The idea of writing a Nepalese Teahouse Guide came about after many nights enjoying these unique homes away from home. We hope you find it useful for your own Nepal mountain adventure.
The Nepalese teahouses of old used to be very basic. Often a family simply welcomed visitors into their home. You would sit with the family around their stove and while away the chilly evenings before unrolling your sleeping bag in a corner of the room. The conditions were often basic, but the welcome was warm and the experience was magical.
As the number of trekkers to popular areas has increased, it is inevitable that this model has had to develop. Nowadays, tea houses are often large buildings with separate bed rooms, communal lounges, running water and wifi. It is a very different experience, and yet the welcome is still warm. It is still a very unique feature of trekking in the majestic Nepalese Himalayas.
However, the basic conditions can still be a shock for some western travellers and it pays to have some knowledge of how the tea house system works. So here you go. Welcome to a Nepalese Teahouse Guide.
The first thing a Nepalese Teahouse Guide should make clear is that its a great way to travel. It is reassuring to know that after a tough day on the trail there will be a comfortable bed and a hot meal available. It also offers a chance to chat to other trekkers, get the low down on the trail ahead and soak up the ambience. On the other hand, teahouses generally aren’t a luxury option. They can be basic, noisy, cramped and busy. It is important to be ready for what you’ll find.
Most teahouses will have an outdoor seating area and central lounge. There will be basic toilets with limited washing and shower facilities and a series of small bedrooms.
This outdoor space is a great place to relax at the end of a trekking day. It will be cold unless you arrive in time to enjoy the warmth of the afternoon sun though. Many terraces have spectacular views, but you might well be sharing the space with other trekkers, some chickens and occasionally a yak or two. Sometimes there is a garden area and other times it may be that there are just flat topped stone walls to perch on. They vary widely.
The lounge is, for the trekkers at least, the heart of the teahouse. They are often beautifully decorated in traditional Nepalese style and will have tables for eating meals and bench seating for socialising. Almost always, in the centre of the room, there will be a large oil drum stove to provide warmth. This is usually fuelled by dried Yak dung. They do a fantastic job of warming the room in the evening.
The bedrooms are basic, but serve their purpose well. Occasionally there may be ensuite toilets but that isn’t the norm. Mostly they have simple twin beds built from plywood and with a basic but comfortable mattress. There may be a small light but it is often solar powered. It will only provide enough light to get organised and you’ll need your torch for reading and other tasks.
Most teahouse bedrooms are unheated and they get very cold at night. Sometimes the bedrooms have blankets or quilts but you’ll usually want your sleeping bag as well. There are often pillows but I’m never sure how clean they are. I prefer to take a pillowcase and inflatable pillow of my own. An alternative would be to take a pillowcase to cover the pillow provided.
Other things to note are that the walls are usually constructed from basic plywood sheets. You will certainly hear what’s going on in the bedroom next door and that means they can hear you too. Good earplugs are essential!
A final note on the bedrooms is they will usually have a padlock supplied to lock them from the outside. A simple sliding bolt locks them once you are inside. That’s it really. Your bedroom will be basic but does its job. It will also have served many other trekkers who pass along these trails each year.
Toilets and Washing Facilities
A Nepalese Teahouse guide needs to explain the toilet and washing facilities. The main thing to point out straight away is that they will be basic. Sometimes very basic! This is inevitable given the locations these mountain lodges are in. They will usually have very basic plumbing and a limited water supply which probably comes from a mountain stream. It is, if you think about it like that, amazing how good they actually are!
The toilets will often be squat toilets and sometimes western style sit toilets. The staff do a great job of keeping things clean but they are often quite smelly. I would say this is inevitable given the number of visitors and the basic plumbing.
It is also likely that some fellow trekkers have dodgy bowels and you might be visiting the loo straight after them. The toilets might have a flush system, but normally there will be a drum of water and a small jug at the side. The technique is to pour a few buckets into the toilet bowl to flush it.
It is important to not put items like toilet paper and sanitary products down the toilet as they can soon get blocked. There will be a bin in the cubicle for that purpose. On that note, toilet paper is very rarely provided and so keep a stash on hand. Similarly, be sure to carry your anti-bacterial gel with you at all times.
There will often be a few sinks and cold running water, but sometimes not. Again, there may be showers as well (but not always) and they are usually gas heated. You will have to pay for these and there are often only a few. Be prepared to wait your turn. All in all, the washing and toilet facilities will be basic compared to what you are used too, but you simply need to embrace that difference.
You will need to keep fuelled up for your tough days on the trails and a Nepalese teahouse guide should prepare you with what you need to know. You generally pay a low fixed rate price to stay in a teahouse on the proviso that you also eat there. This is a great system and the food is usually varied and nutritious. The choices on the menu are often dictated by what is grown locally. Potato dishes or eggs, for example, are staple choices everywhere. For breakfast you can have everything from pancakes to porridge. For lunch most people stop in one of the many trailside cafes along the journey.
The menus will often feature western style choices like pizza. There will usually be meat dishes like Yak steaks or burgers. In my opinion it pays to consider going with local food choices and with vegetarian options whilst on the trail.
I suggest vegetarian simply because it is hard for meat to be stored hygienically and it’s never possible to know how fresh it is. I suggest local because I think you get more food. Also, as good as the cooks are, it seems to me that they really know their stuff with the local dishes.
Of course, the classic choice in Nepal is the legendary Dahl Bhat and this is a delicious, nutritious and filling choice. It is also very likely that if you choose this you’ll be offered top ups of rice and dahl. Extra portions are very welcome after a draining day on the trail.
Teahouses will usually stock various snack bars and the inevitable tubes of Pringles. There are also soft drinks and alcohol. The prices rise as you get further into the mountains and access for the porter or Yak deliveries is harder. They still remain good value when you consider where you are.
You need to ensure all the water you drink is safe. The tea houses will sell bottled water. You can take that option, but you’ll be leaving behind a massive trail of plastic bottles. If you imagine drinking about 5 litres of water a day for 3 weeks or so. That is a lot of plastic! I prefer, and recommend to our groups, to chemically treat the water with chlorine dioxide. It is cheap, simple and effective. It also leaves virtually no taste in the water.
Another good alternative is UV treated water. Some of the tea houses have purifying systems and they will fill your bottles for a small charge. This is a brilliant eco friendly option, but is not available everywhere. The final choice for purification is boiling, but make sure the water you drink has boiled properly.
Internet and Power
Almost all tea houses have internet facilities. In some areas you pay a one off fee at each tea house and sometimes you buy small cards that allow access. Be prepared that the speed is generally far slower than you would get in urban areas. The reliability is also variable. You can often download a few emails or update social media, but even uploading a picture to Instagram will be beyond the service in some places.
One alternative is to bring an old phone and buy a local sim card while you are in Kathmandu or at the airport. This offers service in a surprising number of places and is very good value. I’ve favoured NCell on recent visits.
Lastly, in most places you can pay a small fee to charge small electronic items like phones and power banks. It really is no problem to stay powered up on your journey. The other alternative is to strap a solar panel to the outside of your rucksack and charge a power bank as you trek. Having said that, I tend to just take a decent sized power bank nowadays. I favour Goal Zero products for this job.
If you are trekking with a company or local guide they will almost certainly pre book your tea house accommodation. This is important as they get very busy in peak season. If you are trekking independently try and do the same. It is high risk to turn up and expect to always find a room.
Take care to keep tabs on your personal possessions in the lounge area and lock your room while you are out and about. It is easy to leave things behind and that will almost always be something vital that you can’t afford to lose. Never leave vital documents in your room.
Some tea houses are dotted in isolated positions along the trails, but many are in villages or small communities. When you stay in these it is worth exploring the surroundings as there are often treats to discover. These could be small local shops or great viewpoints. Other places have religious sites and in several places there are yummy bakeries and coffee houses.
A few places also have lovely little museums to visit. In the bigger places like Namche or Lukla at least there are plenty of bars that show films. There are also souvenir shops, money change places and even small laundries.
Lastly, cash rules on the trail. Make sure you have enough to buy what you need. Very few places will take credit card payments. Even if you can find somewhere that will, it will only be in the larger more accessible villages.
So there we go. I hope you have found this version of a Nepalese Teahouse Trekking Guide useful and it better prepares you for your travels. The experience is a unique part of the Nepal trekking experience and. There will be things about it that challenge you, but I hope you embrace it and relish every moment.