Nepal Tea House: The Basics Literally!Ah, where to begin! Yes, you get told that tea house trekking in Nepal is basic. And basic they are. The thing is it gets harder to put up with basic night after night. The reality is basic isn’t so much the problem – the problems are normally how unbelievably cold it is and the state of the toilets. And tea house sounds kind of cute doesn’t it? Like somewhere basic but atmospheric, I’m thinking of candles and cushions etc. I was very wrong! Anyway, I am jumping ahead. The quality of the Everest base camp tea houses varies. The general rule is the Everest base camp trek tea houses lower down and closer to Lukla the mountain are better. This is for several reasons. Firstly I think there are more tea houses so there is more competition so they have to try harder. Secondly, of course, it is easier to get things and to run a better operation at a lower altitude. I would have thought that you could still keep things clean at any altitude but apparently, this is easier at lower altitudes as well! “hot water bottle”/metal flask. Please note with all of the above I am someone who is over 35 and used to a much higher thread count on my sheets so I am a harsh judge of this type of accommodation. To be honest it was all bearable apart from the dreadful hygiene standards in the toilets at the highest level. You will definitely need to have your hand gel close by at all times during those stays!!! And I recommend having some time at the lovely Dwarika’s Kathmandu as a reward when you get back to Kathmandu!
⇒ Here is my guide to How to Treat Yourself in Kathmandu after your Trek
Nepal Tea Houses: The FoodLet’s start with the good news – the Everest base camp trek food was a lot better than I expected! Even once we were at quite high levels – albeit by then your appetite is pretty shot due to altitude. Even the biggest hungriest guys in our group barely ate at this point. There is, of course, quite a bit of variation in the quality of the food on Everest base camp trek as you stay in different tea houses throughout the trek. Breakfast tends to be included in the tea house cost and then you stop at a “restaurant” – normally another tea house – for lunch and then usually have dinner at your tea house.
Everest Base Camp Tea Houses: BreakfastBreakfast is ordered the night before and tends to start with a choice of porridge or muesli and warm milk. The porridge is generally tastier – and easier to make tastier as all tea houses on the Everest Base Camp Trek have sugar and honey. The quality was mixed but the majority were pretty good. Next up is toast -generally a very manufactured type of white bread but there is normally a good selection of spreads (but alas no avocado on toast in the tea houses!). Eggs are next up – in a few places this is in pancake form which was pretty good – American style. You can get fried eggs but my favourite style was boiled. I found the oil often didn’t agree with me and a boiled egg was a safe friend and source of protein!
Warm DrinksAnd then there are the warm beverages. Honey, ginger and lemon will become a very good friend of yours on this trek in Nepal. It is a very comforting drink and also great for the dry throat you get as you head further and further up the Trek. There is of course tea being a tea house! Alas, the coffee quality was very mixed. A couple of tea houses had freshly ground coffee which was excellent – Tengboche was a highlight and is the number one Everest tea and coffee house for me! In Namche Bazaar there are several takeaway Everest coffee places! In general, if you order coffee with milk you get their awful coffee and a whitener. The better option is to take a small can of your own (I took Lavazza instant), order boiling water and ask for hot milk on the side. You can get hot milk all the way up. This was definitely the best coffee option.
Lunch and Dinner on the TrekLunch and dinner menus are remarkedly similar all the way up and down the Everest Base Camp Trek! I went vegetarian the whole way and would recommend doing so. A few people in our group had yak steaks – varying reviews but no real stomach issues which are the most important thing. Here are the key groups of Everest base camp trek food:
1. Pizza – of very varying quality. I had one which was quite good but the majority that I saw looked like bad frozen pizzas from the 1980s and I heard tasted similar
2. Pasta – I didn’t order any of this as I was concerned about the spiciness of the tomato sauce and the tea houses filled the bowls with cheese. However, they generally looked okay.
3. Sherpa Stew – this was my favourite dish. Vegetarian. Every tea house has a different recipe so you got some variety which was nice. I found no matter what I could usually eat at least some Sherpa stew. It is essentially stock/broth and vegetables. And when they say vegetables don’t expect them to be anything green – it’s all about carrots and potatoes. Potatoes are everywhere on the trek.
4. Tibetan bread/chapati – often on offer and good with a Sherpa stew. I didn’t have a bad one of these and they always looked good
5. Dal Bhat – the classic Nepalese dish. Again like the Sherpa stew, everyone does something different so it is good for variety. This is a great option for vegans travelling in Nepal. I tended to have this for lunch. I liked that Dal Bhat was lighter on my stomach vs having anything with potatoes or pasta in it.
6. Potatoes – are everywhere!!! You can get a plate of just potatoes with cheese on top. Or some ketchup on the side. Or some vegetables on top. French fries are everywhere and they are not bad – more like what your mum made vs McDonald’s. I did find I wasn’t that keen on the oil they were pan-fried in and I did find they were too heavy for lunch but each to their own.
7. Toasted Cheese Sandwiches. You wouldn’t believe how good these can taste – especially as you get higher up and can’t take much and need comfort food. Varying quality but generally a safe bet
8. Egg and Chips – a very popular dinner choice in our group. Fairly self-explanatory
DessertThere was a lot of apple pie. To be honest I had read quite a bit about these lovely bakeries and the fantastic apple pie on the Everest base camp trek. Well, I have to say I didn’t see any of that. There were no cute bakeries and everything like that I tried was pretty blah. The first apple pie we tried was like an apple sandwich. Then there were some pastry versions which weren’t terrible but had way too much filling. Our guide warned us not to eat baked goods over 4000m as they had often been made quite some time ago but the cold dry weather allowed them to look fresher than they were.
Trek SnacksYou can buy chocolates, pringles (Pringles are everywhere vs other types of crisps) pretty much the whole way – with the price going up as you do. There are also issues with the use-by dates on some of them. I bought mostly my own from the UK – loads of Twirls and wine gums. A lot of my chocolate melted and then reformed but to be honest it tasted fine! I bought another stash of snacks in Namche Bazaar so I had stuff with me every day. I found each day I needed a roll of wine gums/fruit pastilles (I normally gave away half) and one chocolate bar. This didn’t change much at high altitude as my appetite was broken – by base camp I couldn’t even eat chocolate. I probably ended up with more snacks than I needed.
Water and DrinksSoft drinks are generally available at all points of the trek. A can of sprite can be a sensation when you can’t eat much and are constantly thirsty. You can, of course, get water easily but you have to steripen/tablet it to make it safe. I just bought water the whole way. Your guide will normally give you a sense of how much water you need to carry for each leg – there were very few times you needed to carry more than 2 litres with you as you would be able to fill up again. I had a water bladder which worked well. It was easy to access whilst walking and thus helped keep me hydrated. I also had my metal water bottle which I put in the side pocket upside down to avoid full freezing. This bottle was most helpful at night when I got it filled with boiling water and wrapped my towel around it and used it as a hot water bottle! I would then use the water from it to clean my teeth in the morning.
Tea House Hike: Facilities AvailableSo I read a lot of mixed things about the teahouses in Nepal facilities before leaving for the trek. It did sound like there were options for showers, charging etc but it was hard to get a handle on how much to expect. So here is my blow by blow description! One of the first things that happen when you get to a new tea house on an organised tour is that you will be sat down, order and served a warm beverage and then briefed on the tea house. Part of this briefing is almost always what facilities are available and the costs and procedures to access them.
Charging Phones, camera batteries etc on the Everest Base Camp TrekThe first consideration when it comes to facilities is how to keep all of your devices working on the trek! Every place I stayed on the Everest Base Camp Trek was able to charge items every night. There were a couple of quick eg one minute blackouts but that was about it. The cost of charging devices increases as you head further up. It started at about 200 NPR and got up to 450 NPR at Gorak Shep. There was a mixed approach to what charging actually got you at the tea houses. In some places, this got you one PowerPoint and one device charged. In other places charging was more for power packs vs say phones and camera batteries. Then in other places, they were very relaxed and you grabbed what power points you could. Having said that I never once had the problem of not being able to access a powerpoint on the trek and I travelled at peak time – late April. I also took an extension cord with me that also had USB points (2 plug capacity). I did only use this once and it was quite heavy so probably not needed. My key piece of advice would be to take a fully charged power pack (I took the Anker) with you in addition to all your other items. You can charge multiple devices of this at the one time. Also, as you get higher up the mountain your devices – particularly your phone – may lose charge during the night due to the cold. My next piece of advice is to put your phone and power pack in your sleeping bag with you – I “slept” with these every night.
ShowersAh, where to begin! One of the most important facilities for me was the shower options. Virtually all the teahouses Nepal I stayed at under 4500m had a hot shower option. A couple low down had showers in the room but they only had cold water so make sure you check that! I think only one place had 2 showers in total – most tea houses that had a shower only had one. The key was to have your shower as soon as possible after arriving. The hot water supply ran low and there were often queues – and queues meant you might miss out as there is a finite amount of water. It also meant you used the shower at its cleanest point – relative yes but still important compared to using them at the end and there being a lot of stray hair ugh! One of the single most important things you can pack is a pair of flip flops. These are critical in the shower. Firstly you don’t want to touch anything. Secondly, it is generally very cold so you don’t want your feet directly on the “floor”. The showers in the tea houses Nepal are VERY basic! Literally a shack usually with a showerhead. The water in the showers did get quite warm though to be fair. There is only enough water pressure the first three to wash your hair. Also to be frank it is too cold in the shower to want to wash it any higher up. Make sure you take shower gel etc as none is supplied. And an absorbent towel. Again, it is good to be first in the shower as you can then take your towel into the communal area and put it on a chair near the fire to get it warm. We were very excited to discover a hairdryer in one of the tea houses in Namche Bazaar! And it was pretty effective! You actually could take a hairdryer with you. Quite a few rooms had power points or you could use it in the communal area. But again you would only want to wash your hair in the first couple or last couple of days so it probably isn’t worth the weight. Showers were always charged for – anywhere between 450 and 600 rupees. It is generally not advised to use the showers over 4000m. There are several reasons for this. One is that the water is poorer quality and you risk swallowing it. Secondly is it is hard to get dry without getting a chill. The third reason is the quality of the tea houses drops rapidly at this level as does the quality of the shower and quite frankly wipes in your room looks like a much cleaner option! Also by this point, you are always cold so you don’t feel quite as dirty.
Everest WifiA key question is what about wifi on the Trek? I had wifi all the way up to Everest base camp. HOWEVER, it was to varying degrees. The first two nights of the trek were actually the worst quality wifi – it kept dropping in and out and you could barely open anything. Things got a lot better from night three once the wonderful Everest Link network kicked in. Everest Link is the network that goes all the way up to base camp. You can buy a card which gets you about one hour’s use. The wifi is very powerful on the trek. However, it does get full. Again, you are best to get on the wifi as soon as you arrive at the tea house and check email. Once lots of people have arrived and it is early evening it, of course, gets a lot slower. And then I found it was very strong in the mornings. Each card normally granted usage of about 200MBs – sometimes I seemed to run through these very quickly, sometimes I would have extra bandwidth in the morning. It was a bit pot luck. Ask the tea house owner to rub off the cover to reveal the code- they are odd cards and I nearly destroyed a couple and couldn’t see the codes when I tried to do it! Wifi starts at about 450 NPR and goes up to about 600 for the essentially about one hour Everest link cards.
WineA final critical element of EBC trek facilities is, of course, the ability to get wine! Believe it or not, you can buy wine for the first four nights of the trek! And it was ok! It was red wine only for nights three and four and hey it was cold but it was okay. After that, drinking wine is not recommended due to altitude and dehydration – and you stop feeling like it. You can buy beer pretty much the whole way up but the same thing applies.
How to stay clean & smell good for as long as possible on the Everest Base Camp TrekIt gets pretty gross on the trek. The first few days are fine – there are showers, you feel ok, you’re fresh and new. And then you hit 4000m. The quality of the tea houses drops markedly – particularly their cleanliness. Altitude kicks in and you start feeling lousy. And it gets COLD! Really cold. And very cold where you’re sleeping. And you start to not care. But hey you’re going to have these photos for life! And no one wants to smell!!! These are the realities of Himalaya trekking! So here are my learnings on how to stay clean!
Before You Go on the TrekGet your hair colour done just before you go – you don’t want roots in the photos. There are very few mirrors along the way so that’s ok but photos last forever. Remove all body hair, get a pedicure (you’ll have few and quick showers so your colour will stay perfect) and cut your nails very short – they get damaged and broken and you don’t need more pain so have them short. I had eyelash extensions before I left and that was brilliant – especially for those over 4000m mornings when I woke up to eyes like an alien’s they were so swollen from altitude – at least I had lashes coming through!
Everest Base Camp Trek HairI mostly wore mine down as it kept my neck warm, prevented sunburn and I thought looked better in the photos. However, I only got to wash my hair twice which was in the first few days (twice more than I thought I would!). I did bring dry shampoo but I never used it – I found my hair was far less greasy up there. One thing I did do is put my hair into a plait. I had that advice from my hairdresser. A plait is good because it stops your hair from getting into knots. Even better put a bit of oil in it and then plait it – that will help even more (once you can wash it remember to take your hair dry and put the shampoo in and lather and THEN go under the water – oil and water and all that).
Everest Base Camp Trek Hats and SunglassesHats are very important for pictures. I started the trip with a cap. I then had a super soft fleece cap that I wore for a couple of days and it became my nighttime hat as it was the most comfortable to sleep in. I also had a heavy-duty super warm cap with the flaps for the highest couple of days. Think about the colours and what you’ll be wearing them with (eg fleece or cotton top the first few days, down jacket the last few) and colour coordinate accordingly. And your hat will hide a million hair sins so wear it often! Sunglasses are also critical – firstly as you use them all the time and secondly as they will hide those puffy eyes in pics! Again look to coordinate with your jacket and caps – I took two pairs with me and they were Prada not sports brands.
Literally Staying Clean on the trekWipes as they are your best friend once it gets cold (and if you run low on toilet paper). Wipes and deodorants can do a lot – as can a spritz of perfume. Clean teeth are always worth doing night and morning no matter what – I was outside on a frozen terrace rather than use one of the Nepal tea house bathrooms, covered in snow at 5100m one morning with my now lukewarm water bottle water brushing my teeth on my sickest morning – and it was still worth it. I also had a facial spritzer that I got given on the plane which was a nice freshener in the morning and pre-moisturizer on the Everest Base Camp Trek.
Magic Dryer SheetsI layered my kit bag with nice smelling dryer sheets. I even inserted them into my dirty clothes bag. Also when I had tops and socks that I was going to have to wear twice I folded them up interspersed with dryer sheets – at least then they didn’t have an awful smell!
The SunMy lips got SO dry! I had a chapstick type nivea thing with sunscreen in it – but it wasn’t enough. I hadn’t bought a tin of Vaseline as I was trying to avoid things that used my fingers but I needed it – and it took more than a week of continuous application of Vaseline to sort my lips out after I got back. Do not forget sunscreen and use it literally every day! I had mornings where my sunscreen was nearly frozen and I had to warm it up to put it on. The sun up there is harsh and you are closer to it than normal and it is almost impossible not to get some kind of colour. So even with all of the above, I did not get any photos on the trek that I would use on an internet dating site! However, I do have photos that don’t make me cringe and without question having ways to feel a bit cleaner were mentally very helpful. Despite all of the above, getting to Everest Base Camp was an amazing experience. Luckily it was once in a lifetime!
⇒ If you’re concerned that this sounds a bit basic for you here is my complete Nepal Travel Itinerary: 3 weeks what I did and what I would do differently
Boutique Hotels in KathmanduI recommend enjoying some luxury pre and post the Nepal Tea Houses! Without question, the best boutique hotel in Kathmandu is the lovely lovely Dwarika’s. It isn’t exactly boutique but as options at a higher boutique end are a bit low in Kathmandu I am going to list the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu. Dalai-La and Kantipur Temple House offer traditional Nepalese style. Aria Boutique Hotel & Spa is somewhat more modern with its offer. Uniquely for Kathmandu, its interiors are heavy on white! Dwarika’s Dhulikhel Resort – stunning Himalayan luxury!
How to get to Kathmandu:Qatar Airways business class from London and it was a fantastic experience. And check out my reviews of business class on Thai Airways and Malaysia Airways and premium economy on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. This is one trip where you MUST take out travel insurance! I certainly ended up using mine!
Everest Base Camp Trek Guided Tour Options
⇒ If you’re planning on heading up to Everest Base Camp check out this really good comparison of tour options on Viator.I did the Everest Base Camp Trek with Exodus. Exodus is the biggest tour operator for Everest Base Camp so there are quite a few benefits in going with them in terms of expertise, access to the best teahouses etc. They also know what they are doing and are very organised. As Exodus is a big deal in Nepal anyone working with them locally will be keen for this to continue and therefore service levels are pretty good. Exodus also offers tours for other popular trekking routes in Nepal like Annapurna Base Camp. G Adventures groups during our trek. They tend to stay at the same kinds of tea houses and have a similar setup. I have also heard that Intrepid is a good operator for base camp.
Who Paid for What in this PostI covered my costs associated with most of this trip but Dwarika’s were kind enough to give me a discount on my accommodation costs. But as always my opinion is my own. This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click through on them and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. This won’t affect the price that you pay. I just wanted to make sure that you were aware of this.
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