Trekking the Himalayas in Nepal can sound intimidating. Many think that it is an experience accessible only to seasoned trekkers or those who can afford to use expensive trekking companies. Well, with enough research and planning, you can absolutely trek in the Himalayas independently – and on a budget just like we did!
The almost 300-kilometers Annapurna Circuit is challenging but rewarding trek. It is arguably still one of the best treks in the world which crosses two different river valleys and encircles the Annapurna Massif. If you open yourself to this experience, we guarantee that you will not be disappointed.
Fly into Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport and spend at least two or three days in the city–sightseeing, getting your trekking permit, and shopping for supplies. We stayed in Thamel where is considered a backpackers haven. It is accessible by bus from airport, lots of guesthouses/ hotels to choose from, wide range of food places, walking distance to most attractions and many gear shops for you to bargain with.
Most nationalities can get either a 15/30/90 days visa when arriving into Nepal either by flight or overland.
15 days – US $ 25.00 for 15 days single/multiple entry.
30 days – US $ 40.00 for 30 days single/multiple entry.
90 days – US $ 100.00 for 90 days single/multiple entry.
I, personally was quite impressed by the visa procedures. Maybe it was a low-peak trekking season, thus it doesn’t looks as hectic as what I’ve read online.
Simply place your machine readable passport ID page over the scanner on the lower left. Make sure the barcode bit of it is directly over the black part of the scanner. If successful you need to confirm by pressing on the touch screen. You’ll be prompted to enter in your hotel details and length of stay. You may enter “0000” for Nepali “Ward” and “District” (Thamel is Ward 29 & District is Bagmati). The machine will then try to take a photo of you (Yes! So you may keep your photos for other purpose). Confirm all your details and collect the bit of paper it spits out.
The payment does not have to be United States Dollar (USD) or Euro (EUR)! They accept a wide range of currencies: Australian Dollar (AUD), Canadian Dollar (CAD), Singapore Dollar (SGD), Danish Kroner (DKK), Malaysian Ringgit (MYR), Pound Sterling (GBP), Swiss Franc (CHF), Emirati Dirham (AED), Qatari Riyal (QAD), Saudi Arab Riyal (SAR), South Korean Won (KRW), Japanese Yen (JPY), Chinese Yuan (CNY), Hong Kong Dollar (HKD), Thai Baht (THB).
After payment, queue up at the immigration counter on the right. There are counters for 15/30 days visa and for 90-days visa so do make sure you queue up the correct lane. Pass you passport and visa receipt to the officer, and you’ll get a sticker visa on your passport’s page within minutes!
We bought a Ncell SIM card from the airport. Alternatively, you can easily get one or recharge your card at most shops in Thamel. Documents required buying a Sim in Nepal:
- Copy of Passport
- Passport-sized photograph
- Sim Registration form
- Copy of Visa
Surprisingly, almost every teahouse we stayed had Wi-Fi but do not expect strong connection. And, the higher the altitude, the wi-fi rate goes from being free to USD1-USD3 for 24 hours. But hey we were in the Himalayan mountains so just enjoy being with the nature!
For Nepal, there are three associated plug types: C, D and M. Plug type C is the plug which has two round pins, plug type D is the plug which has three round pins in a triangular pattern and plug type M has three round pins. Nepal operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz.
It’s a common issue to have power failure in Nepal, even in big cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara. Bear in mind to have touch light with you and keep in a compartment where you can reach out easily.
The legal currency of Nepal is Nepalese Rupees (NPR). I would recommend to change your home currency to Nepalese Rupees in Nepal itself as the rate will be much better. We actually brought USD50 worth of Nepalese Rupees out of Nepal without changing it.
Best time of the year to hike Annapurna Circuit is Autumn – from September to November. And then – Spring, from Mid-March to Early-May. Summer, June through September is the monsoon season, when as much as 70% of the annual rainfall occurs. This is also when rocks fall and landslides are most likely to occur. December through February will be too cold to trek!
We did our trek from Mid-April, which was considered low-season as we hardly met more than 5 trekkers each day (no photo-bombers!). We were glad to trek during this period as the guesthouses were mostly empty which made us easy to bargain for free private room and request for extra blankets. Until when we reached Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, that we met more tourists crowd.
There are no rules for the weather in the mountains. Over the 23-days trek we experienced 4 seasons with gorgeous sunny days with temperatures up to 20°C and then days below freezing temperatures, the lowest was a chilly -5°C (this was close to the Thorong-La Pass above 5,000-meters). The wind can suddenly arrive from no-where and you turn a corner to nearly get blown over, this was definitely the case walking through ‘Windy Valley’ (from Kagbeni to Marpha).
To get ACAP and TIMS permit, you need to have a travel insurance. The travel insurance should at least cover trekking altitude of up to 6,000-meters, or even better with emergency evacuation at mountains. There isn’t any insurance company in Singapore which offers such package for independent trekkers. So…..we decided to make do with a basic travel insurance and bluff our way through.
You will need to apply your Trekker’s Information Management System card (TIMS) and the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP). You will need these to check-in at various checkpoints along the trek. The whole process is fairly straightforward and we spent less than 1-hour to get both done.
TIMS costs 2,000 NPR and ACAP costs 2,260 NPR. Do bring at least 4 passport-sized photos (2 for each permit), have an insurance policy number, as well as you need to know when and where are you starting your trek, more or less your route and when and where are you planning to finish it.
There are many different treks in Nepal. They are in different parts of the country. And in each part of the country there is a different trekking permit needed. Prices vary as well.
And do not leave without getting some free trekking maps! Instead of buying complicated and detailed maps for the trek, we think these simple maps are good enough.
- 3 x Dry-fit Tee
- 2 x Long Trekking Pants
- 2 x Boxers
- 2 x Socks
- 1 x Cap
- 1 x Long Sleeve Shirt
- 1 x Rainproof Windbreaker
- 1 x Down Jacket
- 1 x Sunglasses
- 2 x Buff
- 1 x Trekking Shoes
- 1 x Flip-Flops
- 1 x Fleece Jacket (1000 NPR/ USD10)
- 2 x Trekking poles (1000 NPR/ USD10)
- 2 x Sportsbra
- 2 x Long Sleeve
- 3 x Dry-Fit Tee
- 1 x Zip-off Trekking Pants
- 1 x Long Skirt
- 2 x Long Leggings
- 25 x Disposable Underwear
- 2 x Bikini Bottom
- 1 x Fleece Jacket
- 1 x Rainproof Windbreaker
- 1 x Shawl
- 3 x socks
- 1 x Trekking Shoes
- 1 x Flip-Flops
- 1 x Trekking Poles
- 1 x Sunglasses
- 1 x GoPro
- 1 x Compact Camera
- 1 x Universal Adapters
- 1 x Multiple Plugs
- 1 x Extra Memory Card
- 4 x Power Banks
- 2 x Headlights
- Dettol Wipes
- Baby Powder
- Water Bottle
- Ginger Tea with Lemon Sachets
- Coffee Sachets
- Toilet Roll
- Basic First Aid (Band-aids, Alcohol Swipes, Charcoal pills)
Basically our only expenses in the mountains are accommodation, food and drinking water. Here’s a rough breakdown on how much both of us spent over the 23-days trek:
Accommodation: 4,000 NPR (USD37)
Food: 55,670 NPR (USD520)
Drinking Water: 545 NPR (USD5)
The Annapurna Circuit winds its way through towns with plenty of accommodation to offer. Room prices range from 100 – 500 NPR (USD1-5) per room. Generally, they will have a cozy common area with a fireplace and good company. All guesthouses will come with a “restaurant” where you are expected to dine in (dinner & breakfast). If you did not, they will charge higher rate for the room.
We didn’t pay for any accommodation until Thorong High Camp. We (basically me) always try my luck and ask for it – can you give us a free room, if we eat dinner and breakfast with you? And it works! They will usually show you the room first when you asked if there’s any available. If you are satisfied with the room, that’s the time you can make the deal. There are many others trekkers we spoke to had been paying for accommodation.
The higher you ascend, especially once you start Annapurna Sanctuary Trek (Annapurna Base Camp Trail) where there are limited guesthouses, the room charge DOES NOT include hot shower, wifi and power charging. All these necessities will be additional charges.
The meals on the trek are basic with choices ranging from porridge, pancakes, and eggs for breakfast. For lunch and dinner, we usually choose between Dahl Baht, fried potatoes with mixed vegetables, or noodle soup. Meal prices typically range from 250 – 650 NPR (USD2.50 – 6.50).
You will find small shops dotted along the trail and in small villages you pass. Be aware that goods get more expensive the higher you ascend. We stocked up our snacks at two places: Kathmandu and Chhomrong. Manang is also a good place to stock up your snacks at cheaper price.
Make sure you stay hydrated! 1 liter of water in Kathmandu may cost you 25 NPR (25 cents), though further up the trail it is not unusual to pay 200 NPR (USD2) per liter. Nevertheless, you can save money by using water purification tablets or fill up at safe water stations available throughout the trek. For us, we used Lifestraw to drink from our bottles.
The safe water drinking stations are available in: Jagat, Tal, Bagarchhap, Chame, Pisang, Humde, Manang, Churi Letdar, Mukinath, Kagbeni, Jomsom, Marpha, Tukuche, Larjung, Lete, Ghasa and Birethanti.
Our trek started in Besi Sahar (an 8-hours bus ride from Kathmandu’s Gongabu Bus Park) and ended in Landruck where we took a jeep to Pokhara.
Our day-by-day route:
Besi Sahar – Ngadi – Jagat – Bagarchhap – Chame – Upper Pisang – Manang – Acclimatization in Manang – Seeri Khadka – Tilicho Base Camp – Tilicho Lake – Seeri Khadka – Ledar – Thorong High Camp – Muktinath – Marpha – Kalopani – Tatopani – Ghorepani – one more day in Ghorepani – Gurjung – Dovan – Annapurna Base Camp – Chhomrong – Pokhara
What to Expect from the Trek
The trek goes through from lush green jungle and farming areas through to barren and rocky mountains. The paths can be wet, muddy, slippery, rocky, dusty and lined with snow. The Annapurna Circuit definitely takes you through some of the most beautiful landscapes Nepal has to offer!
Be prepared for all weather conditions. The weather to be hot and humid at the start. As you go higher, it gets cooler. You’ll likely start in shorts and a t-shirt and finish in a jacket and pants. The trail is well-marked with red and white markers, and there are guest houses in every 5 – 10 kilometers. As from our experience, the locals were happy to help us when we asked for directions!
Expect to be both mentally and physically challenged. Trek at your own comfortable pace and take some moments to enjoy your surroundings. After-all, this is all part of the fun of completing the Annapurna Circuit!