The Ultimate Solo Female Travellers Guide to Nepal

solo female travel guide to Nepal

This guide is aimed at solo female travellers visiting Nepal.  If you have decided, or are thinking of coming to Nepal, or even if you have been before, here are some tips and advice from someone who has lived here for more than 20 year. And who came as a solo female traveller!

A Complex Country – and Here is Why

A Little Background History

Not everyone is interested in history so please feel free to skip this section.  But, this section will give you an insight into the Nepali psyche and might explain the reasons behind some of the things you will find in the rest of the guide.

Little is known about the ancient history of this area. The first documented tribes are the Kirat who arrived around 2,500 years ago.

Once you visit you will realise Nepal is made up of many ethnic groups who originally came from Tibet in the North and India in the South, and a few others such as from the Indus Valley.

Legend has it that the Kathmandu Valley was once a lake.

Geological findings point to this also. It shows that there was once a lake at Chobar Gorge (on the outskirts of Kathmandu).

But more romantically, Manjushree Bodhisattva, a Buddhist deity, cut an opening in the lake with his sword, draining the lake from Chobar.  Thus Kathmandu Valley was born

The Past 250 Years

There is a long history of different dynasties and warring kings bringing us up to 1768 when modern Nepal was formed.

King of Gorkha (150km northwest of Kathmandu) invaded the Kathmandu Valley and won the three cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur from the then reigning Malla Kings.  Thus, Prithvi Naryan Shah, the King of Gorkha, became the first King of Nepal.

Naturally more wars took place.  Somehow the British East India Company got involved and surrendered what is now Sikkim (in the northwest) and Kumaon and Garhwal (in the northeast) to India.

During this period some of the most glorious monuments and temples were built.  They can still be seen today in the Kathmandu Valley and are now major World Heritage Sites and tourist sites as well as being living temples, used daily by locals.  See Durbar Square and Patan Durbar Square as World Heritage Sites.

The next people to impact Nepal in a major way were the Ranas.  Ruling Nepal from 1846 to 1951 they are responsible for some of the wonderful architecture you will see around.  Recognisable by its neoclassical European style and whitewashed face.

The Garden of Dreams is one example of Rana architecture as its Singha Durbar (Houses of Parliament) and many other government buildings.

More Recent History

Democracy arrived in 1990 to Nepal.  Closely followed by the Maoist-Government conflict (1995-2005).  People in remote areas of the country had always felt cut off from Kathmandu.

In fact, many of them called Kathmandu ‘Nepal’ but it was during this time that rising groups, calling themselves Maoists (although not related at all to Mao Zedong or the Maoists groups active in India) galvanised these people to take action against the government.

For the first time farmers, traders and herders had people who spoke out for them.

The massacre of the Royal Family (2001) took place in the midst of this ‘People’s War’, stunning the whole population who grew up in the belief that the King was the reincarnation of God Vishnu.

Amidst mourning, curfews, and outpouring of grief in the Kathmandu Valley, the conflict rose to new heights in the outlying areas.  Over 15,000 people were killed in the conflict with many others disappeared and are still unaccounted for.

The remaining senior member of the Royal family, the late King’s brother, became King.  Never very popular, particularly when he took charge, cutting communications with the outside world for a few days, he was eventually forced to step down by a people’s movement in 2006.

Communist Rule and a Republic is Born

At the end of the conflict (2005), the ‘rebel’ Maoists were voted into power and Nepal entered a time of communism which has lead to the formation of the Republic of Nepal and decentralisation of government.

Natural Disasters

If that wasn’t enough for one lifetime there were a series of natural disasters during the 2000s such as extensive flooding and the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake that killed 9,000 people.

Changing Times

It was only within this century that, certainly in Kathmandu, the general public get access to international TV channels and internet.

Suddenly the young people were thrust from a very traditional life where the King ruled everything, through war and disaster and changing politics, and a time when it was often hard to know who was really in charge.

And all this while being exposed to Western cultural influences.  It’s not hard to imagine that conflict of a smaller nature was occurring in urban households across the nation.

And let’s not forget Nepal as a country only opened its door to the outside world in the 1950s: within the lifetime of people’ fathers or grandfathers.

Armed with this information you are perhaps now in a position to understand some of the complexities of Nepali culture!

Overall Safety of Nepal

First off, in general Nepal is a very safe country!  That said, the usual precautions should be followed as a woman on your own.  And there are some unexpected ‘dangers’.  Read on to find out what these could be.

Transport in Nepal

kathmandu-to-soti-khola-bus

There are a number of interesting methods of transport in Nepal.  These range from taxis, buses, and planes, to rickshaws, auto-rickshaws and natural gas-fuelled three-wheeler vehicles called Safa Tempos.  Electric buses are just making an entrance onto the scene (Autumn 2019).

Intercity Travel

If you are traveling outside of the Kathmandu Valley the options are hiring a private vehicle (with driver), taking a bus or flying.  Given the state of the roads (sheer drops, unpaved, winding, extreme potholes, etc) which is the safer way to travel?

Flights

kathmandu-pokhara-flight-buddha-air
Buddha Airlines

Domestic flights in Nepal can be daunting.  And are probably not for those who are afraid of flying!  High mountains and constantly changing weather conditions can bring around delays and cancelations even on the best of days.

On the worst of days, they bring about air crashes. Here Wikipedia has put together an alphabetical list of the crashes in Nepal.

The United Nations (UN) recommends Buddha Air as the best domestic airline to fly in Nepal, in terms of safety.

Unfortunately, Buddha Air does not fly into the mountain regions.  Which of course are the more tricky areas.  If flying to the mountains the best option is probably Yeti Airlines or its sister Tara Air.

Road Transport

FAQ: Which is safer for women – local or tourist buses?  Please read below.

Buses

There are a large number of buses on the roads of Nepal.  As you will come to see. If you are heading to the tourist areas, such as Pokhara, Chitwan National Park, and Lumbini, the best buses to use are the tourist buses.

Designated for tourists these are a bit more expensive than local buses.  But the pluses are huge.  First off they are much more comfortable.  And more importantly, they are safer.

The drivers are better trained, drive more slowly (no need to rush to beat the next bus picking up new fare-paying passengers).  Locals might tell you to take local buses as they are cheaper.

Other travelers might also tell you to take them to have a more ‘authentic experience’.  But believe me when I say locals would love to make these safer and more comfortable buses if they could.

Don’t risk injury for three or four dollars.  Tourist buses also stop only at designated locations which are normally those with perhaps nicer food and definitely better toilet facilities!

In areas where no tourist buses run you have little choice but to go local.  So save your ‘authentic experience’ for those times.

When on a local bus pay attention to your bag at all times.  Never leave your bag on the bus at the stop breaks.  And be wary of other passengers.

The majority of whom will be genuine fellow travelers.  But there might be the odd pickpocket also.  Also, pay attention to where you are.  No one is going to explain in English or tell you when it’s your stop.  That’s on you.

Hiring your own car/ jeep in Nepal

If you have the money this is a great alternative, and slightly cheaper than flying.  If you have two or three friends (or can find some) to share the cost, then this is the way to go!

There are several vehicles hire companies in Kathmandu.  Note vehicles come with drivers in Nepal. And given the state of the roads, you need one!

Online Transport Apps

Nepal does not have Uber or Lyft.  We do have something similar.  Tootle is mainly a motor-bike taxi system which is booked through an app. Here is how to do that

Please be aware Tootle drivers are people who own motorbikes and want to earn a bit of money on the side.  I have only heard positive feedback about this service but personally I don’t feel good riding on a bike with someone I don’t know. It’s not a fear of the person  (I get into taxis all the time, right?) but about the ability of the driver on the road.

But the good news is that there are also some online car services including:

Transport in Nepal – Female Specific

As a solo female traveller, travelling by flight or tourist bus is perfectly safe.  You will not be subject to unwanted attention or hassles.  If you hire a vehicle from a reputable company or through your hotel this should be perfectly safe as well.

Riding on public transport in Nepal always has different difficulties and sometimes dangers for solo women.  Within urban areas, local buses and minibusses are known as places where local women get harassed and physically abused on a regular basis.

They are so crowded it is a temptation for some sick men.  It is no different for foreigners.  If possible, try to sit or stand next to another woman or family, which will reduce the possibility of harassment.  On intercity buses, you will have an allocated seat.

If you feel uncomfortable you can always try asking to switch with someone else in order to sit with another woman.  Husband and wife passengers will probably be helpful and do this. 

Local intercity buses break down on a regular basis or get delayed due to traffic, accidents or landslides. With no one to translate what is happening, this could be a source of stress for the solo female traveller.

Particularly if this is during the night. Stay by the bus and other female passengers.  Toilet breaks are not always taken where there is an actual toilet.  Fine for the men!  Our advice is to follow local women wherever they head.

FAQ: Are Taxis Safe for Solo Females?  Yes.  In the 20 years of living in Kathmandu, this writer has only had one somewhat bad encounter with a taxi driver.  This was during Holi festival time when everyone is on a high – literally.

You might see that many local women take down the number of the taxi before getting in.  And then text home with this information.  That is being very cautious.  If you feel uncomfortable with the driver you have you can ask him to stop and get out … say you have had a change of plan.

Or note down his number (on the left side of the windscreen) and report him later.  Text 4321 to report a taxi driver (this is actually for those misusing the meter but it will work for other things also). Text :  taxi taxi_taxi number.  More information can be found  here

But I have never heard of anyone being physically abused by a taxi driver.  Neither have I personally had a taxi driver take me the ‘long way round’ to increase the fare.

I don’t see any reason that you might be driving to a secluded place in the middle of the night, but avoid that in any case!  Being drunk and alone in a taxi is probably not a good idea… in any city, in any country.  Common sense really!

Theft in Nepal

As we said, overall Nepal is a very safe country.  But theft does happen. Muggings are not a regular thing and when it does happen it is more likely to be targeted at that gold necklace a local woman is wearing.

Even so, do not wear obviously expensive jewellery or carry an expensive-looking bag.  Remember to lock your hotel door and window when you are outside and keep any valuables in the safe, at reception or in a safe place.

You don’t want to encourage random, unplanned theft by hotel staff or other visitors.   You are more likely to encounter random pickpocketing in a bar or café than anything more serious.  So keep your bag in your sight at all times and do not keep your passport in your bag!  Wear it or lock it in the hotel safe.

Be alert when using public transportation.  However, if you do forget or lose an item in a bus or taxi, if you contact the police there is a good chance it will be returned.  In general, people are honest and a large number of items forgotten in taxis are returned every week.

Theft in Nepal – Female Specific

You are NOT likely to be more of a target because you are a woman.

FAQ: If I have a problem should I contact the police?  Yes, you should.

Quick Reference: The contact for the Tourist Police is 1144 (hotline)  More info here 

Natural Disasters in Nepal

Some sort of natural disaster takes place almost every day in Nepal.  Heavy rain brings flooding on the roads in Kathmandu, making open sewers a real danger; overflowing rivers in the lowland Terai area cause displacement and damage annually; landslides disrupt road transport; avalanches can bury local trails and trekking routes, as well as camps and villages.

In 2015 the Gorkha Earthquake killed over 9.000 people and left many more injured and/ or homeless.  Aftershocks continued at an amazing number for the next 2 years and are still felt, more on a monthly than daily basis now.

But this is the Himalayas – a young a growing mountain range. With the Indian Plate (carrying India) moving underneath the Eurasian Plate (carrying Europe and Asia).  This has been going on for millennia and is not stopping any time soon.

During the 2015 earthquake, it was clear the majority of tourists knew nothing about Nepal being on a major fault line. So you have now been warned!

What should I do in an Emergency Situation?

If you are caught in a flood, landslide or avalanche move away from the area as soon as it is safe to do so.  Follow what the locals are doing.  Try not to drink unclean water unless there is no option.  Once out of the area, unless you are injured you can continue your travels as usual.

If you are caught in a major earthquake make your way to your Embassy in Kathmandu. If you are in an area not affected, then stay there in the short term until you see the situation.  In 2015 India opened its borders to foreign tourist, giving a two week visa free stay to enable tourists to make their way back to their homeland.

Many embassies in Kathmandu utilized relief air transport to take their nationals out of the country.  At that time we were lucky the Kathmandu airport was not affected.  But communications remained difficult for a few days and things did not get back to any sort of normality for weeks.

Natural Disasters – Female Specific

During an emergency situation you may find yourself living under the stars with locals.  You should be vigilant at that time in case any one takes advantage (but we have not heard anything regarding this).  Try to sleep next to families or other women.  Daily hygiene routines might have to be forgotten.

Quick Reference: Here is a list of Embassies in Kathmandu

(please note these are from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Nepal, in 2017 and may not provide the latest information. Please search your own Embassy on line if required.)

Political Unrest  

As of autumn 2019 there is no political unrest that looks likely to impact visiting tourists.  But things can change quickly.  If caught up in a demonstration etc, move away quickly from the area.  Or follow what the non-political local bystanders do.

I recommend that you do not join any demonstration or procession, regardless of the cause.

Potential Dangers of Trekking

Again, Nepali is a very safe place.  But there have been reports of trekkers, particularly solo females, going missing, never to be found.  Whether they were attacked, abducted or fell over a cliff we might never know.

We advise people to NEVER TREK ALONE!  This is the Himalayas.  This is not a park.  Rescue services are nothing like those in developed countries.  A simple injury can prove fatal if it happens off the trail.

In 2018 two Japanese trekkers went off the usual trail and fell down a waterfall.  They were there for more than 30 days before they were found, completely by chance.  By that time their families had been, searched and returned home helpless.

Also by that time one of the trekkers died.  Thankfully the other survived (they had water and he obviously had a strong will to live).   This is not a rare example, but it is often not reported in the international press.  So NEVER TREK ALONE.

Potential Dangers of Trekking – Female Specific

Aside from falls or injury, lone female trekkers are more likely to stand out. If it’s a well trekked area – such as Poon Hill – and in the main season, there will be hundreds of people on the trails.

But even with so many fellow trekkers and trekking teams, it is easy to miss someone should they fail to turn up at the next settlement. Don’t forget to check into EVERY checkpost with your TIMS Card.

There is less likely to be harassment by local men on the well worn trekking routes.  Men are used to seeing foreign women and most likely earn their living from tourists.  In more remote areas, a solo female trekker may be something unique.

Villagers may not have interacted with foreigners before and the only knowledge they have for foreign women is from the TV or the internet.  You can imagine what their knowledge could consist of.  Do not put yourself into that position.  Take a guide.

Trekking Guides

Which brings us to the next solo female-specific potential danger when trekking – your guide!

While the majority of guides, especially those through a reputable company, are kosher and professional there are so many (true) stories of guides and trekkers getting together romantically.

If you want to go down that road, it’s your choice.  If you don’t want to become involved, then make sure your guide fully understands that. Most Nepali men understand that no means no!

Insurance

Most travellers have insurance.  If you are planning to trek in Nepal, ensure your insurance covers this.  Not all policies do. If you plan to trek at high altitude or do peak climbing, make sure your insurance covers this also.

And don’t forget to check that it covers helicopter rescue.  Always leave a copy of your insurance with the trekking agency you are using.

We recommend World Nomad Insurance.

Best Safety Tip

If you don’t already have one, get a local SIM card.  Ncell is cheap, easy to use and available everywhere. Data packages are reasonably cheap also.

Ncell works in most of the trekking areas unless you are going very remote.  If you are going remote, I’m sure you will have a guide with you who has access or who knows which settlements have satellite phones or equivalent.

How Nepalis Perceive Foreign Women

In 1989, when visiting a village which was not on any tourist route, a grandmother was chatting away to me in Nepali.  My partner told her that I did not speak Nepali.  Grandmother was extremely surprised and ask, in all honesty, “How does she communicate then?”

Perception of City Dwellers

The majority of tourists only visit two cities in Nepal: Kathmandu and Pokhara.  There are other areas of course, such as Chitwan and Nagarkot, that survive on tourism to see a lot of tourists coming through. So let’s take Kathmandu, Pokhara and main tourist hubs as “cities”

People living in the cities have good access to international television programs, international films, and the internet.

Young people (those under 30/35) have grown up with these things and are much more aware of Western culture and values than their parents.  You will now see young girls in bars and clubs and/or walking around in quite skimpy dresses.

But rest assured, the majority of parents do not know about this!  There is still very much a traditional outlook at home.

Basically, Nepalis will never criticize the way you dress or look – to your face.   Those over 35 or who have little exposure to foreigners will probably make a lot of comments behind your back.

In Thamel. Kathmandu and Lakeside, Pokhara you can pretty much dress and behave as you would at home.  People there have seen it all before!

But that doesn’t mean you should wear short shorts and be obviously drunk in the bar!  Nor should it mean you should be openly seen as trying to pick up guys or being easy to pick up!  Once again, common sense should prevail.

This is not Thailand with its beach and bar culture, or Europe with the whole population being on the same page. This is still a very conservative country.  Confusing right?  That is one of the beauties of Nepal.  It’s a land full of contradiction.

What About Other Areas of the City?

If you are wandering around the city outside of the main tourist hotel areas or tourists attractions you will notice straight away that more people are staring at you.

They are not being judgmental.  Probably they have not seen many foreigners in their everyday lives.  But yes, please do dress more conservatively outside of Thamel and Lakeside.  Of course, it should go without saying, dress conservatively in temples and other religious sites.

How Nepalis Perceive Nepali Women

Traditionally women are respected as mothers (or potential mothers).  How this holds up in modern days I’m not so sure.  How Nepali females are perceived depends very much on the culture of the caste or ethnic group.

Some castes are very conservative where women are kept at home with little freedom, while in other groups (mainly the mountain peoples) women are allowed more freedom.  Some groups, such as Tharus, follow a matriarchal system.

As a solo female from another country, you will be accorded the same respect as local women within the family setting.  Your ‘freedom’ to wander around alone will not be questioned as it is ‘what foreigners do’!  Things might be very different though if you marry into a Nepali family!

Perception of Village Dwellers

People living on the main tourists trails and trekking routes are likely to be involved in tourism in some way.

Like the city dwellers around tourist areas, they are used to seeing foreigners and women travelling alone.  Slight problems will only arise if you are travelling on intercity local buses or in areas where there is not much tourism.

Again don’t be surprised if you are stared at.  This is not aggressive staring.  This is just childlike wonder at who you are, why are you there, what are you doing, where are you from etc.  In fact, if anyone speaks English, they will ask you these questions directly!

Understanding the Culture

To better understand how people perceive foreign women, you need to understand something of the culture. Find out more here.

According to the Nepal Ministry of Foreign Affairs “The culture of Nepal is rich and unique. The cultural heritage of Nepal has evolved over the centuries.

This multi-dimensional heritage encompasses the diversities of Nepal’s ethnic, tribal, and social groups, and it manifests in music and dance; art and craft; folklore and folktales; languages and literature; philosophy and religion; festivals and celebration; foods and drinks.”

This is a very generic description, which, while true doesn’t really help us understand the way people think.  Despite Buddha being born in what is now Nepal, the dominant religion in Nepal is Hinduism.  (81.6% : 2011 census)

Until very recently Nepal was the only Hindu Kingdom in the world.  Whereas Buddhism teaches respect for all sentinel beings, Hinduism is more complex in its beliefs.

Hinduism

Thought to be the oldest religion in the world (cira 2,000 BC in the Indus Valley), Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam.

The majority of Hindus live in India. Hinduism is quite unique in that it’s not a single religion as such but a compilation of many different traditions and philosophies.

Despite there being literally hundreds of Hindu gods, most people worship a single deity – Brahman. But in my opinion, if you want to do anything  – this is a god who has done it or who will ‘support’ you in doing it!

Hindus’ believe that your actions in this world reflect how you will be reborn in your next life. Yet somewhere men of higher standing came up with the idea that you cannot change your god-given station in life regardless as to what you do.

Originally formed down the lines of  ‘professions” ie scholars near the top, workmen near the bottom, the caste system is still very prevalent today.  Despite being outlawed in Nepal, it still very much exists here in Nepal.

If you would like to know more about the caste system look here. Cast System in India and    Cast System in Nepal

In a Nut Shell

Everyone has a place in society.  Everyone knows their place in society.  No one can change their place in society.

But the younger generation is fighting against this.  Adding more frustration to their lives.  This often comes out in political action or group rage.

Or simply personal frustration and confusion in their own lives.  Add foreign tourists into this mix of emotions, and you can see how problems may arise for solo female travellers who are unaware of the cultural norms and traditions.

FAQ: Am I then safe as a non-Hindu in Nepal? Yes you are.  The government has recently made it illegal proselytize, to so while you can discuss your religion, don’t try to convert anyone along the way!  

 

But getting back to the Nepal Government’s description of culture – music, and dance; art and craft; folklore and folktales; languages and literature; philosophy and religion; festivals and celebration; foods and drinks – yes those are real and what you came to see, experience and learn about.  Be aware, but don’t overly worry about the rest!

What to Wear and Where to Wear It

We are frequently asked by visitors what kind of clothes are best to wear while travelling in Nepal.  Read on to find out!

Nepal is still very much a conservative country.  Just because people won’t come running up to you in the street demanding you cover-up doesn’t mean it’s okay to wear skimpy spaghetti string top or short shorts around town.  The best guide to what to wear in any country is to look at what the local women are wearing.

Business attire is very much as you would find at home:- skirts, dresses, pants.  Outside of Kathmandu (or in some banks, hotels etc which provide uniforms) saris or kurtas (long tops with matching baggy pants) are more likely to be the standard office wear.

Casual wear for women will be that ubiquitous kurta again or jeans.

Party wear – well it depends where and what is the party.  If it’s a formal party or a family affair then saris or nice kurtas will be worn.  As a foreigner you don’t have to struggle into a sari (unless you want to), a nice dress will be fine.  Or a kurta.

If you are venturing into the nightlife of Thamel or Lakeside (Pokhara) the you can wear jeans, leggings, tops, pretty much as you would wear at home. One trick is to carry a big scarf (they come as part of a kurta outfit!) which you can drape around you when walking from your hotel to the nightclub or getting into a taxi at the end of the night.

Trekking clothes will be pretty much what you would wear trekking in any other country.  It is likely you will be covered up in layers and a jacket most of the time anyway!  When it’s hot and sunny at lower altitudes we suggest you remember you are still in a conservative country and not strip down to tiny tops or short shorts.   Given that you might need to hide behind a bush or large stone as a ‘toilet’ I would suggest wearing a longer and loose top (kurta!) over your trekking pants.

What to Wear When Travelling Intercity

Be more conservative when travelling on public transport.  You don’t want to stand out more than you already will!  Again, a kurta or long loose top over a long skirt or pants will be beneficial when it comes to toilet stops at the side of the road!  And that long scarf will keep some of the suns off when it streams in the non-tinted windows!  Or wrap it around you for more cover-up!

What Definitely NOT to Wear

  • Do not wear see-through clothing or those that reveal too much skin.  Although traditionally saris reveal the midriff area of the body, it’s best if you do not expose that area.  (Contradictions right?)
  • Do not wear short shorts.  That’s a big no-no.  Long just above the knee shorts are fine.
  • Do not wear strapless or skimpy t-shirts/ tops.  Or at least keep those for the nightclubs.
  • Take care if wearing tight leggings.  Fine if you have a long top over them to cover your bum!
  • Do not go braless.  Yes, you will see older women without bras in the rural area.  But those are grandmothers who hold a lot of respect in the community.  Young women do not go without a bra (with very few cultural exceptions).

FAQ: What is the best outfit to wear when travelling in Nepal?

Definitely a kurta!  It’s so practical – you can wear it to formal parties, to peoples’ houses, to offices, when trekking and when visiting tourist sites.

It is cool (usually made of cotton), comfortable and comes with that cover-up/ sunscreen scarf!    The top can be worn over your own trousers, trekking pants, jeans and the bottoms can be wore as PJs in homestays and trekking lodges.

So What Exactly is this Kurta?

You can buy them around Thamel or local shopping areas.  They come ready-made (not if you a larger woman) or you can get them made very cheaply.  They consist of a long top with slits up the side (for ease of walking) and loose harem pants.  The set comes with a matching shawl/ scarf.

Sexual Harassment/ Sexual Violence

Quick Reference: Here is the contact for the Tourist Police.  Here is a list of reputable hospitals.  Here is a list of Embassies in Kathmandu.

As in every country, Nepal sees its share of sexual harassment and violence.  Sexual harassment is quite a low key.  Sexual violence is more likely to happen in the home than in the street.  That said, accidents do happen.  There have been cases of young Nepali women raped and killed in recent years.  Numbers are increasing but that is most likely because with exposure to the outside world and with social media, more cases are being reported than in the past.

What Should You do if you Encounter Sexual Harassment

If it’s in a public place such as a bar, do what you probably would at home.  Give him a piece of your mind!  Come over all ‘mother’ or ‘big sister’ and he might back off through shame.  If it’s in a more private place.  Leave immediately if you can.

In both cases, ensure you are not followed when leaving the place.  Try to leave with a female friend or group.   If you think you are being followed don’t go back to your hotel but go into the nearest hotel and explain the situation.

What Should You do if You are Sexually Assaulted  

Make yourself safe.  If you are in town, make your way back to your hotel and report the incident from there.  Or make your way to one of the hospitals listed here.

If you are in a rural area, go to your lodge and request the lodge owner (or wife if the owner is male) help you report it.  Once back in Kathmandu again report the incident to the Tourist Police (listed above) and your own embassy.

History of Sexual Behaviours in Nepal

Unfortunately, like many poor countries many women and girls in Nepal are trafficked to other countries.  This is a major problem which is never mentioned in the tourism sector.  But there are many international agencies working against this.

Every year thousands of women and girls are kidnapped, tricked or sold by their families to traffickers.  The majority are trafficked into brothels in India.  Some end up working as slaves or prostitutes in other countries as well.  Children are very vulnerable.  There is also a market for selling babies for adoption.  These are often not orphaned children and these adoptions are almost always illegal.

There has been no case, as far as we are aware, of Western women visiting Nepal being trafficked.

What Should I do if I See Something Suspicious ?

Contact UNICEF, Save the Children or Maiti Nepal who all are working to combat trafficking.  Do not simply tell your hotel/ guide.  It is unlikely they feel in a position to do anything.  Collect as much details (photo maybe) as you can without endangering yourself and report it.  The majority of trafficking is through the land borders  with India of woman and children from hilly and mountainous areas.

Local Men

Everyone loves a holiday romance!   And there is nothing wrong with that at all.

But there are a few things you should be aware of.

Nepalis are extremely friendly as people.  They will strike up conversations with each other and with visitors at the drop of a hat.  What could be simply a Nepali guy being curious about you and your country may be misinterpreted by you as a more personal interest?  Similarly, because you have been interacting with all these friendly locals, you might fail to realise that friendly guy wants more than to guide you around the local landmarks!

As long as you are both on the same page it’s all good.

But keep in mind that dating in Nepal among young Nepalis is still in its infancy.  Dating in rural areas does not happen (officially anyway).  So there are a lot of young men looking for sexual partners.  And they have heard about Western women!   So that’s number one, he is probably more interested in sex than in you really.

Number two is that everyone knows someone who has ‘fallen in love’ and moved to their girlfriend’s country.  And we all know those who once got there papers in place in that country, wave goodbye to that girlfriend and move on.  You have been warned!

Number three – definitely you have more money than the average guy here.  It’s probably expected you will be paying for most things, which is fine. But don’t be talked into giving money for larger stuff like education or a family house (yes, I know of women who have bought houses for their Nepali men and not seen them again!).

Number four – the chances are you will have the most interaction with trekking guides!  Either the one on your own trek or those hanging around the bars in Thamel.  They have had wide range of experiences with foreign women and know just the right things to say!

The Good Ones

There are of course genuine guys and there are many relationships that end in happy and long-lasting marriages!  If you take your fiancé to your own country (which is getting harder and harder these days) be aware he will need time to transition to the culture etc.  If you decide to stay in Nepal be aware you might be taking on his whole family including cultural and domestic roles!  Be prepared!

Menstruation in Nepal

It’s very frustrating having your period when on holiday!  It’s more difficult if you are trekking or are in a rural area which does not have a clean toilet facilities.  But don’t be unnecessarily worried.  With moon cups, tampons and wet wipes, life can be dealt with!  Remember to find a suitable place to dispose of your wet wipes and tampons… easier said than done.

Clean water is not available everywhere to deal with your moon cup.  Definitely you will not be able to boil it sterile.  Think about this before leaving home.  If you are here for a short stay consider taking the pill all the way through to avoid having a period at all. Not recommended for long term travellers!

FAQ: Is menstruation discussed in Nepali society?

Here is another contradiction.  In general it is not discussed.  In some rural areas there is still a practice of putting women into sheds, known as Chaupadi, during their periods (and when giving birth) separating them from the family.

In most households, including middle class ones in Kathmandu, women are not allowed into the kitchen during this time.  They have different plates to use and are not allowed to sleep in the same bed as their husbands.

However, awareness is being raised by groups of feminists in Kathmandu who are promoting reusable sanitary towels in rural areas etc.  So the topic is coming up more and more.

Yet, and here is the contradiction.  When a women has her period she cannot cook or collect water etc.  So in every rural household I have been at this time, I have been apologized to by the male member of the family for food which has been cooked by a less experienced person as the wife/ mother has her period!  Now whether I am told this as foreigner (with a strange culture no less) or whether everyone is told this I don’t know!

FAQ: Can I enter temples during my period?

Nepali women do not. Probably because their family members know it that time of the month. Societal pressure is high.  Unlike some temples around Asia (ie Bali) which have signs up forbidding this, since no one knows it’s your period and you are using hygienic methods I think it’s fine.

Other Advice for Solo Female Travellers in Nepal

Talk to People!

Like we said, Nepalis are very friendly and love to talk!  Talk back and learn something! Talk to other travellers too.  Don’t sit with your phone in your lap in restaurants and cafes.  Look around, exchange small talk with other travellers.  Who knows you could end up exploring the town together.  Certainly on treks there is nothing to do in the evenings except swap stories with other trekkers!

Be Open Minded

You came here to see and experience new things.  So don’t be surprised when things are different than at home.  Yes, it can be frustrating travelling in any new country, but that’s what travelling is all about.  If you have a bout of culture shock… take some time for yourself.  Read a book, go to the cinema or watch Netflix till it passes.  Don’t be  hard on yourself… we all have what I call “Nepal days”.

Be Adventurous

Similarly, be adventurous!  You might never come back to Nepal so try everything!  The food, the festivals, wander through temples and mix with locals.

Best Places to Go in Nepal as a Solo Woman Traveller         

Solo women travellers in Nepal can go basically everywhere the male solo traveller can go.  I don’t think there is any ‘best place’ as such.  There are the wonderful tourist spots – Lumbini, Chitwan National Park, Bhaktapur, trekking etc that everyone can enjoy.  There is not, that I know of, anywhere that is more female friendly than others.  Let us know if you find somewhere please!

Just follow all the advice given above about your safety.  Stay alert at night and in less populated areas.   But most of all – enjoy your time in Nepal!

Nightlife

Kathmandu Valley

No, there is not any nightlife specifically for women, solo or otherwise, in Nepal!  Unless you really want to join those who are busy every evening cooking for their families! There is the Teej Festival, which is a woman only festival celebrated around September.  It is a religious festival which involves fasting and praying but there is a lot of dancing and celebration also!

And no, there isn’t any evening activities that we would say you shouldn’t do as a solo women traveller.

Here is a list of some of the bars, nightclubs, restaurants and cafes in Kathmandu that I can recommend as being ‘safe’ (or should I say ‘even more safe’ than the norm) for solo women travellers.   There are of course many many more!  If you have (or download) FaceBook Local you can find many events in and around Kathmandu.

Cafes and Restaurants

These are some of my favourites in a blog I wrote for expats in Nepal.  They are good for visitors also: https://www.magicalnepal.com/expat-guide/27-best-restaurants-and-cafe-in-kathmandu/

Bars

In Thamel some of the most interest bars which play live music include those listed below.  BTW almost all restaurants, cafes and bars in Thamel play live music from the painful to the truly great performers.  The bars shown here have a more select list of (great) musicians on their books!

  • Purple Haze Rock Bar (the name says it all)
  • Reggae Bar (the name doesn’t say it all – rock is mainly played here)
  • Shisha Terrace Bar
  • Electric Pagoda
  • House of Music
  • Live by Aloft (@Aloft Hotel – new in town and up-market for Thamel)

Also recommended outside of the Thamel area:-

  • Moksh (in Jhamsikhel )
  • Jazz Upstairs (Lazimpat)
  • Social Café (Naxal/ Nag Pokhari)
  • Tangalwood (which includes Calm and 25 Hours – live music and DJ) (Naxal)
  • Evoke (in Jhamsikhel this is really a restaurant but on Fridays and special events there is live music)
  • Basecamp (Sanepa)

Night Clubs

  • LOD (Lord of the Drinks) (Thamel)
  • Fahrenheit (Thamel)
  • Reef (Thamel) (Live music and DJ – more Bollywood/ Kollywood than Top 20)
  • Club Reload (Thamel)
  • Club Déjà vu (near Durbar Marg)
  • Prive by Level 3 (Labin Mall, Pulchowk)
  • Prive by Prive Group (@ Soaltee Hotel)
  • Victory Club (Durbar Marg)
  • Karma Club (Tripureshor)

And if you like that sort of thing, don’t forget to check out the casinos found in many of the larger hotels around town.

Cultural ‘Night Life”

  • Every evening at Pashupathi there is a nightly aarti (Hindu  ritual involving oil lamps and priests)  at around dusk.
  • At Boudha Stupa you can watch the Tibetan Buddhists say prayers as they walk around the stupa.  Butter lamps and electric lights flood the area on full-moon night and other Buddhist festivals.
  • At Pashupatinath on full-moon nights there is a traditional music performance.
  • At Patan Durbar Square people-watch in the evening as the locals come out to pray, meet friends and chit chat.
  • Check out Ason Tole bazaar in the early evening for shopping bargains and people watching.

Pokhara

Restaurants, cafes, bars and nightlife in Pokhara is pretty much contained in the Lakeside area.

Bars

  • Busy Bee Café (don’t let the name fool you, this is basically a bar!)
  • Old Blues Bar
  • Paradiso Sports Bar & Grill
  • Upbeat Music Bar & Restaurant
  • Phat Kath (hostel and bar)
  • Rolling Stones Rock Bar

Restaurants and Cafes

Like in Kathmandu, there are so many good restaurants and cafes it’s hard to choose just a few.  But here are some of my favourites:-

  • Moondance
  • Rosemary Kitchen
  • Caffe Concerto
  • The Lemon Tree
  • OR2K Restaurant
  • Old Mike’s Kitchen

The Changing Face of Kathmandu – Then and Now

Like the rest of southeast Asia and India, Nepal is changing fast.  In the 20 plus years, I have been here the main change I have seen has been an increase in traffic, traffic related problems, degradation of roads due to heavy traffic, new roads coming up due to traffic, vehicle noise and air pollution, and unpleasantness in walking around due to traffic.  And did I mention traffic?

Twenty years ago…

… Kathmandu was a lovely place to walk around.  And it was easy and quick to walk  3 or 4 kilometres to work/ shopping areas/ friends’ homes.  There still was temples to be seen on the horizon and by simply raising your eyes up you came to the  green hills and snow capped mountains which ring the Kathmandu Valley.

One of the few downsides I would say was that my nightlife section in this guide would not have existed 20 years ago!  Outside of the big hotels and embassies (not open to tourists), there was very little to do in the evenings.  Sure, Thamel was there and there were cafes and restaurants.  But very few bars, no clubs, and little good coffee!

Around 10-15 years ago…

 things started to change.  With the main changes happening around 10 years ago.  Big shopping malls started coming  up,  more apartment type accommodation was built (blocking the views), pollution rose in scale until today it is pretty much off the chart.  On the plus side, we got Purple Haze Rock Bar!  Yeah!  Followed by a host of other music bars and the emergence of night clubs.  No longer did we need to make our own entertainment!

The past 10 years …

…people changed too.  I have noticed that young people (20s and early 30s) have become smarter and more worldly-wise. They have also, to some extent, lost their child-like wonder, that their parents had of the world.  On the positive side, they can stand up for themselves (which their parents would never do if they were from the ‘lower’ sections of society).  In the rural areas you will notice that outside of the tourism entrepreneurs the local communities still retain this simpler view of life.

How Do these Changes Impact the Solo Woman Traveller?

At face value: you now have better food in the restaurants. And cocktails in the bars. And a bigger choice of nightlife.  You can get around town in the abundance of taxis.  And Google Maps work (sort of). There are even a couple of Uber/grab  type systems in place. Try Pathao, Sarathi(car), toodle(for bike) Tourism operators are more honest in their dealings with clients now.  Not that they were dishonest before – just more vague about things.  Now they are professional to the core!

Safety-wise: I would say Nepal on the whole is less safe than it was 20 years ago.  I remember being in Narayanghat transferring bus from Kathmandu to Lumbini.  I told the conductor I was going to the toilet and left my bag on the side of the road.  When I came back my bag was gone and my bus was gone.  I didn’t for one minute think the bag was stolen or the bus had left without me.  I just looked around.  Sure enough the conductor was waving – he had put my bag on the bus and the bus had to move up the road a bit to make way for traffic.  I don’t think now, 15 years later, I would leave my bag at the side of the road anymore! But in general theft is low compared to other countries.

Definitely you hear more incidents of sexual assault (usually more nuisance stuff aimed at Nepali women on local transport). But I think this is also because women are speaking out these days.

On the plus side… the electricity supply is pretty much 24/7 in Kathmandu and there are more streetlights and less dark roads.  If nothing else, this helps you avoid the potholes!

Road safety: That’s a hard one.   In rural areas there are more and more roads coming up.  These are rough roads cut out of cliffs.  Usually seasonal roads subject to landslides.  Not the safest.  In towns roads have become faster and more crowded.  Crossing the road is a major headache now.  BTW Zebra Crossings should be used with a pinch of salt!  Only a very few drivers seem to know what this is and stop.  The majority do not stop for people trying to cross.   If possible wait for others and cross as a group.

Conclusion

Nepal welcomes and loves all visitors regardless of sex, nationality or religion.  Nepalis just love to talk and find out more about different lifestyles and countries. Solo female travellers are no exception.

Nepal is a very safe country.  But the usual, common sense, rules should also apply.  Such as dressing appropriately, not getting drunk alone, not trekking alone and not flaunting your wealth.

If at any time you get overwhelmed (and cultural shock happens to more people than you think), relax in your hotel with a good book, Netflix or a Skype call home.  Integrate yourself  slowly and don’t be hard on yourself.

Most of all, enjoy your experience here in Nepal!

If you need more information about trekking or travelling in Nepal, please do not hesitate to contact us at Magical Nepal. 

FAQ

Is Nepal safe for solo women travellers?

Yes it is!  Nepal is, on the whole, a very safe country for solo female travellers.  The usual common sense applies, as it does everywhere.

Which is the safest way to travel in Nepal?

There is no really good answer to that questions!  Probably the most safe way to travel would be to hire a nice, comfortable, high off the ground, 4WD!  But for most of us that is out of budget!  Tourist buses on the intercity routes and taxis in Kathmandu are probably the best options.

Which is safer for women – local or tourist buses?  

Tourists buses are safer in terms of road safety (and more comfortable).  And are better in that  you will be travelling with other like-minded foreigners in case there is a break down or delay.

Are taxis safe for solo females?

Yes, taxis are safe.  We have not heard any bad stories of taxi drivers.  Except trying to get too much money from passengers! But seriously, from a safety point of view, they are fine.

Is theft a big problems in Nepal?  Should I worry about this?

You should take the same precautions you take in your own or any country.  Do not leave your bag unattended; do not carry expensive jewellery or a lot of money in a place where it is easy to grab.  Make sure your hotel room is secure both when you are in it and when you leave it. But overall, theft is less of a problem in Nepal than in many other countries and you should not unduly worry.

I hear there is a lot of planes crashes in Nepal. Is flying safe?

The high mountains and weather conditions make flying in Nepal challenging, especially when flying in the mountains.  Yes there are a number of plane crashes.  But also many many more safe landings.

What should I do in an emergency situation?

After ensuring  your own safety, contact the authorities  such as the Tourist Police.

Is it safe to go trekking alone?

We recommend that no one goes trekking alone.  A simple injury can become a huge problem if you are alone.  As a women, we strongly advise you not to trek alone as there have been cases of disappearances.

I’ve been to India and was stared at a lot.  Do people stare at women in Nepal?

I would have to say, yes.  But they are looking at you in an interested, not threatening way.  Asian culture is more communal than most Western countries and so staring is not a bad thing.  Some ethnic groups, such as Tharu and others in the lowland areas tend to have more serious looking faces while groups such as Gurungs and Sherpas are more open faced. (In most cases then a serious face doesn’t mean the person is unhappy or angry.) Smile back at everyone!

I’m a Christian.  Am I safe in Nepal?

Yes, you are! As a secular country, Nepal accepts all religions.  But it is advisable not to try to convert anyone or hand out religious texts.  You can discuss your religion in general conversation if the other person brings it up.

Can I go around with bare shoulders in Nepal?  What about in temples?

I suggest you leave your skimpy clothes for the nightclubs!  Bare shoulders are not seen in any of the local styles of dressing.  You will get stared at in the streets.  Definitely you should not bare your shoulders in temples as this is disrespectful.  If you have done this and no one said anything, it is not because it’s acceptable but because people were too shy and/ or respectful to mention it to you.

Can I wear short shorts when trekking?

I would suggest you do not.  For several reasons.  Firstly, short shorts are not worn in Nepal and people may think you are being disrespectful.  You might also attract unwanted attention.  Secondly, you are likely to get sunburnt, attacked by leeches, bitten by insects, or cold.  Depending on the season!

What is the best outfit to wear when travelling in Nepal?

If travelling around town or between towns, jeans, pants, long skirts and kurtas are best.  Long skirts and kurtas if you are travelling by local bus as they are more discreet where there are no toilets!  When trekking, then appropriate trekking gear (no short shorts) will make you blend in and keep you warm and dry.

I’ve hear stories of trafficking of women in Nepal.  Am I at risk?

No, you are not at risk.  There is no case of a foreign woman being trafficked within or across borders in Nepal.  Traffickers are targeting the poor and uneducated local girls and women.

Can I go on a date with a Nepali man?  Is that okay?

Yes, you can date local men!  Just be aware of your partner

Be aware showing affection in public is not accepted or normal in Nepal.

Can I bring my same-sex partner to Nepal?  

Yes!  Nepal has many LGBTQ people and to an extent respects their rights.  There is even an ‘other’ on many official forms.  As in “Male/  Female/  Other”. But not public affection tho!

Is menstruation discussed in Nepali society?

Not really.  If you are unwell or in need of tampons (best to bring your own) or sanitary pads you can discuss with local woman but it is not a good conversation in family groups or with men.

Can I enter temples during my period?

Nepali women will not. Whether you do or not is up to you as no one will know your are on your period if you don’t tell them.  If you are staying with a family and they do know it’s your period then I suggest you ask the women about this before entering the temple.

As a woman is there anything I need to be aware of?  Such as for example covering my head in a temple?

In general a solo female traveller can do the same things solo men can do.  Just be cautious and aware of your surroundings.  Just as you would anywhere else.  While in some ethnic groups women will cover their heads in front of senior male family members and strange men, there are no such restrictions for foreigners.  As for everyone, take off your shoes before entering a house and do not put your feet on any table or chair (including your bus seat!)

About Author

Jackie has lived and travelled in Asia for 27 years, more than 20 of these in Nepal. This writer/ editor is currently the owner of a small vocational training company. She is also involved in the tourism and development sectors. When not working she can be found at live music gigs, at the theatre, or art events.

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