Sunday, June 30, 2013

Travel Tips for Nepal

In my month in Nepal, I've gained a reasonably quantity of traveler wisdom, which I now I feel the need to bestow on the internet. Because travel planning is difficult, and it's so hard to know in advance what the right things to do/places to stay/foods to eat are! So if you go to Nepal, here are my recommendations. (Trekking not included -- I will write a detailed how-to-trek post eventually.) And please comment or email me if you want more details on anything I've done -- I am more than happy to help you plan a trip!

First things first, some notes on how Sister2 and I travel (because you should know our style before you take our recommendations):

--- Medium-cheap, within reason. So in Nepal that means hotel rooms for 2 with attached bath are about 300-600 rupees ($3.50ish -$7ish US), and meals for two (no alcohol) are around 400-1000 rupees ($5ish-$11ish US).

--- The exchange rate while we were there was about $.91 US = 100r.

--- We don't like hanging with all the other foreigners. I didn't come to Nepal to make only American friends...

--- We're day people, i.e. we get up relatively early and don't stay out late.

--- Though in America I like living in cities, Kathmandu is VERY polluted and not really my jam. I am definitely not a developing country city person.

--- We're here for the month of June, aka OFF SEASON. We had restaurants and hotels literally to ourselves the whole time. Nepalis say it is really different in tourist season (October-December) and everything is a lot more expensive. Also, everything (including shopping) is significantly cheaper in off season, and as the only potential customers around, our bargaining power was HIGH.

In Kathmandu:
We stayed on the edge of Thamel (the neighborhood where everyone stays), near the Garden of Dreams.

Best food:
--- OR2K Mediterranean. For serious, do not miss this! So much fresh veggies! Get the OR2K Platter (hummus, baba ganoush, etc., 550r/$6 US) which is enough for 2 people and the best Mediterranean food I've ever had. And/or the Stuffed Vegetable Special (550r/$6 US), also huge. The first time we went, Sister2 and I ordered one of each and clearly finished it all like the champions we are...but it was way more food than is reasonable or necessary.
Directions: It's in the main area of Thamel and everyone knows it, so just ask.

--- Spice Garden for amazing Indian food. Get the fish curry (285r) and Chana masala (195r) and naan (95r). Bonus: great (/hilarious)American pop music playing. 
Directions: Turn left at Hot Bread on  Chaksibari Marg, (when you're in Thamel this will make sense to you) and walk for maybe 5 minutes (maybe less), it's on the second floor on your left.

Coffee: Himalayan Java. Best coffee I have ever had, free refills until 11 am and real coffee mugs (i.e. American-sized). The breakfast combos are a great deal, and the fruit/curd/muesli is delish!
Directions: On Trevedi Marg before you get into thamel, kitty-corner from Garden of Dreams on the second floor.

Best Spa and Yoga:

Radiance Spa. We got a number of massages and treatments through our time in Nepal, and this one was by far the best. It felt like a real spa, not just curtained "rooms" of questionable cleanliness. The staff is SO nice, and the facials are amazing.
Directions: On Chaksibari Marg, two minutes down from Spice Garden on the opposite side of the street. Look for a restaurant called Brezel.
Note: Spas have menus with prices listed, but you can definitely bargain. We paid about 1,000r ($11ish US) per massage throughout Nepal. 

Yoga:  Also at Radiance Spa! They will schedule the class whenever you want, 2 people at a time (it's a small room), 400r ($4ish US) per person per hour. They will give you a cotton yoga outfit to wear, and they have a shower for afterwards if you want. A legit teacher comes and gives you basically a private yoga class, a mix of ashtanga and vinyasa yoga (so maybe that would be 'power flow' in the US?). And this was LEGIT. We're in it for the exercise, so we were super-psyched when the teacher said he would give us a "good hard exercise yoga" instead of a more spiritual yoga. (I'm sure you could tell him what you want though if exercise isn't your jam.) 


Everest Trekking Gear. We became real-life friends (Facebook official!) with the guys at the gear shop right next to Marco Polo Guest House on Trevedi Marg (on your left if you're heading into Thamel from the direction of the Royal Palace and Garden of Dreams). 

They helped us plan our trek, told us what we needed (but didn't up-sell us), and gave us very useful directions and information throughout our time in Nepal. Stop by, drink tea with them, and make friends!

Also, don't assume shops only have what's on display -- they have WAY more than what you see on the shelves, you just have to ask. 

Sleeping Bags (and other gear): Ok so I don't know the name...walking on Trivedi Marg into Thamel, the street kind of ends (it's a big open intersection), take a left, and go to the first gear shop on your left. They are very knowledgeable and have really nice sleeping bags and other gear. Sister2 bargained herself two VERY nice down bags for about $70 US each.

Tourism things worth doing in Kathmandu:

Buddha Stupa -- go, walk around, sit at a rooftop cafe and enjoy the view.

Monkey Stupa -- walk there from Thamel (25 minutes).

Bhaktipur -- ancient city about a 1-hour city bus ride from the Bhaktipur Bus Park near Thamel (just ask for directions from someone). Admission is expensive (1,100r/$12ish US). The architecture is cool, and we didn't regret going, but I wouldn't call this a MUST-see. But if you have an extra day, go for it.

In Chitwan:

Guide: Binda's Animal Adventures. Office across from Sweet Memories Restaurant (there's only one main street in Sauraha).

Hotel: Hotel Orchid. Clean and well-lit. We bargained it down to 700r/night.

Breakfast: Sweet Memories. Get the organic coffee and banana pancake with honey (it comes like a crepe). They also have really good strong milk tea.

Dinner: Holy Restaurant, next to the river (where they do elephant bathing). The fish is really good, as is their "Mexican" food (for some reason, Mexican is a popular cuisine type around Nepal). Also a good place to get tea and watch the sun set.

In Pokhara

Shop at the women's development stores. The prices are totally reasonable, and they have REALLY cute purses and bags and wallets. And it's for a good cause.

Transportation in general

Whenever possible, go to the bus park yourself to buy your tickets. Travel companies tack an additional 1,000r ($10 US) onto the price, which is pure bs. Also, then you can see what you're getting into bus quality-wise before you commit).

Note: Nepal's roads are TERRIBLE, so even if you take a nicer tourist bus, don't expect a smooth ride. And sit near the front, unless you enjoy getting air when the bus hits holes and bumps.

Food in general:
Street-side tea and donuts. So cheap. SO GOOD. Everywhere.

Ok that's all I can think of for now. Again, comment or email me if you have questions. Happy traveling!