Thamel has been linked to Kathmandu’s travel industry for a great number of years. The spark ignited the kindling during the hippie era of the 60’s when western artists, musicians and peace-lovers flocked here in droves.
Now the area is bright chaotic tangle of market-style shops, bars, restaurants and accommodation for travellers. You can find more or less everything here from electronics to trekking gear, and from local crafts to craft beers.
But it’s at night that Thamel truly awakens. The cheap and cheerful bars and clubs make it a social hub that rivals the best travel night spots in the world.
When someone coined the phrase ‘shop till you drop’ they must have been inspired by Thamel. Considered by some to be a shopping ‘Mecca’, the wares on offer here leave little to the imagination. Here’s our breakdown of things you’re likely to find with a couple of tips at the end to give you a head-start.
There’s lots and lots of walking gear. The reason being that Thamel is used as a pre-base camp for mountaineers and hikers. Nepal is a Himalayan country making it a brilliant place to jump-off should you want to summit a few peaks. The trekking shops sell everything you’ll need to make it up a mountain, so if you don’t fancy weighing your backpack down with extra stuff, you can buy it all when you arrive.
There’s no one who doesn't like a little comfort every now and again, especially when travelling. The great news about Thamel is that it’s got some of the most luxurious pashmina and cashmere scarves, blankets and clothing around. Just make sure you’re paying for the real deal!
If you thought Tokyo was the home of cheap electronics, think again. Thamel has some mind-bogglingly cheap consumer gadgets because there’s no sales tax or duty to force up the prices. So if you lose your mobile phone, camera or iPod, don’t panic. If you’re a bit of a photography pro you can find some great bargains on flashes, lenses and other accessories, too.
Jewellery is another of the area’s specialities. Nepalese people love silver - you’ll be able to tell from the moment you land in the airport. But in Thamel you can’t escape it (this is a good thing). Necklaces, ear-rings, bracelets, rings and other skilfully crafted, traditionally designed jewellery and trinkets are sold at crazy prices if you’re brave enough to haggle.
If you’re planning on doing any serious shopping for hand-crafted, custom-made or particularly expensive items, it’s wise to hire a local shopping assistant. We’re not talking a department store-style personal shopper, but paying for someone who knows the local language and the bargaining process will almost certainly save you more than if you didn’t.
Relaxation & Wellness
After all the foot-blistering shopping you’re going to want to switch into chill mode before you get ready for a night on the tiles. Thamel has got you covered with an excellent collection of spas to choose from. Treatments you can look forward to include aromatherapy, beauty treatments, shiatsu massages to name but a few.
If a day’s shopping isn’t punishment enough, you’re more than welcome to take on one of the area’s health clubs or gyms. Many of the gyms are completely kitted-out and offer great rates compared to what you might be used to here in the UK. No pain no gain!
Nighttime in Thamel is all kinds of fun. Once you’ve recovered from your afternoon nap (you’ll need one), take to the streets for round 2. The area is considered to be the biggest and best entertainment district in all of Kathmandu.
There are swathes of pubs, clubs, bars and even casinos to suit every taste lining the streets once the sun goes down. Whether you’re looking for a sophisticated evening of champagne and conversation, or a wild-night of dancing and shots, Thamel has it all.
But it doesn’t stop there. You can enjoy 24 hour service from restaurants, convenience stores, shopping centres and internet cafes as well.
Don’t worry if you buy too many nice things and run out of cash. There are ATMs all over the district, but be sure to check the exchange rates before you proceed. The machines dispense 100, 500 and 1000 rupee notes.
Bargaining in Thamel is not only expected, but welcomed. If you’re obviously foreign it’s not uncommon to be charged up to three times the original price of an item, so be confident and ask for a lower price. One key tip is to let the seller tell you their price before you start to haggle them down.