Nepal budget travel, tips & haggling
January 17, 2015
Nepal is a magical place and as of writing this article, still, a relatively inexpensive country to travel in. One of the first things I do before traveling to another country is find ways to save and scams to lookout for. If you’ve ever traveled to South East Asia you’ll be aware of how rampant scamming is. Generally these scams are done with smiles and in most cases won’t take much from you wallet (on a western income) however it’s good to know what to look out for and just how far your wallet can go.
Getting to Nepal
This will most likely be the most expensive leg of your journey but you can save on flights in a few ways. For complex itineraries with multiple flights I suggest checking out Flightfox, a platform that allows you to network with a travel agent. The agents have experience with multiple-stop excursions, flight deals, and which airlines provide discounted fares to/from specific hubs. In short, some airlines have constant flights in and out of certain large hubs through SEA (south east asia), in doing a basic flight search using services such as Kayak, Flight Scanner, Orbitz, etc you typically stuck with a specific airline or airline group and miss out on connecting options with less expensive (often local) airline companies. If you are not checking in baggage you can take advantage of SkipLagged, a flight search engine that can really save you money using the above method. Problem with this option is you can’t check-in baggage as you will miss your connecting flight (but your checked-in luggage wont).
For simple round-trip flights I do a search with these flight search engines:
Once I determine the least expensive flight I’ll take my search to the airlines website which will usually shave off a few extra dollars. As always be sure to check flights for other hidden fee’s such as baggage, food, etc as these can sometimes be ridiculously expensive.
Scams in Nepal
Most scams involve someone simply lying to you about prices or requirements. Pretty much anytime you are approached and told an area requires a fee, be weary. I noticed most merchants and taxi drivers will ask where you are from and how long you have been in Nepal. These are two loaded questions used to determine how much they might be able to charge you for something. Know that nearly every price is not set in stone! Don’t rely on hotel/guest house staff to book things for you, you’ll overpay! Research permit requirements AND prices and don’t rely on an agents honesty with regards to this. Even official permit stations will up-charge you a few bucks given the chance.
I’ve had shopkeepers give me back incorrect change or ring up items at higher value than the listed price. I’ve been charged incorrect amount for trekking permits at the station in Bhubhule as well as incorrect price for a bus ticket at a guest house in Kathmandu. These add up to only a few dollars but traveling on a budget this can make a difference.
Know you DO NOT need a trekking guide for almost all treks. The treks are well marked and well traveled, it’s really difficult to get lost and the locals are kind and honest when I’ve asked questions. Don’t let anyone pressure you into getting a guide.
Don’t give money or anything to begging moms or children. They are lying and scamming you.
Know the fare rates for taxis. They WILL try to overcharge you. Determine price before the car starts moving.
Tips to avoid scams:
- Determine taxi fair before getting in a taxi
- Research expensive costs, permits, or any requirements before going to get them
- Know the cost of bus tickets before buying them, don’t rely on guest house staff or agents to be honest
- Don’t give money to any beggars, moms, or children
- Make sure you get the right change back, count it
- Make sure you paid the right price
Hotels and guest houses in Nepal are inexpensive relative to most other countries. You can stay in a 5-star hotel in Kathmandu for as little as $50 a night or a guest house along the Annapurna Circuit for FREE. I can only speak for Kathmandu, Pokhara, and accommodations along the Annapurna Circuit here but from what I gather talking to others these tips can be applied all throughout Nepal.
Kathmandu is the capitol of Nepal, Thamel district being the heart of tourism and where you will find plenty of inexpensive hotels and guest houses along with tons of shopping, tourism activities, and good food.
Where you want to stay will depend on the atmosphere you want to surround yourself in. Your hotels tend to be a typical hotel experience, nothing special, however you can get a much more social and less expensive experience by heading to a hostel. Hostels are full of budget travelers many of which have been in the country for weeks and often times months. They have a wealth of information they can share and it’s a great place for solo travelers to make friends to set out on adventures with. A bed in a dorm can run anywhere between $1.50 a night to $4+ and a room can go anywhere from $4.00 a night to $20+. With most hostels the price is set, don’t try to haggle although they might have a cheaper bed in a dorm next to the lobby (Alobar 1000) that will experience a lot of noise in the evening and mornings.
You can usually haggle with the guest houses and this is very true during off-peak seasons when they are struggling to get business. (Tip: Keep in mind if you have a large party you will have great haggle power as you will bring them more money as a group. Also check if they have a restaurant as you can sometimes get cheaper room rates if you promise to eat at the restaurant for breakfast/dinner, especially during non-peak seasons.).
Interested in a hostel (Dorms or rooms) in Kathamdnu?
I strongly suggest Alobar1000 Hostel. I stayed here most of my time spent in Kathmandu and found the atmosphere to be addicting as did most of the other patrons. It was constantly fun in the evenings as the travelers would typically gather around to music and food. I met many amazing people, some of which I traveled with for a bit.
Guest Houses in Kathamdnu?
If you want inexpensive and clean rooms I would give Hotel Red Planet a try. It’s located in the heart of Thamel but was quiet (enough) to sleep easily. Room cost us $10 (2 beds), we easily squeezed 3 people into a room.
Luxury Hotels in Kathamdnu?
I stayed for one night in a luxury hotel called Hotel Annapurna, at $50 a night it was incredibly nice. This stands up to most western standard luxury hotels with pool, gym, restaurant, etc. Located on the fringe of Thamel it’s well within walking distance of all Thamel has to offer.
Shopping, rafting, bungee jumping, trekking, scooters, dining out, seeing the sights, there’s a lot to do and the best part; it’s all relatively inexpensive!
Shopping in Kathmandu
Thamel District is where you want to be for shopping (and most everything else). Wonder the streets and alley ways and bring your haggle game as everything can be bought for under the ticket price. Nepal is known for it’s Cashmere (known as Pashima locally) and Yak Wool. The Cashmere runs on par with what can be found in China and India for quality. Look for tightly woven thinner threads, feel it and compare closely the qualities. Is it hand woven? This will cost you more but the strands tend to be combed for an extra soft feel. You can pickup Cashmere for as little as $5 USD to as much as $150 USD. Most merchants will start out between $15 and $25 for the lower quality scarfs but you can usually get them down to $10 on individual purchases. Buy several and the price can quickly drop to $5-7 per scarf. For hand woven higher quality Cashmere you can get them under $20 with enough haggling and as I mentioned if you buy in bulk or have companions with you who will also buy something.
For Yak Wool a popular item is the Yak Wool ponchos. They look awesome and like other wools are made of an incredible fabric. Anti-microbial, incredibly warm, and work even when wet. For a nice poncho expect to pay around $15 USD.
Activities around Kathmandu
Kathmandu is centrally located and they have a number of day activities as well as multi-day excursions including shorter treks, rafting trips, and bungee jumping. I spent a lot of time shopping for rafting trips and I was able to get really low prices (lowest by comparison to other travels I spoke with) by talking to every adventure agent I could. For a half day trip I was able to get taxi, food, and 4 hours of rafting for as little as $15 USD. Expect to pay between $25-30 without some serious haggling. I was also able to barter 3 day rafting trips for under $150 which included food, transit, and guest houses for the entire trip.
They have a few treks around the valley with views of Himalayas. Be warned, leeches. It’s wet and they thrive in the environment. I hear rubbing salt on your legs will help keep them away. Checkout nearby Langtang National Park, hike to the top and get views of Everest with the right weather. You can also make this a scooter trip, the roads are nice and the freedom of driving to the top of these smaller mountains feels amazing. Do be careful though, the city is hard to navigate by scooter, dangerous, and it can rain at any moment making this that much more challenging. We rented scooters for a day for $25 USD each scooter with 5 of us and 3 scooters.
Locally you can checkout the Monkey Temple (highly recommend), the Palace Museum, Pashupatinath (where they burn the deceased), and the many gombas (temples) that dot the landscape.
Dining out in Kathmandu
Food can range anywhere from $1.50 to $15+. For the inexpensive foods wonder down the many alley ways on the fringes of Thamel. The small mom and pop venues with a table or two. Eat the Dal Baht, the traditional Nepali cuisine of rice, lentals, and sauces. It’s delicious and inexpensive. For a finer dining experience checkout OR2K Restaurant, an Israeli spot with incredible food and a unique dining experience for those used to Western restaurants. It’s located in the heart of Thamel and is well known, asking anyone should point you in the right direction. Located in the same vicinity you can find Mexican, Indian, and even “steakhouse” style dining.
If you wonder around any of the temples you can find street food for under $1 USD. Eat at your own risk though! I’ve never been sick eating abroad but the “facilities” are definitely questionable.
Pokhara is a (mostly) beautiful place. “The Switzerland of the Himalayas” it’s been coined. Lots of great day activities around with some good shopping. I spent 5 days here staying at several places during that time. As with Kathmandu you can find nice hotels to dorm room style accommodations. I mixed it up between dorms and hostel beds so I can’t comment on the “luxury” spots.
Accommodations in Pokhara
While I never stayed here I heard from others the “Green Peace lodge” of Pokhara is comparable to Alobar1000 in Kathmandu. A social place to stay with many travelers. I can comment on The Mountain House Pokhara, a nice place that I believe had dorms though I opted for a room during my stay ($13 USD). It was nice and the price was good.
I also stayed in the “Sacred Valley Inn” which had dorms for $3 a bed, a hard to beat price. It’s also located right where the shopping is.
Much like Kathmandu you can do almost anything you want in nearby Pokhara. Rafting, scooters, trekking, shopping, as well as hang gliding, kayaking, and general sightseeing (gombas, etc). I highly recommend you start your fun off with a quick trip up to the World Peace Pagoda you can see on top of the mountain across the lake. It affords an amazing view of the massive mountains to the north (The Annapurnas). You can visit it by Scooter for similar price as the scooters in Kathmandu, $15-25. Warning though, the road to the top is hardly a road and the scooters can barely make it. I don’t recommend you drive all the way up (though I did).
Also much like Kathmandu you can raft raft raft galore around Pokhara. Checkout all the adventure agents for pricing around lakeside for a great deal on day trips to multi-day rafting trips. You can even set it up so it’s an in-between trip on your way back to Kathmandu because you’ll most likely be rafting that way. This will save you the tiresome ride to Kathmandu, instead you’ll hop on a different bus from the rafting end point that takes you to Kathmandu instead of heading back to Pokhara.
You can hike the surrounding areas or make a day trip to Poon Hill (worth it!) for an incredible view of the Annapurnas. Rent bicycles and ride around the countryside or a small boat and paddle around the lake. shopping here is nice as well. Checkout the Tibetan stalls, as most have fled Tibet with their families and make all the trinkets themselves.
For fun nightlife checkout the Busy Bee, I found it packed every night with dancing and great drinks. Don’t checkout the next door Tequila Lounge, I watched a dancer black out on stage and I’m pretty sure it’s a brothel of sorts.
Dining out in Pokhara
Really not much to say here as I found none of the dining mind blowing. It was all good though and if you walk to small strip you’ll find something to your liking. Have fun with it because most places are inexpensive. If you’re looking for local food head down Mansawar Road away from Lakeside and keep on eye on your right. You’ll eventually find small resaurants with inexpensive Dal Bhat which I recommend. You can ask about Rice Wine and try the homemade wine they make, they are always happy to serve it. I’ve found these small restaurants to be a great pleasure to eat at, they women working them treat you like family with smiles and are always wondering what you think of their food. They are proud and I love that about them. You can get a meal for under $3 USD.
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