This review was written two days before the earthquake in Kathmandu. I have contacted the hotel and am pleased to report none of the staff were injured, nor was the hotel damaged.
Quite often the worst thing about travelling is the actual travelling itself. Struck down with food poisoning in Bangkok, I had to somehow pull myself together and take two flights in one day when all I wanted to do was crawl under the covers and think of anything but my treacherous stomach. Flying first from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur and then onwards to Kathmandu through an electrical storm, I was in tatters by the time I arrived: magically willing for my mum to be waiting at the gate with a cup of tea for me. When you’re sick, travel can be tough. By the time I cleared customs and got my visa it was 11pm. Arriving at this time in a new country, unwell and not really knowing what you’re at, there is no greater feeling than coming out into the Arrivals Hall and seeing someone holding up a sign with your name written on it. The hotel I was staying at for the next three nights – The Dalai-La Boutique in Kathmandu – had sent a driver to pick me up.
Hundreds of Years of Culture in Every Room
It’s hard to believe this place has only been open six months: the sheer quality of the staff and the general atmosphere screams of a more established hotel. What’s not hard to believe is the amount of hard work that has gone into its creation. 25 individually unique rooms, all cleverly built around a spacious courtyard. The Dalai-La is a cultural experience in itself, and while that may seem like a bit of a bold overstatement, think about this: every single piece of furniture, every single piece of art is unique, specially commissioned for the hotel. In my 43m2 Executive Dalai-La Suite the bedside lamps are made from Tibetan horns, the handles of the wardrobes crafted from upcycled tingsha – small cymbals used in prayer and rituals by Tibetan Buddhists. Outside in the courtyard stand 50-year-old hand-carved pillars and stone water taps. The sheets aren’t white, they are off-white. Why? Because it’s organic raw cotton, complemented with hand-printed linens. It’s almost OCD attention to detail – Patrick Bateman from Bret Easton Ellis’s novel, American Psycho, would be proud – but for that reason it rightly deserves its ’boutique’ label. And of course, modern amenities such as wifi and a huge LED TV come as standard.
Exploring the Surrounding Thamel Area
Thamel is the tourist hub of Kathmandu, and Kathmandu is the tourist hub of Nepal. If you’re visiting the country chances are you’ll visit Thamel at least once either at the start or the end of your trip – shopping for trekking gear or souvenirs. This is the only boutique hotel in the neighbourhood, with other sleeping options being guesthouses and backpacking joints. As such, it stands out – for the better. What’s more, the cheapest rooms start at just $80, so even if you are watching your wallet it really is worth pushing the budget a little bit more to stay here, as the difference in quality is unquestionable. Thamel is what it is: catering for the masses, but walk down any one of its back streets and it’ll just be you and he locals. In terms of street photography, it’s a photographer’s dream – with Basantapur, the ancient town square with all the hustle and bustle of local-market vendors, just a 15-minute walk down the road. If you are looking to stay in budget-friendly Thamel, but with homely, affordable luxury, the Dalai-La should be your chosen stay.