In this article we are sharing a few pointers that can help you get by, when visiting Nepal.
Nepali Rupees are not allowed to be exchanged outside Nepal. Visa upon arrival can be paid in Dollars and Euros. We suggest that you deal with dollars until you reach Thamel and then exchange money once there. We found the exchange rates in Thamel to be better than in Sauraha and Pokhara, however it's important to shop around, check the exchange rates which are displayed on the outside of currency exchange bureaus and then ask inside whether those are the very best rates you can get.
Most accommodation in larger cities provides free wi-fi. During our trek we also had wi-fi at community lodges, not super fast but often good enough to make video calls. After all we were in the Himalayan Mountains and wi-fi there is a big luxury. We also bought an NCell Sim card which required a passport to buy and registration is mandatory. This gave us enough data to go around for one month whilst calls, both local and international were much cheaper than roaming rates. NCell was good enough however we got to know that for the region we visited, Nepal Telecom sim cards perform better.
Bargaining is a big thing in Nepal. Prices of taxis, tours and souvenirs tend to be very fluid and bargaining is necessary. Other items such as entry tickets to sites, restaurant menu items and shops displaying clearly "fixed price" are usually fixed, at least for foreigners. We are definitely not the world's best bargainers, and we know we made a couple of bad deals. However, we always kept in mind that we are in a country that is trying to get back on its feet, so it's quite understandable that tourists are taken advantage of, though this does not mean that it's OK to be treated as walking ATMs. There have also been times when we bargained hard and then felt that we had pushed it too far, so we surprised people with a higher tip if they gave us a good service.
Please, please, do not ride the elephants. Elephants are very strong creatures, but were not created to be ridden on by a van load of tourists screaming with delight as the poor animal does its balancing act. It does not mean missing out on interacting with elephants though. Check out our SU4E adventure.
Internal flights especially to the Solu Khumbu region, mostly to Lukla and Phaplu are notorious for getting cancelled. Our flight to Phaplu got cancelled after a day of waiting at the airport. We met with people who had been coming to the airport for three consecutive days in order to catch a flight to Lukla, so the airport just got more and more crowded with people from previous days. Consider walking from Jiri to Lukla, this way acclimatising better and buses are much more reliable (though not necessarily safer). If you are flying in and out of Lukla make plans that are flexible enough to cater for delays. And whatever you do, don't lose the temper, it's quite useless and makes you feel worse, really.
Guides at Sites
When visiting sites like Pashupatinath and Bhaktapur, it is advisable to have a guide so that you can appreciate more the history and significance of the place. There are many full day tours that can do the trick, but we prefer to travel between one site and the next ourselves and then find a guide on the spot. There are many people offering to be guides, we choose ones who do not pester us to do business, but rather show they are knowledgeable of the area and passionate about history and culture.
Treks Are Doable
Don't assume that you are not trained enough to do a trek. There are treks fit for all ages and fitness levels. There are super athletic trekkers who train for months on end to reach the tip of the Everest, there are others who like us did a bit of training before hand, but nothing more than an hour of walking per day and a three hour trek in the weekend and there are also people who untrained happen to try their luck at trekking in lower altitudes and with slower pace who manage their way around just fine.
Nepali calendar is different than the Gregorian calendar, though many in the tourism industry tend to use Gregorian calendar when dealing with tourists. When you see a Nepali date (perhaps on bus tickets or event tickets), just be aware that you have not been catapulted fifty seven years into the future. You can use websites to translate Nepali calendar to Gregorian.
Treks Are Doable
Don't assume that you are not trained enough to do a trek. There are treks fit for all ages and fitness levels. There are super athletic trekkers who train for months on end to reach the tip of the Everest. Then there are others who like us did a bit of training before hand, but nothing more than an hour of walking per day and a three hour trek in the weekend. But there are also people who untrained happen to try their luck at trekking in lower altitudes, perhaps with slower pace and manage their way around just fine.
Shopping in Thamel
Is it worth shopping for equipment and clothing in Thamel? Given that we knew what we needed, we bought equipment and clothing from back home. However in Thamel there are a multitude of shops selling trekking gear. They are probably knockoffs but quality is not bad, though it is advisable to bargain hard. We also found that shops in Thamel are generally cheaper than their counterparts in Pokhara and definitely much cheaper than the ones back home.
Street Children and Beggars
Don't let the sight of children on the streets take you by surprise. They are really a sight to be pitied but most of them have become professional beggars and often pick pockets to satisfy their addiction to shoe glue. Giving them money will not buy them food, but rather fuel their addiction. Also some beggars ask you to buy milk for their children. They take you to a shop where you will buy milk at an exaggerated price whilst behind your back the mother and shop owner share the profits.
If you want to make a difference, help organisations who help these children and poor families build a dignified life away from addictions and cheating.