Taking public transport in Nepal can be tricky for most of the travelers. During my 2 months volunteering in Kathmandu, I take the public bus every weekend to meet my friends. For the whole time, I’ve almost never seen any foreigners taking a public bus there. It’s like I’m traveling in a rural part of Nepal…
But that’s Kathmandu, the capital!
How is this so?
I later interviewed some fellow travelers I met after my volunteer project ended. It seemed that most of them never considered public buses as a mean of transport there. Since taxi fares don’t hurt the wallet a lot there, they preferred taking the cab.
Taking the cab is an excellent way to contribute to local economies, but honestly, I would love to see more foreigners experience the public buses in Nepal.
In this article, you will find everything you need to know for hopping on that rusty public bus and go around the massive city!
Intra-city Public Transport in Nepal
Let’s talk about the public bus in Kathmandu. Despite to lack of traffic rules and systems, the public bus follows a route system. Some buses go to airports, some to Pashupatinath, you name it. It’s totally possible to get to the tourist attractions by public bus. Here are the steps to take your first ever bus ride in Kathmandu.
Check out my in-depth guide for backpacking Nepal.
#1: Know where you are going
First and foremost, open up your Google Maps. Check if there are any bus stops near to your destination. Let’s say you are going to Pashupatinath, check the name of the bus stops near Pashupatinath and memorize them. In the cases where the name of the bus stops is in the Nepali language, it’s fine. Just remember that you’re going to Pashupatinath.
#2: Boarding your bus
The main bus terminal in Kathmandu is Ratna Park, which is around 10-15 minutes’ walk from Thamel. In Ratna Park, you can find public buses to almost every corner of the city, if not all.
Once you arrived in Ratna Park, start asking the conductors of the buses.
For your information, there is two staff in one public bus, one driver and one conductor who manages all the bus fares and passengers. Conductors usually stand outside of the bus or at the door.
“Pashupatinath?” will do the job. Most of the conductors are helpful enough to direct you to the right bus going to your destination. But still, ask before you board the bus, you never know if it’s the right bus.
Check out the best time to visit Nepal here!
#3: Paying the bus fare
Paying for the bus fare is tricky for foreigners. Some conductors will try to make extra pocket money by collecting higher bus fares from foreigners. All the bus fares are in the range of Rs15-25 unless you are traveling far from the city center. For instance, the bus from Ratna Park to Godavari Botanical Garden will cost you Rs30.
Conductors will walk to you to collect the bus fares. The trick here is NEVER ask him about the bus fares. Why? Because you don’t want to be taken advantage of. Let them think that you know the exact bus fare.
How? Pay them extra Rupees. The best way is to pay them a Rs50 note, then wait for the change and don’t look into their eyes. Just act like you are the boss and already mastered the art of taking public buses in Kathmandu. If you’re traveling with partners, feel free to pay Rs100 note and wait for the change. The key is to let them think you know the exact bus fares.
Tips: Pay smaller notes. Handing out a Rs1000 note will probably give a headache to the conductors. In rare occasions will they have that much small changes for your giant note.
#4: Know where to drop off
Conductors in the bus manage a lot of people in the bus. Like, A LOT. They won’t necessarily remember you if the bus was crowded. Open up your Google Maps, and track yourself. When the bus approaches your drop off point, walk slowly to the bus door and wait until it opens. Don’t be afraid to squeeze your way to the door, it’s the way of life there.
And that’s it. It may sound difficult but trust me it’s easy. Once you did it, you will be addicted to taking the public buses there. It saves you a serious amount of rupees and gives you valuable local experience. Taking public transport in Nepal can be a mesmerizing experience!
The public bus services work almost the same way in other locations like Pokhara and Chitwan. However, in Pokhara, it will be a little difficult because the buses don’t go to Lakeside often. You will need to change a few buses to reach your destinations.
Ask your hotel receptionist which buses you need to take, they are more than happy to help you. Once you are in the bus, follow the procedures above and you’ll be fine.
Tips: In Kathmandu, you might want to download Gantabya Plus app on your mobile. It has all the bus routes you need to get to your destinations. It might take some time to learn, but it’s easier than you supposed. The bad part is that this app is only available in the Google Play Store.
Inter-city Public Transport
There are mainly two options for intercity buses: tourist buses and local buses. If you want a calm, safe and steady experience, choose the former. If you seek for roller-coaster extreme experience, pick the latter. I’ve tried both and I actually prefer the slower-pace tourist bus, which costed around Rs100-200 more than local buses. You need a strong heart to handle the latter one.
You can easily book a tourist bus from any travel agencies in Thamel or through the internet. The bus fare typically costs around $10, or Rs1000 from Kathmandu to Pokhara. Tourist buses depart from Kathmandu every morning around 7 am to 7.30 am on the outskirt of Thamel. For exact location, at the street Tridevi Sadak, in front of The North Face Nepal.
During the low season, the cheapest way is to go directly to the departure point, which is Tridevi Sadak. The conductors will approach you and ask if you’ve bought a ticket. There you got to bargain for the lowest price as most of the buses are not full. They are competing for any possible customer, like you. You could get as low as Rs500 for a trip to Pokhara.
For an unforgettable experience, ride with the locals in the public transport in Nepal. From Ratna Park, take a bus to Old Bus Park in the early morning. There are buses to every corner of Nepal in Old Bus Park. You might find a schedule for the bus departure time but trust me, it’s useless.
Remember to settle for a fare before you place your feet on the bus. Otherwise, you might be asked to pay more than what you are supposed to pay once the bus departs. I had the experience, and I don’t want you to have it. I was overcharged when I took the bus to Besisahar to start my Annapurna Circuit trek.
Local buses take slightly less time than tourist buses. As if the drivers are not afraid of dying, as if the drivers are not aware that they are responsible for a bunch of lives on board. It’s an adrenaline-rush ride, which I personally think is worth a try once.
You might want to check this out for getting from Kathmandu to Pokhara.
Be Aware of This
There is something you need to be aware of before boarding the local bus for a long-distance ride. Some Nepalis will offer you aids for getting on board the bus, which is totally unnecessary and can be done without their help. They might even treat you a cup of tea, which might catch you off guard.
Whenever you meet this case, learn to reject them. Say “No” with a smile. Because if you followed their instructions and get onto the bus as they told you to, they will charge you a massive number, probably $5 more than the actual price.
I was overcharged by a few dollars (a few hundred Rupees) when I took my bus from Bandipur to Kathmandu. The best way is to just do it all on your own without any one’s help, travelers are seen as easy prey by Nepalis.
Taking public transport in Nepal can be a memorable experience. Some locals are friendly enough to talk to you, and you might make some Nepali friends there, who knows?
Everyone is looking for extraordinary experiences while traveling. I’m sure even after decades had passed, you will remember the moments you spent in Nepali local buses.
If you want to save the hassle and book your bus tickets online instead, check out 12Go, the largest transportation booking site in Asia!