A backpacker’s guide to Chitwan, Nepal

Getting to Chitwan by bus

It takes 5-6 hours to get to Chitwan from Kathmandu and about the same from Pokhara. The buses should cost around 500-800 rupees per person (£4-5.50).

Upon arrival to Chitwan, you’ll be dropped off at the Tourist Bus Station. If you’ve pre-booked accommodation, they should pick you up for free in their Jeep. If not, there will be taxis and tuk-tuks waiting, although they’ll usually want to drop you off at their friends’ hotel so they can earn some commission.

Accommodation

No visitors are allowed overnight in Chitwan National Park so most of the hotels are in the small nearby town of Sauraha. We stayed in Hotel Rhino Land which was incredibly good value. We paid £5 a night for an en-suite room with both a queen bed and a single, with a fan and mosquito net. Make sure wherever you stay in Chitwan has a mosquito net above the bed, as the little beasts don’t half bite this close to the jungle!

I would highly recommend this hostel but would advise shopping around before booking any tours through them, as I wasn’t convinced their prices were the most competitive. They were also quite pushy to ensure you booked everything through them, making me suspicious of their prices.

They have a restaurant onsite and offer room service and packed lunches. The food is adequate but a little pricier than places in the small town centre which is just a 10-15 minute walk away.

The National Park, river and Sauraha town centre are all within walking distance, making this a perfect place to stay. The accommodation sits within pretty gardens, complete with secluded seating areas for you to relax.

Food

As always in Nepal, check whether a service charge is added to the bill. It can really catch you out if you’re not careful!

Eating vegan isn’t a huge challenge in Chitwan – the locals speak good English because the town thrives off tourism. The word vegan isn’t widely used so you really need to specify the items you can’t eat.

We had delicious vegan momos and mushroom chilly at Royal Kitchen & Bar and they even had a tiny kitten roaming around which was just a few weeks old!

For a splurge, visit KC’s Restaurant & Bar for wholesome local curries as well as comforting western food. The veggie burger is vegan if you ask for no cheese, as well as some other items on the menu. The surroundings are lovely and dining here is a nice experience, but this is also reflected in the bill and it’s quite a lot more expensive than other eateries in Chitwan.

Support the friendly locals by visiting Famous Cafe for traditional dal baht and a small cafe which advertises avocado smoothies and hippie cauliflower bread outside the door. Both of these cafes are on the way from Hotel Rhino Land to Sauraha town centre but they don’t have websites and they aren’t on Google Maps.

What to wear

Although Sauraha is less conservative than Kathmandu and a lot more touristy, I would still recommend dressing fairly modestly. You can definitely get away with exposing your shoulders or legs, but I’d probably recommend choosing one or the other to avoid awkward stares from the locals. Covering up is a good idea anyway to prevent leech or mosquito bites!

Where to go and what to do

Jungle Trek

Hire a guide and do a jungle trek in Chitwan National Park. Full and half day tours are offered, and after experiencing an exhausting full day trek, I’d recommend the half day trip instead. Your guide should try to help you spot the Chitwan Big Five – the rhino, tiger, sloth bear, wild elephant and bison. Make sure you take plenty of water as the humidity is intense inside the jungle, as well as some snacks for the trail. You’ll want to replenish some lost energy and also feed the tame boar who comes out to pose for tourists!

As well as the big five, you should see plenty of birds, insects, reptiles and if you’re lucky, some deer, the boar and maybe even a crocodile or monkey.

To increase your chances of seeing a croc, include the 45 minute canoe ride down the river to get to the National Park. The traditional boat is made from a whole bamboo trunk and is rowed downstream by a local guide. Bring some small change for a tip, as it takes the guide 45 minutes to sail you to the start of your trek and then 2 hours to get back upstream due to the crazy currents and fast flow. They can also sometimes get injured by crocs or the boat can capsize in bad weather, making it quite a dangerous job. If that doesn’t deserve a small tip I don’t know what does!

If you don’t fancy the trek, there are also Jeep tours available but vehicles can only access certain parts of the park so I think you’re less likely to see as much wildlife.

Relax by the river

There are a few bars by the river where you can sit on a deckchair, order a bite to eat and sip a cold beer whilst listening to the call of the birds and watching the flow of the river. If you’re lucky, you might spot a rhino coming to bathe at the edge of the water, especially if you’re there at sunset. It’s a beautiful spot to watch the sun go down in any case.

Meet the tame rhino

When we were there in September 2018, a tame rhino came out to pose for pictures with tourists every evening just before sunset. As you approach the river and the national park registration desk, turn left at the desk and walk down the towpath. There’s a tipped up canoe for you to sit and wait for the rhino to come. He’s so tame that you can literally stand beside him for a selfie – but remember he’s still a wild animal so do take caution! Remember the rhinoceros rules – if he should attack, climb at least 2m high or run in a zig-zag line to escape! Rhinos have very poor eyesight so running in a zig-zag line or climbing a tree where they can’t see you is your best hope.

Play pool or snooker

The only pool hall we came across in the whole of Nepal happened to be in the centre of Sauraha! Sauraha Snooker House cost 500 rupees for one hour’s play. There is one pool table and one snooker table, and a member of staff cleans and replaces the balls for you as necessary. What service!

Leaving Chitwan

Catch the bus to Pokhara which takes 5-6 hours and costs 500-700 rupees (£3.50-£5), or go to Kathmandu in 6 hours for 700 rupees (£5ish). The bus stops once or twice for toilet breaks and a quick chance to buy refreshments, but be quick! They don’t wait for long.

Buses leave from the tourist bus park at 7.30-8am to Kathmandu and 8.30 to Pokhara.

Your lodgings should give you a lift in their Jeep or arrange a tuk-tuk to take you to the bus station.

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5. Check out my other location guides for more free travel tips and destination inspiration

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7. Check out my Nepal blog posts for Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan

8. Check out my other useful country guides and personal blog posts

Happy travelling!

With best wishes,

Sarah

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