Bhutan Travel Guide Overview
Bhutan is the land of the thunder dragon, a country where its pristine beauty is preserved. Traveling to Bhutan was legally initiated only after 1974. And since then, tourists have started showing their interest to visit Bhutan. This country is the last Buddhist Kingdom where Mahayana Buddhism is followed by the majority of the population. This small landlocked country is blessed with abundant natural and cultural beauty. Bhutan is well known for being a carbon-negative country and the happiest country in the world.
Bhutan is a small piece of Himalayan Paradise also known as ‘The Last Shangrila”. Here the unique blend of preserved ancient culture and the pace of modern development will fascinate you. Bhutan is full of surprises. You will find Phallic paintings almost everywhere as penises are significant in Bhutanese culture to drive away bad omens and evil spirits.
Similarly, Bhutan will be celebrating its 51st anniversary of “High value, Low volume” tourism this year. Traveling to Bhutan allows you to the tranquility of this vibrant nation full of mystic mountains, ancient monasteries, and unspoiled valleys.
In this blog, we will discuss all the small to the smaller confusion of yours about the trip to Bhutan. We know you are already excited about the trip, so let us cut short the waiting time and directly skip to the really good part!
Bhutan: Geography and Politics
The kingdom of Bhutan with an area of approximately 38,394 square kilometers is a landlocked nation on the southern slope of the eastern Himalayas situated in southern Asia. It is sandwiched between north, northeast, and northwest China and west and south India. It is one of the least populous countries with 789,937 as of the latest United Nations data.
The terrain of Bhutan is diverse, ranging from lush subtropical plains in the south to the sub-alpine Himalayan highlands in the north, where there are peaks higher than 7,000 meters (23,000 ft). Bhutan is actually the land of mountains which is why it is also known as the Himalayan Kingdom along with Tibet and Nepal. The wonderful hilly scenic beauty, along with the warm welcome of the local people, enhances the interest of tourists over years. Its headquarters and main city is Thimphu, while its financial district is Phuntsholing.
Unfurl the beauty of the happiest country in Asia at your fingertips. Well, although most of us know Bhutan is called the happiest country in the world, do you know why it is called so? A few years back the Bhutan government decided to measure the Nation’s worth in terms of Gross Domestic Happiness while other countries measure it in terms of Gross Domestic Product.
Moreover, citizens receive free health care and education in the country, which boosts their happiness in the country. There was no foreign influence on tourism till 1974. The purity of land is hopefully transparent with this one statement itself.
Bhutan is ruled by a constitutional monarchy, with the king and the prime minister jointly heading the country. There are hardly any occurrences of political temperament in the country. That is why the country of Bhutan is rightfully called the Abode of Peace.
How Safe is Bhutan?
Safety is the primary concern when visiting a new place for anyone. So it is likely to think about safety while traveling to Bhutan too. But be assured that Bhutan is one of the safest places to be if your concerns are regarding crime rates, scams, or solo visits. The rules here are strict and every Bhutanese follows them happily. In fact, Bhutan is the happiest country in the world, and do you still think that Bhutan can be unsafe? You can literally leave back this question in your homeland and leave for the trip with a smiley face. The crime rates are very low in Bhutan and in all probability, you will not face any such incidents. Furthermore, the people here will assist you in any way you request, and they are often happier to do so.
Environmentally, Bhutan is the only carbon-free country in the world where tobacco is also banned meaning you will be able to breathe clean air and drink non-contaminated water.
However, nobody is able to stop natural disasters. If your destinations, activities, and travel timeframe do not get along with each other, you might have to face some difficulties accordingly which you might consider unsafety in Bhutan.
Best Time to Visit Bhutan
Bhutan is a country that offers beauty in all spheres of nature. Be it flora, or snowfall, Bhutan has an abundance of all. If you are an adventure seeker tourist, then there is nothing better than the time between October to December, and again between March to April. The weather in Bhutan is clear, and sunny, which allows for some perfect outdoor adventures.
However, if you are a flora admirer, then spring is the best time for you. The flowers bloom to the maximum brightness and paint beauty all over the land. You will have a wonderful time among the mountains, clicking snaps and inhaling oxygen to your lungs extent. Doesn’t that sound so fascinating?
Being situated at the foothills of the eastern side of the Himalayas, snowfall is a regular guest during January and February. The temperature glides below the freezing point, and you get to enjoy a chilly cold winter wrapped inside thick woolen clothes.
We do not recommend any tourists to visit Bhutan between June to September when heavy rainfall pours in all over the country. There is a thin chance that you will get to enjoy outdoor activities during these months, especially in Bhutan's eastern parts. Roadblocks and landslides are particularly typical during that time of year.
How to Get to Bhutan?
There is only one international airport in Bhutan at Paro and there are only two permitted airlines in Bhutan which are Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines.
The best way to travel to Bhutan would be through a connecting flight from Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. Because Kathmandu has regular flights to Paro, sometimes two flights in a day on the season, and the flight distance is of only an hour and ten minutes. Likewise, the flight cost from Kathmandu to Paro is affordable.
Other than flying via Kathmandu, the Paro International Airport has a few connecting flights from Dehli, Kolkata, Bodh Gaya, Mumbai, Baghdora, Bangkok, Dhaka, Guwahati, and Singapore. But these flights are not frequent and change from time to time. Sometimes, there is only one flight in a week from these places.
The majority of visitors arrive in Bhutan via plane at Paro International Airport, however, it is also possible to reach there by land from India through the Jaigaon-Phuentsoling border. From Phuentsoling, the journey to Thimphu, the country's capital, takes around six hours on a private vehicle transfer.
Documents Needed to Visit Bhutan
The first thing first a traveler needs to enter Bhutan is the Bhutan Travel Visa. However, if you are a resident of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives, then consider yourself a bit lucky. People of these countries need no visa to visit Bhutan.
In addition to the visa, you need to carry your passport and a citizenship card of the country you belong from. Vaccination certificates may be needed if you belong to some disease-endemic countries. The list of countries is changing continuously, so your travel agent will inform you regarding the same.
The list of required travel documents is given below:-
- Valid Passport
- Vaccination Certificate (Post-Covid)
- Bhutan Travel Visa
- Digital/Physical Copy of Passport
- Flight Details
- Medical Travel Insurance
How to get Bhutan Visa?
As we already said, the Bhutan government places a bar on the number of tourists visiting the country per year. Only visitors who are traveling under the guidance of expert tour operators associated with the Department of Immigration and Tourism Council of Bhutan like Himalayan Trekkers are allowed to visit the country. Likewise, you will get to apply for Bhutan Travel Visa only when you confirm the booking of the trip and the package cost is fully deposited. Then, once we (the tour operator) receive your scanned copy of the passport, the visa application is sent to the Department of Immigration via the Tourism Council of Bhutan.
It is recommended to apply for the visa at least a month before your tentative date for the Bhutan trip for the best experience. It will be quite hectic if you apply for the visa nearer your departure date. However, if you have busy days and you booked the trip at the last minute, your trip organizer will look for a way to obtain it without many hurdles.
Your visa application costs something around USD 40 which will be collected along with your trip package.
Bhutan Travel Cost: An Overview
The Bhutan government has placed the cost of tourism at a very high level. This is not only to reduce the inflation of tourists to the country but also because this money boosts the economy of the country. It is with this money itself, that the residents enjoy free and quality healthcare and education. As well as this amount is used for the preservation and protection of the national heritages of Bhutan.
However, if you are from the countries of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives, then you are exempted from paying such high costs. This is an initiative of the Bhutan government to maintain good relationships with the neighboring countries.
The Bhutan government has imposed a rule that any traveler to Bhutan has to compulsorily take the help of a travel guide. The total price depends on the season of the year, the number of travelers visiting, and other conditions. We have listed down the detailed price breakdown in the tabulated form below.
For a group of 2 or more people, the price breakdown is as follows-
|The month of the year||Price|
|December, January, February, June, July, August||USD 200|
|March, April, May, September, October, November||USD 250|
Similarly, for the single supplement, the price breakdown is as follows-
|The month of the year||Price|
|December, January, February, June, July, August||USD 200+30|
|March, April, May, September, October, November||USD 250+40|
You have to pay an additional cost of USD 40 to apply for a visa to Bhutan. The above-mentioned USD200/250 is the royalty travelers have to pay per day of Bhutan travel. This price of USD200/250 depends upon the low season and high season respectively. As of the 1st of September, 2022, the royalty price increased so that the Tourism Council of Bhutan could focus more on improving, protecting, and preserving their heritages and culture. Similarly, USD65 of the total amount goes towards free healthcare, free education, and poverty alleviation in Bhutan.
Although the price may be sky-touching, the experience is certainly worth every penny you send. Once you apply for the Bhutan visa, by paying the above-mentioned money, you are eligible to enjoy a few facilities at no extra cost. The promised facilities are-
- Square meals a day for the entire tenure
- Accommodation in a three-star rated hotel (you can always pay extra and opt for a higher rating hotel)
- An experienced and licensed tour guide
- Trekking equipment and necessities
- A fixed contribution to the development fee in the fund of the Government of Bhutan
Payment methods, Banking, and ATMs
Now that is not a prominent question for the tourists! And when it comes to your doubts, then how can we just overlook them without answering your doubts? We have received hundreds of emails asking us regarding payment methods and the availability of ATMs.
Regarding the payment methods for your Bhutan trip with us, wire transfers and online payments are the options. Then, for the payments for your personal expenses in Bhutan, cash is the most used form. The local currency of Bhutan is called Ngultrum which you can exchange in the banks or withdraw from the ATMs. ATMs are only available in the city areas such as Paro, Thimpu, and Punakha. They provide the opportunity to withdraw cash using Master and Visa cards. But, the machines are quite difficult to operate, and you may find it difficult to withdraw cash on your own. Your guide will certainly help you regarding that.
If you are traveling outside the cities, it will be hard to find ATMs. Even if there are ATMs, there is no guarantee to be able to withdraw the cash. So, travelers are suggested to carry cash when traveling outside the cities.
Some places, mainly the cities also accept USD and Indian Rupees except the 500 and 2000 Indian notes.
Tipping is not absolutely essential, but you can offer some tips to your travel guide or driver as a token of generosity. Make sure that you offer the money, however little it is, in an envelope. A daily tip of USD 10 or USD 20 is a good tip for your travel guide, driver, or hotel staff.
What to pack for Bhutan Trip?
As Bhutan is situated among the Himalayas, you have to be prepared to face unpredictable weather conditions. Be ready to carry warm clothes, and sweatshirts with you on your trip. You are allowed to wear any dress in Bhutan, but we do recommend you to wear dresses according to the particular place you are visiting. So, you need to carry trekking pants for soaring heights, and comfy shorts or dresses for sightseeing trips.
People in Bhutan much rather prefer if you wear traditional attire while visiting religious sites. We also recommend you wear their traditional dress as a token of respect for their culture and religion. It is a great opportunity to load some really good photos, that you can flaunt on your social media profile.
Apart from dresses, carry items of daily needs, sanitary products, and a pair of extra slippers. Also, do not forget to tuck in medicines of regular use, a couple of fever medicines, one for cough and cold, and some emergency medicines. Last but never least, do not forget to carry mobile and camera chargers, power banks, and tripod stands. After all, who doesn’t crave good photos?
A brief list of what to pack for Bhutan is listed below:-
- Electronics (Camera, Phone, Batteries, Headphone, etc)
- Toiletries (Toothbrush, Paste, Deodrant, Sunscreen, Wet Wipes, etc)
- First Aid Kit (Medicine you intake, Painkillers, Handiplasts, Diamox, Ointment, etc)
- Clothes for Summer (Cotton Shirt, Dresses, Shorts, Cotton Pants, Hats, Swimwear, Light Overall, etc)
- Clothes for Winter (Jacket, Full Sleeve Shirt, Warm Pants, Poncho, Beanie, Sweater, Gloves, etc)
- For Hiking (Hiking Boots, Daypack, Trousers, Hats, Sunglasses, Wind Breaker, etc)
To thoroughly learn about what to pack for Bhutan, please go through the link.
Meals and Accommodations in Bhutan
Be ready for some spicy food in Bhutan! Most of the signature dishes of Bhutan are spicy. If you have any problem with handling spices then it is also all right because a lot of variety of food is available in Bhutan. Our team will arrange less spicy food for you exclusively! The hallmark cuisine that you must try in Bhutan is Ema Datshi. It is a cheese dish, topped with chili peppers.
We do recommend you try out a variety of veggies in Bhutan. Most of the traditional dishes are a combination of buckwheat noodles, mixed veggies, paksha paa, and Jasha Maru (which is actually an exclusive preparation of Bhutanese chicken preparation).
There are different categories of accommodation available in Bhutan. From fancy 5-star restaurants to small cozy rooms, Bhutan houses all opportunities. The broad classification of Accommodation in Bhutan is-
- Home Stays
- Farm Stays
- Guest Houses
However, the above-mentioned costs’ standard accommodations are 3-star standard category hotels. But, if you want to stay in the type of Accommodation of your choice, you need to discuss it with us prior to your booking of the trip and the costs will be offered accordingly.
DOs and DONTs
This is an area that confuses almost every tourist. But, when we are here, there is no way of confusion! We have noted down the must-know do’s and don’ts’ in tabular form below. Take a quick look, and imbibe them in your head so that you get a clear picture of the Do’s and Don’ts’.
|Take off your hat and shoes while you enter temples and other religious areas.||Avoid feeding animals in public places, like parks, beside highways, etc.|
|Maintain silence in religious places.||Using drones is strictly prohibited.|
|Always circumscribe any heritage building or temple in a clockwise direction.||Accept money, food, or anything using the right hand only.|
|Carry all your documents every time. At any point in time, you may be asked to show the same.||Capturing photos and videos is not allowed in some areas. So, ask your guide before you press the shutter button.|
|Use covered washroom facilities. Do not use open places as urinals or defecation grounds.||Do not throw, or wash anything in the lakes and ponds, this is prohibited in Bhutan.|
|Follow traffic rules strictly, and use zebra crossing to cross the road.||Spitting on the walls, and throwing packets here is strictly discouraged.|
|Remember to throw your waste in the designated area and maintain cleanliness.||Do not touch religious paintings, murals, and antique pieces. This is a sign of disrespect in Bhutan culture.|
|If you want to carry some artifacts or antiques from Bhutan, apply for a permit for the same. You can contact your travel agent regarding the same.||Do not sit with your legs stretched in religious places. Always sit cross-legged, or kneeled position when sitting in front of religious murals.|
Helpful Bhutanese Key Phrases
It is actually a nightmare to travel to a distant land, and face hundreds of people speaking in some language that you cannot make head or tail of. Although, it is impossible to learn a language completely before you travel to a place, learning a few terms will definitely improve your travel experience. Bookmark this page till you learn all of them. The most popular key phrases are-
- Kuzuzangpola - Hello
- Kadrinchhey - Thank You
- Zhey! - Please eat/drink.
- Tashi Delek - Good luck!
- Na gi tshen gachi mo? - What is your name?
- Nge gi ming … ein. - My name is … .
- Log jaygay! - Good bye!
- Gaday bay zhui? - How are you?
- Legshom - I am fine.
- Nga nau mey. - I am sick.
- Ani gadem chi mo? - How much is it?
- Chhabsa gatey mo? - Where is the toilet?
- Me Zhu. - No thank you!
- Zhimbay. - It is delicious.
- Nga Druk gai. - I like Bhutan.
Popular Places in Bhutan
Although the entire country seems to be the canvas of a fine artist, yet from a tourist point of view we have to hand pick very few places that will fit in perfectly in your itinerary. However, unlike other countries, where tourist places are highly populated, Bhutan stands on a different shoe. The tourist popular areas are also quiet and serene. Thanks to the sky-touching cost of the trip! The must-visit places in Bhutan are-
Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan is a mesmerizing city by itself. Right from the government building to the narrow lanes of the city, Thimphu is an attraction by itself. Walking through the hill-wrapped roads, you will reach the Buddha Shakyamuni situated at the top of the hills. Is this imagery already pulling you to the city? And if you are a fan of some spicy hiking experiences, then a big surprise awaits you in Thimphu.
Ride the car for one hour from Thimphu, and you will reach Paro. This is one of the most said names among tourists. Paro is the place where your childhood sketches of a mountain behind and a small hut at the front are painted not on paper, but geographically on land. The iconic stretch of 108 monasteries situated along the hills, is a perfect sight to see in Bhutan.
At the beginning itself, we promised that Bhutan would be the golden plate for flora lovers, and now it is time to reveal such places. Punakha, which is situated along the eastern side of Bhutan, is a lush green meadow, with flourishing flora all over. The Khamsum Yulley is a prominent Buddhist monastery at Punakha and you will certainly be amazed to see its beauty. Are you ready for a half-day trek? Then, one leading to Gasa Tsachu hot springs is certainly your cup of tea!
Apart from these places, there are other mesmerizing attractions in Bhutan such as Haa Valley, Phobjikha Valley, Mongar, Lheunste Valley, Gantey Valley, Bumthang, etc. which are definitely worth visiting for unique and rural experiences.
Suggested Bhutan Tour plan and Itineraries
Though Bhutan is small in size geographically, it offers hundreds of amazing trips giving your different experiences. Whether you are a cultural buff, trekking enthusiast, adrenaline seeker, or nature lover, Bhutan’s exclusivity, mystique, mountains, distinctive culture, and fascination has something for all.
If you are short on time and only want to get a glimpse of Bhutan, 5 days Bhutan Tour & Discover Bhutan Tour would be perfect for you. Are you a cultural buff? If yes, then One week Bhutan Cultural Tour and Festival Tour in Bhutan will definitely please you.
There are many adventurous activities a traveler can do in the land of Bhutan. You can go trekking, river rafting, and cycling in different parts of the country. Druk Path Trek Route and Chele La Trek are the most popular trekking routes in Bhutan. If you want something more adventurous, go mountain biking in the western part of Bhutan. You will surely love it.
Some Must Know Facts About Bhutan
You will be visiting the country for the first time, and you will be staying there for a few days or even weeks. To make the most out of this trip, you must have a clear picture of some must-know facts.
- Dzongkha is the official language of the country, but if you know English, then communication will not be a problem in the country!
- Bhutan is rightfully called the only carbon-negative country in the world. It means they contribute to the cleaning of greenhouse gases that the other countries of the world emit.
- You will not find any traffic lights on any road in Bhutan! So, mind your safety while you cross the road.
- Bhutan was one of the first countries to ban the use of plastic bags, back in 1999! So, you can imagine the environmentally friendly attitude of the Bhutan government and the residents as well.
- If you are a chain smoker, then some really bad news for you in the house. In Bhutan, it is considered illegal to sell or consume tobacco products! Quite healthy!
- Do not accept food in the first offer itself, and that goes equally even if you are hungry. You should use your hand to cover your mouth and say "Meshu, Meshu". Once the person offers you one or two times more, you can accept the food.
- The local and traditional dishes are spicy. If you are a strict NO to spicy food, consult with your trip guide beforehand.
- Bhutan allowed tourists very recently only after the 1970s.
- There was a ban on the use of TV and the internet in Bhutan till 1999. All measures were taken to protect the Bhutan residents from international flights and adapt to the western culture.
- Don't be surprised to see the signature carving of the penis at every hook and cook in the country. They consider this symbol as the emblem of good luck.
- No need to remember birthdays anymore. They add 1 year to their lives on New Year's day.
At the End-
Bhutan is a happy country, and you will be magnetically attached to happiness once you are here. While all the other countries mimic the powerful western countries, Bhutan is a self-satisfied one. Although the economy of the country is not on the higher side, Bhutan has an abundance of all that a person needs. To get a glimpse of this small land, contact Himalayan Trekkers today. We will help you get the required permits and visas so that you do need not to focus on these formalities and focus more on packing and planning.