Shopping in Nepal
Important Points and concerns
Exquisite handicrafts of brilliant workmanship are sold in the markets .Many of these carry religious significance. Artistic works of stone and metal, silver and gold trinkets, and incredible wood carvings are readily available.
Other kinds of souvenirs include Nepali tea, the famous Gurkha knife or Khukuri, prayer wheels, stone carvings, singing bowls, papier–maché masks, thangkas and pauvas, pashmina, carpets, jewelry etc. Souvenir items are available in tourist areas like Thamel, New Road, Basantapur, Asan, Patan, Bhaktapur and around major hotels. But remember anything older than a 100 years old cannot be taken out of the country.
Bronze and brass items on display at a shop in Kathmandu, Nepal
Shopping malls and departmental stores sell branded items and accessories like cell phones, i-pads and laptops to electronic appliances, cameras, music systems, kitchenware, garments, jewelry, perfumes, watches, toys, fitness equipment and a multitude of household items.
Popular shopping malls in Kathmandu Valley are: Bhatbhateni chain of stores, Saleways chain of stores, City Center in Kamal Pokhari, Civil Mall in Sundhara, Kathmandu Mall in Sundhara, Labim Mall in Pulchowk, Salesberry in Satdobato.
Items in display at a shop in tourist area in Kathmandu, Nepal
Shopping areas in the valley are around New Road, Putali Sadak, Kumaripati, Bhatbhateni, Lazimpat, Sundhara, Tripureshwor, Lagankhel and Jawalakhel. In Pokhara, the major shopping areas are Lakeside and Mahendrapul Bazaar.kathmandu is a shopper's paradise, particularly for those who appreciate high quality artisanal goods at an incredible value. That said, the city is big and traffic is bad, so strategizing your time and whereabouts is key, depending on the goods you're most interested in. Below is a rough guide to help you.
A shop-lined street in Thamel
Kathmandu's central Thamel district is a clearinghouse for anything that can be purchased in Nepal and is the natural place to shop, but there are several other areas that specialize in specific crafts. (Since October 2017, downtown Thamel is car-free, which makes shopping here much more pleasant than before.) Just be mindful of those 500-rupee pashminas -- some deals are too good to be true!
For the best selection of thick, colorful and hand-knotted Tibetan-style wool carpets head to the Tibetan refugee workshops in Jawalakhel in southern Patan. Patan is also known as the very best place to buy Buddhist statuary, and the backstreets are lined with metal workshops.
Nepal is a leader in fair-trade shops, which market and sell handicrafts and design products from women's groups and other responsible sources. The Kupondole hill leading to neighboring Patan is a hub for fair-trade design shops, including the excellent Mahaguthi outlet, but there are also several stores in Lazimpat in northern Kathmandu.
Closer to Kathmandu center is One Tree Stop on Durbar Marg, a tiny shop which nonetheless offers an ever-changing selection of unique crafts made by local artisans and designers. The cafe upstairs offers employment to deaf waiting staff and is a great place to refuel when energies start to flag. (It's similar to Patan's The Local Project, which is conveniently located next to the hip EVOKE Café & Bistro.)
Katheshimbu Stupa (and Boudhanath Stupa)
In Kathmandu, you'll find the best selection of Tibetan prayer flags, brocade and embroidered silks at shops around the Katheshimbu stupa, just south of Thamel. You can even get a tailor to make you a set of Tibetan or Sherpa traditional clothes here. (You can do the same around Boudha, too, where many Tibetans and Sherpas reside.) Top this off with a traditional Nepali topi hat at the nearby cluster of shops at Kel Tole. Finally, the colorful local market at nearby Asan Tole is the most interesting place to pick up spices and is a fabulously photogenic place for an early morning stroll.
The nicest mall in Kathmandu, Labim Mall opened on Pulchowk in Patan just after the earthquake. Inside the 5-floored, 200,000 sq ft complex, you'll find popular restaurants like Roadhouse Pizzeria and Le Mirch, along with Western shops like ESPRIT and GEOX, as well as many local brands. Beyond the shops, Nepali celebrities and elites flock to LEVEL 3, a rooftop terrace bar and lounge, on Wednesdays and weekend nights. And if you're in the mood to see a movie in comfort, head to QFX Cinemas, which has plush stadium seating.
Baber Mahal Revisited
Finally, if you are in the market for higher quality crafts (at higher prices), it's well worth taking a taxi to Baber Mahal Revisited, a restored Rana-era palace complex stuffed with beautiful handicraft and clothing boutiques and featuring some excellent restaurants (like Chez Caroline) as well as a boutique hotel. It's located near the Singha Durbar government offices.
By day this area is a myriad of shops, sights and sounds of tourists gearing up for upcoming hikes or just returning filled with stories of their adventures. When the shops roll down their shades for the night, bars and clubs light up their patios for drinks and dancing. All along the streets and guest houses you’ll find tiny clubs with music ranging from Brazilian Afro Beats to local bands playing covers of 80’s heavy metal. On madal and sarangi. Kathmandu has broad variety of clubs including Irish Pubs, a Mayan themed bar, Dixieland New Orleans style jazz and ones the play Kollywood indie films while drinking local Nepalese wine
One of the “never miss” for those going mountaineering is the Rum Doodle. The history behind this place is great, a Kathmandu institution where trekkers from all over the world who have climbed or attempted to climb Mt Everest come over to celebrate their achievement. Yeti footprints cutouts are handed over to the revelers for their signatures as a token memento to be hung with Sir Edmund Hillary and Jim Whittaker, the first American to summit Mt. Everest.
Garden of Dreams
Located between Thamel and the former royal palace, this garden was opened in the 1920s. It is laid out like a European style garden and contains ponds, fountains, benches and statues. It is a good place to chill out. The garden is open until 10pm nightly and has well lighted pathways, mediation areas and open spaces to do some star gazing.
Where six avenues converge and straddling one of the ancient Tibet – India trade routes, Ason is a local market a bit south from Thamel. It is perfect for buying local goods like the paper masks, Himalayan salt, spices, fabrics or traditional musical instruments. Stroll through the square where traders once traversed with loads of silks and spices. There are cafes serving traditional food and drinks. It is said this is the market where Cat Stevens penned his song “Katmandu” in the 1960s.
Several of the five star hotels have casinos but make sure you bring your passport as locals are not allowed to enter them. Most have a bar and table games.
Kathmandu Warnings and Dangers
Visiting Kathmandu Nepal is bound to be full of adventures, follow these tips and warnings to make your trip more enjoyable.
You will be approached by beggars during your time in Kathmandu. Resist the urge to give any beggar a few rupees, others will notice if you do, and before you know it you are likely to be surrounded by a horde of beggars wanting a handout. There are also children or teenagers that are sent out to get money from sympathetic tourists. In general, when in the city, it’s best to completely ignore anyone asking for money. If you encounter a lone individual pleading for rupees during a trek in the mountains, you could donate to them without having to worry about being surrounded by beggars.
Air, Water and Roads
The air quality is extremely poor in Kathmandu, it is not unusual to see locals wearing masks to avoid ingesting fumes. The dusty and dirty roads can also make breathing a challenge, take a cue from the locals and wear a mask if you feel you need one and wear glasses to protect your eyes.
It is highly advisable to drink and even brush your teeth with bottled water in Kathmandu. The tap water here has a yellow tinge to it, even in the most prestigious hotels, so stick to bottled water.
The roads in Kathmandu are mostly made of dirt, are very narrow and are mostly in bad shape. Take extreme caution when near or on the roads.
Kathmandu’s electricity goes out quite frequently and it might be switched off for hours at a time. These outages are done on purpose in order to supply other parts of Nepal with power. Additionally, stores in Kathmandu close between 8 and 9 pm and once they do the streets become dark quickly. Therefore it is essential to always be prepared for power outages, make sure you have a flashlight or other forms of light handy.
Travel with a companion as well whenever possible, Kathmandu is generally safe, but as with most places, tourists are an easy target for thieves and criminals looking to do harm. Females, in particular, should shop or keep company with a companion whenever possible. Don’t accept drinks or other consumables from strangers, stay in populated areas and stay street smart, if a situation feels off or dangerous, get away from it as soon as possible.
Whenever possible hire a porter or guide from a reputable agency in Kathmandu or Pokhara before you leave for a mountain trek. These guides are much more reliable than one that you might find in a village along your way.
It is sometimes difficult to find accurate information about Nepal, and Westerners often feel a little lost the first few hours, days, even weeks, upon their arrival here. As a Westerner who lives here and is married into a Nepali family, I would love to share some things I now know that I wish I would have known on my first visit to Nepal. This is a fabulous country to visit and most people return again and again, but there are a few things that most have a little trouble with on the first visit. Here are some tips on getting transportation, avoiding scams and rip-offs, volunteering, and “fitting in”!
When To Come
Oct – Dec = good weather, sunny warm days, cool evenings — peak tourist season.
Jan – Feb = sunny, but cool, off season so you can get good deals.
Mar – May = good weather, tourist season, but not as busy as Fall.
Jun – Sep = rainy, and July & Aug. Monsoon. Not the best time to come. (End of Sep. is starting to get nice.)
Thribuvan Airport – Visas, Customs, and Transportation
Welcome to Nepal! If you are arriving by air, your point of entry will be Kathmandu’s Thribuvan International Airport. The visa and customs are easy to get through, but you need to be a little prepared. Visas to Nepal are issued upon arrival; here is what you will need:
1) A pen to fill out the forms (there are none available in the airport).
2) Two passport size photos (bring plenty of spares as you will need these for trekking permit, visa extensions, and any other official document in Nepal.)
3) US dollars or convertible currency (15 days is $25; 30 days is $40; 90 days is $100).
4) Address and contact of where you will be staying.
After you pass through the immigration area, you will go downstairs to the baggage area. Clearing customs is straight forward, just put your luggage on the scanning belt. Nepal customs is like most other countries where drugs, firearms, plants, fruits, live animals, etc. are not allowed to enter the country. After you leave the customs, you will walk down a corridor that ends with a glass wall with hordes of drivers on the other side waving signs, and looking for their pick-ups. Just keep going out the door to the left, and if you do have someone picking you up, they will most likely see you there. If you need a taxi, keep reading, there are some things you need to know.
There are plenty of taxi drivers waiting to take you to your destination, and an equal amount of young men ready to grab your bag and “help” you. A word of warning here: If you allow someone to help you with your bag, an appropriate tip is $1 or 100 NPR. They may try to say “Five dollars, or 10 dollars!” But that is WAY too much. (Keep in mind, tipping is not the “norm” in this country, so it’s not necessary for taxi drivers or waiters.) My advice is carry your own bags, and get used to saying “No thanks!” and keep walking.
Taxis – There are small white taxis that can comfortably seat 3 people and hold your luggage in the trunk or roof. These should cost maximum of 500 – 600 rupees to/from the airport. The taxi drivers try to stick together on this, so if you can get one for 500 rupees to Thamel (main tourist district), or Kathmandu Center, then you are paying what everyone else does. There are also small taxi vans you can get, and they should cost only slightly more; 700 – 800 rupees would be a fair price for the van. The vans sometimes say they are charging “per person” but just say your final price is 800 rupees.
Other places; other modes –From other places in Kathmandu, a taxi should always cost 200-300 rupees maximum. If you pay more, you’re getting ripped off. The micros (small white mini-vans packed with people) are cheap, usually around 15-20 rupees to anywhere in the city, but they are sometimes full of people and very slow. Most westerners prefer taxis, unless they are on a strict budget and staying here a long time. Rickshaws are from 50-100 rupees to most places you would want to go with this mode of transportation. One hundred would be a bit high for a Rickshaw from say, Thamel to Durbar Square, but 70 rupees would be fair.
Nepal’s Tourist Bus – Costs 750 rupees each way to Pokhara or Chitwan. Any tour operator in Thamel will book this for you and reserve you a seat for $12. The advantage to this is that during peak times, you are sure to get a seat. My favorite bus is Baba Adventure travels to Pokhara. Sai Baba is good for Chitwan. I think $12 is cheap enough for a 5-7 hour ride, so I have it reserved. In fairness, the tourist businesses in Thamel do need to make a living so they can keep operating. They make a phone call, provide you with all the information you need and give you support, so it’s up to you if you want to pre-book or not.
What is Famous in Nepal for Shopping?
Nepal is famous for for its handicrafts. But be careful, they are not all created equally, and some are not even created in Nepal. Many of the tourists shops around Thamel buy things in bulk from Thailand. This could be Buddha statues, singing bowls, and any Asian looking kitch. The more authentic things are hand-knitted clothing, carved stones (you can watch the stone carvers working), and the famous Tibetan Thanka (art) that is painted by the monks at the monasteries. If you want to buy Thanka, head over to Bouddhanath, and visit one of the many monasteries in that area. Some of the art is produced by novice monks, and it will be less expensive than in Thamel.
What to pack for Nepal?
You can get almost anything here that you can get in the West; so if you want to pack light, don’t bother bringing tons of bulky things “just in case.” I would recommend a very well broken in pair of trekking shoes if you will be doing that activity (I have seen some heinous blisters on trekkers who “thought” they broke-in their shoes). Any shoes brand new, slightly new, or not sure would probably kill you. So, bring a backpack with clothes you can layer, and remember you can always have them laundered in Thamel (Kathmandu tourist district) or Pokhara (resort town which is the start point for Annapurna Circuit).
Should I bring Chocolate? (You’ve heard it helps with altitude sickness, right? Plus it’s fun to give to kids.)
Don’t bring chocolate – you can get all that here – Toblerone, Cadbury, Nestle.
What about buying hygiene products in Nepal? It’s all here too.
And girls, yes, you can get all sorts of feminine hygiene products in the Thamel supermarkets, so don’t “over do it” on that type of thing. If you have a favorite brand or something, then by all means, bring that. Same goes for shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, wet wipes, etc.
There are several English language bookstores around, so no need to bring 4 novels. Just head straight for Thamel on your first day if you think you will need these things.
Don’t buy a bunch of expensive trekking stuff; it’s all here… this is the land of Mt. Everest after all!
And about your attire…
T-shirts are perfectly acceptable for men and women. You see a lot of people with longish shorts for trekking and river activities. (The guide books all say “no shorts” but that’s just outdated information; modest, long shorts are fine.) The first time my mother came here, she had heard women have to keep their arms covered at all times. She roasted in her long sleeves for a few days before, she finally asked me, and I told her that arms are perfectly fine! You should wear the things you like, but respect the culture. The first time I came here, I brought all dowdy clothes with me, because I thought I had to look like I was wearing a sack to fit in and respect the modesty, but that’s not true. Bring things you feel good in, but don’t mind getting dirty, etc. The reality is, you may have to wear the same shirt several days in a row, so make it one you like. You are here to have fun and feel good about yourself. No one expects you to look Nepali. Represent your country and culture and be who you are. The villages are still much more modest than Kathmandu (or touristy Pokhara), so be aware that revealing clothes may be frowned upon in remote regions of Nepal.
Don’t – wear a bikini/revealing bathing suit when rafting, swimming, etc. I saw a western girl run into an open shower (outside near the road) that had only men in it with her bikini on after a rafting trip one time. She was yelling “woohoo!” and splashing water on the other people, like it was a Spring Break beach party. One of the rafting guides was mortified, but did not know what to say to her. All of the villagers watched, and it was embarrassing to see a fellow Westerner make such an offensive mistake. The first clue for this girl should have been that there were no other women in the shower, and second, that even when you do see Nepali women bathing in water taps near the road, they have on a “lungee” (like a long sarong) that covers everything except for arms, shoulders, and feet.
At swimming pools, Nepali women wear bathing suits with skirts around the bottoms. And for rafting and kayaking, I recommend you were surfing type shorts, and sport shirts that dry easily. If you want to wear your bathing suit underneath, fine. River resorts have sprung up that have swimming pools, and occasionally you will see a tourist wearing a bikini, but it is not the norm. Just have something you can swim in, but cover up with in case things feel awkward. Rash guard/Swim tshirt and board shorts are perfect for everyone. (2016 update – clothing norms are changing, and you will see western style bathing suits in some resorts around the pool, but have something modest just in case.)
Men and women who disrespect the dress code here make a bad reputation for all of us. Nepalis don’t travel much, and many don’t have TV, so you are the only idea they have about what Western people are like.
Here are some things you might want to bring from home depending on your planned activities:
• Trekking shoes, climbing shoes, sport shoes, river shoes – broken in.
• Clothes you can layer. T-shirts, fleece, windbreaker, shorts, lightweight pants, sport pants, gloves & hat (if it is Oct-Mar). But not a lot of clothes.
• A nice shirt/pants for nightlife – but not too flashy because you’ll stick out. Girls, no sun dresses, high heels or revealing clothes. Dress fun, but decent.
• Good camera/Go Pro – this country is a feast for the eyes, and a photographer’s dream!
• Pocket size Flashlight (you can buy it here if need be, but there are always powercuts, so have it handy! Seems like the lights go off whenever you are in an unfamiliar toilet.)
• A sarong (for girls) and/or a light weight towel.
• Ladies, if you like wearing a little make-up when you go out, bring it. It is hard to find here. Most of the make-up here is really weird, cheap stuff. Just bring a couple things that make you feel happy for the party nights!
Walking in Thamel, Kathmandu tourist area