Top Ten Things To Know About Nepal Before Your Maiden Visit

An opportunity was presented to me to travel to Nepal for ten days, and of course, I snapped it up. Frankly, Nepal, the Switzerland of Asia, was never on my list of countries to visit, somehow.

Swayambhunath, Kathmandu
Swayambhunath, Kathmandu

Now that I have got to know Nepal slightly better after spending ten days there in total, 3 in the capital city of Kathmandu and 7 at Manaslu Conservation Area, I would surely revisit Nepal without a second thought.

About the people
In general, Nepalese people are really friendly. A lot of them can speak English, and not surprisingly, Malay, picked up when they worked in the Middle East and Malaysia.

They were very happy when I spoke to them in Bahasa Malaysia and it formed a special bond between us. Life may not have been easy for them as foreign workers, but I opine, they have fond memories of their time working in Malaysia, with friendships forged, and money earned.

Visa & other documents
A visa is required for Malaysians to enter Nepal. Application for the visa can be done online. I attempted to apply for Nepal e-Visa in order to save a little time at the airport but I rejected the plan and decided to apply for it at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA).

The reason was that the online form kept throwing errors, especially with the ward number of the address of my hotel. I tried reaching out to my hotel to enquire their ward number but there was no response to my message.

applying for tourist visa at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA)
applying for tourist visa at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA)

Applying for tourist visa at the airport is via a machine, that also takes a photo of the applicant. Ward number is still required but it’s automatically filled up once I typed in my hotel address, so that is taken care of speedily.

It was only then that I discovered that the ward number for Bouddha Boutique Hotel in Kathmandu is 99. Do take note if you plan to stay at Bouddha Boutique Hotel, too.

The current tourist visa fee for 15 days for Malaysians is RM115. You can pay in MYR, NPR or USD.

filing up Arrival Form at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA)
filing up Arrival Form at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA)

Besides the visa, visitors are also required to fill up the “Arrival Form”. When leaving Nepal, a “Departure Form” is required instead.

If your trip to Nepal includes trekking, either in one of the National Parks or Conservation/Wildlife Reserves, a permit is required.

In my case, the fee for a permit to trek in Manaslu Conservation Area for someone outside the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) costs Rs. 2000 (MYR75 at today’s foreign exchange rate).

Official currency (NPR)
Nepalese Rupee is the official currency. I changed money twice during my 10-day stay, from Ringgit and American Dollars.

My exchange rates were as listed below at the end of May and early June (2019):

RM100 = Rs. 2480
USD100 = Rs. 11000

 Nepalese Rupee
Nepalese Rupee

Another difference for me was that I changed my MYR to NRP at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), so the exchange rate was expectedly lower. On the other hand, USD was changed in Kathmandu city. With more options, the rates were competitive, compared to at the airport.

A lot of shops accept both the local currency and USD. There were instances when I paid for my purchases with both NPR and USD. At the time, the exchange rate that I was given by vendors was USD10 = Rs. 1000.

On the flight home to Kuala Lumpur from Kathmandu, a fellow passenger offered to buy my remaining Nepalese Rupee.

I only had Rs. 505 with me, and he was willing to pay my asking price of MYR21, although his initial offer was MYR18.

See, not only are Nepalese people friendly, they are accommodating, too, even where money is concerned. LOL

Free SIM card
Upon landing at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), I saw a poster about free SIM card. Even though I already had pocket WiFi service from Travel Recommends, I decided to go for the free SIM card, as I was going to Manaslu Conservation Area and knew beforehand that the pocket WiFi would be out of service there.

The free SIM card is offered by Nepal Telecom. Photocopy of passport and one passport-size photo are required. Service activation is mere minutes.

 applying for free SIM card
applying for free SIM card

The SIM is free but we have to top up credit to the card and the packages (combo with 3G/4G internet) are as follows:

*1 GB data + 60 mins local calls = Rs. 100 (validity 1 day)
*7 GB (1 GB daily) + 60 mins local calls = Rs. 500 (7 days)
*28 GB (1 GB daily) + 100 mins local calls = Rs. 1200 (28 days)
*4.5 GB + 60 mins local calls = Rs. 700 (28 days)
*12 GB + 60 mins local calls = Rs. 1200 (10, 15 or 42 days)

During my stay at Manaslu Conservation Area, my SIM card did not work at all. However, I later understood that only if your network showed “Namaste”, you would have service, albeit intermittently.

Basically, I burned the Rs. 500 that I paid for the 7-day package. So, if your stay in Nepal includes remote areas, it’s best to just forget about phone and data services.

Flights from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu
There are two airlines that fly direct from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu, once or twice a day: Malaysia Airlines and Malindo Air, both departing from KLIA.

Average fare is from RM1300 (return), with flight duration of 4 hours 45 minutes. Do take note that MAS offers baggage allowance of 20kg while Malindo Air, just 15kg.

photo with my own article in Malindo Air in-flight magazine May 2019 issue on board OD 184 to Kathmandu on the second last day of the month
photo with my own article in Malindo Air in-flight magazine May 2019 issue on board OD 184 to Kathmandu on the second last day of the month

I chose to fly with Malindo Air, based solely on its departure time on the day of my travel. Somehow, morning flight was unavailable from MAS on my scheduled date.

Luggage wrapping service
As this was a backpacking trip, I decided to wrap my backpack. The cost was RM25 at KLIA, offered by Seal & Go.

Luggage wrapping service is also available at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), and the price is Rs. 500 per bag, or RM19 at today’s exchange rate.

Seal & Go at KLIA
Seal & Go at KLIA

This was actually the first time I made use of luggage wrapping out of all my travels over the years, as I have always used trolley bags and saw no reason to wrap the bags.

Public transport
Moving around Kathmandu city is easy, even though you don’t speak the local language.

 Tootle bike-hailing service
Tootle bike-hailing service

There’s Tootle, a bike-hailing service similar to Indonesia’s Go-Jek. Another option is Tempu, a three-wheeled battery-run vehicle, similar to Thailand’s tuk-tuk. I did not try either one, as I took the taxi most of the time.

in the taxi heading to hotel
in the taxi heading to hotel

Taxis come in two options: air-conditioned and non. All are compact vehicles, such as Hyundai Atos, Suzuki Swift, and also Perodua Kelisa.

luggage on the car roof rack
luggage on the car roof rack

For travellers who have many suitcases that cannot be fitted into the boot, the bags might have to go on the car roof rack, if available. Do request to have your bags tied up, and pray that it doesn’t rain during your journey, as most taxis do not provide rain cover. Oh-oh!

 taxi on the street
taxi on the street

For longer commutes between towns, there are buses.

Trekkers don’t have problem equipping themselves with outdoor gear and other trekking essentials when in Kathmandu.

In Manaslu Conservation Area where I spent a week, there are also village stores that are stocked with trekking poles, boots and other items. Price range is higher at the more remote spots you go to, of course. Therefore, try to get what’s needed in the city before venturing out.

There are various imitation products of popular brand names, and you can tell by its quality and price. To ensure that you are paying for genuine brands, if that’s your concern, only shop at their respective flagship stores, such as those in Thamel.

souvenir stores surround Boudhanath, Kathmandu
souvenir stores surround Boudhanath, Kathmandu

Souvenirs to buy when in Nepal include “Buddha Eyes” items, such as key chains, fridge magnets, notebooks, coasters and boxes.

Another popular type of souvenir is the Nepal flag range, from lapel pins to key chains, fridge magnets, and even the flag itself.

Those who are inclined to Tibetan Buddhism would be amazed by the wide selection of prayer items available, such as singing bowl, prayer wheel, incense, beads, mantras in CDs and books on the religion.

Pashmina (cashmere) wool shawls are also another popular purchase when in Nepal. As there are fake products, it’s better to shop for authentic items with someone who is knowledgeable, or from reputable stores only, mainly run by Pakistanis.

As with other countries, souvenirs are pricier when bought at tourist spots, so try to go to stores that are located away from the hot spots.

Being the first customer of the day for any business will also get you a good price for your purchase.

Altitude sickness
If you are going to the mountains, not necessarily to trek (trekking season is in autumn), take note that altitude sickness might hit you. To avoid it, the following medications are advised, available from pharmacies:

T. Dexamethasone 4mg, or
T. Diamox 125mg

1 tablet to be taken 8 hours before departure to the mountains and 1 tablet 2 hours before departure.

I took T. Diamox diligently twice a day when I was at Manaslu Conservation Area, and am glad to report that I did not suffer from altitude sickness. I felt numbness in my fingers and toes, a common side effect of the medicine.

Due to Nepal’s geographical location, one can find influences from Northern India, China, Tibet, Bhutan and Pakistan, and these are found mainly in the local food. For example, the Nepalese thakali set reminds me of Indian food, as well as its Masala tea. In Thamel, there is also Chinatown.

Nepalese food
Nepalese food

Someone asked me is “Halal” food available. I said yes. However, a little homework has to be done beforehand, to locate the Turkish restaurants. For visitors who are not very particular about “Halal” status, they can go for vegetarian food.

Trekkers would not have an issue with food since there is hardly any meat, let alone pork. The only meat that I was served with during my seven days in Manaslu Conservation Area was yak, premium meat reserved for special occasions, but I abstained from it.

Tergar Osel Ling, Kathmandu
Tergar Osel Ling, Kathmandu

So, are you planning to visit Nepal anytime soon? Is there something that you wish to know, besides what I have shared above? Leave a comment.

Note: An edited version of this article is published in the August 2019 issue of Malindo Air in-flight magazine.

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With love

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