Arriving in Kathmandu for the first time can either be a wonderful assault on the senses or it can be overwhelming and send some people into culture shock. If you do suffer from culture shock just take your time and slowly explore the area around your hotel and in no time at all you will be visiting temples, ringing bells and bargaining with shop keepers!
Outside of Thamel, you may be woken in the morning by the sound of temple bells, exotic birds, and perhaps even the call of a monkey or two. (Expect music and more modern sounds in Thamel).
Your day will continue with the scent of incense, unfamiliar spices and perhaps some less pleasant smells! Women wear colourful clothes, and children will come up to you and ask you where you are from. Personal space and boundaries are smaller in Nepal than in your home country. Do expect children to take your hand and older people to offer you Namaste. And always smile!
There is much to see and do in Kathmandu. Click here for information.
Thamel is the tourist hub of Kathmandu. It is also very different from the rest of the country in terms of peoples’ attitudes and overall culture. But if you want to meet other travellers, enjoy some night-life and have easy access to travel and trekking agents, this is the place for you. Thamel also enjoys some good bars and restaurants and is the place to buy or hire trekking gear and stock up on snacks for your trip.
On the negative side, by its very nature, it is noisy, touristy and full of street vendors who will offer you anything from musical instruments to illegal substances.
Accommodation in Thamel
Thamel has the most hotels concentrated in one area. Prices range from a few hundred rupees to a couple of hundred dollars. Standards and facilities also range from the very basic to the luxurious.
The Kathmandu Guest House is one of the longest running hotels in Thamel and recently been refurbished and its garden areas expanded. Here is one of the best places to meet climbers, trekkers and travellers. Other hotels in the more expensive range include the Royal Penguin Boutique Hotel.
There are many budget hotels and hostels in Thamel and we suggest you spend some time looking around a few before deciding on one.
Please note, regardless as to what your price range is, avoid hotels situated next to bars and restaurants with loud music (virtually impossible in Thamel!) unless you enjoy music late into the night.
2. Freak Street
Freak Street is situated just south of Kathmandu Durbar Square or Basantapur as it is known locally. Here is where the early tourists, hippies actually, stayed during the 1960’s. It was an area famous for its pies and marijuana, which was not illegal in Nepal at that time. Times have changed however and you can no longer legally buy marijuana but can still get good pies and cakes here! Being situated near to Durbar Square gives it an atmosphere which is unique although some of the buildings are a little run down now.
Accommodation is mainly in the budget category.
Lazimpat is around 10 to 15 minutes walk north of Thamel but it’s a whole different world! It has recently become quite an affluent part of the city and has quite a nice hassle free environment compared to Thamel. There are a few nice western style restaurants and cafes as well as local style ones where prices are cheaper although the place itself might not be as comfortable. Wifi is available in most places.
Moving around from Lazimpat to other parts of the city is easy as many buses go up and down the main Lazimpat Road. Taxi here will be slightly cheaper for the average tourist than in Thamel.
Accommodation in Lazimpat
Lazimpat is home to four mid to high price luxury hotels, namely, Radisson, Shankar, Shangrila and Ambassador. Currently the Ambassador Hotel is under construction – modernization started before the earthquake and the Shankar Hotel was damaged during the earthquake but is under refurbishment and is open for business. The Shankar, a beautiful old Rana palace; the Radisson Hotel, part of the international chain; and the Shangrila Hotel, also part of an international chain, have swimming pools and the usual facilities you would expect in 3 and 4 star hotels.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to international prices or if you would prefer something more friendly but don’t want a shoestring lodge then Tings Tea Lounge is the place for you!
Tings Tea Lounge has a small number of individually styled rooms around a lovely courtyard and garden just off the busy Lazimpat Road. Run by a well-travelled Danish couple, you will get personalised service here and yet you are only a stones-throw from restaurants and shops and a 15-20 minute walk from Thamel.
There are not any budget range hotels in Lazimpat.
Boudha is home to the majority of the large Tibetan refugee population that live in Nepal. The atmosphere here is very different and more serene than other parts of Kathmandu and a world apart from Thamel. It’s not as easy to travel to Thamel from here for a night out due to the higher taxi costs as a result of the distance (30 minutes drive). But who would want to leave?
Perhaps the best time to experience local life early morning and evening when hundreds of Tibetans and Nepali Buddhists come out to do kora and pray.
Many foreigners study Tibetan history, philosophy and language in Boudha so you won’t be viewed simply as a tourist.
Most of the restaurants are situated around the stupa itself or down narrow lanes coming off of the main stupa kora. Food is cheaper than Thamel, with a heavy accent on Tibetan and vegetarian dishes.
Accommodation in Boudha
For those of you with enough bank balance, there is the Hyatt Regency Hotel, with its back gate leading to the stupa (ask the guard to open it for you). Every luxury and perhaps the biggest swimming pool in Nepal can be found here.
Many smaller hotels can be found around Boudha.
What we call Kathmandu today is actually three cities which were once separate kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Therefore, all three ‘cities’ have Durbar Squares filled with temples and statues. (Please note some were destroyed during the earthquakes in 2015. They will eventually be rebuilt by the cities and UNESCO but this will take many years.)
Today we think of Patan as another part of Kathmandu, lying south of the Bagmati River.
Patan has everything the north side of the city has but is a little less congested. You can find old temples and courtyards, modern restaurants and a host of craft shops. There are also music venues, although perhaps not as many as Thamel, and quiet cafes to sit in.
Accommodation in Patan
In the mid to expensive range there is the Himalayan Hotel and the Summit Hotel, both of which have swimming pools. The Summit is, as its name suggests, situated to overlook the city and is a meeting place for many expats in the evening.
If you are thinking of a home-stay while in Kathmandu, it will probably be in Patan. Find out more here.
6. Other Areas of Kathmandu
Kathmandu is a large city of five million people with many interesting places both on and off the tourist trail.
If you want to stay off the beaten track you could look at accommodation in Swoyambhunath (the Monkey Temple). Here you can stay in the beautiful Vajra Hotelwhich is built in traditional style, or in more modestly priced accommodation.
Another traditionally crafted hotel is Dwarika Hotel situated at Gausala, near Pashupatinath Temple. If you cannot afford the price of a room with a sunken bath, do try to go over for a drink in the bar or a coffee from one of the restaurant. This hotel has history! Just ask one of the staff to tell you.
For those who like a bit more open space, head north to Budhanilkantha to the Park Village Hotel which is situated in large grounds.
Need even more greenery? Head to Gokarna Forest Resort, about 5km from Boudha. Here you can find an 18 hole golf course, which, as well as welcoming golfers, is home to many deer and monkeys! With a spa, indoor swimming pool, two restaurants and fully stocked bar, no one will mind if their partner spends the day on the golf course!