Nepal has always been a place that I’ve had a deep love for; not only for its intense natural beauty and adventurous opportunities but it’s also the Nepalese people that have always made me feel as though I have a second home in the Kathmandu Valley.
Along with one of my best friends, Bianca, we’ve been to Nepal a total of 6 times and collectively spent roughly 8 months of our lives there. We first visited Nepal in 2009 as volunteers, eager to spend a month caring for underprivileged children and assisting the boarding school anyway we could. It wasn’t long before I was in love. The young kids didn’t want anything from us other than our time and attention and not once did I hear any complaining. I remember once watching a group of them playing soccer, the ball had a hole in it so was slowing going flat. That didn’t stop them playing though, they knew that was the only ball they had that day so instead of complaining or asking for a new one they just got on with it and enjoyed themselves.
Over the years I’ve seen many things change (one of them being, thankfully, a lot less rubbish on the streets) and I have been lucky enough to meet so many people from all over the world who hold similar interest. We now work closely with a NGO called In Giving We Receive (IGWR). Australians working with the local community to ensure the 80 + children they support have safe and happy homes and receive the education all children in the world deserve. I’m lucky enough to sponsor 3 children and it wouldn’t be possible without them.
Ok…. So along the way I have also had my time to explore and eat and drink my way around the Kathmandu valley.
When I first went to Nepal a fellow volunteer told me that the only reason you come to Nepal is either to trek or volunteer. I don’t necessarily agree with that. They’re definitely great reasons to go but don’t overlook the many amazing temples and monasteries showcasing the countries rich culture and history. Along with so much good food, shopping, hiking and national parks.
After landing at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, jump in one of the many taxis out the front and for around 500 rupees head into Thamel.
***A couple of things to note, Nepal’s currency is Nepalese rupees and this is a restricted currency, so you will need to get some cash exchanged in the airport when you arrive. Also pretty much all nationalities need a visa to enter Nepal, this can be obtained at the airport on arrival. The fees are charged in USD and the amount will depend on how long you plan on staying.***
Thamel is the tourist hub of Kathmandu, filled with hotels, restaurants and shops. Walking through the narrow streets, alongside many taxis, rickshaws, scooters, bikes, dogs & tourists, I somehow always feel completely at peace & relaxed.
Shop owners will try and sell you their goods (jewellery, books, scarves, paintings, DVDs, bags, wall hangings and spices – just to name a few) but if you’re not interested a polite ‘no thank you’ will do and they’ll most likely wish you a good day. I always have fun shopping in Thamel, I only ask for prices if it’s something I would actually want to buy, they are more than happy to barter but don’t be silly… remember how cheap everything is there when you converter it back to your own currency.
I wouldn’t recommend ever wearing short skirts, low neck lines or tops with thin straps while in Nepal. In a way to be respectful and avoid unwanted attention.
Where can you sleep?
If you head straight to Thamel and haven’t booked accommodation, don’t worry. Thamel is filled with big and small hotels, so there’ll always be something available. You can ask to see the rooms before you book and rooms go for around 20USD per night if not less.
I’ve spent the majority of my nights in Nepal staying in home-stays. If you really want to live like a local this is a perfect way to do it. Local people will rent out rooms in their homes and will provide you with (in my experience) amazing breakfast and dinners for as little as 12USD a night. It’s an awesome opportunity to experience the local cuisine too, I have no doubt you’ll have a lot of dal bhat.
When we were there a couple of months ago we rented an apartment for the first time. It was nice having our own space and going to the local dairy to get fresh milk and curd in the morning, then stopping at the little markets to get fresh fruit. These options are great as they are usually located out of town so have a very different vibe compared with Thamel. Apartments for rent can be found on flipkey. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try a new style of accommodation.
There’s an array of choices when it comes to food in Kathmandu. These are a few of my favourites in Thamel.
Electric Pogoda: This is by far my favourite restaurant, not necessarily because of the food (which is good but not mind blowing), it’s just got the most beautiful and peaceful atmosphere. Located away from any main road makes it one of the quietest places in Thamel. Sitting on the floor with plenty of cushions & the little table in front of me, depending on the day, I could sit there and read for hours or drink beer while the chill out music plays in the background.
OR2K: Now this place has amazing food, it’s Israeli-run and serves vegetarian Middle Eastern dishes. But I’m sorry to say the service is terrible. It takes them ages to even take your order and when you eventually get your food fingers crossed it’s what you asked for. I think it’s still worth going to at least once though, the food is that good and you’ll definitely have to grab a fresh lemonade.
Pumpernickels: This is the only place in Thamel you’ll get amazing bread. We love going here for breakfast and they also serve really good coffee.
Fire and Ice: This is one of the most expensive restaurants you’ll come across (not compared with Australian prices but for Nepal standards it’s a lot). I’m pretty sure it’s owned by an Italian women and the pizzas there really are worth every penny.
La Dolce Vista: This one is also pricey but the food and service will never fail you, I always order the chicken pesto pasta.
Anatolia: Is perfect if you want to share a number of dishes with friends. They serve Turkish and Indian cuisine. Also the food is Halal.
There are also so many awesome little restaurants throughout Thamel that I don’t even remember the names of that serve beautiful local dishes. But avoid ordering fresh food like salads in cheaper restaurants. I’ve seen a number of people get sick after doing this as I would assume the ingredients weren’t washed in clean water. Please don’t let that turn you off though, I’ve had some amazing meals in these little places. And before I stop talking about food I need to mention the amount of “hipster” cafes and coffee shops popping up all over Kathmandu in the last couple of years. Sitting in them, enjoying my skinny latte, I feel like I could be somewhere in Europe! Until I look out the window haha…
Kathmandu has a great nightlife scene as well, there’s heaps of cool bars offering happy hour deals in the late evening and live bands later in the night. A few of our favourites are Tom & Jerry’s, Sam’s bar, Reggae Bar and if you’ve had a few, Fire Club can be a bit of fun. You could just wonder around Thamel until you see somewhere you like & bar’s generally shut around mid-night.
The best things to do in Kathmandu:
Pashupatinath: This is a sacred Hindu temple and located on the banks of the Bagmati River. It’s the oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu and here you’ll see amazing architecture and possibly locals farewelling their loved ones. Cremations of Nepalese take place daily on the rivers ghats. It’s a very special place that you’ll want to take your time to experience.
Boudhanath Stupa (or just Boudha): This is one of the largest stupas in the world and a very important place to the Nepalese and Tibetan Buddhist. Upon entering the main gate you’ll see just how large and incredible this stupa is. Before you start shopping and picking a restaurant for lunch, you need to walk around the stupa three times clockwise (don’t go the other way, like we did the first time, you don’t want to disrupt its flow). When you stop for food, there are heaps of restaurant options but get a seat on one of the rooftops, as on a clear day you’ll see a glimpse of the Himalayas.
Swayambhunath aka Monkey temple (you can guess why): This complex consisted of a stupa and a variety of shrines and temples. It’s located on a hilltop on the out skirts of the city. Once you’re at the top you’ll get wonderful panoramic views of the valley. Swayambhunath is primarily Buddhist but it’s lovely to see a hint of Hinduism amongst it all. There are two ways to reach the top, the front entrance which involves climbing 365 steps (one for each day of the year) or arriving from the back and seeing the beautiful golden Buddha’s as you walk up, a lot less steps.
Kopan Monastery: I love going here just to sit, think about nothing and enjoy the clean air. It’s located at the end of a quiet road on the outskirts of Kathmandu and offers amazing views of the Kathmandu valley. The monastery is a place for study and practice. Visitors are welcome to enjoy the grounds and take in the spiritual atmosphere.
Narayanhiti Palace Museum: Just on the door step of Thamel is the palace that formally served as the residence and primary workplace of the reigning monarch of the kingdom of Nepal. If you’re interested in Nepal’s fascinating history and the story of the palace massacre that occurred in 2001…. It’s worth a visit.
Garden of Dreams: Located just up the road from the palace is the most beautiful and peaceful garden. Stepping though the main gates is like stepping into a different world. The air is suddenly fresh and the noise from the busy streets can hardly be heard. The gardens are exceptionally well maintained and it’s nice to get yourself away from the hustle and bustle of Thamel.
In the past I would have added Kathmandu Durbar square to the list. I’m not saying don’t bother going now but unfortunately due to the devastating earth quake in April 2015, Durbar square is severely damaged and there’s not a whole lot left to see. The square is within easy walking distance from most hotels in Thamel.
All of the above sites (except Kopan) charge an entry fee, prices vary between 300-1500 rupees.
Getting around to all these awesome sites?
Taxis are everywhere, they’ll always start out with a ridiculous price so don’t be afraid to barter. If you’re going somewhere far it’s always best to ask someone ahead of time roughly what it should cost so you don’t get ripped off.
Local buses go everywhere and can offer a bit of a laugh when you see how many people they attempt to squeeze into a van. It can be a bit difficult to get around on these as many people don’t speak English but we’ve always found that someone is there to help whether it be another passenger that can translate or give us directions, or a fellow traveller that’s done this route before.
Nowhere in the world has filled my soul with so much good energy and put things into perspective like Nepal has done. In a country that has been through many hard times and heartache, the Nepalese people still manage to find sunshine in every day and work hard not just to help themselves but all those around them.
I could seriously go on all day about Nepal so if you have any questions or want any further information on IGWR, volunteering or home stays, please feel free to contact me!