There are increasingly fewer true backpacker hangouts left in the world, where life revolves around nomadic 20-30 somethings looking to live on less. Kathmandu is one of those rare cities where you can hide out for months living off cheap beer and french fries. However, unlike Khao San Road in Thailand there is more to Nepal’s capital than restaurants imitating your favorite dishes from home and bars playing hits from the ’90’s.
The hectic streets of Thamel reminded me of Khao San Road in Bangkok
This is most travelers first stop in the country and it’s the perfect base of operations for seeing the country. If you need to find a guide for the Himalayas or stock up on trekking supplies Thamel, Khatmandu’s traveler center, has what you need. However, if trekking isn’t part of your plan, the Kathmandu valley offers plenty of culture. If you came to Nepal with no plans at all you can easily spend a few days in the traveler friendly cafes figuring it all out. Nepal’s capital city has something for everyone.
Regardless of what brought you to Kathmandu the way the sacred intertwines with the everyday and the friendly people happy to help will encourage you to stay. Below is a quick guide to the best Kathmandu has to offer:
The stupa at Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple) in Kathmandu
If a glimpse into the rich culture of Nepal is what you’re after plan a few days to explore the Kathmandu Valley. You can walk to the Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple) in town and spin the prayer wheels. Durbar Square is the cultural center of Nepal and offers a variety of temples, stupas and vendors to give you a taste of the capital. Just a short taxi drive away from the hustle and bustle of Thamel is Bodinath a large stupa and nearby monastery.
Thangka artists are happy to show you their paintings with you even if you aren’t looking to buy
Rather than just seeing Kathmandu you can take a piece of it home with you. There are plenty of shops, kiosks and street stalls to spend your rupees at. You’ll have no problem finding trekking gear in Kathmandu or shopping around for a guide for whatever mountain experience you might seek (bungee jumping, white water rafting, trekking or mountain flights). However, what Nepal is known for are detailed Thangka paintings. Even if you’re not in the market for art it is fun to meet the artists and see what they have for sale in their studio.
The cookie walla is one of the best places to meet other travelers and enjoy a delicious dessert.
Whether you came to Kathmandu to relax or if you need some R & R after trekking you won’t be let down by the abundance of cozy cafes. The food is great and almost everywhere has wifi, making it easy to get online. A few of our favorite places were BK’s French Fries fried to a golden brown, the decadent Hello to the King at Cookie Walla and all the bakeries offering half price treats after 9 pm. We couldn’t resist spending a few extra days in Kathmandu just to enjoy all of it’s offerings after 40 days trekking through the Himalayas.
WHEN YOU GO:
Flying in and out of Kathmandu is expensive, plan ahead to get a better price or plan on flying into India and getting to Nepal overland (but, be prepared for a bumpy ride)
Plan on staying a few days, even if you are coming to Nepal for trekking you’ll want to spend some time in Nepal getting prepared and taking a look around.
Dress conservatively, Nepal is pretty laid back but dressing conservatively will help win friends.