Based on my July 2018 experience submitted by
This was not technically an ultralight backpacking trip. However, my experience on this trip was a catalyst to me switching over. I remember the clear difference between two fellow trekkers I met. One carrying 25kg of gear, the other only 7. The former I passed one day struggling up the trail despite him having several hours head start. He looked miserable. The latter never seemed as tired as I was and rarely stopped for breaks. My load was between the two but I wished it was much lighter.
This is also not a backpacking trip in the traditional sense. No tents or sleeping pads. Beds every night. You don’t cook your own food either. However, you could do those things on this trip as several other backpackers that I met attested. Regardless, it is an adventure that I think the ultralight community will appreciate as we all long to be back in the wilderness. Also worth noting: I am not sponsored by anyone. Any recommendation is simply based on my experience. No free gear was received in exchange for mentioning it. All of the links are for general information and are not affiliates of mine.
This is just part one of a two part series since I can't only post so much in one Reddit post. Look for part two to come out soon.
I've included several links to spreadsheets and photos: 1). Gear List.
Includes gear I brought and its weight as well as what I’d bring now for comparison. 2). Cost breakdown.
This is an itemized report of prices on the trek for housing, water, food, beer, transportation, and sunscreen. 3). Elevation and Distance.
The third spreadsheet shares the rough distances between villages and communities along the trek along with elevation change. 4). Photos.
Finally I’ve included a link to my website which has some of my favorite photos from the trip.
Please ask any questions you have. I’ll do my best to answer them. Hopefully by this fall some of you will be headed to Nepal for your own adventure!
This is a complete guide to trekking the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. I did this with my partner in July of 2018 during one of two off-seasons. Summer (May-September) is the rainy season and the trek doesn’t see much traffic during this time. Winter (December-February) is the other off-season for obvious reasons.
I’ve divided this trip report into two main sections (it's two long to post in one post on Reddit). The first part talks about the general logistics such as how to get to the circuit and what you should bring. I will try to include as much exact information about what I actually brought as I can and then provide some commentary on what I’d change when I go back.
The second part will focus on a timeline of the trek. What towns did we stay in and what were they like? What were some of the things we saw along the way and what were the trail conditions? This part will basically be a long blog post about our trek divided by the villages we stayed at or passed through along the way.
Why the Annapurna Circuit and why July (arguably the worst time of year to go). I am not a mountaineer, rock climber, athlete, or otherwise elite outdoorsman. In fact, the Annapurna Circuit was really my first backpacking trip and still my longest one to date. I did, however, grow up camping and loving the outdoors and am an experienced day hiker. Travel is also something I have some experience in, having been through much of North America and over 30 other countries.
Over the past few years I’ve grown a love for photography and a desire to capture natural landscapes as I see and feel them. Combined with my passion for the outdoors and a mild case of wanderlust, I began creating an unofficial list of places I definitely want to visit in my lifetime. This list includes Patagonia, New Zealand’s Southern Alps, the Andes Mountains in Northern Peru, and the Himalayas.
In May of 2018, my partner and I quit our jobs and bought one way tickets to Singapore to start our first visit to the continent of Asia. I had researched the Himalayas enough to know that Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit, Annapurna Base Camp, and Everest Base Camp were probably the best options for first time trekkers with epic mountain scenery. However, we made no specific plans on when we would arrive in Nepal if at all on this trip.
Fast forward through our first month in the hot and humid SouthEast part of Asia, and I soon realized that the climate differences for a resident of dry temperate Northern California were more than I anticipated. Added to that were the vast cultural differences between western countries where most of my previous travel had been and that of many SouthEast Asian countries. I found myself longing for the cool familiarity of the mountains and Nepal seemed the right choice.
So one day we bought a ticket from Malaysia to Kathmandu, knowing we would arrive during the rainy season but figuring we should give it a shot. We landed on a hot July day in the rain and were soon greeted by the chaos of Kathmandu. Here we opted to spend five days exploring the city, eating good food, researching all the ins and outs of the treks, buying supplies, and determining the best trek for this time of year. We talked to local guides and foreign adventurers alike trying to gage whether we should attempt trekking at all this time of year.
Eventually, after receiving some mixed accounts, we decided to risk it and head out the next morning for the Annapurna Circuit. We heard from both ends of the spectrum including some vehement statements that we shouldn’t trek this time of year and other trekkers who had just finished and had a wonderful time. We knew that we could always turn around and come back if it felt too dangerous.
MORE ON MONSOON SEASON
July is the middle of the monsoon season in Nepal. It’s also summer which means the lowlands are a steaming jungle and the mountains are often hidden in clouds. Due to the steep terrain, the land is prone to mudslides which can block roads and send vehicles down ravines. Leeches are also a problem at lower elevation which we soon found to be especially true when walking through dense foliage.
However, there are several benefits to trekking this time of year. Being the off -season there are far fewer tourists both in Kathmandu and on the trails. This means lower prices, easier to obtain rooms, and less crowding on the streets and trails. Along with the rain comes greenery. The flowers are in bloom and the trees are their greenest. The alpine hillsides are green as well, turning brown later in the year when trekking peaks. The nights don’t get as cold even at high altitude where guest houses are without heat, so fewer warm layers are required.
Of course, the dangers are real. Nepali people die every year in monsoon related road accidents and it's not uncommon for a few tourists to die as well. Delays are inevitable due to poor road conditions made worse by the rain. On the trail, many of the guest houses are not operating during the off season or may be more hesitant to welcome guests or have many food options. While crowds can create hassle, some comradery on the trail is welcome but much harder to find during the off-season.
NEXT TIME: Based on our experience, I wouldn’t change what we did. However, I would probably not go during this season again or necessarily recommend others to go during July. Instead I would opt for the end of the rainy season right before peak season (late September) or the end of the second trekking season right before the rainy season (late May).
PART I: LOGISTICS OF THE ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT
Almost everything you need for your trek can be bought in Kathmandu. Prices are cheaper than in the west but the quality is lower and most stores sell knock-offs of the brands they claim to sell. The neighborhood of Thamel
is the primary trekkers hub in Nepal’s capital city. Here you will find more shops than you can count offering new and used gear, from real name-brand stuff to cheap knock offs. If you are coming to Nepal as part of a longer trip that includes travel to much warmer countries (as we did), you might consider buying some of your gear in Kathmandu.
We bought two synthetic sleeping bags (rated -10C but probably only good down to freezing) for $25/each. We were offered supposedly 100% down rated -20C “waterproof” sleeping bags for $50/each but were glad we didn’t get them. I purchased a decent quality “North Face” jacket with synthetic down filling for $15 and “waterproof” shell for $15. Diamox (a medication for altitude sickness) and many other meds (Decadron, a steroid, and various antibiotics) can be purchased for about $1 for a week's supply and without a prescription. The quality and purity of these drugs is unknown. I would definitely bring my own backpack as you will want something better quality than what I saw available. Same with shoes (or boots, it doesn’t matter really but trail runners are more comfortable and do the job perfectly) as you want them broken in. Everything else could be bought in Kathmandu but you won’t find anything ultralight or top quality.
NEXT TIME: Since trekking I’ve learned a lot about the value of a light backpack and minimal (but sufficient) gear. If trekking in Nepal was the only aspect of my trip from the US, I would bring nearly all my own gear. Everything would be quality and as light as possible for the task. An ultralight down quilt, wool underclothes, a down puffy, a waterproof rain shell, and a quality lightweight backpack 50 liters or less. I think a sub 10 pound base weight is reasonable even with a heavy camera.
PASSES AND PERMITS
You are required to have a TIMS card and the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit to trek. There are plenty of good blogs online describing these so I won’t go into great detail. They can both be purchased at the Nepal Tourism Board
about a 20 minute walk from Thamel. Each costs about 2000 rupee ($17) and during the off season there was very little wait. I was told that you can get them in Pokhara and Besi Sahar as well but can't confirm. Bring passport photos (they wanted 4 each from us) and your passport as well as travel insurance information (required, we used World Nomads
). Keep your permits handy as there are frequent checkpoints on the trek.
Everything is cash in Nepal. Many places that have MasterCard and Visa plastered all over their storefront window or list online that they take credit cards. This is almost always inaccurate. I’m not sure why. Mobile data and wifi are generally available and it would be helpful for tourists even if it meant slightly higher prices. Also there is a feeling of dishonesty when a business clearly advertises one thing but practices another.
For the trek you should bring all the cash you need with you. There are no ATM’s from Besisahar to Jomsom. The ATM’s in Thamel, Kathmandu usually only allow 15-30k rupees per transaction (many banks have limitations as well). You will also likely pay a fee every time you withdraw money and probably not always get the best exchange rates. I estimate that I lost about 10% on every withdrawal between fees and bad exchange rates.
How much money you need on the trek depends a lot on how much time you plan to take and what “luxuries” you want. I read blogs before my own experience suggesting $25-35/day per person. By watching our budget and going in the off-season we spent closer to $15/person and could have been quite comfortable on $20. Beer ($2-5), hot showers ($2 when available), and western food (always more expensive than Nepali food) can quickly double that. Most snacks are cheaper in Kathmandu (with the exception of Manang) but then you have to carry them all that way. If you purify your own water you save a lot.
NEXT TIME: I would probably plan to spend a little bit more to make the journey more enjoyable. An occasional beer or more variety in food choices can really improve your day. Hot showers are definitely worth it if they are gas powered but probably not if solar (they don’t actually get hot). I would also take more time on the trek, thus increasing the amount of cash I needed. That being said: the 50,000 rupee I brought on this trek would still probably suffice. If you are going without a guide or a porter the trek is automatically going to be significantly cheaper than those with planned tours.
GUIDES AND PORTERS
There are numerous options to do a guided trek including booking months in advance through large North American companies like G-Adventures or REI. For a more hassle free experience, this could be a good option. However, you definitely do not need a guide for the Annapurna Circuit. And I’ve read many stories of the guides being more trouble than they are worth.
The trek is super easy to follow with a map. Often because of the rain, we just followed the rough gravel and dirt road that nearly makes the entire circuit. During peak seasons, the trail looks very well marked and easy to follow. There are quite a few side trails, but these are easily avoided by referring to your map.
Porters are also unnecessary for nearly all trekkers, even those with guides. You need such minimal gear compared to backpacking in the wilderness or mountaineering, that your pack shouldn’t be an issue. I couldn’t believe how much stuff some people brought with them. My pack weight was over 30 pounds and 55 liters and I definitely saw a large number of much bulkier packs on the trail. Some people had a porter carrying a huge load for them on top of the oversized day pack on their own back.
Cost-wise hiring guides and porters would at least double your cost. Sure it helps provide jobs, but also may keep you from staying in that little unique guest house on the edge of town or spending an extra day somewhere that intrigues you. Guides will often direct you to stay at a specific guest house for which they get a commission even though there may be better options available. Some friends did Everest Base camp with a tour company later in 2018 and spend nearly 7 times what we did on our trek (there are no luxury hotel options on the trek and flights are not included in most tours). Having the independence to travel at your own pace and stay where you want, when you want is all something that money can’t buy.
NEXT TIME: I would definitely do this trek (also Annapurna and Everest Base Camps) on my own again. While there are some incredible guides with much knowledge and enjoyable personalities, the Annapurna Circuit is just too straight forward for me to justify needing one.
FOLLOWING THE TRAIL
There are several options for trails maps. Maps are easily available in Kathmandu for about 400 rupee. These are fairly accurate and up to date. Look for one made the same year (or at least previous) as your trek date. If you buy a map in the US before traveling, it may be slightly less up to date. For example, we ended up with the September 2017 edition of Nepa Maps NA504 Around Annapurna. Now, over a year later, the latest edition I can find online is the 2014 edition.
A road that parallels the Circuit is rapidly being constructed and the trail is constantly being rerouted when its path is more desirable for the course of the road.
Free offline apps such as Maps.Me
offer downloadable trail routes for the Annapurna Circuit. Other options such as Gaia can assist with terrain but I never used it. Another invaluable source that I used for information about stops along the way, distances between villages, and what to expect, was the Wikitravel Document on the Annapurna Circuit
The main trail is marked with red and white trail markers that are fairly visible. Some of the trail simply follows the road which isn’t a bad walk during the off season. However, in high season the dust and frequent jeep traffic would make this option uninviting. Luckily, most of the way up the path there are alternative trail options which are often on the opposite side of the valley as the road. Since leeches love foliage, we opted for the foliage free road most of the way up but outside of the rainy season this shouldn’t be a problem.
: I would recommend bringing one universal adapter, preferably with multiple usb outlets in it. Outlets are hard to find and while some are universal, not all are. Some places charge you to use an outlet so being able to plug multiple devices into a single outlet saves you money. With my adapter I could charge my back up battery, phone, and camera all at once from one outlet. PHOTO AND VIDEO
: If you are a casual photographer just looking for some nice photos to show friends and family, I would recommend investing in a flagship smartphone or a Gopro rather than carrying the weight of even a small interchangeable lens camera. You just don't need all that extra weight unless you want significant zoom or professional quality large prints. The Go-pro is super light, takes decent 4k video, has image stabilization built in (much better video quality), is waterproof, and is tiny. Bring multiple batteries if you plan on a lot of videos. Also bring one SD card per day to reduce the risk of losing data.
I consider myself an advanced hobbyist when it comes to photography. Currently I use a Sony a7r II. I only brought one lens, the versatile Sony 24-240mm FE f3.5-6.5. If you are really serious I'd recommend a wide angle as well (16-35mm f2.8). This would especially be nice during drier weather when you can actually see the night sky for stargazing. The mountains are so vast and towering that a wide angle is really the only way to properly capture them without doing a panorama. I chose not to bring a tripod. If you are carrying your own gear it's a lot of extra weight to carry.
NEXT TIME: I’d bring the same camera set up and add a wide angle lens and an ultralight fold-up tripod. I would bring four batteries and probably an SD card for every other day. It’s a lot of weight but the photos are so worth it. BACKUP POWER
: I used a generic large backup battery charger with two usb ports. It was rated for 20k mAh but I don’t think that was accurate. My 10k mAh Anker is lighter and holds a similar charge . Whenever there wasn't charging available, I'd plug into this and when there was charging available I'd make sure it stayed charged. Even so I bought 4 batteries for my camera. One alternative, if going when the sun's out, is to rely on solar energy for charging. MEMORY CARDS
: I brought 8 memory cards including 4 micro SD and 4 regular. If I had to do it over I’d bring more. I had one scare where the camera said it wasn't writing the files correctly and when I went to flip back through them, I got error messages. I switched cards at that time and more frequently afterward. Turns out nothing was wrong but if you are a serious photographer you want to minimize risk of loss. DRONES
: This is a subject that has not been addressed in any other blogs I've read at all. Before going I watched numerous videos of people flying drones in the Himalayas. YouTube has several vloggers who have droned their treks and filmmakers who have made beautiful drone documentaries of these great mountains.
Unfortunately none of them address one serious problem, the Annapurna Conservatory at least (and possibly all of Nepal) has banned the use of drones without a permit (some say it's easy to get one, some say it's not). In some instances police have simply confiscated people's drones on the spot. In a country where one can hardly breathe in major cities due to dust and pollution, you'd think there would be greater issues than a couple of drones flying around. After consulting with some locals who saw my drone, I concluded that there is a significant risk that the police will take your device if they catch you. Many will find this a risk well worth taking and in some places there is limited police presence. The Annapurna Circuit has a surprisingly strong police presence in several towns (Chame for example) but not everywhere.
A drone is a lot of weight to carry if you don't feel comfortable using it for risk of having it taken. If you do plan to use it, either get a permit or exercise extreme caution and don't use it around villages or locals who might feel led to alert authorities. If you are a professional, just get the permit since your gear is likely worth a lot. If you are an amateur and want to risk it, bring a small, light drone that you can hide well if need be. I don't have specific information about getting permits, but it seems like the process isn't easy or quick. OTHER:
I brought a headlamp but never used it. For outhouse runs and power outages my phone served just fine though the headlamp would be much more convenient for longer periods of darkness. I would still recommend one.
If you want to pack super light, aren't serious about photography or filming, but want some nice shots to bring home, I'd bring a high-end Samsung Galaxy, iPhone or similar. Since I had camera gear, I ended up using a cheap Samsung J2 pro (picked up brand new in Malaysia for $125). It takes relatively bad photos and video but was really just used to post updates to my Instagram story during those rare WiFi moments.
It is easy to get a SIM card for your global compatible phone in Kathmandu and even at some locations on the trek. There are two main providers Nepal Telecom and NCELL. We went with the private company Ncell because we heard that they were faster. Unfortunately, we soon found they didn’t currently offer much coverage on the circuit. However, judging by the number of locals using their cell-phones I’m guessing Nepal Telecom offers better service up there. Data is inexpensive and definitely worth it for navigating Kathmandu.
NEXT TIME: I would go with Telecom as having some coverage is better than none at all. I would also bring a better phone with a better battery life. One less thing to worry about charging all the time if the battery lasts longer.
Drinking water can be purchased at quite regular intervals along the trail in 1 liter bottles of filtered safe water for 30-150 rupee/liter. However, this adds up quickly (2-4 liters/day) and is quite bad for the environment. Safe water filling stations are available in many towns during trekking season for 30-60 rupee/liter. These were all closed except Thorung Phedi when I trekked this July. Bringing a 1 liter bottle to refill should be plenty when the clean filling stations are all open.
Another method is to fill up from the numerous running water stations in towns and villages along the way. Some of these are running constantly and are quite clean (coming from the mountains upstream from the village). However a village further up the mountain, animal waste, or other contaminants could still get you sick. I met trekkers who drank this water without problems but I would not risk it. While it usually didn’t appear to need filtering, I would absolutely purify it first.
I brought chlorine tablets (over iodine because chlorine also kills a virus that is a common cause of water related stomach illnesses) and a Steripen. The Steripen uses ultraviolet rays to kill pathogens. It required a wide mouthed water bottle to use (won’t work with a Smart water bottle). Also any curves or hidden areas where the light might not reach the water can leave it unclean. Mine required two ca123 batteries (not common) and can only do about 50 liters/two batteries. I carried several extra batteries.
Some sort of water purification tablets were available in many stores along the way. With a method to purify water, you save money and plastic and can even get your water from a stream if needed. We found the chlorine tablets did make the water taste somewhat undesirable so you may want to bring some sort of water flavoring. Another option is the two step water treatment drops that take more time but are arguably the most effective against the most possible illnesses with the least negative effect on the flavor.
NEXT TIME: I would bring my Sawyer Mini and add chlorine tabs if the water seemed exceptionally sketchy which is rarely if ever did. The Sawyer Mini works with any lightweight water bottle or 1 liter filter bags which are light and easy to store.
You don’t need to bring any food from your home country (and probably shouldn’t). Snacks are available at steadily increasing prices and regular intervals as you head up the trail. Snickers, potato chips, sodas, cookies, nuts and granola bars were easy to find even in the off season. If you are on a strict budget you may want to find an inexpensive supply of snacks in Kathmandu before heading up. If you want fresh produce, you will likely have to purchase from Kathmandu or along the way as there is very little on the trek.
A helpful tip: snack prices in Manang oddly aren't much more than Kathmandu (Snickers only increased from 85 to 100 rupee despite bringing more than 150 rupees in earlier towns).
Healthy options are harder to come by. Certain times of the year you can get apples but not during the summer. Most meals included cooked vegetables grown fresh in the village. Every open lodge had food available. We generally avoided the meat due to limited safe storage options. We only had minor trouble with the food. Dal Bat is the traditional meal on the trek. Garlic soup is another popular one. We really enjoyed the Tibetan Bread with Honey for breakfast. If you are trying to eat low carb, good luck. Every meal is very high in carbs. Eating vegetarian is fairly easy to do.
NEXT TIME: We tried to eat a lot of Dal Bat as it was the least expensive way to get a lot of food. Often when you are very hungry, it just makes sense as they keep refilling your plate. However, I think it's worth spending a little more to eat more variety and change things up. With so many long days of trekking, it's a good way to keep up your morale.
We did not book a single place on the trek in advance. I had heard that during peak season places fill up and guest houses end up packing extra people in the common areas. This was not a problem during such a slow time of year. We had more of a problem finding that places were closed due to the lack of traffic. I would not recommend booking anything in advance. If you go during peak season just try to arrive early enough to find a good spot before they are all taken.
As numerous other blogs describe, the lodges are typically referred to as tea houses although to me this implies more of a small home stay. A few of the locations we stayed in were someone’s home with extra rooms for guests. Others were more like mini hotels in which a room or two was saved for the employees. They all had kitchens and dining rooms which appeared like great places to gather if we had had other guests to gather with. Most had wood burning stoves in the middle which would have been wonderful as we increased in altitude. However, it was not cold enough for them to justify burning precious wood for just a couple of trekkers.
In every village, we first walked through the entire village (most take 10 minutes to walk through) to see where we felt the most welcome. In some places like Chame, it was easy. A kind lady called out to us upon passing by and after seeing her rooms we realized they would be perfect. Other places, like Manang were larger and had more options to choose from. Here we actually looked at a couple of rooms that we just didn’t love before settling on one. A few villages had vastly differing prices (ranging from free to 700 rupees) so if you are on a budget it pays to shop around. During peak season you may not have this luxury and may just have to take what's available.
NEXT TIME: I would still not book anything ahead. I would look for places that were clean and comfortable. A shower isn’t necessary every night. And sometimes the best places are away from the main lodges. I would also try to stay in a few of the smaller villages that aren’t necessarily on the main trek. Most likely I would do this trek slower (and in better weather) so as to experience more of the culture and hopefully meet more trekkers to swap stories with along the way.
GETTING THERE FROM KATHMANDU
We went to BG Mall (400 rupee taxi ride north of Thamel) to get our bus directly to Besisahar where the trek begins. The taxi actually dropped us off at the Gongabu New Bus Station. However, upon asking around we were directed to the BG Mall around the corner.
There are mini buses (think minivans with way too many seats packed in them) going to Besisahar directly. While popular with tourists, these appeared cramped and uncomfortable to me. They also tie all the luggage outside on the top of the van so it ends up covered in exhaust and dust. One benefit is that these minibuses go direct and don't stop to pick up more passengers along the way. I've heard they run about 700 rupee.
We chose what we were told was a tourist bus. In reality it ran more like a local bus to Besisahar from BG Mall. We didn't buy tickets ahead but simply paid the driver 450 rupees each. We had our backpacks stored underneath, had our own seats, and the bus was never full. However, I think during peak season it would have been much more crowded. Even though we stopped to pick up passengers whenever we saw them, most of the delays were the terrible traffic jam coming out of Kathmandu (3-4 hour traffic jam. Even so, we made it to Besisahar by about 3pm (9 hours) without switching buses. There are supposedly non-stop “luxury” tourist buses available for a bit more. However, you won’t find anything that approaches the quality of buses available in South America or Europe.
As with all transportation in Nepal, be prepared for longer than expected journeys and over packed vehicles that wouldn’t be up to safety standards in the US. There probably won’t be air conditioning in the summer either. And the passengers tend to be quite loud the entire trip.
NEXT TIME: I would probably still risk buying a last minute ticket. That way I can assess the condition of the bus before purchasing. The mini-buses, while perhaps slightly faster, look way less enjoyable unless perhaps you have a large enough group to book the entire bus.
SOME MORE ON GEAR
You don’t need as much gear as a normal backpacking trip. While some people do choose to wild camp, most stay at the tea houses. Even if you do camp, food is so readily available, there is no need to carry large amounts with you. Bringing a tent would allow you to wake up in some truly wild, remote locations without any other humans around. It would also require you bring a sleeping pad and a warmer sleeping bag.
All the tea houses had blankets. Extras were available if we were cold though this is not the case during peak season. I would at least bring a liner if not your own bag for cleanliness and extra warmth. I think a light 30 degree quilt would be fine unless you went in the winter. There’s no heat in the rooms, but I imagine they keep more warmth in than a tent would. The coldest mornings during the summer were below freezing, but not by much in our experience. Peak season is in the fall so it will be colder for sure.
I’d probably go with my SWD long haul 50 out of my current gear. Although it would be bigger than needed, it carries really well and rolls down when not filled. You probably don’t need a backpack with a frame. Honestly, a Zimmerbuilt style QuickStep or similar would probably do just fine if you are not camping or bringing a lot of camera gear.
Any cooking supplies are superfluous unless you really want to eat freeze-dried meals or have a cup of hot tea on a random remote hilltop. There are actually small huts which serve hot tea at some of the more popular day hikes along the trek. These are only open during peak season.
I primarily hiked in shorts but if it had been much colder leggings or pants would have been nice. There’s a lot of exposure and sun during peak season (even in the summer the clouds cleared enough to get us burnt), so long sleeve shirts and maybe a hat would be nice.
Camp shoes and night clothes aren’t necessary but sure were nice to have. A change or two of underwear and socks would suffice. I brought some running shorts that double as swim trunks. There are several hot springs on the trek which are near town and close to the river. These were mostly flooded over with river water due to the monsoon.
We brought way too many toiletries and a large first aid kit. If I recall correctly some places had toilet paper in their bathrooms and it was also available at some of the shops.
BRIEF GUIDE TO KATHMANDU
We arrived in Kathmandu near the end of June to pouring rain. The airport is a mess of chaos. One had to take a bus from the plane to get to the terminal. Visas are available on arrival for US citizens and those of many other countries. We chose a 30 day visa for about $50 but there are longer options available. We took a taxi from the airport to Thamel for about $5 and settled into a hostel for the night.
Our first few nights in the hostel were nice (community atmosphere and cheap price) but we soon realized we wanted to be in a hotel and moved locations for our next three nights before the trek. You can walk Thamel in a day or less. There are plenty of decent restaurants and lots of trekkers and tourists. A few of the streets don’t allow cars which is refreshing as the dirt, dust, and exhaust they produce is overwhelming. The shops in Thamel offer everything you could imagine related to trekking but not all of it is quality. You are under constant pressure to buy something or some service you don’t want nearly everywhere you go in Thamel.
Five days in Kathmandu was too long. I’d recommend three to get accustomed to the place, buy any last minutes good for the trek, and get some cash. We left everything we had with us at the hotel including extra camera gear and a laptop. We locked it in a bag and they put it in a second floor storage room. The agreement is that you will stay with them when you return but since they didn’t have rooms we weren’t held to that. Nothing was lost, stolen, or damaged in our experience. Lodging
Alobar 1000 Hostel. We stayed two nights here. It was a friendly enough place with cheap water refills available and an inexpensive rooftop bar. There were all sorts of friendly travelers here from yogis and hippies to trekkers and climbers. Our private room was ok but the bathroom was shared and not always so clean. Price was approximately $10-15 per night.
Hotel Family Home. We stayed three nights here and stored our luggage here during our trek. Cost was approximately $20 per night. The rooms were ok. Not quite up to western standards. There was a free breakfast you could pick from (pancakes, smoothies, toast and eggs). The bathroom had an open window instead of a fan and was filled with bugs.
Trekkers Home: We stayed one night here after returning from our trek. It was a great price and the owners were friendly but the air conditioning didn’t work. With the pollution and the summer heat and humidity, having air conditioning is nearly essential in July. Cost was only $12 per night but didn’t include breakfast.
OYO 120 Hotel Tayoma. We stayed here three nights after the trek. It has a Pho restaurant with good food below it. The rooms are large and clean with cold air conditioning. This was probably our favorite spot in Thamel. Price included breakfast for about $20 per night. Dining
Himalayan Java Coffee - Thamel Chowk. This is a popular spot with trekkers and expats alike. Great coffee for the area and many baked goods as well as specialty drinks.
Western Tandoori & Naan House. We probably ate here half a dozen times. Excellent prices and amazing authentic Indian food better than anywhere I’ve had in North America and rivaling London. Local spot with nothing fancy that can get quite hot during the day. Looks a little dirty but we never got sick and enjoyed every meal here.
Northfield Cafe. Nice outdoor cafe with baked goods and a decent breakfast.
Weizen Bakery. Probably our favorite bakery in Thamel. Great chocolate cake and pastries. Half off after 8 pm!
The Cafe With No Name. Great little bar serving local micro-brewed beer and donating proceeds to charity. We went here several times and always loved the food. Definitely geared toward tourists. Medical
Pharmacies. There are numerous pharmacies in Thamel which don’t require a prescription to get things like Diamox, antibiotics, pain relief, or decadron. Quality is unknown of course so use with care.
CIWEC Hospital Pvt. Ltd. This is a private hospital especially for tourists that’s right outside Thamel. Due to an accident which required suturing we actually used this location and got excellent professional service. Our doctor spoke perfect English. She and her nurses all used sterile technique, practiced hand washing, and were very skilled and thorough in their care. I don’t think we would have received better care anywhere in the US. Cost was $330 USD which is a lot for Nepal but was completely covered by our travel insurance. Transport
Walking. This is the best way to get about Thamel and really much of Kathmandu. It's fun just to wander. There are hidden shops, alleyways, and restaurants everywhere. End to end, Thamel is only about a 15 minute walk one way.
Taxis. I don’t think we paid more than $5 for a taxi anywhere including going to the famous stupa or the airport. We paid about $4 for our taxi to the bus station which would have been a 45 minute walk. We usually negotiated the price down a dollar or two from their initial offer.
Buses. We did not ride any city buses. The main bus station for travel around the country is the Gongabu New Bus Station. The bus to Besi Sahar actually picked up about a five minute walk from here at the BG Mall which we found out on the fly the morning of our trip after our taxi dropped us off at the bus station.
This was PART I of a two part series on the Annapurna Circuit. Stay tune for the second part where I go into detail on the day-by-day journey itself.
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