Nepal has one of the most beautiful natural sceneries on Earth. From famous views of the mountain ranges to the wild safari lowlands, this is one place you have to go if you love nature like we do. The cities of Nepal are also home to some of the most magnificent man-made structures of the world. Unfortunately, the shattering earthquake of 2015 had led to the partial collapse of many of these buildings. Nonetheless, many of these ancient buildings continue to inspire awe in those who stand before them.
It might sound cliché, but both Qi Yun and myself (Shawn) unanimously agree that best part about Nepal is its people. The Nepalese are a friendly and sincere bunch, with a characteristic dogged stubbornness (in a good way) that has enabled them to thrive despite the odds.
In fact, Qi Yun began her acquaintance with this magnificent country much earlier on in her life. She met Priyanka Rai (also fondly known as Jia Jia during childhood days) at 11 years old when learning Wushu in a Community Club. Looking very much alike with the same height , weight, size and interest, they quickly became best childhood friends and sisters from different countries.
We first visited Nepal in 2012 with tour group Mountain Adventure Trekking Pvt Ltd. We travelled in December, during the cold of winter. Back then, the devastating earthquake had not happened. We could still see Nepal’s stupas in full magnificence. Our first trip to Nepal left us with a deep impression and lasting memories. We counted down to the New Year 1600m above sea level, where the only celebratory fireworks were the campfire at our feet and the stars above our heads. We stared down a lumbering rhinoceros, just metres away from our jeep. Even a bowl of instant noodles tasted so good and different, because we ate it by a tiny shack atop the hills, with fresh vegetables just plucked 30secs away from a farm where we sat.
We enjoyed Nepal so much, we decided to bring a group of friends over for our 2nd trip. 8 other friends (including my siblings) joined us for our 2nd tour to Nepal in 2013.
We’ve come to trust our friends from Mountain Adventure Trekking Pvt Ltd, having enjoyed an exceptional experience in the first trip to Nepal. In fact, some of the staff we’ve met have become close friends.
This post is the first of a series that will chronicle our adventure in Nepal, merging our experiences from both trips in 2012 and 2013. In this post, we will cover our journey from Singapore to Nepal, as well as what to expect when you arrive. Subsequent posts will cover our experiences in Chitwan, Pokhara, Dhampus and Kathmandu/Patan, with each area taking up one post each.
Here it goes!
Arrival at Nepal (Day 1)
We got our flight tickets through Expedia and simply went for the lower priced option, thinking at the same time that this is a budget airline and hoping that it would not be as bad as Tiger Airways. The tickets we got were cheap – less than $700 per pax given we only made the booking 3 weeks before departure. As it turns out, we were on Jet Airway Economy Class! The seats were big and comfy plus service was top notch! Everyone gets a free beer before the plane takes off!
The first day mostly consists of our flight from Singapore to Nepal, landing in Trivhuban International Airport at Kathmandu. The flight took about 5 hours (for direct flight) and we’re all well prepared for the journey. By well prepared, I mean staying up a little later the night before and spending flight time asleep.
Making of the Visa
Arriving at Trivhuban International Airport, we braced ourselves for a long queue to get our Visas and stamp our passports. Visa is required to enter the country and we made our visas in Nepal. The cost of the Visa may change according to the number of days they are in Nepal but the maximum should be USD60. We were charged 25USD for 15 days while a fellow Singaporean whom we’ve met was charged 40SD for 20 days in Nepal (year 2013 pricing). For the Visa, you will need to prepare 1 passport size photo, the registration form (filled in at the airport) and money in loose change and domination of 10s & 5s. It will be troublesome if you do not have the domination, as they do not have the infrastructure for such visitor service. If for any reason, you are unable to prepare a passport size photo, there is a instant photo booth nearby where you can have your photo taken and printed instantly on the spot.
With that, we proceed to collect our baggages. The journey from the luggage collection area to the exit is always swarming with porters. As a rule, we prefer to take our own bags but these people can be overwhelmingly ‘helpful’, insisting to help you with your luggage across a short distance to the exit.
Finally reaching the entrance, a smiling guide with a huge white board with ‘SHAWN YEO’ awaited us at the exit. At this point, there will be another group of people swarming the area – helpful touts who will offer you a ride and help you carry your luggage the moment you step outdoors. At this point… We’ll just keep walking and follow our guide.
Ask your guide to bring you to a money changer when you arrive. He’ll be able to direct you to one with slightly better rates. The rates at the airport are pretty bad (we learnt this the hard way). In Nepal, both USD (US Dollar) and NPR (Nepalese Rupee) can be used. In general, touristy activities and stores seem to accept USD more readily while stores geared towards locals prefer to transact in NPR.
Activity for the first day largely depends on arrival time. We arrived in the early afternoon, thus our guides brought us to explore a nearby town atop a hill – perfect for our first experience in Nepal! This trip involves some urban trekking and sneak a peek into the lifestyle of typical Nepalese. We like that this is a non-touristy area which means makes the place much more serene. Also, keep your eyes peeled for a family selling fried donuts from their home. Their fried donuts are made on the spot and taste delicious. Qi Yun absolutely loves them and never fails to eat one on the spot and then ‘da bao’ another. We trekked to a small temple and got to enjoy our first landscape view of the Kathmandu valley and the mountain range.
After that, it’s dinnertime and our first taste of ‘atas’ Nepalese food at a well-known restaurant. Meals are almost always in restaurants. They serve cleaner food which has been tweaked slightly to suit the tourist tastebuds. Feel free to make your food preferences known to your guide and he will do his best to make arrangements. So far we’ve eaten a good variety of Nepalese, western and international cuisines. Qi Yun absolutely loves their Dal Bhat so much we often joke that she’s Nepalese.
The hotels we chose to stay in Nepal at are 4* and above. While we love adventure and nature, we’ll still prefer to have a nice comfy shower and bed at night. 4* hotels in Nepal generally have similar standards to 3* hotels in Singapore.
After dinner, we settled in to our lovely hotel room and got ready for an early morning journey to Nepal’s Chitwan National Park the next day.
And with that, we’re all settled in on our first day! Join us for our journey over the next few posts as we transverse across Nepal! Next up, Nepal’s famous Chitwan National Park.
Journey Nepal Series
Journey Nepal Part 2: Onward to Chitwan!
Journey Nepal Part 3: Just in Time for the Elephant Festival + Gorgeous Sunset
Journey Nepal Part 4: Wild times in Chitwan National Park