Dates Visited: March 1, 2015 – March 27, 2015
# of Days: 27
Average Daily Budget: USD 30.21 per person
Exchange Rate: USD 1.00 to 100.00 Nepalese Rupees (NPR)
With the exception of the teahouses during the trek, the hotels/guesthouses we opted for were all well-located with clean rooms, wifi and a private bathroom. Here is the breakdown:
Kathmandu (14 nights) – We had initially booked 2 nights online at the Holyland Guesthouse Kathmandu (USD 6.10 / night) as our flight arrived at night. The bed was uncomfortable, plus Expedia had the wrong price listed and the owners wanted the actual rate (USD 12 / night) from us (we told them to ask Expedia). So we changed to the Bag Packers Lodge (USD 18 / night). While it was quite a big bump in prices, it was totally worth it. The beds were comfortable, rooms were clean and we even had heating in our room. Wifi was also decent. We initially stayed 5 nights preparing for the trek and then came back at the end for 6 more while waiting for our flight out. After our flight to New Delhi was cancelled, we got a free night at the 5-star Annapurna Hotel courtesy of Air India (thanks!). It was by far the nicest room we had (and will probably ever have) during the entire trip.
Besisahar (2 nights) – We stayed at the Tulsi Hotel (USD 9 / night) during our first visit to Besisahar. The room was fine, but I did not appreciate the hot shower taking an hour and three staff calls to get somewhat warm (not kidding!). Unfortunately we had to stay in Besisahar again after our failed attempt through the Annapurna Circuit and this time we chose the Great Himalayan Resort (USD 16 / night). It was definitely one of the fanciest places we stayed at in Nepal.
Pokhara (6 nights) – Accommodation in Pokhara was quite a struggle. We saw rooms in at least 15 different hotels (if not more) and all of them were either dirty, smelled bad or had uncomfortable beds. As it was getting late, we settled for Mandap Hotel (USD 10 / night) for one night. The next morning, we found Eleven Inn (USD 12 / night), which we really liked and stayed for 4 nights while waiting for the clouds to clear in Pokhara. The rooms were clean, spacious and comfortable – the hot shower and wifi worked as well.
In addition to above, we also spent nights in Temang, Chame, Dhikur Pokhari and Upper Pisang during our trek through the Annapurna Circuit. We always negotiated free rooms with our guesthouses given that we ate dinner and breakfast at their restaurant. So we didn’t spend any money on accommodation during the trek!
Money Saving Tips
- Bargain all hotel rates. Nepal business culture involves a lot of bargaining so don’t be afraid of asking for lower prices and turning your back if not accepted. There are plenty of hotels around and you will certainly find one for a reasonable price. We always managed to lower the initial rate quoted to us by at least 30% at least.
- In addition to negotiating the room rate, we also always got rid of the 10% service charge that hotels charged. Ask for it to be included in the negotiated price.
- For teahouse-trekking in Nepal, always ask if you can stay for free if you eat dinner and breakfast at their restaurant (they make their money out of the food and drinks). Also try to negotiate in hot shower and free charging if you can (usually included though as you go up, both get more expensive).
Food & Drinks
We were pretty adventurous with Nepalese food and learned to enjoy it. Dal bhat is a national staple that fuels the entire country (“dal bhat power, 24 hour”), and usually the only dish at teahouses that will make you full because it comes with seconds. Nepalese food is highly vegetarian, but most restaurants offer meat version of dishes. Momo dumplings are always a good alternative, while a khaja snack set was fun to try.
Food in Nepal was cheap, usually around USD 2 for a delicious dish; however, we did try a lot of options per meal and we spent an average of USD 9 per person per day during our whole stay. During trekking our average was much higher (USD 15.00 per person per day) since food prices were higher and we were eating more than usual. In the cities our average was USD 8 per person per day.
For food prices during the trek, see the Trekking section below.
Money Saving Tips
- As always, local foods are cheaper than western foods. Dal bhat is the most food you’ll get for the least amount of money anywhere in Nepal. Pokhara had a few cheap wood oven pizza places.
- Control your drinking! A large beer was at least $2.50 in the cheapest places, and in the mountains, they quickly go up to $5 and more. Remember every bottle has to be carried up (and down) by someone.
We flew into Nepal from Thailand and spent USD 185 per person on the tickets with Malaysian Airlines via Kuala Lumpur, which averaged out to USD 6.86 per day per person. To get around in Nepal, we used cabs for sightseeing within cities and buses to go between cities.
Cabs – The general conditions of cars in Nepal is not great as it seems like Nepal is where small cars come to die. Even cabs were like this – they would probably be banned on North American or European roads. Usually dirty and questionable integrity, I was impressed every time I slammed the door shut and nothing fell apart. The roads were equally terrible, so I guess a nice car would get ruined anyway.
Despite the low standards, cabs were inexpensive and most rides were below USD 3 (except the one from the Kathmandu airport for which we paid USD 5 and from Pokhara to Sarangkot that cost us USD 13). A cab to Patan for Kathmandu cost us USD 3. In total, we spent USD 38.62 for 9 rides for both of us to go to all the sights we visited in Kathmandu and Pokhara – including transfers from airport and bus stations.
Bus – When it came to buses, we experienced both extremes. Our first experience was from Kathmandu to Besisahar on the local hell bus (USD 8 per person, though the actual ticket price was USD 3.60 and the ride took 8 hours). The local bus was crowded, stopped frequently and drove recklessly – they also had terrible safety records. Local buses are also not that much cheaper than the deluxe tourist bus (from Pokhara to Kathmandu we paid USD 6 and it took 8 hours with way fewer stops and safer driving). Needless to say, the deluxe tourist bus is highly recommended. However, not all routes have deluxe tourists buses, and the local bus is an experience.
Jeep – From Besisahar to Chame and on the way back, we took a death jeep to save a few days in the lower altitudes. It was one of the worst experiences we ever had and seriously life-threatening. On the way up, we paid USD 20 per person (bargained down from USD 25), only to find out from another driver that the actual price was USD 9. On the way down, we managed to negotiate it down to USD 10 starting in Temang.
Money Saving Tips
- Negotiate the fares that are given to you – all of them are inflated from 100% to 300%, if not more in the case of cabs. We are still sure we overpaid for all transportation even though we negotiated the prices down by quite a lot.
- Make sure you’re paying for the tourist bus and not the local bus. There is a big difference. Ask if it’s tourist vs. local, how often it stops, if people sit in the aisle/roof, how many seats the bus has, etc. The answers will give you a good indication for what to expect.
- Pretty much all the cities can be explored on foot – the main attractions in Kathmandu are within walking distance from Thamel and even Sarangkot in Pokhara can be trekked up in two hours or so (good practice for real trekking!).
Nepal had quite a few attractions and we made sure to visit the main ones:
- Swayambhunath (Kathmandu) – Entrance fee USD 2 per person
Swayambhunath rewards you with one of the best views in Kathmandu and is a major religious site in the city. The USD 2.00 fee is totally worth it – watch out for the monkeys on the way up though, as they might take some things from you!
- Kathmandu Durbar Square (Kathmandu) – Entrance fee USD 7.50 per person
One of the main sites in Kathmandu, the old palace square had several temples worth seeing. Even though the entrance fee is quite high, we couldn’t leave Kathmandu without visiting Durbar Square.
- Patan Durbar Square (Patan) – Entrance fee USD 5 per person
Similar to Kathmandu Durbar Square, the temples here were simply beautiful. It’s possible to get into the square without paying the fee, as there were no formal ticket checks. The unguarded entrance is on the west amidst other buildings.
- Temples in Patan (Patan) – Entrance fee USD 1 per person
We visited a couple of other temples in Patan and a joint tickets for all of them cost USD 1.00 per person.
- Sarangkot (Pokhara) – Entrance fee USD 0.30 per person
We were completely surprised when our cab driver stopped and told us we had to get tickets to Sarangkot as we hadn’t read anything about it. This random boy standing on the streets handed us the tickets and we were convinced that it was a complete scam.
- Boat ride on Phewa Lake (Pokhara) – USD 5.50 for the boat for 2 hours
We rented a boat for two hours in Pokhara to row around Phewa Lake in an attempt to see the mountains hidden behind the green hills of the city. Renting life vests was compulsory and cost USD 0.20 per person, totalling USD 5.50 for two hours of boat ride and life vests. Head west of the main road down to the lake for cheaper boat rentals.
The main attraction in Nepal was definitely trekking the Himalayas. We chose the Annapurna Circuit, one of the most affordable treks with teahouses. To begin with, we decided to do the trek without a guide or a porter and thus we needed to get our own trekking permits. The TIMS card and ACAP permits each cost USD 20 per person, totaling USD 80.00 for both Julie and I.
The next step was to get some gear. Since we have been traveling long-term in tropical countries, we couldn’t afford to bring trekking and winter gear with us for the entirety of our travels. Here is a comprehensive list of the items we bought and brought with us.
We spent USD 115.75 to buy all the necessary gear for both of us, including medicines. We also rented sleeping bags and a down jackets (which are more expensive to buy) for USD 0.50 per day per item. At the end of the trek, we sold back some of the gear we bought for USD 15.
During the trek, we never spent money on accommodation, only on food. Teahouses usually charged for hot showers and charging electronics batteries, but we made sure to include those in our dinner + breakfast deal. There was also no ATM on the circuit and we had to bring enough money for the whole journey. We estimated USD 30 per person per day, which was way above the USD 15 per person per day we actually spent (but it was good to have extra!).
As for the food, here is a sample menu from a guesthouse in Temang. Please note that prices go up as you get higher (all the food is carried up by porters at higher altitudes). We heard in some cases it’s possible to negotiate a discount on the food as well, usually 10%-20%.
Money Saving Tips
- If you are buying gear in Kathmandu, bargain all prices as they are highly inflated. You should be able to easily get 50% off on most items, if not more.
- One strategy we employed was using prices we already paid for as a measure. We often quoted items we had already bought in a different store (and were confident we paid a good price for) to gauge how much that new store was inflating its prices. It worked pretty well in most stores and for most items.
- Make sure you see the item you are buying before you bargain to avoid them changing it to a different one after giving you a major discount. All the gear being sold is pretty much fake and it is questionable if it will even last the duration of your trek, so you might as well pay less.
- While on the trek, negotiate your stay with guesthouses, don’t take the first thing that’s thrown at you – even if you have a guide or porter! We saw groups with guides and porters still paying the full prices on rooms, hot shower, battery charge and food, so negotiate the prices – nobody will look after your money better than you!
- In the end, we came back to Kathmandu and sold some of the gear we bought – of course we got the worst prices ever (we made about 25% back on the items we sold), but it was still better than paying more than the gear was worth to ship it back home. Another alternative is to donate the used gear to a porter or guide.
We had just a few miscellaneous expenses in Nepal:
- Visa on arrival – USD 40 per person
We got our visas at the Kathmandu airport and paid USD 40 each (only a few currencies accepted!).
- SIM Card with 1GB of data – USD 12
We got a SIM card with NCell and a 1GB data package. It was said that we should have had signal during our trek in the Annapurna Circuit, however it just really worked in Chame. The speed in Kathmandu and Pokhara was decent.
In addition to the items above, we just had expenses such as laundry, hygiene items, etc. that summed up to USD 7. We also had a USD 5 exchange loss, since we withdrew a large sum of cash for trekking and our journey was cut short.
Nepal was a cheap country to travel in. We stayed well below budget while staying in good guesthouses, eating great food and enjoying the Himalayas – we even bought a full set of gear! It is certainly possible to travel Nepal for even less, especially if you bring all your gear from home. Despite the bad weather crushing our plans, we had a great time and we are looking forward to coming back some day to finish what we’ve started!