I have been to Nepal twice (I actually experienced the traveler’s high there), and I still have to write a post for solo travelers! I was glad to accept this contribution from a fellow blogger, as I know that given the number of my backlog, I won’t be able to get to it soon. Read on to find some solo travel tips for Kathmandu, Nepal, as part of the Solo Travel City Guide series.
Widely regarded as the “Gateway to Mount Everest,” Nepal is a haven for all travelers, especially those who enjoy nature and active travel like hiking, mountaineering, and paragliding. Since opening their border to foreigners in 1951, climbers have been flocking into this country to challenge the world’s tallest peak.
Tourism is already a big part of Nepal’s economy, despite the damage it incurred in the earthquakes of 2015.
It is surprisingly safe, too, which is why you should go backpacking in Nepal if you’re a solo traveler. There are so many places to visit in Kathmandu, its ancient capital, that I would recommend it to anyone who wants to visit.
Getting From Kathmandu Airport to the City
There are mainly two ways of getting to Kathmandu city center from the airport. First, by cab, and second, by bus.
Once you step out of the airport, there will be plenty of cab drivers asking if you need transport. Of course, you’ll probably need to negotiate a bit, as it’s your first time in Kathmandu, a perfect prey for the drivers. Typically, it will cost you around Rs500.
If you prefer to do it the local way, squeeze through the cab drivers and head to the entrance of the airport. Then, turn left and you’ll see a bus “station” where plenty of locals are waiting for the buses.
This is how the local buses work in Kathmandu and other parts of Nepal. The conductor on the bus will shout out their destinations when the bus is approaching the bus stand.
Pay attention to the word “Ratna Park” and hop onto the bus. Once you get to Ratna Park, it will be around 20 minutes’ walk to get to Thamel, the tourists and travelers hub in Kathmandu. Your hostel is very likely to be located here.
The bus trip will cost you Rs25-35. It’ll be challenging at first, but you might enjoy the experience like I did.
Getting Around Kathmandu
There are two ways to get around the city. A single taxi trip to any destination around the city will cost you around Rs400. Most of the time, the driver will quote you Rs600-800 but feel free to not negotiate and support the local economy.
Ratna Park is the main bus station in Kathmandu, which is also the nearest bus station to Thamel. You can literally get to anywhere from this bus station. Here’s an example.
If you want to get to Boudhanath, go to Ratna Park, and look for the bus conductor shouting “Boudhanath.” If you couldn’t find any, just ask any of the conductors. Most of the Nepalese people speak English and is friendly to foreigners, especially westerners.
Once you find the bus, hop on, and take a seat. You’ll pay the fare when you get down the bus. Remember, always bring small notes with you. Most of the time, the conductors do not change.
Most of the trips around the city will cost you Rs20-30. Some further destinations, like Godavari Botanical Garden, will cost you Rs50.
Buying a SIM Card
You can literally find merchants selling SIM cards in every corner of the city. Almost every general store sells them, but the prices do vary. It will be around 3 times more expensive to buy in the airport and Thamel.
For example, an N-cell SIM Card costs Rs100 in Shangkhamul, but you’ll be quoted Rs300 if you ask the stores in Thamel. But all the cheap SIM cards are sold in the residential areas, which you probably won’t visit, so it’s easier to buy it in Thamel to save you time.
You will need to fill up a paper form, attach a photocopy of your passport, and a passport size photo to buy a SIM card. It’s a little troublesome, but you can get all of them done within 5 minutes if you have all the requirements.
Where to Stay in Kathmandu
Thamel is probably the best place to stay in Kathmandu. It’s easy to take a cab, and plenty of restaurants and bars are located there as well. At night, all the bakeries also have a discounted rate to get all of the bread sold before the night ends.
Thamel is located near the main bus station, Ratna Park, which makes getting around Kathmandu city much easier. See Aleah’s recommended places to stay in Kathmandu.
The Monkey Temple Backpackers Hostel made me extend my stay in Kathmandu City from 1 night to 4 nights. The best part of this hostel is the excellent customer service and the incomparable rooftop bar view.
The cleanliness is not top-notch, but it made me feel at home. The double rooms are spacious, and the beds are very comfortable. Due to its slightly far location from the Thamel main street, it’s not affected by the loud songs in the bar at night.
And if you’re looking for some delicious naans or aloo (potato) parathas to kickstart your day, there is a restaurant near the hostel that serves this perfect breakfast dishes.
Places to Visit in Kathmandu
Check out the large stupa of the Boudhanath Temple
Boudhanath is home to one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world. Every morning, there will be monks praying around the stupa. Visit as early as 6am if you’re interested.
When you’re there, follow the crowd and walk only in a clockwise direction.
There are plenty of restaurants around the stupa so you can also enjoy a meal after your visit. The entrance fee is Rs250, and you pay at the main entrance gate.
Climb the hill to Monkey Temple (Swayambhunath Temple)
Going to the Monkey Temple, also known as Swayambhunath, takes around 45 minutes from Thamel.
It’s recommended to walk there instead of taking a cab if you have the time. On the way, you’ll pass through residential areas, where you can witness the daily routines and activities of the Nepalese locals. It’s kinda fun to see the kids playing around without any electronic devices.
In the temple, there are ponds, a lot of statues, and some ancient structures to visit. You’ll also find rooftop bars there, where you can enjoy your drink while taking your time to admire the panoramic view of Kathmandu city from the hilltop.
The entrance fee is Rs250.
Head to Pashupatinath, a Hindu Pilgrimage site
Pashupatinath is the holiest Hindu pilgrimage site in Nepal. During the tragic earthquake back in 2015, this ancient site sustained some damages, but luckily most of the structures remain unharmed.
The entrance fee is Rs1000, with an additional of Rs1000 for a tour guide to explain everything around you. It’s recommended that you take the tour because otherwise, you won’t know what you’re looking at. There are no information boards at all in there.
If you’re wondering where to find Sadhus, the Hindu holy men you often see in magazines, this is the place. However, don’t be shocked if they quoted you a price for a photo. They could quote as high as Rs1000 so make up your mind before approaching them.
By the way, you’ll also see the burning of dead bodies here in Pashupatinath.
Go on a day trip to Bhaktapur Durbar Square
Bhaktapur is very highly recommended by many travelers who’ve been to Kathmandu. It’s a little far from Thamel, so you’ll need to spare an hour or two to get there by bus.
Due to the large site area, you’ll probably spend a good half-day or a full-day there to see all the ancient structures and traditional cultural activities like potteries.
Bhaktapur is one of the three Durbar squares in Kathmandu, the other two being Patan and Kathmandu Durbar Square. Read more about Bhaktapur Square in Aleah’s blog post.
When you’re there, be sure to try King Curd. Who knows you’ll have the chance to catch a glimpse of the living goddess, Kumari?
Check out the other places to visit in Kathmandu city and how to get to them all!
Enjoy the restaurants around Thamel
Thamel is the main tourist hub in Kathmandu, so it’s no surprise that you’ll find all kinds of restaurants there. Western cuisines are common there, but I know you’ll also enjoy the Nepalese cuisines.
For the best thukpa, I would recommend Muktinath Restaurant in Thamel. For momos, Momo Star is probably the most famous one, but I love the local stall in Sundhara. Chow Mein (fried noodles) recipes vary almost completely among every restaurant, so are the fried rice.
Dal bhat is the national staple of Nepal, and the dish is different on every restaurant. It’s basically rice with potatoes, vegetables, and sometimes meat depending on where you dine in, as side dishes, all on one plate. A perfect dish for rice lovers!
Safety Tips for Solo Travelers in Kathmandu
Robberies and thefts in Kathmandu
As previously mentioned, Nepal is exceptionally safe for travelers. Nepalese people are very civilized, and you almost never see drunkards making troubles on the streets.
At night, it becomes so quiet that it gets kinda creepy sometimes.
Crimes like robberies are rare in Kathmandu, but if you accidentally left your belongings on the street and came back to find it after 10 minutes, chances are you’ll never see it again.
Backpackers do love to leave their belongings in the hostel rooms. But never leave any valuable stuff inside the room, even though it’s locked single room. If there’s a locker, be sure to utilize them! Ask the manager if you need any help.
Food hygiene in the city
For first-timers in Kathmandu, it’s best to spend the first few days dining in proper restaurants and stay far from the street food stalls. I’ve seen a lot of travelers falling sick and hospitalized, including myself, from eating the street foods.
Let your stomach adapt to the foods there before trying anything funny like Pani Puri on the streets.
If you’re worried about budget, the prices in the restaurants do not differ that much from the street stalls. Just slightly more expensive. And there are so many restaurants in Thamel that you’ll need more than a week to try them all!
Kathmandu is very traveler-friendly, as it’s very easy to get around and safe. While you might find some culture shocks during your travel, you’ll definitely enjoy your backpacking experience there nevertheless.
Comment below if you have any questions on planning your solo travel trip to Kathmandu, Nepal!
All photos by Aleah Taboclaon.