possible to get them lower in advance

Guide: by booking in Kathmandu you get to meet your guide & talk to the owner, this can give you confidence you’ll be safe, and enjoy yourself.

Choice: there are many companies that don’t have a significant online presence, so you get more choice in Kathmandu.

Private vs group treks

Originally, we planned to join a group trek as we thought that would be cheaper, and would give us a chance to meet some people along the way. Rather counter-intuitively, we unexpectedly discovered that joining a group actually left us with less negotiating margin. The trek companies are quite keen to ensure that people within a group pay similar amounts to each other (so as to not cause an uproar); so if you join a group – you’ll pay whatever the others paid. Go on your own, and you can negotiate more.

It’s also worth considering that if you’re in a group, then the pace is governed by the slowest member, so if that’s you – you’ll potentially feel quite bad; if it’s someone else, you’ll feel frustrated at the slow pace.


Kit list

We suggest you pack the following for a 2 week trek (this isn’t an exhaustive list, but some key items you’ll need).

Merino Wool base layers (and ideally underwear) – an absolute must! We’d read about these, and assumed they were going to be fairly helpful, but they were all we wore!! They are just fantastic. Can be worn for days on end without getting smelly, and they regulate temperature really well; and dry out very quickly when sweaty or washed. IceBreaker are a good manufacturer.

Water purification tablets – mineral water gets very expensive further up the mountain. Get some of these tablets so you can use their tap water (free). You’ll drink 3-4 litres a day, so you’ll need around 50 tablets per head for a 2 week trek.

Light walking boots -if you go in dry season, then uber-water proof boots aren’t necessary. The terrain is fairly steady, with lots of good paths early in the trek. It gets a bit more rocky & severe as the trek progresses, so just make sure you’ve got decent soles (e.g. Vibram) & fairly light, rugged boots. That said, you’ll see the porters wearing normal trainers or even sandals!

Down jacket & sleeping bags – we had these included as part of the trek – suggest you do the same. At night, the down jacket will be necessary – particularly later in the year.

Head torches -many of the tea houses turn electricity off after a certain time, so head torches are a must

Sun hat & woolly hat – sun hat dor daytime trekking – UV is an issue at altitude – take it seriously. Need af ull UV protection hat.

Sun cream – Factor 50 – all day stuff, again the sun is a real danger, so make sure you cream up every day.

Sunglasses – it gets very bright up there!

Lip Balm – very dry at altitude, and get one with a high SPF.

Imodium & Laxatives – it could go either way – and it probably will.

Toilet roll – you’ll probably have to buy some anyway, but pack & take some, and maybe keep hold of it until you get higher; as it’s around £4 / $5.5 for toilet roll above 4500m.

Hand Sanitiser – you’ll want to use this  a lot.

Solar charger / battery pack – but pick one that can actually charge in a reasonable time under the sun (while walking). These can be useful for keeping your gadgets alive – as you are charged for electricity at every tea house along the trek. You can get really good ones that store enough energy to recharge phones 5-6 times or more; and if you’re smart about it, you can get USB chargers for your camera batteries etc too – so you can keep everything charged via solar.


Our Itinerary

Our itinerary order was as follows:

Day 1: Flight to Lukla & walk to Phakding (2610m)
Day 2: Phakding to Namche (3440m)
Day 3: Namche rest day – walk to Everest View hotel & back
Day 4: Namche to Tengboche (3860m)
Day 5: Tengboche to Dingboche (4410m)
Day 6: Dingboche Rest day
Day 7: Dingboche to Lobouche (4940m)
Day 8: Lobouche to Gorak Shep (5164m) & Everest Base Camp (5360m)
Day 9-12:  Start the return trip via Tengboche, Pangboche, Namche, Phakding (not necessary to stop here, could go straight to Lukla)


The good & the bad of tea houses

Clearly we only stayed in 1 tea house at each location, but here’s some info about the ones we did stay in (in order of altitude). This is all in the context of what you can expect from these tea houses (rather than versus 5 star hotel expectations). So ♦ = poor for a tea house at that altitude, ♦♦♦♦♦ = exceptional for a tea house at that altitude.

Phakding (2610m) – “Beer Garden” tea house ♦♦ – this place wasn’t bad, but we stayed in better places further up, which made us wonder. It has rooms with private bathrooms, which you may have to request. The food isn’t the best, and is not that cheap for the altitude. They’ll give you extra blankets if you ask, although the beds aren’t very comfy.

Namche (3440m) – “International Foot Rest” tea house ♦ – We stayed here for 4 nights in total (2 on the way up & down). We weren’t happy about that, but our guide insisted it was the only one with rooms – in fact we’re sure he simply has friends / deals with these places (tends to happen). The food in this place is fairly good, but everything else is bad. The beds are uncomfortable, the walls have gaps in so rooms aren’t really that private; at night there are animals scurrying around in the wall cavities – not sure what they are, but they’re loud; the hot shower (which you pay for) is terrible – it’s in a freezing cold room in the basement, it dribbles over you, you have to manually keep adjusting the temperature between ‘too hot’ and ‘too cold’, and if you leave it on ‘too hot’ for too long, the electricity trips out. We wouldn’t recommend this place. There is a room with private bathroom available, which we insisted on, on our way down & this made it slightly better.

Tengoche (3860m) – “Hotel Himalayan” ♦♦♦ – one of the few possible places to stay in Tengboche – check availability in advance in peak season. The food here is good, and the rooms are basic. The upstairs is better than downstairs if you can; the toilets are better & the restaurant / bar noise is further away. The food is fairly decent, although prices are starting to elevate (pardon the pun). No animals in the walls & the walls are complete, so that gets an extra star.

Dingboche (4410m) – “Hotel Goodluck” ♦♦♦♦ – this is a fairly new place as of 2016, they are still decorating parts, but it is large and has adequate facilities. There are rooms with private bathrooms (we didn’t have one, but some people we met di). The food was good, but the electricity price here is a rip-off (apparently same in all places in Dingboche – collusion!)  The showers were fairly good, we were told (again, paid), and there was an indoor ‘greenhouse’ space to dry laundry. Fairly well built compared to most places – probably the best tea house we stayed in.

Lobuche (4940m) – “Mother Earth House” ♦♦♦ – This tea house is a slightly lower standard to Hotel Himalayan in Tengobche (above), but retains the ♦♦♦ rating due to expectations at this altitude. The ‘super deluxe rooms’ are very basic, but the mattresses are comfy. The toilets are a bit disgusting, and can freeze over, but they are western toilets – just not very nice to sit on. The food here is good too, particularly the Indian recipe, which makes a welcome change from Nepalese Dahl Baht at this point. The altitude, dryness & 7cold makes it very difficult to like anywhere, but we’ve tried to be fair.

Gorakshep (5164m) – “Buddha Lodge” ♦♦♦ – there’s anew accommodation building that’s just been built, which is nicer than the older rooms. The walls & floors are still paper thin, and you can hear every shuffle in adjacent rooms (above, below, beside), but the toilets in the new block are pretty reasonable for this altitude (again, western). The food isn’t great, and the prices are severe – they also don’t even seem to have water that you’d be happy putting a purification tablet in – so you are forced to buy bottled water – very expensive. Still, for this altitude, we think this is reasonable accommodation.


Costs at various locations / altitudes

Below is a rough table of costs at the various altitudes as of 2016, of our top 10 key items. All prices are in Nepalese Rupees (as of 2016, around 133 NPR to every GBP or 105 to every USD).

Phakding (2610m) Namche (3440m) Tengboche (3860m) Dingboch (4410m) Lobuche (4940m) Gorakshep (5164m)
Avg breakfast  300 400 400 500 500 500
Avg Lunch   400 500 500 600 600 600
Avg Dinner  500 600 600 700 700 700
Beer (500ml)   600 600 600 600 700 700
Chocolate Bar   200 250 250 250 300 350
Toilet Paper   250 250 350 450 450 500
Wi-Fi (free in some bars) 200 250 350 350 500 500
Battery Charge   200 200 250 350 350 500
Water (1L)  100 100 200 300 350 350
Hot Shower  300 350 400 500 500 600

Getting to Pokhara, Nepal

This is very straightforward to organise from Kathmandu. Your choices basically come down to; Tourist Bus, Local Bus, Taxi or Plane. You can book all of these from any of the many travel / tourist shops in Thamel. Try a few before you book, but we found they were fairly consistent with each other. We then booked our tourist bus through our hotel.

If you go by road, be prepared for a long & bumpy journey. The roads are terrible, a little scary at times and the drivers attack them with speed (for a bus anyway). That said, it still takes forever, despite only being 80 miles from Kathmandu.

Tourist Buses: The buses take around 7-8 hours including stops – they stop 3-4 times, including for lunch. They are larger coaches, and at least claim to have WiFi and Air Con (in our case (company called ‘Middleway’), the aircon was a fan that didn’t work, and the WiFi didn’t work – it wasn’t too hot in November, so it wasn’t an issue). There are various standards of tourist bus, I guess ours was somewhere near the bottom. I think we paid around $10-12 per person, each way. You can increase the comfort of your ride up to around $30 per person each way if you desire.

Some tour bus companies:

Blue Sky Travel & Tours ($)
Global Vacation Tours and Travel ($)
Loyal Travel   ($)
Baba Adventure ($$)
Green line Travel & Tours ($$)
Mountain overland Tours  ($$)

Local Buses: These will be a lot cheaper ($6 per person per direction), but they don’t limit the number of passengers, and they stop at more regular intervals, so can take up to 10 hours. They can get very crowded, and won’t have air-con. Of course they could be a fantastic experience, so by all means go for it!

Plane: Fairly simple, will cost around $45 per person, one-way. So it’s much more expensive, but clearly a lot faster. The domestic airport at Kathmandu is a nightmare to understand. All announcements are in Nepalese, so it can be a challenge without a guide – something to bear in mind.

Taxi: The price for this will vary drastically, depending on your negotiating skills and the taxi-drivers willingness to drive all the way to Pokhara. You may get a taxi for around $60-80 if you’re lucky. A two-way one day trip might be an option (albeit a tiring one) and the driver may do a return journey for a similar price (as they have to return anyway).


Things to do & see

Pokhara is a beautiful place that’s relatively calm and peaceful compared with Kathmandu. It’s surrounded by beauty, which you can just stare at, or explore for days on end.

We spent 3-4 days there, and were fairly relaxed about seeing things, but we’d recommend the following:

Walk up to Sarangkot – This is a long-old walk, and it’s steep. Youwalk to the north end of Lakeside, and you’ll find signs for Sarangkot, then walk up a steep footpath for half a day, climbing the best part of 3,000ft. It’s a challenge, but you never know, you may meet Hom, who we speak about in this story. The view at the top is incredible (see picture below). Most people go there for sunrise, so it gets very hectic; we were there for sunset which was much more peaceful – although cloud cover is a greater risk at this time. You can also paraglide from Sarangkot if you arrange that in Pokhara.

pokhara-hilltop-view-from-sarangkot-1

The Peace Pagoda (& boat hire) – again this is another walk. But you can rent a row boat first, to take you to the bottom of the hill, then walk to the Pagoda – it’s only around 45 minutes uphill, and the Pagoda is lovely. Again, great views, and the monument itself is beautifully crisp & white, and the story behind the world’s 100 peace pagodas is lovely (can be read outside).

Tibetan monk camps / stores – we spent some time talking to a few Tibetans who were selling goods in Pokhara; they are fairly common. There’s a little strip of Tibetan shops that comes off the lakeside main road which has a lot of cute things you can browse. If you buy anything, it’s to a good cause as well, as the Tibetans are refugees that aren’t recognised by the Nepalese government as citizens – so they can’t work – they can only manufacture things and sell them, and they can’t go back to their own country. There are also specific camps you can visit, if you wish to see where they live together. Tours can be arranged in Pokhara that cover this, but they are quite expensive (we were quoted around $70 each for 1/2 a day).


Places to eat (or not)

There are a number of great places to eat in Pokhara, and we’ve reviewed a couple on TripAdvisor below. We ate in a number of others that we struggled to find on TripAdvisor and unfortunately didn’t keep note of. But do try some of the less touristy-looking places, as they can often surprise. Not many available in Pokhara, mind.


Places to stay

We only stayed in one place, but we would recommend it. It was a nice, clean place, value for money (we paid $20 a night, but this was through arranging with our previous hotel – not sure if that meant we got a good or a bad price); the AirCon, WiFi and TV all worked, and there was a nice warm shower. The location was fine – it was Lakeside, but around a 5 minute walk from the central area – no big deal. You can read our tripadvisor review of the place in the link below.


Costs

Broadly speaking expect the costs to be around the same or slightly lower than in Kathmandu. You’ll still be ripped off as a tourist unless you challenge it, so simply be aware and you’ll find everything reasonable.

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