What is a Tea House?
A Teahouse is defined as a combination of guest house, restaurant, and a social hang out. The Tea House is also the family home and usually the families sole income comes from trekkers passing though and stopping for tea (usually black tea with lots of sugar), or staying the night. Most of the time trekkers will stay in a different part of the building then the family. In Nepal expect the walls of your room to be constructed from a few pieces of plywood. There is enough privacy and security (locks for room doors) but if the person in the room next to you snores you are going to hear it. Some Tea Houses are solid and made from rocks and filler, these are a bit nicer, but most of the time still have the plywood walls.
What is Tea House Trekking?
The first thing that came to my mind when I heard about Tea House trekking was a fancy Asian Tea House, maybe there is a ceremony involved? I soon found there is nothing fancy or ceremonial about staying in Tea Houses. Tea house trekking is walking or hiking from village to village staying in basic accommodation along the way.
What Facilities do Tea Houses Have?
Private rooms are available in most Tea Houses except for a couple at high altitude. Most bathrooms are shared and unisex. Most have showers, although many only have cold water. Some Tea Houses now have a gas unit that provides hot water and some solar heated water.
What Kind of Food and Drink is Available?
Every Tea House serves the traditional Nepali meal Dal Bhat (rice and lentil soup). This is the cleanest healthiest food to eat. Most Tea Houses also have a variety of different food items, such as rice, eggs, (some vegetables), noodles, and soup. Many also have western food on menu. Soft drinks, snacks and beer is also for sale.
Can I Get Fresh Water at Tea Houses?
Each Tea House is different. Each one will offer bottled water for sale, but really all you need is a good filter and a stash of Iodine drops (you can buy these for 50 rupees at the main grocery store in Thamel) or the new and coolest gadget i’ve seen, is the SteriPEN which I would bring from the western world to ensure it really works. Most Tea Houses will also give you boiled water for free, but at high altitude you will be charged about 100 rupees and it will only be available when the fire is lit (first thing in the morning and last thing at night).
Are Their Blankets and Pillows Available?
Every Tea House I came across had blankets and pillows. Saying this, I would recommend bringing your own, you will not, I repeat, NOT be comfortable or warm if you depend on the Nepali blankets and pillows and are trekking in the Oct-Jan season. If possible bring a good sleeping bag from home.
Do I Need to Make a Reservation?
During peak trekking periods Tea Houses get very full very fast. If you are with a group on a guided tour you don’t need to worry about this. If you are an independent traveller or independent group you will want to start your day early and make sure you get to your destination by about 2pm at the latest. This is only for high traffic treks like Everest Base Camp or the Annapurna Route. Be warned if you are independent and going up to Everest Base Camp you will need to call ahead to hold a room from Dingboche onward to make sure you have a place to sleep, or you may be sleeping in the dining room with the Sherpa’s.
What Else Should I Know or Expect at Tea Houses?
Come with an open mind. If you expect only the basics you will be pleasantly surprised along your way. Check out my post on Third World Travel for more tips.
Two Examples I Will Always Remember: The Lama Guest House in Deurali. We came in from the pouring rain soaking wet. They lit the fire so we could dry our clothes and got the gas working so we could have a hot shower. The Bal Bhat was amazing and they had some very atmospheric lanterns hanging around the dining room.
The Chomrong Cottage on the way to Annapurna basecamp was also a welcome surprise, we had private bathroom, real stonewalls and the most amazing chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted.
These two examples were not totally random, I had a recent copy of the Lonely Planet Trekking in the Himalaya and decided to stay the evening before.