Slightly different from my more typical reviews on flights and hotels, in this post I’ll discuss our time in Kathmandu. We spent parts of 3 days here before and after our hiking trip on the Annapurna circuit. Given this is a common stopover point in the region, and the main international airport in Nepal, hopefully this will be useful.
We used the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu as our base during our time here. We arrived from Bhutan the day before hike began since we needed time for our outfitter to get trekking permits before leaving early the city the next morning. Then we had 2 nights back in Kathmandu before flying out. This buffer was recommended by our outfitter in case of travel delays getting back from our hike. Ultimately, we had parts of 4 days in the city. Here is some of what we did while there.
Temples and World Heritage Sites
There are several UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley. We visited several of them. There are several near the Hyatt, Boudhanath Stupa and the Pashupatinath Temple. The former is a Buddhist temple, with the largest stupa in Nepal, and the latter is considered the most sacred Hindu temple in Nepal. Mostly due to ease of access (a ~10 minute walk) from the Hyatt, we only visited Boudhanath. For those squeamish, a common function of the Pashupatinath Temple is cremation, so keep that in mind.
The area around Boudhanath has lots of activity. Various little shops and restaurants. The inner area near the stupa and requires foreigners to pay a NPR400 entry fee. It is a busy area, and we had some persistent offers from guides. Eventually, they let us go, but the unfortunate nature of a temple like this is you walk in a circle around it, and see the same people again…
Another Buddhist temple we visited is Swayambhunath, commonly called the Monkey Temple. Rainy, but still nice views of the Kathmandu valley from the high hill where the temple is located. We took a taxi from our hotel to the base of the stairs shown above.
Not just monkeys here, we saw lots of goats and dogs as well:
Kathmandu Durbar Square
Durbar Square is the site of a former royal palace. Unfortunately, this area was badly damaged during the 2015 earthquake. It was a short-ish walk from the monkey temple to this area. This is located in the central part of the city, and beyond the historic areas we enjoyed walking in/around this bustling part of Kathmandu.
I always enjoy exploring a new city, and doing so on foot is my favorite way to do so. The sights, sounds, smells, and more were a nice way to get to know the city better. Unlike some of the temples and other areas, as we were walking around, we definitely stood out as the foreigners with the locals just going about their day.
Other activities in Kathmandu
After our trek in the mountains, we decided to splurge on a few things. I had read that barber shops are somewhat common, and by western standards, very cheap. A shave and/or a haircut is typically around NPR 100 each, currently less than 1 USD. After a few weeks without shaving my face, it was definitely time to get cleaned up. I found a modern shop near the Hyatt, and while it was more expensive, it was a very nice experience. An excellent straight razor shave was NPR 300, much more than a more traditional place, but still a good value for me. The New Barber is based on Japanese barber shops. I didn’t realize that was a thing, but I’d gladly recommend the place.
We also decided to get a massage. It isn’t like Thailand where massage is everywhere, but it wasn’t too difficult to find a place. We opted for Seeing Hands, which has blind massage therapists. In my case, this lovely Nepali woman managed to apply a lot of pressure to my back which was great after many days of wearing a backpack in the mountains. I was sore the next day, but I really enjoyed it. My travel partner flew out later than I did, and actually went back for another massage before he headed home.
Getting around Kathmandu
Getting around is pretty easy. Traffic can be bad at times, but after dark, there is almost no traffic at all. I’ll talk later about our journey to the Annapurna range which was an adventure in itself. There are taxis everywhere, but be prepared to negotiate, and have an idea of what your trip should cost. I never saw meters used. Also, don’t expect to have seat belts, certainly not in the back seats. The roads were fine in the city except for one road outside the Hyatt which apparently has been under construction for a long time. During the rainy season, there was standing water everywhere, and quite bumpy.
Somewhere while we were moving around, we wanted to get more momos after eating them in the mountains. These are traditional Himalayan dumplings, with various fillings, both vegetarian and with meat are usually available. We visited the Momo Hut in Thamel, which is pictured below. Yum.
Another thing I often do when traveling is try to drink local craft beer. There certainly is a drinking culture in Nepal, but the craft beer scene is just getting started, with only a few options. Several Nepali beers are nearly ubiquitous in restaurants and shops. Not a lot beyond that. Some research showed a few beer bars that feature craft brews. We tried them out, and several places offered us menus full of craft beer from around the world. Only after we attempted ordering something were we told that only Nepali beers are available. After several attempts we finally found a place that offered a few brews from Colorado. Probably not worth the effort we went through, but it felt like a little accomplishment. Nepali beers are fine, just typical light lagers similar to what can be found most anywhere in the world.
I actually enjoyed my time in Kathmandu more than I thought I might. It is a hectic place, but not that difficult to navigate as a tourist. People are friendly, and most items are quite affordable. Not so large that it is hard to get around.
Also, for those wanting to stay connected while on the go, like Bhutan, Nepal is not on the T-Mobile Simple Choice plan, but local sim cards are very cheap. Even though I kept getting charges I couldn’t explain, even with a few top ups, my total spend for service on our whole trip was less than US$10.