Nepal Costs: $40 a Day

The cost to travel in Nepal is comparable to India: It’s extremely affordable! Hotels and food are priced even lower in Nepali cities than in India. The costs to trek can add up if you purchase new gear, but they are mostly offset by the low price of guesthouses in villages – some are only $3 a night for a basic room, and even that can be waived. Food and alcohol are understandably more expensive up in the mountains, since cars can only reach the lower villages and everything has to be taken up by porters or horses. (On the flip side of this, most garbage that is taken up is never taken back down, so please be sure to pack out as much as possible if you go trekking).

The permits to trek on the Annapurna Circuit, including the TIMS card and park fees, add up to more than $30 per person. Looking back on it now that doesn’t seem like much at all, but at the time it seemed like a lot! It’s funny how your definition of “big ticket” can change so much. But if a full meal costs $4 and a hotel room is $7, things tend to get skewed.

The daily average cost for our trip to Nepal was $40.53 (or $20.27 per person per day) which is about what we were expecting. Trekking didn’t increase our daily average, but had we paid for hotels it would have had an affect. Either way, traveling in Nepal is cheap cheap. If you are able to find local’s restaurants (which can be hard in places like Kathmandu’s Thamel neighborhood), I’d guess you can live in Nepal for less than some people’s daily Starbuck’s habit.

Here is a breakdown of all our costs during our stay. This table does not include costs to enter the country, which included $42 for a cross-country bus from the Indian border and visa fees of $88 ($44 each).

Type of Expense Total Cost
(for 23 days)
Daily Average Notes
Lodging $157.57 $6.85 Our lodging choices ranged in price from $0 in the mountains (where we were able to pay for food and sleep for free) to $12.68 in Kathmandu.
Food $506.54 $22.02 Local dishes like dal bhat are really inexpensive, but the Thamel neighborhood and trekking towns are a bit higher.
Transportation (within country) $47.37 $2.06
Entertainment $108.05 $4.70 Includes the Boudhanath and Swayambhunath Temples and trekking permits.
Alcohol $84.22 $3.66
Incidentals $28.53 $1.24 Includes the costs for items like sunblock, internet, and donations.
Grand Total* $932.26 $40.53 *Total reflects expenses for two people. It does not reflect costs to enter the country (i.e., visas or airfare)

Some Examples:

1 L water – Rs.25 ($0.30)
640ml beer from a wine shop – Ranged from Rs.135-180 ($1.50 – $2)
Dinner at a local’s restaurant, per person – Rs.150 ($1.75)
A small cup of chai – Rs.50 ($0.60)
Western style breakfast – Rs.250 ($3)

Trekking in Nepal…Wow

Nepal!!! People come here for the Himalayas so we’re skipping over our time in Kathmandu and Pokhara to get right to the good stuff. Nepal is home to the tallest mountains on the planet. The sheer magnitude of these mountains is mind-boggling. It’s hard to capture in photos, but the peaks, even from a distance, go so much higher into the horizon than any mountains I’ve ever seen.

[ptcPhoto filename=”MountainsOverPokhara.jpg” title=”Annapurna Range from Pokhara” caption=”Himalayas from Pokhara, Nepal” position=”center”]

When most people think of trekking in Nepal they envision climbing Mount Everest or other such peaks where your life is on the line and you must be in absolute peak physical condition. While that sort of expedition is certainly available, most treks are far easier than you’d imagine.

Nepal has what is known as “tea house trekking”. Tea house trekking is where you hike between the tiny mountain villages that dot the Nepal countryside, eating and sleeping in basic guest houses. This allows you to hike with a small pack since you don’t need sleeping bags, shelter, or food. The available lodging has rock hard beds, limited electricity, and no heat, but they provide plenty of blankets and hot food.

[ptcPhoto filename=”trek4.jpg” title=”Basic accommodation” caption=”A simple place to stay” position=”center”]

Pricing for rooms is extremely low. In fact, our friend Alice who accompanied us on the first few days of our trek let us in on a nice money saving secret: if you aren’t traveling in high season you should be able to get your room for FREE! When the hotel owner shows you your room simply say “pay for food, sleep for free” and you’ll have a free place to stay. This technique does require you to purchase all your meals at your hotel, but this is not really a downside as all of the guesthouses use the exact same menu and there are no other restaurants outside of the guest houses in the villages.

The main meal you’ll be eating while trekking is a dal bhat. Dal bhat is the national dish of Nepal and what many locals eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It consistes of steamed rice, lentil soup (dal), and an assortment of mixed vegetables called tarkari. Second helpings are always free, and much welcomed after a day of hiking.

[ptcPhoto filename=”DalBhat.jpg” title=”Dal Bhat” caption=”Yummy dal bhat” position=”center”]

We chose to go on the Poon Hill Loop trek (also called the Ghorepani trek). This is one of the shorter and more popular treks as it takes about 5 days to complete and is considered relatively easy.

Beware though, even the “easy” treks can be strenuous in Nepal. The Poon Hill trek included many segments of steep steps. The entire second day of the trek is uphill, so you also have to take altitude gain into account. However, the distances are short (6-7 miles per day) which leaves a number of hours to recover and relax at the next village.

[ptcPhoto filename=”annapurnaSteps.jpg” title=”The end of the steps” caption=”Approaching our next stopping point” position=”center”]

The first couple days were frustrating as the cloud cover would not let us get views of the mountains, but the beauty of the hills and forests along the way surprised us. Laligurans (rhododendron arboreum) is the national flower of Nepal. Unlike typical rhododendrons, the laligurans can grow to 30m tall and cover vast sections of the Himalayan hillsides. They only bloom for a few weeks every year and we were a week late, but the remnants of their blooming still enchanted us.

[ptcPhoto filename=”trek11.jpg” title=”Rhododendrons” caption=”Rhododendron trees” position=”center”]

The tiny mountain villages of Nepal were a joy to visit. People actually live in these towns. Hard working locals and hard working animals make visiting here possible.

[ptcPhoto filename=”trek7.jpg” title=”A boy and his goat” caption=”A boy and his goat” position=”center”]

[ptcPhoto filename=”trek8.jpg” title=”Seriously cute” caption=’Smallest goat in the world’ position=”center”]

All that is nice, but we wanted MOUNTAINS! The pinnacle of the hike comes on day 3 where you get out an hour before daylight and make your way up to the peak of Poon Hill to see the sun rise over the Annapurna range. Sam, Alice and I woke up at a ridiculous 3:30am and unfortunately got lost before finding our way out of the town. This set us back a good 20 minutes and, due to the vertical nature of the hike up to the top of Poon Hill (it took Sam and I a while), we arrived to the peak 15 minutes after the sun had risen and the clouds had taken over.

[ptcPhoto filename=”trek9.jpg” title=”Poon Hill Day 1″ caption=’Can you see the mountain peeking through the clouds?’ position=”center”]

Sam and I decided to stay another night and attempt the sunrise hike again the next morning. While we easily made it to the peak before sunrise, the cloud coverage was much thicker this morning and the views were only slightly better. Getting up at 3:30am two days in a row with no payout made Sam an unhappy trekker.

[ptcPhoto filename=”trek10.jpg” title=”Poon Hill Day 2″ caption=’Where are the mountains? (Yes I need a haircut)’ position=”center”]

We left the hill and started heading down only to have the clouds start to open up. We rushed back up to the top and were able to finally score a couple pictures.

[ptcPhoto filename=”ericAnnapurna.jpg” title=”Finally!” caption=’Finally!’ position=”center”]

From Poon Hill we slogged through a long day of rain, muddy trails, and steep steps but found a wonderful guesthouse at the next village. We stayed here for 2 nights and were rewarded with some amazing views right outside our bedroom window.

[ptcPhoto filename=”RoomWithAView.jpg” title=”Room With a View” caption=”That’s our room on the second floor overlooking the mountains” position=”center”]

I mentioned this in the Snapshot Sunday, but these mountains range from 22,943 ft to 26,545 ft, nearly double the tallest mountains in the continental US.

[ptcPhoto filename=”AnnapurnaSouth.jpg” title=”Annapurna South” caption=”Annapurna South at 23,684 ft as viewed out our free bedroom window” position=”center”]

Simply put, if you’re going to Nepal it should be mandatory to go on a trek.

And OK, one more tiny goat picture.

[ptcPhoto filename=”TinyGoat.jpg” title=”Tiny Goat” position=”center”]

Snapshot Sunday: Prayer at the Haeinsa Temple

[ptcPhoto filename=”monk640.jpg” title=”Prayer at Haeinsa” caption=”Praying to the Buddha of Emptiness – Haeinsa Temple, South Korea” position=”center”]

At Haeinsa Temple near Daegu, we saw this monk praying to the Vairocana Buddha – the embodiment of the Buddhist concept of emptiness. In addition to a monastery, Haeinsa is also home to the Tripitaka Koreana, a collection of over 80,000 woodblocks of Buddhist scripture that was completed in 1251 CE.

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.

Snapshot Sunday: Exploring Udo Island by Scooter

[ptcPhoto filename=”Scooter.jpg” title=”Eric looks like a badass” caption=”Exploring Udo Island – Jeju, South Korea” position=”center”]

A lava plateau and popular vacation spot, Udo Island can be explored by scooter in an afternoon. The views are well worth the trip!

Click here to view a larger, detailed image.

A Weekend in Darjeeling: Day Two

Depending on how late you stayed out at Joey’s last night, you may need some caffeine today. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We can’t write about Darjeeling without recommending breakfast and tea at Glenary’s. It’s a backpacker staple and perhaps the best place in town for fast Wi-Fi and a fantastic spot to gaze out of large, bright windows onto the Himalayan views. If you’re lucky you’ll see Kangchenjunga, the third-highest mountain in the world and a technical beast for climbers, many of whom die while trying to reach its summit. All of this can be pondered over pots of Darjeeling and Assam tea, assorted pastries (try the chocolate “heavy cake” for a treat), and western-style breakfasts. Glenary’s also has a good, but somewhat pricey, restaurant on the second floor.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Glenarys.jpg” title=”Glenarys” caption=”The most popular place in town” position=”center”]

As you probably know, Darjeeling is all about tea. The Happy Valley Tea Estate is only a short walk from town, and a visit there will have you well on your way to understanding what all the hubbub is about. When you get there, make sure to head directly to the factory to ask for a free tour. There’s a teahouse on the grounds that isn’t associated with the estate, and a “tour guide” (she’s actually the night guard’s wife) may offer to take you around and tell you the factory is closed. They know about this but don’t stop her from offering unofficial tours. We started by walking through the tea fields after she showed us which way to go. The fields consist of big, hilly groves of tea bushes, and spring is a good time to watch the pickers at work.

[ptcPhoto filename=”HappyValley.jpg” title=”Happy Valley” caption=”Happy Valley” position=”center”]

After scrambling through the steep hills of the tea field, head into Happy Valley, which operates one of the highest tea factories in the world. They’ve used organic farming techniques since 2007, although the factory has been around since 1854, making it the oldest in Darjeeling. This is a good place to acquire a basic understanding of how tea is made, and to learn key terms like “first flush” (spring harvest) and “second flush” (summer harvest).

[ptcPhoto filename=”TeaGlasses.jpg” title=”A tea rainbow” caption=”A tea rainbow” position=”center”]

Happy Valley manufactures traditional black tea in addition to green and white varieties. Their principal buyer is Harrods and they don’t package their products for sale in Darjeeling or anywhere in India. But there is a shop on site if you’d like to pick up a small package to take home.

Time for my favorite meal in Darjeeling! For lunch, go down to Hasty Tasty for tomato soup and a south Indian thali. The entire meal will cost you around $3, and it’s enough for two. The play on tangy and spicy south Indian flavors is delightful.

[ptcPhoto filename=”SIndianThali.jpg” title=”Hasty Tasty thali” caption=”The photo may not do it justice, but trust me on this one” position=”center”]

After lunch, the tea odyssey continues at Nathmulls in the square. They offer a staggering collection of tea and you can choose which varieties to sample in their Sunset Lounge.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Nathmulls.jpg” title=”Nathmulls” caption=”Nathmulls in the square, and the ubiquitous Darjeeling dogs” position=”center”]

Nathmulls has been in business selling Darjeeling tea since 1931, and Mr. Sarda will walk you through the whole shebang, showcasing his vast knowledge of Darjeeling teas, and great patience for any questions you may have.

[ptcPhoto filename=”TeaGuy.jpg” title=”Tea Guy” caption=”The world’s foremost expert on Darjeeling tea” position=”center”]

It costs Rs.300 ($6) to try five types of black tea – we chose two first flushes, two second flushes, and an autumn selection.

Coming from Denver our palates are fine-tuned for beer tasting, so the nuances of fine teas may be lost on us. But even if it’s not quite as awesome as beer, tea tasting is still a fun activity. Two hours and five pots of tea later, you’re sure to be wired.

[ptcPhoto filename=”HyperEric.jpg” title=”Hyper Eric” caption=”This pretty much sums up our experience” position=”center”]

Chiave d’cosmos near Sonam’s is a snug but pleasant dinner place with good barbeque roasted chicken, potatoes and strong chai. A few games of Connect Four will keep you entertained while you wait for your meal to be prepared. If you’d like a nightcap, visit the wine shop in Chowrastra for MRP-priced drinks, which are always nice to find.

[ptcPhoto filename=”WineShop.jpg” title=”Wine shop” caption=”Wine shop in the square” position=”center”]

Thus concludes your visit to Darjeeling, and our time in India. Next up, Nepal!