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Itinerary: 3-4 Days Backpacking in Kathmandu

Trip details:

Hi Rebekah,


I'm planning a short stopover in Kathmandu and would like your help in planning it. I have 3-4 days in mid-November (dates not final yet). Please help me with an itinerary I can follow and with finding good accommodation. I'll be traveling solo. I don't mind staying in hostels but would prefer a place where I can interact with the hosts or other locals - so a reasonably pricedb&b would also do.


I'd like to cover the major cultural highlights of the city and have the local food. I'm okay with having street food (but do let me know if there are special precautions I should take besides drinkingsafe water).


Any other tips with regards to public transport, day trips, etc. also appreciated.


Thanks,


Nicolas

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Day One - Thamel and getting acclimated:

Nicolas,


Depending on where you're coming from and what time you get into Kathmandu, I'd recommend taking it easy your first day. There's lots to see simply wandering around Thamel, which is filled with these great winding streets and endless sights to see.


Kathmandu street art


There are also endless bars, restaurants, souvenir shops and stores to look at, plus people watching is incredibly entertaining. Not sure if you've been to South Asia before, but when I landed in KTM it was my first time in this part of the world and I was shocked and thrilled to see cows in the street, people walking with huge baskets balanced on their heads, etc.


I also suggest spending your first day taking it easy and staying close to home b/c you may have altitude sickness. Kathmandu is about 1000m elevation, which isn't much compared to other cities in Nepal (or when compared to the Himalaya peaks!) The city is technically in a valley, but that valley is much higher than the elevation in Los Angeles where I originated.


I got major altitude sickness - dizzy spells, shortness of breath, etc. It may hit on the first day or the fourth, it's different with every person. Since you're only there a few days I really suggest taking it easy when you first arrive. 


Also, the air in KTM is pretty bad - pollution and smog that gets trapped in the valley. Definitely buy a cheap mask to wear when you're walking around outside. You may find that more than 2 hours at a time leaves you feeling a bit breathless and sick. 


Day one - walking around Thamel and getting lost. Have lunch here:


Lunch in Thamel


No address (there aren't really 'street names' in Thamel) but the name of the place and phone number are on the picture. Great, cheap Indian food.

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Day Two - Durbar Square and the Monkey Temple:

The two main must-see tourist sites are within walking distance from your hotel. 


Have milk tea in the street, and order chicken momo for breakfast (or you can wait to eat until 11am like the locals and have dahlbat. Be sure to eat with your hands!!)


DARBUR SQUARE


Walk the 1.5 km to Durbar Square - go early in the morning to avoid crowds.


Thamel to Durbar Square


Also, the earlier you go, the cleaner to air will be (and you'll enjoy a moment of zen - Kathmandu is very quiet in the early mornings)


Durbar Square is probably the most iconic complex in Kathmandu - it's filled with temples, pagodas, shrines, a museum, etc etc. Be sure to bring your camera and don't miss the sort of creepy statue in the south corner of the complex - it's a statue of this girl who was sacrificed to the gods to become a Hindu deity (not sure if that really happened but it's definitely possible!)


Durbar Square


I recommend lunch on the street. If you end up in a Western restaurant you'll pay a lot more but depending on how adventurous you are, you might want some familar food. Yak cheese balls are DELICICIOUS, you can find them most anywhere. Dried buffalo is also not to be missed.


Also, better to eat off site (not at the complex) unless you want to pay 2x as much. 


Swayambhunath: The Monkey Temple


In the afternoon, head to The Monkey Temple (you can also save this for another day if it's too much, but I want you to have time for the day trip I have planned, which is technically an overnight trip).


You can definitely take a taxi as its 3.4 km from Thamel, but I walked and it was a very interesting walk so I recommend you do the same.


walk to Swayumbanath


It's also pretty much straight West of Thamel so easy to find, and the walk takes you straight up this amazing mountain that gets steeper and steeper.


First you'll cross the Bismati River -  



Keep heading West and you'll reach a temple that overlooks the city - this is NOT the monkey temple but is still really cool! 



Once you start to see restaurants with English signs and a huge set of hundreds of stairs, you know you've arrived at "Swayumbanath" (aka 'the monkey temple.).


There are prayer wheels lining the bottom steps of east side of the temple - you can spin each one and make a wish.


As you ascend the steps you'll encounter begging children, women selling crafts and fruit, and all sorts of interesting statues and mini-temples.


Take your time on the walk up (again, the altitude) but also b/c there is a lot to see.


Oh, did I mention the monkeys?? 


monkeys


They are EVERYWHERE and really tame, so don't be surprised if they come right up to you! (but I wouldn't recommend petting them b/c they're still definitely wild!)


You have to buy a ticket on the way up - look for a little ticket taker on your left as you ascend the stairs (tickets are around $2, and are more expensive for foreigners than locals.)


Monkey Temple


The top of the temple will offer stunning views of the entire city of Kathmandu - I came here in the morning and was dissapointed to see a smoggy/hazy view. I was told the view is much better in the afternoon, towards sunset (not sure why, but try going around 3 or 4pm and you should have better luck).


There's lots to explore at the top besides the view, more pagods, temples, statues, and monuments, plus when I was there I saw a crew shooting a Nepali music video and a medicine man performing blessings on newlywed couples. 


In the evening, go see some live music back in Thamel and enjoy some Gorkha at happy hour (watch out though - if the altitude is effecting you, the beer will go straight to your head!!)

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Day Three and Four - Nagarkot sunrise:

OPTIONAL: If the Monkey Temple and Durbar Square is too much for one day, you can choose to do Durbar Square on the morning of the third day.


NAGARKOT DAY TRIP


Nargakot


This isn't exactly a day trip because the entire point of going to Nagarkot is to watch the sunrise, so a stay overnight is a must.


This village is located about 2.5 hour bus ride from Kathmandu. There are many trekking route that orginate here, but I'm sending you so you can see the "10 peaks" - it's the only place in Nepal where you can see almost all of the world's highest peaks at once (Manaslu, Ganesh, Langtang, dorje Lakpa, sisa pagma, Choyu, Gauri Shankar, and if it's clear you'll see Everest). 


GETTING THERE


Nargakot


Bus is cheapest but you can also take a taxi for around $20 USD one-way. 


If you want to take the bus: 


take a taxi to Bakhtapur Bus Terminal in Kathmandu. 


Get on the bus to Bhaktapur - it will cost around 25 rupees and take around an hour to arrive. Once you're there, you have to get on a second bus to Nagarkot, which will take 1.5 hours and cost around 50 rupees. 


You can get there slightly faster and avoid the hassle of two buses if you hire a taxi in Kathmandu. We did this and negotiated around $20 USD. As a frame of reference, a taxi from Pokhara to kathmandu (7+ hours by bus) costs around $100.



WHERE TO STAY


You have a good pick of guest houses here - if you prefer to book in advance try the Lost Horizon Hotel ($11/night). You can find rooms as cheap as $4/night here but there probably won't be a bathroom in your room and it will be bare bones. 


Make sure you have warm clothing, it will get cold in the mountains at night and many guest houses (most!) do not have heat. 


Don't be afraid to ask for extra blankets if you're cold.


WHAT TO DO


Hike to the Nagarkot view tower - over 2000+ meters above sea level and incredible views of the surrounding peaks!! Spend the afternoon scoping out/asking for the best place to watch the sunset (might be your guest house, might be the tower - some guest houses have better views than others).


If you want to do some activities in the afternoon, there is yoga, hiking, horseback riding, meditation classes, etc. We spent our time just walking around enjoying nature and the beautiful views. 


FOOD


We ate in a few different guest houses (they all have restaurants) but our favorite was dinner at Hotel at the End of the Universe - a good place to stay too if you want something more midrange ($25-$65/night). 


Otherwise there isn't exactly a hopping culinary scener here.


SUNRISE



Sunset was great but the sunrise was 10x better. Be sure to ask your guest house owner what time sunrise is and ask for a wake up call if you need it (they'll just knock on your door). Bring the camera!! And of course have delicious steaming milk tea while you watch the sunrise.


If your flight is on the 4th day, I'd suggest heading back to Kathmandu after sunrise (bus or taxi). Even if your flight is that night, better safe than sorry - roads are bad, buses break down, and you'll want to leave plenty of time so you don't miss your flight!

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Hello Nicolas! By Rebekah Voss
Replies (+)

Rebekah Voss wrote:  

Hi Nicolas,

 

I'm so excited to hear you're headed to Kathmandu - it is SUCH an exciting city and I can't wait to share ideas with you for a great 3-4 days. I'm hard at work on your itinerary now and will get back with you soon.

 

Sincerely,

Rebekah

Nicolas Bormann wrote:  

Thanks so much, Rebekah. I see you've posted a few updates. I'll look forward to the itinerary as well. I'm looking into the accommodations you suggested and will ping back if I need more help there.

Cheers,

Nicolas

Nicolas Bormann wrote:  

Hi Rebekah, any updates?

Nic


day trips, etc By Rebekah Voss
Replies (+)

Rebekah Voss wrote:  

Definitely Nicolas! There is an AMAZING day/overnight trip from Kathmandu I'm going to tell you about where you can see 10 Himalayan peaks from a single spot (aka most incredible sunrise on earth). Forgive the brief delay, I'll have much more to you tonight (my Monday night) including photos.

Sincerely,

R


Day 1 and 2 itineraries By Rebekah Voss
Replies (+)

Rebekah Voss wrote:  

Hi Nicolas,

 

I've submitted itineraries for Day 1 and 2. Day 3 is your day trip, will have that to you soon!

 

Cheers,

Rebekah

Nicolas Bormann wrote:  

Looks amazing - both of the day-wise itineraries. Thanks so much! Looking forward to the day trip as well.

Cheers,

Nic


Day 3-4 itineraries By Rebekah Voss
Replies (+)

Rebekah Voss wrote:  

Hi Nicolas,

 

I've added your day trip itinerary, which is really an overnight trip because I want you to stay for the sunrise!! Nagarkot is about 2.5 hours from Kathmandu by bus or taxi - you'll see the sunset and sunrise over the world's 10 highest peaks, ALL visible from your guest house. 

Let me know what you think!!

Cheers,

Rebekah

Nicolas Bormann wrote:  

OMG - this is amazing. I hope I get a clear day to see all the peaks, esp Everest. Thanks so much again for all your help. This might be the best 5 bucks I ever spent. So looking forward to my trip - the dates should be final soon. I'll be in touch in case I have any more questions but it all looks good for now.

Cheers,

Nic


Airport to Thamel:

Don't be afraid to take a taxi from the airport to Thamel (the neighborhood I suggest you stay in). It shouldn't cost more than 500 rupees (about $5 USD).


The airport is actually really close to Thamel but if traffic is bad is could take up to 2 hours to get there.


Ex - arriving in Kathmandu, it took me 2 hours to get from the airport to my hotel. Leaving Kathmandu, it took 20 minutes to get from the hotel to the airport. Just don't make any plans set in stone upon your arrival.


Note that locals probably pay more like 3-400 rupees so don't let the taxi driver scam you! Many hotels offer airport pick up as well, but will charge extra and claim it's "ONLY 600 rupees!" (too much!!)


The airport is intimidating  - lots of crowds, shouting, and people asking for tips. Hold onto your hat! Stick to around 500 rupees. If the driver won't budget just find another driver. 

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Getting around town:

I never took the public bus in Kathmandu, but I took the bus in Pokhara and it was super cheap (between 10 cents and 30 cents depending on how far you were going).


The hard thing about taking the bus in Nepal is that it's not always clear where the bus is going, or where it's stopping. You might be braver than me and just hop on and hope for the best!


I walked to major tourist attractions from Thamel (tourist district of Kathmandu) and was happy with it. I also took taxis a few times and had no trouble. I didn't use the meter though, I always negotiated a flat rate. Once you know that getting from the airport is around 500 rupees, anything within town should be that much or cheaper. 


Confidence is key when negotiating with cab drivers - the first price they quote you is a test to see if you know how much things cost or not. I had ONE taxi driver in Kathmandu who was honest and offered to take me TO (not from) the airport for 350 rupees without any haggling. 


I found it worked best to simply remain silent after they quote the price and give them a polite but firm "Seriously?" look. Let them then negotiate against themselves. You can follow with "is that really your best price?"


Anyway, even if they charge you double it's still cheap to take taxis around town.


Note that most cabs do not have seatbelts and that your driver will drive like a maniac (like everyone else on the road). I never felt unsafe but definitely had a few wild rides!


Same with the bus - if you take it, it will be packed. With a local bus, you may even have to sit on the roof!

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Stay in Nagarkot:

I recommend Lost Horizon Hotel (budget) or 


 


Lost Horizon HotelNagarkot5 minute walk from the main road. Rs1100 for double room, Rs1500 for small 2-store house. Can't book online that I know of, ask a local for directions from the bus stop. 


More high-end: 


Hotel at the End of the Universe 9771-6680011, 016226500 (),  $ 24- 60 $ per night (good food!)

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Guest House in Kathmandu:

I initially stayed at the Holy Lodge Guest House in Thamel (tourist district). It was $8/night and was great, my only complaint was that the downstairs restaurant was overpriced. Otherwise the room was clean and comfortable. For that price I had a shared bathroom, but you can most likely upgrade to a private bathroom for $12/night.


Here is the thing about hotels in Nepal - if you go the "bed and breakfast" route you're just paying more but it's not going to be "nice." Nepal is a poor country and they just don't really 'do' luxury. The crapholes are $2/night (though I had friends in Pokhara who found great rooms for this amount, but I wouldn't recommend it in Kathmandu). The thing is, you can also find awful hotels for $8/night (stayed in one on my way out of the country - AWFUL!)


Harvest Moon has hot water (luxury!!) and good WiFi. If you are senstive to noise be sure and bring headphones and/or ear plugs, Thamel is loud at night (lots of bars, karaoke clubs, etc.). 


 


(more soon!)

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Super helpful

Rebekah's tips were well organized and extremely useful during my trip. I loved the amount of detail and effort that went into the planning. Rebekah is truly a super Travel Ninja. I had a wonderful time in Nepal. Thanks!