Nepal – Kathmandu, How to Survive The Airport And Get To Thamel

Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu, Nepal, June 2016. The advantage to arriving here on a flight full of migrant workers is that the foreigners  immigration queue will be short – never fails, especially combined with a late evening arrival! Thus the formalities are quick and pretty efficient, especially for those with the correct visa payments in US Dollars at 8 PM in Tribhuvan International Airport. Having been through the process several times in recent years here’s a rundown of how to get through the airport quickly and efficiently with ‘Visa On Arrival’.

  1. Preparation: Complete the landing card before arrival.
  2. Squeeze onto the first round of aircraft to terminal transfer buses. At this airport both ends of the plane are used to disembark.
  3. Head straight for the Visa application computer terminals located on the left as one enters the immigration hall.
  4.  When the system asks for a Nepal address and you’r not sure, just tap in ‘Thamel, Kathmandu, or Lakeside, Pokhara – always works for me!
  5. Make a straight face and let the on board camera do its work. No need to bring those passport size photos anymore.
  6.  Take the printout slip to the Visa payment counter at the end on the hall. It’ll save loads of time by paying the correct amount in US Dollars – $40 for 1 month, $100 for 3 months. They will take other currencies but there will be a delay while the staff workout the cost and change if any. An ATM is located close by but may not work will all known cards. My British Halifax  credit card is one such that Nepal ATMs don’t like. There is also a currency exchange counter.
  7. Join the immigration queue where the visa will be applied. If all the above has gone to plan, it’s just a 5-7 minute wait. If you had to flaff around with money the wait will be longer by now 😦
  8. Collect your luggage. Those with just a backpack can breeze through customs without any interrogation. Those with substantial luggage are stopped and questioned.

So now we’ve arrived outside the terminal and are faced with crowds of people – taxi drivers and various other non-descriptive types waiting eagerly with offers of help – and it won’t be free. The guy holding up the Hotel name on a placard is actually nothing to do with the hotel. He will be working with a second guy who will guide you to a taxi and then a third guy will want to help you with your bags, and they all want paying! If you’ve pre-booked a hotel room with transport from the airport its most likely going to be the same routine – the guy holding up your name will want something for his hard work! And this is where I cut through the malaise and head straight for the airport gate. Yes, along the main road opposite one can pick up a taxi to Thamel for less and find a couple of reasonable cafes there too. Bargain hard for a 350-400 rupee ride to Kantipath in my case, the main road bordering the Thamel area. I’m staying at the Stupa Guesthouse (Google Map), 800 rupees double room and just a 10 minute stomp from Kantipath, access opposite Hotel Yellow Pagoda. Google Map. Not the cheapest but rooms are clean, spacious and it’s close to the buses for Pokhara. Its a 20 minute ride after 8PM about 35 minutes all other times.

Backpacker Paul’s Top Tips: Save a google map image of where exactly you want to go and show that to the taxi driver and your less likely to be cheated! Also take ear plugs if sleeping in Thamel and probably anywhere in Kathmandu – dogs, dogs and more dogs barking all night long! Bring a stash of US 1 Dollars, you may not get the correct change when dealing with larger notes.

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