Kathmandu: The Basics and Essentials of Nepal
January 1, 1970
by Sarah Bartlett
How to Survive Arriving in Kathmandu
Kathmandu is one of the many cities adapting and changing to meet growing tourism demands. Other online forums easily become outdated in the fast paced technology and modernized to the developing nation. It is obvious the tourism is building rapidly, and for good reason. It is incredibly cheap, culture rich, with breathtaking scenery and mouth-watering cuisines. If you have come to Kathmandu, then it is most likely you’ve planned a trek. Otherwise one of the street marketers has convinced you. Imagine Kuta in Bali, with taxi drivers shouting “taxi” at you, now replace this with Nepali men shouting “trekking”. Here are some current insider tips for arriving in the biggest city of Nepal.
VISA on Arrival
Unlike Nepal’s neighbouring country India, a VISA is very simple to receive on arrival. This can come in forms of 15, 30 or 90 days, each costing a different amount: 15 = $25, 30 = $40, 90 = $100 (US dollars).
The flight into Kathmandu is among the scarce number of flights which won’t hand you an arrival card. Instead, you will need to fill in two forms at the airport, both stating the exact same thing. It will ask you for your address in Nepal. If you haven’t got accommodation booked, then copy from a fellow traveler or put down some generic, Asain hostel name – they’re all the same. You will need a passport photo for your application. A photo service wasn’t readily available, so it’s best to have this organized in advance and save your future jet lagged self the trouble.
Once your paperwork is filled out, then head towards the VISA payment counter. Do this first before lining up to the immigration counter, otherwise, you will need to line up again. I learned this the hard way. Keep your receipts and smile politely at the Nepalese Immigration officers, “namaste”.
Following my Trip Advisor research and first-hand knowledge, I recommend a money exchange called East & West Money Exchange in Thamel. This is located a 5-minute walk away from the famous OR2K restaurant, otherwise, can be found under beside Tom & Jerry’s bar on your Maps Me app (a MUST download). I arrived at 9:30 am – their “suggested” opening time. Another kind store worker, Jagannath, called the money exchange owner to say I was waiting. I waited for about half an hour, and in which time was given Nepali Tea from a young boy, and Jagannath also added me on Facebook – how could I say no? Or to his other 3 friends who sent me friend requests. A common occurrence through all of Asia.
US currency is the most accepted in Nepal, with some hotels and restaurant’s accepting this as payment. Other currencies are accepted at exchanges, however, I had US to exchange after my VISA payment. Most exchange shops display similar currency rates. Loken, the owner from East & West did, however, give me a higher rate for waiting for him to open – insiders tip?
Now how much you exchange is really dependent on how much you pre-booked. Or to be honest, how much money you have wasted in advance. I have a pre-organised trek, which suggests $300US on food for 10 days. This is insane! Most full sized main meals cost between $2-3US. A banana and apple cost me around 30cents each. There is also an abundance of bakeries making snacks and quick meals for only a couple dollars.
Accommodation is equally as cheap. After experiencing wonderful Air BnBs in Paris, I decided to use this service again in Nepal. This cost me $20 a night, and it was in a hotel – pointless. I later found out that hostels averaged $4 a night.
Trekking is stupidly cheap – if you book in Kathmandu. I booked my tour in Australia which averaged $100 a day, including accommodation and a tour guide, without any further inclusions. Booking this same tour once you arrive in Nepal will cost around $30 per day. Remember there is also the expectation to tip your guides and porters a few extra dollars per day.
Unlike South-East Asia, Northern Asia has unreliable and more scarce WiFi options. Also unlike SE Asia, SIM cards will not give you free data. I decided to purchase an international SIM card for my stay in Tea Houses across the Himalayan mountain ranges. There are many places to arrange an international sim. To do so, you will need your passport, a VISA size photograph of yourself, your Nepal VISA information and to fill out some paperwork. I was waiting for them to ask for social security numbers at this point of identification.
Jagannath warned me to only pay between 100-200 rupees for a SIM card. I purchased this, alongside 2 GBS of data. Then was informed the SIM card was 600 rupees, for a total of 3000 rupees ($30US) including data. Outraged and now aware of how dumb I must come across as a tourist, I bargained this down to 1500 rupees in total. A word of advice, discuss payment before handing over your life’s paperwork and installing the new SIM card. I tried to remove the SIM card in the expensive outrage and was told it was pretty much a contract as my passport was already linked.
Getting Around Kathmandu
You’ve probably booked your trip to Kathmandu thinking you’re a bit off the beaten path. Think again. You’ll most likely stay in Thamel – the tourist area of Kathmandu. Picture Kuta, with yak shawls instead of Bintang singlets, and rickshaws instead of bemos/ tuk-tuks. Thamel is the heart of cheap souvenirs, restaurants, and everything touristy.
Taxis are relatively cheap, however, it isn’t common to find a meter fare. Rickshaws need to be bargained a lot to receive a good deal. How much should you really pay someone delivering you to a new destination on a bike, as if you were an Uber Eats meal? The problem both of these options face is the constant and long traffic jams. You are best to walk ten minutes outside Thamel, where you won’t find another tourist, then jump in transportation. Or you’ll be lucky to run into a 5-year old called Hardy in the back streets of Kathmandu. He helped me find Swayambhunath – the Monkey Temple. I would highly recommend him; 9/10 Trip Advisor review.
Rent your Trekking Gear and get out of Thamel!
Hopefully, this information will help survive a recommended 2 days in Kathmandu before heading off on your trek. Eat mo mo’s, popular Israeli dishes, and Punjabi curries in Kathmandu before several consecutive days of dal bhat and porridge in the mountains.