Nepal Part 1: Exploring Kathmandu & the surrounding districts in Nepal

To read “Part 2 – 5 Day Poon Hill Trek Guide” click here
To read “Part 3 – Pokhara” click here

Our first travel together as modern nomads went to the incredible Nepal.

Before we even knew about each others existence and started dating, Jenny had already booked tickets to explore Nepal, as she’s always had a fascination of the country.
Kristian, being an open-minded and curious person, quickly agreed to join the adventure.

Nepal didn’t disappoint us and now we would like to share our best tips on what to do, see and eat from the different locations we visited. This first chapter will be from our stay in Kathmandu and its surrounding districts.

Happy reading. 🙂

Kathmandu in brief:

Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal and a valley city surrounded by mountains and lush forests. The city is ever developing and very vibrant with a high population density. Top that up with a chaotic traffic system, very narrow roads, opportunistic driving methods and you have a cocktail which will keep you alert and on your toes at all times.

The city is formed up by a number of districts which each have their unique history and trademarks. We primarily spent time in the below listed districts and wish to share our experiences with each one.

Patan

Patan belongs to the older parts of Kathmandu and is less touristic and less trafficked. This creates a more pleasant vibe in our view than e.g. Thamel which we will come back to later. We find the district a good place to stay if you wish to do day trips in different directions.

Where to stay:

We had booked our stay through AirBnB, as per usual, at the extremely pleasant and beautiful Cosy Nepal. Cosy Nepal has several places throughout Kathmandu available from short to medium-long term leases. We stayed at the Roof Top Terrase in their Yatachen House kept in Newari style and situated in Swotha Square adjacent to popular tourist location Patan Durbar Square. We especially wish to do a shout out to the extremely friendly staff and manager who makes sure that the place runs perfectly.

IMG_6504
View of Bhaktapur from the square Cosy Nepal

Where to eat:

We ate a number of places, but can especially recommend the following two.

  • Yala Restaurant served us a deliscious late lunch/dinner and the staff was super friendly and explained us everything about the local ingredients and cooking methods.
  • Cafe Swotha were very accommodating in serving us an improvised vegan breakfast where the chef was able to just go off the a la carte menu. We were super impressed with what was served to us and also recommended them to include the dishes on the menu for others to enjoy too.

What to do:

When in Patan we would recommend everyone to just go out and get lost. Take yourself down the narrow winding streets and say namaste to the old ladies sitting on the door steps just observing the world go by. Stop by small craft & arts shops and have a talk with the artists about their works. Enjoy the many temples, pet a street dog and dodge a scooter. There are countless celebrations going on and if you are in luck you will experience parades, displays of music and dancing when you are in town.

If you go to Durbar Square be aware that you need to buy a ticket to linger around and take pictures. We told the “guards” that we were just passing by and that way still got to go through the square and see everything.

From Patan you can also do day trips up to Thamel like we did. You can walk the distance by foot, which we did, in about 1 hour. It is a nice walk which will take you through streets where just the locals are, across the river system and into the bustling city life. It is advisable to take a taxi back if you are staying till late in the evening as the walk in the dark might be a bit challenging to navigate. Remember to always bargain with the taxi drivers. The stretch between Thamel and Patan should never cost more than 400-500 NPR.

Thamel

The chaotic, touristic and heavily air polluted part of town. It sounds like a place you would try to avoid, which we also did for the most part, but Thamel still has some good things to offer. It is host to a number of temples, stupas and shopping areas which you simply have to experience.

Where to stay:

We did not stay in Thamel as it was too busy and loud for us. That said we have been recommended the Salon / Maison de Kathmandu and Kantipur Temple House (the very pricey option) by our friend Nana aka Wandering Yogi Bear.

Where to eat:

What Thamel is lacking in tranquil and calmness it makes up for with its dining scene. There are several places which are very vegan friendly and we have highlighted a few below.

  • OR2K has to be on the top of the list. We have eaten through most of the plant-based part of the menu combining our visits at their restaurant in Thamel and Pokhara and have never left disappointed. It is an Israeli inspired menu with an array of options bringing you a step closer to the middle east which also has historical ties to this part of the region. There are some people who report having had bad experiences with the staff, but all we can say is that we enjoyed our visits every time.
  • Sarangi was a really nice restaurant and would be our second pick any time. Very close to first pick actually. They have a cozy atmosphere with a roof top dining area and a menu with a lot of plant-based options. They are open to modifying the vegetarian ones too. The price is very reasonable.
  • Places we sadly only had a smoothie here and never got to taste their food. That said, we have been recommended this place and heard good stuff from others, so it will still make the list.

What to do:

We highly recommend that you visit the following places.

  • Swayambhunath Stupa aka Monkey Temple is situated a bit outside Thamel, but is definitely worth the visit. You will see monkeys doing their thing, perhaps encouter religious rituals and chanting being performed and see a spectacular sight unfold as you climb the stairs to the Stupa which is situated on the top of a hill. This is a perfect place to get a view of Kathmandu from above and a selfie with a pretty background. Do be advised that this place requires an entrance fee.
  • Boudhanath or Bouddha Stupa is a quite magnificent sight to behold. This enourmous Stupa, with prayer flags climbing up the sides, is located behind a main road and can almost go unnoticed if you do not know where it is. Once you see it you should be taken aback by the fact that this was constructed some time around year 460-600 according to local historians. Do be advised that this place requires an entrance fee.
  • Guhyashwari Temple + Shree Pashupatinath Temple is a very special area. We recommend you to access this area from the bridge on the northern side and make your way through the many stone temples and and stairs leading up to the top of the hill. Once there and you start making your way down again to the river side, you will encounter a place where there are a lot of wooden terraces / platforms by the river side. This is where locals come to burn their dead family members and send their ashes into the river. It is a very powerful thing to witness and please try to be respectful and not take too many, if any, pictures.
    Do be advised that this place requires an entrance fee.

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur is situated outside of Kathmandu and can be accessed by local bus, taxi or scooter. The busses leave frequently from Kathmandu and cost 25 NPR per person. Depending on the time of day you choose to do the trip it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. We got stuck in traffic one evening in an overcrowded bus and it seems like it took us forever to get back to Bhaktapur. If you take a taxi it should not cost you more than 800-1000 NPR.

Where to stay:

On Instagram we have connected with an awesome travel couple called Amy & Tom aka Seeking Skies. They were so kind to recommend us to stay at a place in Bhaktapur which they had personal experience with and could vouch for. We took them up on their word and booked our stay with Swastik Guest House which is managed by the legendary local entrepreneur Biswho. We think that the guest house was just about to be incorporated into the large hostel/hotel chain OYO, so be sure to double check this if you wish to stay here.

The Guest House is situated just within the old city boarders. Here you have to obtain a tourist city pass where the proceeds go to rebuilding the structures which were affected by the last major earthquake in 2015. We really like this concept, as we tourists help to rebuild and preserve the landmarks which we come to see and wish to take photos in front of. There are several ticket offices and you do not have to worry about finding one. If you are within the perimiters then they will find you and ask if you have a pass or need to make one.

Where to eat:

Oh boy, again we highly recommend just wandering around and going by your gut feeling. We primarily cooked our own food as our guest house featured a decent kitchen. That said, we managed to scout out a few places which had really tasty plant-based options and some small local boutiques which sold treats and fresh fruit.

  • Peacock Cafe is slightly expensive, but serves great food and beverages. The interior of their cafe is very cozy and you can choose to dine in their atrium under open skies.
  • The Doughnut family, which we have named them, is basically a family which makes fried doughnuts and other treats which they sell from a window in their building. They are situated just around the corner from Swastik Guest House. The doughtnuts cost 10 NPR per piece and are plant-based. We had more of these than we probably should have. 😀
  • Green Peace Restaurant is located by the Mahalaxmi Temple, just after the doughtnut family. They have a garden seating area where you can dine on small wooden porches which is really cozy. Their food is traditional and tasty.
  • Fresh Fruit Center. There are many of these on the streets, but this one in particular serves great fresh pressed juice, pineapples, bananas, you name it. It is located near Nyatapola Temple.
  • Roti and Naan restaurant. There are many of these around, but we went to one just opposite of the District Post Office which served really nice dal bhat and the most delicious fresh baked roti and naan bread.

What to do:

As always just get lost and explore. We were so lucky to have Bishwo provide us with a lot of suggestions.

We recommend going to see the Nala Gumba Monestary just outside of town. You can get there by taking a local bus, again don’t pay more than 25 NPR per person.
This monestary has amazing art and architecture. It also has a very special vibe and energy to it. Jenny had some of her best meditation here. 🙂 On Saturdays there is even free entry.

Go to the temple squares at night and you might experience local chanting and singing, perhaps even a parade or celebration.

Be sure to visit Pottery Square and the surrounding streets where shop owners sell authentic and high quality local products.

Make sure to pet the goats and dogs. They do not get a lot of love from people and especially the goats are often victims of religious offering ceremonies where they are slaughtered, so they definitely deserve some human love too in our eyes.

– oOo –

We hope that this guide gives you some ideas of where to stay, what to eat and what to do when in Kathmandu. This city has so many things to offer and we only got to scratch the surface ourselves and cannot wait to go back again for more adventures.

If you have any additions you think we should add or comments then please do share them with us in the comment section below.

Safe travels and all the best.

Xx, Jenny & Kristian

2 thoughts on “Nepal Part 1: Exploring Kathmandu & the surrounding districts in Nepal

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