Dangers & Annoyances
Kathmandu is a fairly safe city, but what it lacks in dangers it more than makes up for in annoyances:
- The combination of ancient vehicles, low-quality fuel and lack of emission controls makes the streets of Kathmandu particularly polluted, noisy and unpleasant.
- Avoid the city's seedy dance bars and street-corner hashish sellers – although variably enforced, the penalties for possession can be severe.
Pedestrians account for over 40% of all traffic fatalities in Nepal. Bear in mind the following:
- Traffic rules exist, but are rarely followed or enforced; be especially careful when crossing streets or riding a bicycle.
- Traffic is supposed to travel on the left side of the road, but many drivers simply choose the most convenient side, which can make walking in Kathmandu a deeply stressful experience.
- Consider buying a face mask to filter out dust and emission particles, especially if you plan to ride a bicycle or motorcycle in Kathmandu. After a few days in the city you're likely to feel the onset of a throat infection.
- Post-earthquake repairs are ongoing and there is lots of rubble piled up in the streets, creating additional hazards for pedestrians.
Other annoyances in Thamel are the crazy motorcyclists, and the barrage of irritating flute sellers, Tiger balm hawkers, chess-set sellers, musical-instrument vendors, travel-agency touts, hashish suppliers, freelance trekking guides and rickshaw drivers.
Note that the colourful sadhus (itinerant holy men) who frequent Durbar Sq and Pashupatinath will expect baksheesh (a tip) if you take a photo, as will the Thamel ‘holy men’ who anoint you with a tika on your forehead.
Kathmandu has in the past been the focus of political demonstrations and bandhs (strikes), which close shops and shut down transport.
Emergency & Important Numbers
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Entry & Exit Formalities
Visa extensions of 30 to 60 days are fairly painless at the Central Immigration Office. You need to make your application online and upload a photo up to 15 days before arriving at the office, though there is currently a computer in the hall in case you forget. The process generally takes less than one hour. Extensions cost US$30 for a minimum 15 days, plus US$2 per additional day
The Thamel area of central Kathmandu is so westernised that it functions almost as an international enclave. Nepalis are generally tolerant of gays and lesbians but it makes sense to be discreet outside of Thamel.
There are a few cybercafes in Thamel, though almost all cafes, restaurants and hotels offer free wi-fi.
There are dozens of licensed moneychangers in Thamel. Their hours are longer than those of the banks (generally until 8pm or so) and rates are similar, perhaps even slightly higher if you don't need a receipt.
Himalayan Bank The most convenient bank for travellers in Thamel, this kiosk on Tridevi Marg changes cash without commission; on Saturdays or if its closed head to the main branch in the basement of the nearby Sanchaya Kosh Bhawan shopping centre. There’s a useful ATM next to the kiosk. It's in front of the Three Goddesses Temples.
Standard Chartered Bank Well-located ATMs opposite the Third Eye restaurant and in the compound of the Kathmandu Guest House give up to Rs 35,000 per transaction but charge a Rs 500 commission. The main branch in Lazimpat charges Rs 200 per transaction for cash.
Business hours have slight variations between summer and winter and most restaurants and shops stay open later during high season.
Banks 9am-noon and 2-4pm Sunday to Friday, 10am-noon Saturday
Bars and Clubs Usually close by 11pm
Shops 10am-8pm (varies widely)
Most bookshops in Thamel sell stamps and deliver postcards to the post office, which is much easier than making a special trip to the post office yourself.
Main Post Office Facing the Tundikhel near the ruins of the Bhimsen Tower (Dharadhara). Stalls in the courtyard sell airmail and padded envelopes. You can post packages up to 2kg at counter 16; beyond that you need to go to the next-door building. Parcels have to be examined and sealed by a customs officer. Start the process before 2pm.
Express Mail Service Express documents can be sent from the separate building just north of the main post office (but in the same compound). A 500g package to the USA or UK costs Rs 1800.
DHL The closest service centre to Thamel is in Kamaladi, a 15-minute walk away.
Fedex As a guide, 1kg of documents costs around Rs 3350 to the USA and takes three days.
If for some reason you don't have a mobile phone or access to Skype or Viber, you can make international telephone calls from internet cafes for around Rs 20 per minute.
There are dozens of Ncell offices around town where you can buy or top up a SIM card.
Tourist Service Centre On the eastern side of the Tundikhel parade ground; has an inconvenient location but is the place for trekkers to get a TIMS card, and pay national park and conservation area fees.
There are a number of good noticeboards in Thamel that are worth checking for information on apartments, travel and trekking partners, courses and cultural events. The Kathmandu Guest House has a good noticeboard, as do the Pumpernickel Bakery and Fire & Ice Pizzeria.
Flight Connection International Good for air tickets; in the courtyard of the Gaia Restaurant.
President Travel & Tours Professional agency favoured by expats and wealthy Nepalis; particularly good at getting seats on heavily booked flights.
Wayfarers For straight-talking ticketing, bespoke Nepal tours and Kathmandu Valley walking trips.
Travel with Children
Because of the pollution and traffic, Kathmandu is not an easy place to travel with children. Kids will probably enjoy the zoo in nearby Patan and older kids will get a thrill from spotting the monkeys at Swayambhunath.
Away from the tourist areas, highchairs are virtually nonexistent, but finding non-spicy food that children will eat isn’t a problem.
Pilgrims Book House has a fine collection of kids’ books, including colouring books.
Wheelchair facilities, ramps and lifts (and even pavements!) are virtually nonexistent throughout chaotic Kathmandu and getting around the packed, twisting streets in the old part of town can be a real challenge if you are in a wheelchair (and even if you are not). That said, it shouldn't be too difficult to arrange a minivan and helper and visit major sights like Durbar Sq.
It is common for hotels to be multilevel, with most rooms on the upper floors. Many places – even midrange establishments – do not have lifts. Bathrooms equipped with grips and railings are not found anywhere, except perhaps in some of the top-end hotels.