It’s a good idea to double-check the departure time of your return flight before flying, especially for unreliable Nepal Airlines, with whom you should reconfirm at least once.
The ageing Tribhuvan International Airport, about 6km east of the centre, is the main international hub in Nepal. The chaotic terminal is regularly voted one of the worst in Asia and you can expect to wait some time for your luggage to arrive. Be sure to check the piles of luggage next to the belt as staff often unload luggage there to minimise congestion.
The airport's former name of Gaucher (literally ‘cow pasture’) speaks volumes about Kathmandu’s rapid urban expansion – early flights did indeed land on the grass amid the cattle.
Kathmandu is the main hub for domestic flights, including to Pokhara (US$121), Lukla (US$177), Bharatpur (US$109; for Chitwan) and Bhairawa (US$111; for Lumbini). The most reliable airlines are Buddha Air, Yeti Airlines and Tara Air (www.taraair.com); others seem to change with the weather. It’s far less hassle to buy tickets through a travel agency, and you’ll probably get a better deal this way. You can generally change the date of the ticket up to two days before departure without charge.
Nepal Airlines domestic office has flights to remoter airstrips, but only has computerised booking on some of its flights. The other domestic carriers are much more reliable if you have a choice. Again, book at a travel agent. If for some reason you need to come to the office, it's down an alley to the side of the main international Nepal Airlines international booking centre.
Be aware that Nepali airlines don't have the best safety record. You may want to do some online research into the record of specific airlines before committing to a flight.
Getting into town from Tribhuvan International Airport is quite straightforward. Both the international and domestic terminals offer a fixed-price prepaid taxi service, currently Rs 750 to Thamel. There is a moneychanger next to the taxi counter.
Once outside the international terminal you will be confronted by hotel touts, who are often taxi drivers making commission on taking you to a particular hotel. Many hold up a signboard of the particular hotel they are connected with and, if the one you want is there, you can get a free lift. The drawback with the taxis is that the hotel is then much less likely to offer you a discount, as it will be paying a hefty commission to the taxi driver.
If you book a room in advance for more than one night, many hotels will pick you up for free.
Public buses leave from the main road – about 300m from the terminal – but they’re only really practical if you have very little luggage and know exactly how to get to where you want to go.
From Kathmandu to the airport you should be able to get a taxi for Rs 500, or a bit more for a late or early flight.
Air China and Sichuan Airlines operate flights between Kathmandu and Lhasa three or four times a week for around US$200 to US$260 one-way, slightly more coming from Lhasa. A direct flight to Chengdu costs around US$280.
Visas are available on arrival in Nepal at Tribhuvan International Airport or the Nepal–China border at Rasuwagadhi for US$25/40/100 for up to 15/30/90 days. You’ll need to fill out a visa form and an arrival form and give one photo.