In early 2020, I finally decided to travel to a country I had long waited to visit: Nepal.
The experience was an absolute blast. I spent one month travelling around the country and the next 3 months
stranded because of the coronavirus lockdown living in the capital of Kathmandu.
While the month I spent travelling around Nepal was undoubtedly the highlight of my 2020 travel year so far, there are a number of things I was totally unprepared for which I wish I had known before travelling to Nepal.
1. GETTING AROUND TAKES AN ETERNITY
In size, Nepal is one of the smallest countries in the world. It ranks # 95 in the list of largest countries in the world. Nepal is smaller than Bangladesh, and slightly bigger than Greece.
However, despite Nepal being quite small in size, the amount of time it takes to travel between cities can be incredibly long. A simple trip from Kathmandu to Bhaktapur, which are only 13 kilometers apart, can easily take about 1 hour.
Traffic jams, broken roads (or actually, the lack of proper roads), and old buses used for transportation are the obvious reasons.
2. MANY HISTORIC CENTERS REMAIN ARE STILL UNDER RENOVATION
The earthquake that ravaged Nepal in 2015 left a trail of devastation that is still very much visible today in many parts of Nepal, especially in the capital of Kathmandu and the cities surrounding it.
Decrepit buildings hanging on their side being held by wooden and metal beans are not an uncommon sight around the streets of the historic centers of Thamel, Patan, and Bhaktapur, where many of the temples and cultural heritage sites inside each of their respective Durbar Squares are still under renovation.
3. BUS TRAVEL IS PAINFUL
I already wrote above about the decrepit state of roads, both inside the cities and along dusty highways. In addition to that, the shape of most of the buses serving the different routes in Nepal can only be described as deserving of being decommissioned, and only add to the pain of the experience of bus travel in the country.
While most popular routes are served by “tourist buses”, which in themselves are only one single notch of a better quality than regular buses, uncomfortable seats and almost inexistent legroom is the norm. The bus situation gets worst when going to the most remote corners of Nepal, where no tourist bus option exists.
Indeed, expect to ride in an extremely crowded tin can on wheels if travelling by local bus. In these, it isn’t uncommon to push and be pushed, and to see the odd passenger riding with half their body outside of the bus, all due to lack of space.
4. EVERYTHING IS NEGOTIABLE
And by everything, I mean ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING.
Tours, bus tickets, permits, clothing….. Every price can be further reduced from its initial figure by a further 40 to 50% in most cases. So, never take the first offer given to you, which takes me to my next point.
5. TRAVEL AGENCIES ABOUND
Nepal is swarming with travel agencies all over the country, all offering about the same activities with different prices and quality. This is most true in touristic cities like Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Chitwan, where there are way too many agencies for their own good.
This, in turn, means that travellers have plenty of options to choose from, and can shop around and negotiate prices all over the place before settling on one travel agency.
6. TOURIST VS. LOCAL PRICES
Most tourist attractions and sights have an entrance fee. As it is custom now in many countries around the world, there is a price for locals and one for tourists. Unfortunately, the price for tourists is often 10 times higher than the locals.
While I understand (and to many levels agree) that most of the money is going towards rebuilding some of the sights that were destroyed by the 2015 earthquake, it is still a bit frustrating to pay such a staggering price for many sights which are literally open to the general public (all the various Durbar Squares come to mind).
In general, tipping is not necessary in Nepal. All restaurants have a 10% service fee added to the total of the bill, which covers any gratuity you might have thought of giving.
However, tips are surely appreciated from trekking tour guides and porters.
8. POWER OUTAGES ARE COMMON
Just like death is a certainty of life, power outages are a certainty of life in Nepal. Whether you’re in the cheapest guesthouse or the most expensive hotel, you can count on the power going off every few days, especially when it rains.
9. SMOG AND DUST ARE EVERYWHERE
While the smog problem is mainly an issue in the capital city of Kathmandu, the reality is that dust will accompany you for most of your trip. This is mainly due to the poor state of the infrastructure in the country.
Many shops sell face masks and many people wear them to block out the dust. Also expect to be doing laundry many more times than usual because of this.
There are a few internet providers in Nepal, but none are as visible as Ncell., which is who I purchased my internet with.
In the four months I’ve been in Nepal so far, the internet service with Ncell has been quite reliable, even in some of the remotest areas of the country. The prices are also quite affordable; I purchased 16GB for 1000 NPR which was good for 30 days.
Most hotels and hostels sell SIM cards on site and can provide you with a plan on the spot (of course, for a slightly higher price). Otherwise, there are several Ncell shops in Thamel where you can purchase one.
Getting a visa for Nepal is an easy process, and many countries do not require to purchase a visa in advance prior to arrival. Nepal issues visa on arrival (VOA) for residents of many countries upon arrival to Kathmandu International Airport.
The toughest part of the visa process is deciding whether to purchase a visa for 15 days ($30 USD), 30 days ($50 USD), or 90 days ($125 USD). The fee can be paid in USD, Euro, GPB, CNY, and some other currencies.
In Nepal, paper money rules and you shouldn’t expect to be able to pay by credit or debit card in any type of establishment.
That is not to say that places taking credit or debit do not exist, but they are more of a diamond in the rough than a common sight. In the four months I have been in Nepal, I have yet to be able to pay by credit card.
ATMs are everywhere in Nepal and they’re very easy to find, especially in big touristic places. Many ATMs are located in what is called an “internet booth”, which is basically a bunch of ATMs from different banks all in the same place.
ATMs have withdrawal limits of 25000, 35000, and 40000 NPR depending on the bank, and many have a charge of 500 NPR per withdrawal. However, most banks will do the conversion rate themselves, which always results in an overall withdrawal fee of about $15 USD per transaction.
14. NEPAL IS CHEAP
Of all the countries I have visited, Nepal is definitely on the top 3 of the cheapest countries I’ve ever travelled to.
Decent accommodation can be easily found for as low as $5 USD per night outside of the capital, while eating 3 meals per day can cost as little as $10 USD per day.
During the month I spent travelling around Nepal, I only managed to spend about $750. While I didn’t do any treks or crazy expensive activities, I did not hold back either and did not stop myself from eating out every day and going out every once in a while.