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Nepal is an incredible country; from the spectacular Himalayas to the ancient, peaceful, religiously devout culture, it has many reasons to entice the adventurous family.
But in order to explore either of these aspects, a large dose of adventure and some good preparation is required, especially with children. In saying this, the prep work is worth it. Here’s a quick guide to get you started.
Nepal is home to the largest mountains on earth. Although that may be a challenge for another time, the Himalayas offer a range of beginner treks which are great for families. In short, the Ghorepani and Poon Hill region is a great place to start; with trekking routes that provide amazing views without being too difficult or long, and guest houses which provide a comforting experience as well as an authentic insight into the Nepali culture. Branching out to other areas can be spectacularly rewarding, but be warned; some parts are still along way behind the rest of the world and what some families may consider necessities may not always be available. See our full guide to trekking in Nepal.
The Nepalese are a very friendly, welcoming and peaceful people. They have a very simple sense of humour. Without meaning to on your part, you will make many friends with the locals. While trekking, if you are staying in guest houses the hosts will take very good care of you and will often sit down with you over dinner and have friendly chats.
If you are first arriving in Kathmandu, you may get a shock and not see it this way. The city, despite being not so large in population, can be overwhelming and some quirks in the Nepali culture can come off wrongly. For one, they are not shy and not at all quiet with things relating to clearing their throats, spitting or blowing their noses. They are also chaotic on the roads, see the transport section of this article. Although these quirks are true in much of Nepal, in Kathmandu the busy streets seem to amplify them. Kathmandu’s streets are also very dusty, and kids especially should consider wearing masks. While on the topic of Kathmandu, I should say that a great way to see much of the city is by doing a free walking tour. These take you through Thamel, Durbar Square, the local markets, and to the Monkey Temple. More info on the free walking tours.
Even in the more touristy areas you will find locals staring at you as if you were the first non-Nepali they had ever seen. They may ask for photos, ask about your home country, or ask to add you on social media.
Alike all poor countries, the people will often be very friendly to to tourists who they think they can make money out of. This can get to the extent of nagging, but that must be expected. It can be mostly avoided by not paying too much attention to items for sale in tourist areas.
In short, it’s great. If you like Indian cuisine you’ll like Nepali. They drink a lot of tea and eat a lot of rice and curry. Rarely do they eat any meat other than, occasionally, chicken.
The working class practically live off Dal Bhat - a set meal of rice, curry, and lentils. They will often have this for breakfast, lunch and dinner, although it is said that one Dal Bhat will keep you full for 24 hours. As you eat the server will come around and offer more of the specific parts of the meal and its common for people to add a bit more rice or some more curry as needed. It’s delicious, cheap, and provides heaps of energy for trekking.
Another thing you will see a lot of are Mo mo’s. These are little steamed pouches filled with curry, chicken, vegetables or anything really - you’ll find some that aren’t filled with anything or even some that are filled with Snickers or other chocolates. They are definitely worth trying.
They eat mostly with their right hand, without utensils. This is true even with rice and curry. It is not too difficult to pick up (excuse the pun) but if you are struggling you can often ask for a spoon. In a local home they will often sit on the floor, but in most restaurants they sit at tables.
Many Nepalese speak English as a second or third language, especially in tourist languages. Nepali is known to be difficult to learn, and each region has different dialects or entirely different languages.
It is a good idea to buy a Sim card, they are cheap to set up and cheap to use, including mobile data. In some parts of the mountains you will be amazed by the availability of reception, and in other parts you may have to go for days without reception (although in these parts it won’t matter, for your phone will have ran out of battery from lack of electricity also). For some reason a printed passport sized photo is needed to set up some Sim card contracts. It’s a good idea to take four or five passport photos with you, they are needed for all kinds of contracts and permits (including trekking permits).
The roads are chaotic. In the city they are overrun with scooters and seem to have no road rules. In order to cross the road, it is best (and common) to slowly and carefully walk into the mass and let the traffic go around you, otherwise you will never find a clearing. Nepali people use their horns a lot, although to be fair it is quite necessary in these conditions to do so. In the hills, when taking a blind corner they will hold their horns in order to alert vehicles coming the other way, as the roads are narrow. Sometimes in the hills the road is too narrow for two vehicles to pass, and so one will have to reverse up to the last wider section.
The buses in the city are packed to bursting point, often three or four local passengers will literally be holding on from the outside. The bus stops or routes are not clear, but the payment collector will be yelling out the bus’s destination as it pulls up to on-load passengers. They are cheap, but you may find them unpleasant and too crowded for families. Taxis may be a better option, although expect to refuse a couple before finding one which offers a good price.
The long distance buses are quite slow because of the bad roads. The local buses are cheaper, but it is worthwhile, especially for families, to pay a bit more for the tourist buses to avoid hours of Nepali music playing at a volume sure to cause headaches. They will almost all advertise free wifi on the buses, but very few will actually provide this. Most buses will leave early in the morning, it is best to be at the station before seven. A trip to from Kathmandu to Pokhara, a tourist destination about 200km west, will take an entire day and cost roughly 7 US dollars.
For information on getting to the country itself, see here.
One US dollar is roughly a hundred nepali rupees (as of 2017). Everything is generally quite cheap (excluding areas in the mountains where supplies must be carried up by yaks), but if you don’t bargain where appropriate you will be paying much more than the locals.
In Kathmandu, at a cheap local restaurant you can get a delicious bowl of vegetable chow mein (noodles) for 40 rupees. In Pokhara, you can find a nice, comfortable double-bed room on the main street for 400 rupees a night (maybe not so in the busy season). Although the showers are not always great, and if you want a western toilet, rather than the standard squatting kind, you may have to look around and pay a bit more. While I’m on that note, I should mention toilet paper is not commonly found in bathrooms. They use their left hand, hence why they eat with only their right hand. Rooms with three beds are not commonly found, and so families with more than one child may need two rooms.
Permits are needed for trekking. See here for more info.
Outages are a common occurrence in Nepal, due to strikes mostly. So it would be a good idea to bring a torch and a battery pack to charge your phone. Many places have back up power or lights that can be charged. The power outlets come in a few different varieties, but it is best to get one of the three pronged adapters. There are also two pronged outlets in some places, and universal outlets in the more touristy places.
Things to do
This section could be pages long, it could really be a book. But as the article is more about preparations it will be very much summarised.
Trekking is obviously the main attraction of Nepal. Other nature and adventure related activities are also popular, including jungle safaris, paragliding, bungee jumping, pony riding, rafting, and much more.
The villages and towns are also great to explore for the culture, religion, and history. The smaller villages, or small towns such as Bundipur, are truly peaceful and beautiful - the pictures of small mountainside villages laden with prayer flags are no exaggeration. The more touristy towns, such as Pokhara, are also great - the lakeside restaurants here have live music at night and its a really nice chilled out vibe.
A holiday in Nepal is certainly an adventurous one, but those who come prepared will reap the rewards. It is an incredible destination. Whether you’re here for the adventure or the peace, or a bit of both, you won’t be disappointed.
Article by Nathan Squire from BYOkids. Nathan trekked with Himkala Adventure whilst in Nepal.
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