Lumbini is famous in Nepal for being the birthplace of Buddha. Thousands of pilgrims visit here every year to worship, meditate and learn at the site.
Throughout the years, the temple complex has grown from just one temple to commemorate the birthplace, to a whole monastic complex with beautiful Buddhist temples which have been donated from around the world!
Personally, I found Lumbini to be quite perplexing. There were all these great temples on the one side and then a terrible underfunded city on the other. So, it was great to visit the temples but not a fantastic place for tourists and travellers who want to visit there.
I wouldn’t say I regretted my time there as I found the temples to be stunning, but I definitely wouldn’t spend more than one night in the future.
As a result, I wanted to put down all my experiences and so I have created some honest tips which will help other travellers when visiting Lumbini!
1. You can only get here by local bus
Unfortunately, local buses are the only way to get to Lumbini. Even though they are called ‘tourist’ buses, none of them have A/C and they’re a pretty hot and dreary ride. From Chitwan, we had to catch one 4 hour bumpy bus to Bhairahawa then a local bus to Lumbini.
The local bus was pretty chaotic and most of the people were standing or sitting on the floor. But, it was dirt cheap and only 30 minutes so it’s tolerable.
You’ll get dropped off at the Lumbini ‘Bus Stand’ which is just a stop in the road when you arrive.
Lumbini’s ‘bus stand’
2. Be careful when getting a rickshaw to your hotel
Once you get off the bus there will be a crowd of rickshaw drivers waiting for you. It’s worth checking the distance to your hotel before you board one. I stupidly agreed to a 100 rupee fare to go 500m down the road! A walkable distance.
In the end I negotiated it into a rickshaw tour for the next day but still, don’t expect them to be honest about the distances!
To be fair, if you can’t stand the heat, a rickshaw is a good idea if you have a lot of luggage. But it’s good to try and save some pennies, or at least negotiate him down! I was just so hot and delirious after my journey I lost the will haha.
Fun fact: these Tuk Tuks were donated to Lumbini by Japan!
3. Hotels are terrible! Stay in a monastery if you can
If you want a bit of entertainment before you get to Lumbini it’s worth checking out some of the hotel reviews in the area on Booking.com. They are all pretty terrible.
Although the reviews were also bad, I got lucky with Hotel Peace Palace. It was spartan but clean and had good air con! The rate was super expensive though and they charge way more than it’s worth. If you’re running out of options, check the dates rates here.
A lot of backpackers we met were staying in the monasteries around the area. For only $5USD a night, they had a bed in a dorm, a shared bathroom and 3 meals of Dhal bat a day! SO much better than eating outside (which I’ll cover below).
This is what I would do next time. My hotel was nice enough but the value for money wasn’t.
4. Rickshaws are a good way to get around… but haggle
As mentioned above, it’s good to note that Tuk Tuk drivers are pretty cutthroat around here. They will charge you double for almost everything. For a half day rickshaw guide we negotiated 800 rupees.
But, by the end, after I had heard all his stories about his son needing medical treatment and a lady from France who took pity on him and have him a lakh (100,000 Indian rupees but not sure if it’s true) I felt bad and bumped it up to 1000 rupees. Sure, it may not be much extra, but, he did rip me off to begin with and I wasn’t sure what to trust.
Prices should be 800 Nepalese rupees for a half day tour of 4 hours. For a full day it’s around 1500 NPR.
5. The only things to see here are temples
Keep in mind that it’s only temples to see here. So, for some, this may be your worst nightmare! Personally, I love exploring temples, seeing the pilgrims visiting and observing all the life and architecture inside so I thought it was time well spent.
The birthplace of Buddha is an absolute must but after that, you can pick and choose what temples you want to visit.
The Buddhist temples here are donated from all over Asia and it’s spectacular to see all the different styles of design. You can see Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan and South Korea all in one day – no flights or Visas required 😉
There are also temples donated from France and Germany which have a Buddhist influence.
This temple was called the ‘German temple’ to foreigners, but it looks straight out of Asia! The architecture inside the temple was incredible, but no photos allowed 🙁
6. Start your tour early to beat the heat!
When I visited in October, it was absolutely boiling. I couldn’t believe the humidity compared to the rest of Nepal! This is partly because we were now out of the mountains and heading into the border of India.
To beat the heat I would recommend leaving your hotel at 7am. That way you can beat the harsh temperatures and avoid burning your feet. Most temples require you to take off your shoes and so the floor is like lava by midday!
Another benefit of starting out early is beating other tourists, but actually there weren’t too many there all together!
7. You have to take off your shoes… A LOT.
Every temple in Lumbini requires you to take your shoes off when entering. So, I’d wear flip flops, sandals or something you can easily slide on and off. It can get a little tiresome untying shoes and taking socks off all the time.
Some places have mats which have been wetted down to cool the floor for visitors, but some, like the peace pagoda, do not have this luxury. You’ll be walking on bricks and stones which have been baked in the sun!
I’d bring socks with you if you have sensitive feet, but check if it’s permitted before entering.
Most temples had marble floor or mats to keep the floor cool for visitors, but the Peace Pagoda didn’t have that luxury. It was redbrick flooring and not shaded, so was painful on your feet in the heat!
8. The temples are not open all day
I was surprised to learn that the temples shut at lunch time. I guess I just presumed it was a 24 hours a day for worship kind of place. Saying this, I think it is open for worship but just not for tourists.
The birthplace of Buddha opens at 5am – 7pm and is open all day.
The other temples are open from 7am – 1pm and then reopen after lunch at 2/3pm until 5pm.
Keep this in mind if you’re just visiting for half a day as you may be waiting around.
9. The only temple that costs money is the birthplace of Buddha
The birthplace of Buddha is a UNESCO world heritage site and is the only temple which charges for entry here and it’s worth the price. Tickets are 200 rupees for foreigners and 50 for SAARC countries.
All the rest of the temples are completely free!
10. All the restaurants are pretty bad (that’s not an exaggeration)
If you google Tripadvisor restaurants in Lumbini, there’s 5 in total. All have reviews of inedible food and bad hygiene. I was suspicious and did wonder if it was all true but when I sampled the food myself, it was really bad!
My hotel served up a Thukpa with ants swimming in it. So, we headed out to the main bazaar to have a look for alternative restaurants. We asked some locals whether they knew of any nice places to eat and they said there weren’t any, Haha!
So, we headed to the one with the least bad reviews which was Third Vision restaurant. This is the only place I would recommend eating. The Nepalese food was just okay and we were joined by flies for dinner. But, on the positive side, it was food and it didn’t make us sick !
We only ate here after that but there are some other options you can gamble with.
11. There are SO many bugs at night and will join you for dinner !
Whether it’s the heat or the fact it’s in a remote location, after sunset all the bugs come out to play! They will literally nose dive into your face, crawl in your hair and join you for dinner! Third Vision did have an indoor section to stop some flying in with the fan on which helped!
My hotel room had air conditioning and a mosquito lamp which helped with the room itself but the bathroom had a vent with holes in which let in flies and spiders! By the end of my stay my bathroom sink and floor was full of them.. wear decent bug spray and watch out for them on your toothbrush. Ewww!
The bugs got so bad outside, I had to put my scarf over my head to stop them from flying in my hair!
12. Dress conservatively
Lumbini is a religious pilgrimage site and so you should dress appropriately for visiting the temples and around the people that visit them.
This means shoulders and knees should be covered for both men and women! If you don’t do this, you could be refused entry to the temples.
13. Not all the temples are finished yet
Lumbini is a huge complex and some of the temples are still under construction. For example, the Cambodian temple is partly finished and won’t be completed until mid-2018. But, it’s still beautiful and worth a look outside at the progress !
Our guide told us that there is going to be far more temples built here in the future.
Only half the Cambodian temple was painted, half was under construction! Still beautiful though :)
14. Consider cycling around
A Rickshaw was great as the heat was pretty hard to handle. Plus, it covered more ground in a short amount of time. But, cycling also is a great alternative. This way, you can take your time to explore, plan your own itinerary and not feel rushed by your rickshaw driver.
Keep in mind that the temples shut half way through the day so you may want to split your ride between the morning and afternoon.
15. Go to the peace pagoda for sunset
Although this peace pagoda in Lumbini isn’t placed on a vantage point like others in Nepal, this one is still a beauty. At sunset, the floor has cooled down and the sun creates a gorgeous orange glow on against the white temple.
Here, you may see Buddhist pilgrims circling and chanting and people meditating. It’s definitely worth a look at any time of day but my favourite was when the sun goes down.
16. Don’t spend longer than one night here
After you’ve seen the temples which only takes a morning, there is literally nothing else to do here. So, I would recommend not spending more than one night unless you really want to. The hotels and restaurants are too terrible to bear longer than that!!
The only reason why I stayed longer than one night was because I wanted to get through the Indian border early in the morning and get a bus to Varanasi. It couldn’t come sooner.
Once we had visited all the temples, there was literally nothing else left to do
17. Ask if the price is in Nepalese rupees or Indian rupees
As you’re so close to the Indian border, Nepalese and Indian rupee are accepted in Lumbini and both have very different exchange rates (well to the British Pound anyway)!
Make sure you clarify how much everything is before you pay and in what rupee. It may be worth downloading a conversion app to check what price it is for your currency.
ATMs will only distribute Nepalese rupees, but there are currency converters on the main bazaar if you need a Indian money.
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