We were up bright and early, back to Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, where we would board our morning flight to Kathmandu. As I mentioned in a previous post, we had chosen to pre-book our trek with a local company called Nepal Vision Treks, and had been told that we would be met at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport and taken to our hotel.
Our flight was an uneventful one, although I was a bit disappointed that we could not see the Himalayas from the aeroplane due to some heavy cloud cover. Not to worry though, I would soon be at the top of the world seeing them up close!
We soon landed at Kathmandu, and into the hectic confusion of international arrivals. The airport there is probably one of the most basic international airports I’ve seen so far – in fact it recently ranked third on a list of the world’s worst airports! Apparently they are starting a redevelopment of the international terminal this year, due to be completed in 2018.
Getting a Visa on Arrival at Kathmandu
Before I left on the trip I did a heap of research about how to get a visa for Nepal, and found a lot of conflicting information out there. We opted to get a visa on arrival as it seemed to be a lot cheaper than sending our passport off to the consulate to obtain one. We paid US$40 for a 30 day visa on arrival, whereas the cost to get one from the consulate would have been AU$85 (around US$75)! If you’re planning to get a visa on arrival, make sure you look up the Nepal Immigration website to check your eligibility.
You can fill out a visa on arrival form when you arrive at the airport, but we found it easier and quicker to take advantage of the online application on the Nepal Immigration website (form can be found here). This meant that we could join the visa queue straight away, rather than having to fill out a form first. Bear in mind that the online application form does need to be done within 15 days of your arrival in Nepal, if you complete the form any earlier apparently their system doesn’t hold it. The online form is a bit finicky to fill out – it took some real ninja googling skills to find out some of the information! Make sure you have your hotel’s full address including ward number etc.
Baggage Claim and Leaving Kathmandu Airport
Once we had had our visas processed, we headed out to the baggage claim. The baggage claim area is quite small so be prepared to fight your way through as your bags come around! I had heard a lot of stories about people grabbing your bags and trying to carry them for you for exorbitant tips, but we didn’t experience anything like that. Luggage trolleys were readily available and no one bothered us in the slightest. Our luggage did take quite some time to come out (my bag was the last and I was getting a bit worried that I’d have to repurchase all of my carefully selected trekking gear!), but eventually we had everything and were ready to go.
Outside the airport we were greeted with a quite chaotic scene: hundreds of Nepalese across the road all calling out and waving signs. We soon spotted our sign – our guide was holding up a carefully lettered sign stating “Erin Fry and team”! I felt a surge of excitement as we waved to him and rushed over to meet him. Our guide introduced himself as Deepak, and explained that we would go to the hotel to check in and then we would be going to the Nepal Vision Treks office to meet Mr Chet who I had been corresponding with about the trek to go through all the last details.
We set off in the van to the hotel, all of us peering excitedly out the windows to get a feel for Kathmandu. One thing that really struck me was there were some similarities, particularly in their dress and music, to what I had seen in India with many of the ladies wearing brightly coloured saris and salwar kameez, and the unique sound of Bollywood style music often emanating from buildings we passed. Not surprising given their proximity to India, although it was soon clear that the Nepalese have a culture all their own.
Nepal Vision Treks Everest Base Camp Trek Briefing and Welcome
After we checked in to the Hotel Shanker, Deepak took us to the Nepal Vision Treks office for our briefing where I was excited to finally meet Mr Chet who’d so quickly and kindly answered all of my silly questions over the 6 months or so leading up to the trek.
Chet took us through every day of the trek and what we’d be experiencing in detail, as well as giving us the opportunity to ask any questions that we might have. He then gave us Nepal Vision Treks t-shirts and duffle bags, and wished us a safe trek.
We made a quick stop-off to the Hotel Shanker to drop off our gifts, and then Deepak walked over with us to Thamel, the main tourist area of Kathmandu, so we could purchase some last minute items and pick up our rented sleeping bags. Thamel is completely overflowing with trekking shops (seriously, pretty much every second shop sells trekking gear) so there’s plenty of options to buy anything that you forgot or didn’t want to buy at home.
Deepak then left us back at the hotel for a couple of hours which we used to reorganise our bags, loading only the stuff we’d need for the trek into our duffle bags, with the rest to be looked after for us by the hotel until we returned from the trek. It took longer than expected and many rounds of culling – 15kg is really not very much stuff! Soon though we were close enough to the baggage limits for our Lukla flight the next day, and it was 6pm and time to meet Deepak in the lobby again for our welcome dinner.
We went to a restaurant called Nepali Chulo for our welcome dinner, and were treated to a taste of traditional Nepali food as well as being entertained by the live band and cultural dancers. The food was delicious, and definitely started my love affair with momos – the Nepali version of dumplings. Here they were served with a delicious curry sauce. We also had spicy fried potatoes, dal baat (Nepali lentil soup, this ended up being one of my staple meals on the trek!), wild boar (one of my favourites!), curry vegetables and curry chicken.
One of my favourite parts of the dance performance was towards the end of the night when the dancers came around for tips. One of them dressed up as a peacock and was guided around by another dancer, picking up the tips in his beak as well as pretending to drink beer and eat popcorn. So funny!
It was a great night out and good to spend some more time with Deepak before we started on our big adventure early the next day. We headed back to the hotel and went straight to bed, as we had an early wake-up call given we were scheduled on the first flight to Lukla at 6am the next day!
Stay tuned for the next post for my experiences from the first day of the trek!