There are a lot of guides which will tell you what to see in Kathmandu and Nepal. This is not one of them. Go see what you want to see.
This is a bunch of practical advice – for backpackers from backpackers. Most tourist guides do not talk about these things.
Get on a tuc-tuc if you feel adventoirous
On Arrival in Kathmandu
99% of more of the foreign visitors in Nepal arrive at Kathmandu airport. Most probably you’ll be one of them too. So let’s see what to do there:
Have a pen. You have to fill an immigration card. You’ll need to find a place where to do it – maybe propped on the wall or you may find place on some of the tables. Don’t overthink the immigration card, they won’t read it anyway. Fill your data and go ahead on the queue.
Have money for the visa. Visas for Western travellers start at $30 depending on the length of the stay. Give it to the guy on the first queue along with your passport. He does not need any other papers, they are for the next desk.
Have a picture. It’s best to have a passport-sized photo of yourself on arrival. It is required unless you have submitted the online visa application. I recommend you to use the online version, it will save you time at the airport.
Once finished with the formalities, proceed to take your luggage.
Exchange some money. Many sites online will tell you the rate is bad. I didn’t notice. It’s worth it to exchange a couple of dollars so you are not bound to going to specific place i Thamel with the taxi driver. There is one exchange desk at the arrival hall on the airport and another one on the exit.
Going to the city. The prepaid taxi drivers will meet you at the exit. They currently ask for 750 rupees which is a bit steep. If you want to save some go outside and negotiate with the drivers. You should be able to go to 500 – 600 ruppes to Thamel. Maybe even 400 if you are good in bargaining.
There is also a bus. If you are not in a hurry and don’t have too much luggage, go outside of the airport area and you’ll find the bus stop (I think you have to go left). Buses are very cheap (paid inside, on going out) – something like 20 rupees per person. They are usually crowded so don’t use a bus if you have too much baggage.
Ho(s)tel. Choose and book in advance. There are many hostels in Kathmandu and many of them have websites and list on Hostelworld etc. Why rely on a random driver choose your hostel? Makes no sense – it’s better to choose yourself based on price, pictures, reviews. Insist that the driver brings you to your hostel and not another one. Don’t listen to shit like “this area is dangerous” and so on. They tell you this to take you to a hostel where they take commission.
We slept in Elbrus hostel just at the edge of Thamel. It’s a great place to stay with excellent breakfast and staff. If you have more than 1-2 days in Kathmandu I recommend you staying in a hotel in Boudhanath. It’s the Tibetan neighbourhood and is less crowded than Thamel.
Go outside of Thamel. Huge number of visitors go only to the tourist area of Thamel and then leave Kathmandu. This is not the real city. The real city is outside of Thamel. Go outside of Thamel and you’ll see areas that are less crowded, and people that don’t look at you as a source of easy money.
Eat and drink in the city. It’s cheaper and not worse than the tourist places. Of course don’t go in the dirtiest restaurants. There are good places in the malls. See where the young people collect, these are usually the good places to have momos or other dishes.
There is one restaurant in Thamel that is definitely good for visiting. It offers Tibetan kitchen and hot Tibetan beer. Try it, it’s really interesting and hard to find elsewhere.
How to use the buses and how to go in the city and nearby places? Buses in Kathmandu are often crowded but are very cheap and offer a good way to meet locals really close. When a bus comes to the bus stop one person usually hangs on the door and shouts the names of the destinations it’s going to. If you hear your destination, jump in. If you don’t hear, feel free to ask the person while the bus is on the stop. The cost is paid when you are going out of the bus.
I recommend using local buses to go the nearby places like Bhaktapur for example. It’s a nice experience and will cost you about 50 rupees or less. (Somehow it was 25 rupees for us when we went Kathmandu – Bhaktapur, and 45 rupees on our way back.
The toilets. Most toilets in Kathmandu are horrible. Only some of the restaurants in Thamel have decent toilets. The tourist guides online say that the toilet at the airport is unusable, but it is actually not that bad. Especially if you compare it to the rest of the city. So be prepared and bring disposable wipes with you as you may need them.