Falling in love with Nepal

Chapter 3 of #MayanAroundTheWorld was the beginning on my shift on travel lifestyle — from spending 3 – 5 weeks in a country to extending it to 4 – 12 weeks per country. After a year of doing the former, I realized I would quickly get travel fatigue so I knew I had to change something. I’ve met some people who continue to do short, quick trips per country even after a year of traveling but I think I’ve found my personal travel style and it’s definitely a slower one.

I spent some time in Sri Lanka for about 3 months in 2019 (October – December) and it was a great break from constantly moving around. I had planned to do India after that because it made a lot of sense geographically. I would have started from the south and slowly made my way up. Because India is a big country, I figured I’d do more than 3 months for it before I cross over to Nepal and continue on to Bangladesh for this leg of my journey.

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Mirissa, Sri Lanka

Plans change all the time, however. I was speaking to my boss when I just settled in Sri Lanka. We had always planned on meeting in South America someday and party together. But, again, plans change all the time, right? I didn’t think it would happen soon until one day he was dead serious about meeting in Brazil for Carnaval in February 2020.

I checked the dates and it meant that after Sri Lanka, I’d have about 5 – 6 weeks left before I should fly into Brazil. I thought, maybe I could extend my visa in Sri Lanka? Or spend just 5 weeks in India but it honestly didn’t make sense because I wouldn’t enjoy myself. I’d want to keep exploring the country once I got in.

So I decided to do Nepal… in January. In the dead of winter. Not the smartest choice but sometimes you have to deal with your situation and just go with it. So I started my year experiencing the coldest temperature I’ve ever put myself in thus far. As soon as I stepped off the plane, the cold, crisp air kissed my cheeks. I tried to mentally prepare myself for this but having spent 3 warm months in Sri Lanka, I was far from prepared, especially with my clothes.

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Kathmandu view from the Swayambhunath Stupa

My first 3 days were in Kathmandu. I saw the city while the plane was landing and it was the most grim, apocalyptic-like place I’ve laid eyes on. It was dark, hazy, grey. I wasn’t excited, that’s for sure. And the skies we’re so cloudy that I didn’t see much. I found out later on that you can actually see the Himalayas easily when flying in and out of the country. Needless to say, my first impression of Nepal wasn’t great.

After spending 2 cold, rainy nights in Kathmandu, I made my way to Pokhara. I heard it was a nice lakeside town with a lot of hiking trips around to do so I decided to use it as my base. It seemed ideal.

READ: How to Spend Your Money Wisely in Nepal

After a long 8 hour bus ride on windy, still-under-construction roads, I arrived Lakeside Pokhara in the best possible weather. It was breathtakingly beautiful. The first hostel I stayed in was in the southern area so it was extremely busy with tourists, bars and restaurants. After a couple of nights, I moved to the northern side and that was it. I knew it would be my ‘hood. It’s a lot less busy and you can find a more homey neighborhood. On 25th street, there’s plenty of rooms you can get from 500 – 800 NPR a night. That’s where I got an Airbnb from. airbrush_20200112153255

Around the area, there were plenty of local restaurants. Local food could be as cheap as 110 – 300 NPR. Because this is also a tourist town, there’s plenty of western food option that usually start from 250 – 500 NPR a meal. My list of go-to places were:

  • Mitho Momo for the best momos (local dumplings) in town. You have to get the Momo Vegetable Soup. It’s hearty. Every other local place would simply put the steamed momos in clear broth soup but Mitho Momo makes a vegetable stew.
  • Marwadi Vegetarian Restaurant for possibly the best food I’ve had in town. I seriously kept going back there to the point that it was embarrassing to walk in and the staff would all welcome me with a loud cheer and a hug. I don’t recommend the place for lunch as it doesn’t look inviting and isn’t cozy but dinners here are fantastic. Bonus for winter time, they have a fire place! Get their kedai paneer, chilly paneer, garlic cheese naan, cheesy kopta, and more!
  • The Juicery for hipster shit like smoothie bowls but mainstream hate aside, they do have excellent food but they’re on the slightly higher price range. Their Mexican Breakfast and their Avocado Toast (add extra mushrooms!) are fantastic and were what convinced me they’re not just about instagrammable things.  They also have delicious vegan desserts you can enjoy with a decent cup of coffee and a view of the river.

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  • Krazy Gecko is more of a chill out let’s-go-have-coffee place. They do serve food but the ambiance just doesn’t scream a dining experience (also, food is ridiculously expensive). The views are stunning, though. It’s a riverside restaurant and bar so definitely worth checking out. I went here several times to work and have a cup of coffee.
  • Margharita Pizza has the best pizza in town. Yes, it’s not local but sometimes you gotta have your western fix! Especially for long term travelers like me. They also had a buff lasagna that I found to be overly greasy but it sated my lasagna cravings!
  • Cafe 17 was a late find but it was a nice place to get a good, simple sandwich. Whenever I felt guilty overeating momos for breakfast, I’d come here to get the TLC sandwich served with baguettes. I’d also order a side of poached eggs.
  • French Creperie wasn’t a regular for food but the chocolate tart is to die for.
READ: How to Spend Your Money Wisely in Nepal
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Momo Kothey: half steamed and half fried like a gyoza

The nightlife usually ended at 11 PM, with some clubs open till late but I’m not a club person. Upbeat was a good place to hang out and Maya Bar, just across the Irish Pub (didn’t really like the vibe here). Busy Bee is very popular among tourists but as the name says, it’s really busy and not my cup of tea.

Around Lakeside, there were interesting places to see and plenty of hikes to do! I did part of the Annapurna Circuit but because 2 weeks prior to my hike, there was heavy snowstorm and avalanches that led to 9 missing people and having to evacuate hundreds from the mountains by helicopter, part of the circuit was closed. Thorong-La pass, which was the center part of the circuit was closed and the nearby towns were heavy with snow so I couldn’t do the whole thing. Still, it was a breathtaking experience. The views were stunning! My experience was nothing short of amzing. Read about my hike [HERE].

Exploring the city, I rented a Royal Enfield, which can be as cheap as 2,000 NPR a day. A drive to Sarangkot will give you a stunning view of the Himalayan Peaks on a clear day. I’ll never forget the first time I saw them. I was simply walking around the streets on a really clear day and it was just there. I couldn’t stop smiling. It was beautiful and I felt like it smiled back at me. And in this moment I was grateful for my life.

You can also see some of the temples and other lakes in Pokhara. Driving through the different neighborhoods and going around Phewa Lake was really fun and I’d recommend it. You can also rent scooters, of course, but I like riding in style! Scooters can be as cheap as 500 NPR a day.

 

Apart from Pokhara and the Annapurnas, Chitwan was another destination I got to squeeze in my schedule. We cycled around the villages on our way to the 20,000 Lakes. We even had to cross a river with our bikes to get there! Overall, it was a beautiful ride through small farms and little villages.

We also did a walking tour of the Chitwan National Park where we saw some rhinos, plenty of different bird species, some elephants, crocodiles, and even a black bear! Only from afar because I think we scared it off trying to walk towards it.

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READ: How to Spend Your Money Wisely in Nepal

After Chitwan, I had nearly a week to explore Kathmandu and while it wasn’t all that terrible especially that the weather was fantastic, I still found it to be too busy for me. I went to the famous stupas: Swayambhunath and Boudhanath. While they were both interesting, it just wasn’t enough to keep me around for longer than 5 minutes. I think it’s a personal thing. I’m just not big on temples and it would take a lot to gauge me. Patan Durban Square caught my attention, though. That was a pretty cool place. It would be the perfect place to sit for an afternoon and just people-watch.

There was also the street just outside Thamel. I discovered this after taking the bus from the airport after sending off a friend. I had to get off Ratna Park and walk a couple of kilometers to get back to my hostel. Thamel is definitely a tourist trap so exploring outside of that was a lot more of the local scenery I wanted to witness and I’m glad I got to see that before I go. It’s the Jagatsundar Marg street, which connects from Thamel to Ratna Park.

Oh, oh, oh! Visit Moo Moo or Mahaaja Restaurant for the best chilly momos of your life! And it’s ridiculously cheap, considering it’s close to Thamel.

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There’s so much to do and see in Nepal and I haven’t even done half of it. I’m bummed I only had 5 weeks but I’ll definitely come back. Did I mention the people are amazing? They’re very warm and friendly especially to Filipinos! I have to say thank you to the thousands of OFWs who wave the flag high and proud. Every time I tell locals I’m from the Philippines, their faces beam with happiness and excitement. They all tell me they have a Filipino friend and they’re their favorites.

It even started at immigration. The officer didn’t even bother asking me further questions and just smiled at me fondly, preparing my visa sticker. Next to me was a caucasian couple being grilled about their visit. That’s a rare experience and people with weak passports like me know what I mean!

Read about my Annapurna Circuit Hike experience [HERE].