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Travel, Teach, Live in Asia

How to Travel Safely in Kathmandu
By:Elizabeth Smith

Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, is a whirl of activity at all times of the day and night. Kathmandu is not inherently dangerous, but travelers who are caught unaware might find themselves in unsafe situations. Travel safely and comfortably in this bustling city by following a few common-sense travel tips.

Know before you go. Read current news releases about Nepal in online news sources. An unstable government and rebel forces cause rapid changes in safety for travelers. Generally, if conditions are severe enough to make travel dangerous, major news outlets will discourage travel to the region. Don't be overly paranoid, but stay informed before and throughout your trip.

Keep a low profile. As a foreigner in Nepal, you will attract attention without trying. Wear conservative clothing, and don't flash expensive jewelry or large amounts of cash. Travelers who appear wealthy are a greater risk for thieves. Avoid making a scene or drawing undue attention to yourself. If you are extremely concerned about theft, consider dressing like a backpacker; backpackers are generally traveling on a budget and are not the attractive targets that wealthy travelers are.

Use common sense. The most powerful tool for safe travel in Nepal is common sense. Don't go into a dark alley at night. Watch out for offers that sound too good to be true. Don't bring a stranger into your hotel room, and don't tell anyone what hotel you are staying at. In short, be careful not to put yourself in potentially dangerous situations.

Be alert. Kathmandu has a way of getting your attention, no matter how hard you work to remain in your own world. Watch out especially for bikers, rickshaws and vehicles. Drivers in Kathmandu don't observe traditional lanes or sidewalks. Many an unaware traveler has been run over by errant bicycles and had narrow escapes from speeding taxis. Stay close to buildings and on raised sidewalks when possible, keep a close hold on your bag, and enjoy the bustle of Kathmandu.

Discourage the beggars. In Kathmandu's tourist district, Thamel, you will see signs that say "Discourage the Beggars." This is not meant to be cruel or inhumane; tourists who give money to beggars encourage more begging. The Thamel district is trying to eliminate this practice, particularly in children. Children who do not need to beg have learned that tourists will give them things, and so continue. To help social causes in Kathmandu, donate to a local nonprofit that is working to improve the city.

Follow the bread crumbs. Kathmandu is a maze of unmarked, nearly identical streets. As you walk, pay careful attention to your route, and note interesting landmarks or signs as "bread crumbs." Be sure to look back every so often to see how your landmark will look as you make your way back. Remember to take your hotel's business card with you to give directions to taxi or rickshaw drivers if you need to catch a ride back. If you are lost and cannot find a driver who knows your hotel, ask to be brought to the Kathmandu Guest House. It is a major landmark, and every driver in the city knows how to find it. Once there, the staff can help direct you to your hotel.

Be careful after dark. Kathmandu is active around the clock, but nighttime wanderings pose some danger. Save your lengthy walks for daylight hours, and stay close to your hotel after dark. Do not go down deserted streets; stay where there are other people. Kathmandu offers many excellent restaurants and live music, so be sure to sample them all and stay safe.

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