If you travel in Nepal, you will most likely fly into Kathmandu and inevitably spend some time there trying to figure out what to do with yourself.
Since there is very little infrastructure here and since Kathmandu is the largest city and near the center of the country, it serves as the launching point for treks and most excursions to other areas of the region. The lack of infrastructure here goes past just transportation options. This is the first place we’ve ever seen or heard of that actually has daily schedules for power outages. For almost half of the daylight hours, there is no power in Nepal. Any power during this time is run off unreliable generators. This presents challenges not just for the people and economy of Nepal, but also for us tourists begging for decent Wi-Fi to pass the time and catch up with friends and family on Skype.
Instead of twiddling your thumbs waiting for the weather to clear for your flight to Lukla, here are some ideas on how to kill time in the purgatory that is Kathmandu:
Eat Like a King
As we’ve mentioned before, Nepal is not known for its local cuisine. Dal bat and Momo just don’t quite cut it. That said, the Nepalese are masters of making above-average cuisine from all over the world that is just good enough to satisfy your craving for steaks, pizza, burgers, sushi, Italian, Thai, Indian, Japanese, and any other type of food imaginable. And super cheap, too – it’s almost impossible to find an entrée for over $8, even at the nicest restaurants, and most are in the $3-$5 range at “higher end” restaurants. We even found some decent street meals (salami sandwiches, falafel wraps) for $1-$2.
So while you organize your trek, where you are apt to lose your appetite and/ or eat the same bland food for days on end, take advantage of the decent food while you can. And if you’ve just come back, reward yourself for a job well done.
A few of our favorite restaurants in Thamel (the primary tourist area of Kathmandu) are GAIA Restaurant, Everest Steak, and Roadhouse Cafe.
Tag Durbar Square and then leave
For some reason, Durbar Square is the #1 rated activity in Lonely Planet, which is another of the million reasons why we think these guidebooks are better used as toilet paper than a way to plan your travels.
Walk the 10-15 minutes to Durbar Square from Thamel, don’t pay the exorbitant fee they have posted (we just walked past the gate with our friends Tanveer and Kelly, obviously looking like tourists with huge cameras in tow, and no one said anything). Snap a few photos, maybe feed the monkeys (but be careful as they are feisty), and then grab some decent food. Or just skip it all together – you wouldn’t be missing much.
Leave the city
If you have a few days (or weeks) to spare, get the hell out of Thamel. There are some really cool places in Nepal outside of the Himalayas that you should take advantage of. Here are a few escape options:
Channel your inner Steve Irwin and track down the magnificent, highly endangered one-horned rhinos. Observe crocodiles, monkeys, deer, wild boars, huge birds, and maybe even spot the elusive tiger or leopard.
Paraglide in Pokhara
Pokhara is located at the base of the Annapurna Himalayan range and the launch point for treks in this region. It’s like a mini-Kathmandu but with incredible scenery, an even more hippie vibe, and much more to do. This is also a top five place to paraglide in the world so go jump off a mountain!
Escape to Bandipur
Between Kathmandu and Pokhara, you’ll find Bandipur, a quiet little town on top of a small mountain that is off the beaten path. If the weather is clear, you’ll also see some great views of Manaslu, the 8th highest mountain in the world. Unfortunately, it was hazy both days we got up at 5am with Tanveer and Kelly to see the sunrise here. We did get to take part in a Nepalese New Year’s parade, though, where there wasn’t another tourist in site besides the four of us.
Fuel your adrenaline at the Last Resort
Perhaps our biggest regret in Nepal was not having enough time to test our limits with the adrenaline-fueled options at The Last Resort, where a short drive from Kathmandu provides limitless adventure options, including bungy jumping, a canyon swing, white water rafting, and other ways of increasing your blood pressure.
Go on a shopping spree
The outerwear in Thamel is ridiculously cheap. You can get gear from North Face, Patagonia, Marmot, and all the other big name performance brands for a fraction of the cost back home! Okay so they are knockoffs and the quality isn’t the same but overall we found our purchases provide great value. The zippers and stitching are definitely sub-par but the performance of the material, which was most important to us, seems fairly comparable. So if you need more clothes (we can’t carry anything else so there was not shopping spree for us), grab your gear in Thamel and keep your wallet a bit thicker.
We absolutely loved Nepal. Between trekking in the highest mountains the world, exploring jungles, and relaxing in between, this place has so much to offer any traveler. While Kathmandu is no Hong Kong or Saigon, spending a few days there is a very small price to pay for the adventures that await outside the city limits.