Kathmandu is kind of under the radar when it comes to Southeast Asia. Located at the foothills of the Himalayas, it separates India from the rest of Asia, and that's part of what makes this country special. Kathmandu, and Nepal in general, seem to blend other cultures together, taking the best of each and combining them to create a truly unique place. This is a list of my top 10 favorite things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal
FOR A LIST OF MY FAVORITE STREET FOOD SPOTS AND RESTAURANTS, CLICK HERE
1. PASHUPATINATH TEMPLE
Pashupatinath is located on the bank of the Bagmati river, just 5 minutes away from the airport. This sacred Hindu site hosts an extensive network of temples, as well as open air cremations. Despite being a popular destination for both tourists and locals, the temple never really feels crowded, making it a somewhat peaceful retreat from the rest of Kathmandu.
Chances are when you go you'll witness a traditional Hindu funeral which gives you a unique look into the ideology of the Nepalese people. In addition to all this, there are hundreds of monkeys that roam the grounds, which just adds even more to this already interesting place.
I recommend bringing some crackers and following the path up to the top of the hill, to where the monkeys sleep. Usually, if you're lucky they will eat right out of your hand!
Price: Rs1000 (~$10USD) however there are several paths into the complex that aren't monitored so if your creative and in a pinch for cash, you can find your way in easily.
4:00 am: West gate opens for visitors.
8:30 am: After arrival of Pujaris, the idols of the Lord are bathed and cleaned, clothes and jewelry are changed for the day.
9:30 am: Baal Bhog or breakfast is offered to the Lord.
10:00 am: Then people who want to do Puja are welcomed to do so. It is also called Farmayishi Puja, whereby people tell the Pujari to carry out a special Puja for their specified reasons. The Puja continues till 1:45 pm in the afternoon.
1:50 pm: Lunch is offered to the Lord in the main Pashupati Temple.
2:00 pm: Morning prayers end.
5:15 pm: The evening Aarati at the main Pashupati Temple begins.
6:00 pm onward: Recently the Bagmati Ganga Aarati; done by the shores of Bagmati, has been gaining lots of popularity. We can see the shores of Bagmati crowded mostly on Saturdays, Mondays and on special occasions. Ganga Aarati along with Shiva’s Tandava Bhajan, written by Ravana, is carried out on evening Ganga Aarati.
7:00 pm: Door is closed.
Address: Pashupati Nath Road, Kathmandu 44621, Nepal
2. ASAN BAZAAR
Sometimes called the "hub" of Kathmandu, the Asan Bazaar is always bustling with activity. Much like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, six of the cities main streets lead into this square, which means it's never quiet here.
A fantastic place to go gift shopping, there are an insane variety of goods being sold, including traditional clothing items, art, and handmade trinkets. Its easy to spend a few hours getting lost in the markets, back alleys and stalls as you navigate the main bazaar of Kathmandu
Make sure you brush up on your haggling skills because as with much of Southeast Asia, the Nepalese love to strike a bargain (and are really good at it as well!).
Hours: Stores typically open around 9:00am and stay open until 8:00pm
Address: Between Durbar Square and Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal
3. SWAYAMBHUNATH TEMPLE
Swayambhunath is an ancient religious temple built on the top of a hill just west of Kathmandu. Second only to Buddha, it is considered the holiest of Buddhist pilgrimage sites, and thousands visit each year.
The temple gives you the best 360 degree views of the city and it's best to go either at sunrise or sunset. It's accessed by a small narrow road on south side of the hill, or by walking up the 365 step path to the east entrance. To get to the area itself I recommend walking, as some of neighborhoods you walk through give you terrific insight into Nepalese culture (children walking to school, mother washing clothes, local restaurants, etc).
One of the best places in the city to get a proper view of Mt. Everest (and maybe to pet a monkey!)
Hours: Sunrise to Sunset (no exact hours)
Address: Manjushree Marg, Kathmandu 44620, Nepal
4. BOUDHANATH STUPA
Despite 80% of the country being Hindu and only 10% Buddhist, Nepal is home to some of the greatest Buddhist structures in the world. The Boudhanath Stupa is a testament to that.
This ancient site dominates the Kathmandu skyline, and can be seen for miles around. It costs Rs100 per person and also gives you access to a few of the markets surrounding the stupa. One is a wholesale clothing market where you can watch store after store making dresses and suits from scratch.
There are many myths surrounding the Mandala, my favorite one goes like this. "Once in ancient Nepal, there lived a very grumpy, rude and irreligious man. He was detested by everyone and never did anything pious in his life. He owned a shop in the city complex, but hardly anyone came to his shop because he spoke ill of everyone who came there. When he died, he fell straight to hell. Just before he was to be sentenced for his sins, The Buddha appeared and nullified his sentence. When the demons asked The Holy One why he did this, The Buddha answered, "Yes, this man has committed many sins in his life, but once he circled around Boudhanath while chasing a dog, he had gained a little merit; thus, the buddhas shall grant him one chance to atone." After this incident, it is believed that if a person has committed great sins, they can circle around the stupa--if only one time--and be granted one chance to atone for their sins.
Not bad right? I guess the possibility of salvation makes it a pretty good place to visit.
Hours: Sunrise to Sunset (again, no set hours)
Address: Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
5. EXPLORE THAMEL
Another popular tourist market, this one features a few less locals, and a bit pricier items. I would almost describe it as a tourist trap just because shops tend to have two prices, a Nepalese price, and a not-Nepalese price. The reason I recommend it isn't for the market itself, but rather for the interesting neighborhoods that surround it.
I started at the center of Thamel, spent a few hours wandering away from the market, and found that the farther away I got, the more I felt that I was seeing the "real" Kathmandu. It's still worth checking out but I would try and spend more of your time around Thamel rather than in the actual market.
Hours: All day, everyday
Address: Click here for the google map
Photo by: WellNepalTreks
6. DURBAR SQUARE
Located just outside of Thamel, this is where the Royal Palace sits, and where the King used to reside (Nepal abolished monarchy in favor of democracy in 2008). The area that surrounds the Palace is filled with various shops, restaurants, and temples.
Unfortunately the Palace was almost completely destroyed in the 2015 earthquake and the government has yet to start rebuilding it. Many of the surrounding buildings remained untouched however, including the famous Kamasutra temple. No one knows why but for some reason, thousands of pigeons have made there home here (perhaps it has something to do with the erotic images carved onto the walls?).
Either way there's still plenty to do here, and a great place to stop by after exploring Thamel.
Hours: All Day, Everyday
Address: Kot Square, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal
Because of Nepal's location, it's food influence comes form all over Asia. They serve samosas and fried potato mimicking India, but at the same time they have some of the best dumplings you'll ever eat! This combination makes Nepalese food a surprise favorite of many and a truly unique take on Asian food.
Finding good food in Nepal is both easy, and difficult at the same time. The national dish is the momo, which is the dumpling I mentioned earlier, and the most popular dish among tourists. The most common mistake people make is sitting down at a restaurant and instantly ordering a plate of momos. Most of the time they end up tasting pretty bad but thats because they didn't know what to look for. Let me explain.
The reason most places even sell momo's now is because they know that tourists want them. You have to eat momo's at a restaurant whose only dish is the momo. These specialized restaurants are all over the place and can be identified by the large silver drum sitting in the front window. That's the cue that they make momo's from scratch, instead of buying them from somewhere else and just reheating them.
When in doubt, just point and order whatever the locals are having (if there are no locals, you're in the wrong place).
Click here for a map of all my favorite restaurants and street food spots!
Despite its appearance, Kathmandu has a pretty lively nightlife district, full of bars and clubs that could give New York a run for its money (that might be an exaggeration but you get my point). Some notable places to stop by are as follow:
Sam's Bar - the oldest, and most popular bar in Kathmandu, this is where you go to meet fellow traveller's. Always packed after dark, this place stays open as late as you can go.
Jazz Upstairs - true to it's name, Jazz Upstairs features live jazz music on the fourth storey of an old building across the street from the French Embassy. If you want to experience Nepalese jazz in all its glory, this is your place.
For a full list of my favorite bars and nightclubs click here
Hours: Sam's Bar, 4:00pm - 2:00am, Jazz Upstairs, 12:00pm - 11:00pm, Rum Doodle, 10:00am - 10:00pm
Photo by Avista
Located about 45 minutes outside of Kathmandu, this medieval city-state is the perfect place for a day trip to get a big picture look at what the rest of Nepal is like. With relatively no cars or pollution, Bhaktapur is a welcome change of pace from the chaos of Kathmandu.
It's important to note that large parts of the city was destroyed by the earthquake but a decent amount of the temples and markets continue to survive. You can still get lost in the narrow streets winding through traditional red brick houses, and browse the extensive markets.
Price: Theres a $15 entrance fee for tourists to enter Bhaktapur (you need to bring a copy of your passport and some passport photographs for the pass).
Address: Bhaktapur Durbar square, Bhaktapur 44800, Nepal
10. KOPAN MONASTERY
The Kopan monastery sits on-top a hill about 20min outside the city. The famous Buddhist monastery is known for teaching Buddhism to foreigners who can take part in a month long spiritual course. Easy to see why when your standing on top of the hill overlooking the Himalayas with only the wind making a sound.
The best way to get there is to take a taxi (should cost Rs380-500 from Thamel, depending on your haggling skills). I would recommend walking back down into Kathmandu, as some of the villages are great to explore and get lost in.
Hours: Daily, 9:00am - 5:00pm (Day visits are not possible between November 11 and December 20. No dharma talks will take place during that time).
Address: Kopan Monastery, Kathmandu, Nepal
WHERE TO STAY?
As usual, I'll start by recommending Airbnb, because I believe it to be the best option for traveller's at the moment.
There are essentially two main places you can stay in Kathmandu, the first is around Thamel, which has the advantage of being central to all the major attractions. The only downside being you'll probably get harassed by local shop keepers because the market is kind of setup specifically for tourism. It might not seem like a big deal but after the thousandth time of "Hey! My friend, come buy... blah blah" it gets pretty old.
The other, slightly more peaceful option is near the airport (sounds counterintuitive right?) in Sinamangal. This area is generally more laid back and doesn't have the same intense feeling that the rest of the city has. Its still has its fair share of markets, but these come off as more authentic, their sole intention being to sell to other Nepalese regardless of Tourists.