“Amy, look, *insert airline* is having cheap tickets to Kathmandu!”
Let’s just say that me saying that pretty much sealed the deal.
The next 48hrs saw a flurry of activity; preliminary research, checking of bank accounts, budgeting monthly expenditures, asking…no wait, TELLING our parents we’re dead set on this trip, carrying out adventure-related-stuff inventory, purposely not listening to advise. Well, finally….
Tickets booked, KUL-KTM-KUL. BOOM!
OK, I admit, when that ‘purchase approved’ page stared at my face, I just had to sit back and digest that I AM GONNA GO TO KATHMANDU!!! One of my best impulsive purchase EVER.
Alright, fast forward four months (we bought tickets in July for a trip at the end of November, haha), five campaigns, three reports and one closing ceremony later, I was happily tucked into my plane seat. Even then, I was still questioning my sanity for purchasing a flight ticket to Nepal of all places, but as the plane rolled down the runway, I thought, f*ck it. I need this adventure!
And so began the journey of two friends winging it backpacker-style in Nepal for one week (so sue us, our respective companies only allowed us that much), wondering what on Earth can this country that is pretty much only really known for Mt Everest can promise and teach us?
Well, turns out, heaps.
Open your minds and your notebooks, people, coz this tiny country can humble you in so many different ways, I could get all Descartes-like on it.
When two (Asian) girls in super casual clothes carry backpacks and are headed for a place that can somewhat still be considered off the beaten path, it may raise a few eyebrows. However, it must have worked well to our advantage – worried where our next decent meal would come by and from, kind Ms Stewardess offered Amy and I a third tray of food for the both share. I KID YOU NOT.
“Oh, it’s okay. One of the last ones, and we’re done with service anyway. Take, take!”
Thanks, kind Ms Stewardess! And thank you for also taking interest in us, and asking for our wellbeing and lifting our spirits by telling us how impressed you are that we’re going to Nepal by ourselves without making prior arrangements.
Just near landing, captain makes an announcement that the people sitting on the right side of the plane are lucky, coz folks, that Mt Everest right there. The scramble to get to the right side with cameras and what not nearly caused the plane to tip! (OK, that situation is not exactly possible in real life…) Teaser over, we buckled in for the landing. Probably one of the scarier landings I’ve had, but damn, after the landing, the sign below got me excited!!
ok, fine, I pulled this off the net. got waaaay to excited about landing and then got frantic about getting the visa.
pulling out my camera to take a photo wasn’t an option at the time….
Alright, hold on to your hats coz I’m about to drop some tips.
- Most countries won’t need a visa ahead of time – it’s easily obtained at the entry point. USD25 gets you a 15-day multiple entry visa. PLEASE BE AWARE that if you are in Nepal for volunteer work, then you will need to apply for a special volunteer visa before entry into the country.
- You’re only allowed to be in Nepal for 150 days in a visa year, no matter which type of visa you get. Have to check back about the volunteer visa, though.
- Make sure you have a few passport-sized photos handy. A copy of your passport won’t go amiss, as would the amount you intend to pay already in small denominations. Euro and Pounds are also accepted.
- You can print the visa application form and fill it in before you leave; alternatively, there will be copies of it for you to pick up. Just make sure you have a pen handy!
- Don’t forget to fill in the disembarkation form as well.
- When you get to the counter, be nice! Smile and say ‘namaste’, the traditional greeting. They’ll appreciate you for it!
- Takes three people to process your visa – please don’t ask me why. All I know is that I got my visa in no time, and they’re not fussy about it!
Right, cleared visa and customs? Time to grab your luggage. Nothing fancy, just pick it up and go. However, before you exit the area, you WILL be asked for your baggage ticket. Keep it handy with you, SO DON’T THROW IT OUT.
As you exit, you’ll see a counter for the Tourist Police on your right. Sounds a bit dodge, but seriously, they are very helpful. We made small talk to the guy and he started handing us allll sorts of brochures and suggesting things to do and what to see and what to eat and how to get there. Take what you need, and walk out. As you exit the foyer, you’ll be in the open area, which means…
You’re fair game!
Watch out for people jostling to get your attention. Some will introduce themselves, throw their wares at you, offer you flights if you plan to move out of Kathmandu, say their taxi is better, or that they know a guide, or that their hostel/hotel is clean… Sort your own thoughts here, and make sure you know what you’re after coz there will be a lot of voices telling you what to do.
For me, I think I had a lucky break. There’s two counters offering SIM cards if you want a local number to keep, so I went to the counters to figure out which one is better for me. Two different guys came up to promote the different companies, and like what I did when I was in Europe, I struck up conversations with each of them to find out how genuine they are. (Sorry, Summit! You had to go through the test too, buddy, but you ultimately won! Hehe). If they say that they’re part of an organisation blablabla, demand proof of it. Hey, it may seem super stink to do it, but if it involves your life, be selfish for a few minutes, ok? OK.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt, is that you need to do at least some research on the country you’re going to. At least know which cities you’d like to go to, coz it will give you a rough idea of how long you will need to be in one city before you move on the next. With Nepal, Amy did most of the research, and I am ever so grateful for it. She knew what our itinerary would look like, so we had some semblance of a plan.
amy. my Nepal travel buddyandplanner.
TOP TIP: If you intend to fly out of Kathmandu, get your tickets when you are already in Nepal. Trust me on this – tickets bought in the country itself is waaay cheaper than when bought online in your home country. We saved approximately USD30 per person PER FLIGHT when we booked this way. That’s a whole USD60 to go play around with! We flew to Pokhara and back instead of taking the bus route (which is apparently more scenic) coz we were pressed for time.
Anyway, we checked into this this place called Siesta Guesthouse. It’s right smack in the middle of Thamel and pretty much jostles with life. Thamel is the more touristy areas of town, so expect inflated prices and be prepared to haggle! Rule is to slash 3/4 of the asking price, and work your way up to a middle ground. If you think it’s still too high, say that you like it very much, thanks and walk away. They’d probably call you back for a better price… if they like you. BIGGEST RULE IN HAGGLING: Make sure that you haggle for something you truly want. If you’re doing it just for the sake of doing it, well, you’re just a douche. These people depend on tourist and travellers to earn their keep, so pushing a price too hard and ending up walking away coz you just ‘wanted to practice how to haggle’ is a really big insult.
Right, Siesta Guesthouse. Clean, well-maintained and services all of your basic needs. We took a private twin room with attached bathroom, and we were pretty happy with it. Guy who works counter (I think his name is Lama…?) speaks Japanese, so if you want to brush up or test your skills or speak in your own language, he’s the guy! When we checked in, we were given a room on the third floor… Coming from a place that is sea level and arriving at a place that is 1,400m (4,600ft) above sea level, and walking up three flights of stairs with 15kg luggage strapped to your body can be a wee bit taxing! (Don’t worry, we got over it eventually!)
Since it was already evening, we went ahead and booked our flight tickets to Pokhara and got Summit to arrange us a tour of Kathmandu’s special highlights. Use your power of haggling to get to the price you want, and make sure you’re happy with it. Shop around if you need to, there’s no harm in asking around. Some operators (or in Summit’s case, freelance guides) offer different deals or packages. Be a smart traveller and make an educated choice – compare and contrast the offers that you have, so that you can make an informed decision and get exactly what you want without being pushed to do something that you weren’t so keen to do in the first place. It’s YOUR trip; YOU make the decisions and call the shots!
typical downtown scene in Thamel. no true addresses exist here;
if you’re looking for a particular place, try giving landmarks instead of store or street names
After settling our itinerary for the next day, we headed off to explore a bit of Thamel by ourselves. People called out at us (and every other tourist/traveller) to look at their wares; we just smiled and shook our heads no, said thanks and kept walking. After all, there’s no need to be rude! Just laugh, and say next time; wave no and walk away. They’re just doing their jobs – the least you can do is be polite and turn them down nicely. Addendum to this is, of course, if they’re pushy. Be firm, say no thanks, and just. Walk. Away.
Thamel is an alright place to walk around. You’ll see heaps of shops aimed at tourists, and there’s an abundance of money changes and all sorts of tour and trek operators. We walked around to orientate ourselves and to look for a place to eat, but we ultimately decided that it was a bit too risky for us to be out in the dark in a place that’s still foreign. We found a place to eat (Anatolia Restaurant) that eased our transition into Nepali food, and walked back to Siesta and up three flights of stairs. We just wanted to plonk down on our beds, change into warmer clothes and settle into what we hoped would be a cosy first night in Nepal.
Well, little did we know that our night was juuust about to get started… But that’s a story for a different post!
Dream a little dream, everybody!