Nepal is the first overseas destination I have gone back to a second time. Last time I visited I was an 18 year old volunteer, had a lot of culture shock and didn’t get around to seeing as much as I would have liked to. This time around I absolutely loved it, had no culture shock and got to see a lot more of the country! I found myself appreciating the sights a lot more and decided it was a place I could go back to time and time again and never get sick of it!
In terms of things to do this trip, I mainly wanted to visit Pokhara and complete a trek as those were two things I didn’t get to do last time. However, James and I decided we would also make a trip down to Lumbini and do some sightseeing around Kathmandu.
In order to get to Kathmandu, we flew from Yangon back to Bangkok and stayed the night landside in Don Muaeng Airport (which was actually way more comfortable than expected!). We then flew to Kuala Lumpur in the morning and from there onto Kathmandu. Kathmandu airport was an interesting experience – besides all the Nepalese men deciding to stand up and get their things out of the overhead lockers literally the moment the plane touched the tarmac (you should have seen the air hostess’ face!!), it then took us a while to get through immigration (the man didn’t believe James’ passport photo was him) and then we waited 2 hours for our bags… not the best airport experience ever!
Our time in Kathmandu was segregated into 2 visits – 1.5 days at the beginning and 1.5 days at the end. When we first arrived it took us a day to get the exchange rate into our heads – we had suddenly gone from 1000 kyats to the dollar to 80 rupees so we kept thinking everything was amazing value until we converted the prices to AUD!
On our first visit we did the Lonely Planet walking tour to Durbar Square, then explored the Square itself before heading across to Swayambhunath for sunset. The only bad part about Durbar Square was an annoying man who followed us around for 45 minutes trying to get us to pay him as our guide. After repeat attempts to get rid of him he finally gave up – it really killed our experience of Durbar Square!
Swayambhunath (otherwise known as the Monkey Temple) was incredible. I remember last time I went there weren’t many monkeys, however this time they were everywhere! They all migrated up the hill to the temple at dusk which was very entertaining! We ended up spending a couple of hours just looking at the view, watching the monkeys and taking in our surroundings.
Our second visit to Kathmandu was spent exploring Boudhanath, relaxing the Garden of Dreams and shopping. I had never been to the Garden of Dreams before and was pleasantly surprised at the peacefulness of it – a definite recommendation to anyone who is planning on heading to Kathmandu! We also practically lived at Or2K restaurant whenever we were in Thamel as it had the most amazing food and was one of the cheaper restaurants in the area.
Lumbini – the birthplace of Buddha
Lumbini was… interesting. We had been told by our hotel in Kathmandu that there was a festival on and that we needed to book a room at a specific hotel. ‘Sure’, we thought, ‘we’ve heard that a thousand times!’. So, we ignored them and didn’t book anything. In the morning we jumped on our “deluxe” bus with a strange odour and no legroom, and headed down to Lumbini. Upon reaching Bhairawa we were transferred onto an even smaller local bus for the final hour of the trip.
We arrived in Lumbini in the dark, exhausted and with sore bodies from being squished all day only to find that every single hotel was fully booked. Every. Single. One. Turns out there was a festival on – only the Great Sakya Monlam Prayer Festival for which Buddhist monks come from around the globe to attend! We walked around in circles for about 1.5 hours, I lost my jumper, James was nearly bitten by a snake and a little girl tried to steal James’ wallet!
Finally, Hotel Basil took pity on us and the owner offered his bedroom which we politely declined (because then he doesn’t have a bed) however they did allow us to sleep in the large room outside of his bedroom which appeared to be a blanket storage room. We piled up some blankets as a matress, found some pillows and slept there for the night! The next morning a room was available so we moved in there. Next time we might double check when someone says there is a festival on!
The major problem with the festival (apart from the lack of rooms) was that although the masses of people gave Lumbini a very cool atmosphere, it also meant that it was loud, crowded and the lines for attractions were huge. Besides the Mayadevi Temple, there are also tons of temples and monasteries built by other countries within an area called the Lumbini Monastic Zone. Unfortunately most seemed to be under construction and those that weren’t we not overly impressive – Vietnam and Myanmar were definitely the nicest.
As you can tell we were a bit disappointed in Lumbini. It wasn’t nearly as peaceful and beautiful as we had been led to believe! We could see how it would be lovely and peaceful normally but unfortunately we just couldn’t appreciate it with the masses of crowds everywhere.
We only ended up having 1 full day in Pokhara and most of that time was spent planning our trek and shopping for trekking essentials. However, we did manage to have a walk along the lakefront and view the mountains after sunset which was beautiful!
The rest of our trip was spent trekking and I have written a separate blog post about that. We would have loved to spend more time in Nepal, especially in Pokhara as there was so much more we wanted to do. Oh well, just means we’ll have to go back a third time I guess!