Bhutan travel

The Ultimate Bhutan Travel Guide

During our childhood, when asked to draw a landscape scenery, most of us would have ended up drawing the default one – overlapping mountains, beautiful blue river running down through them, and a bright yellow sun peeking through clouds. Well, it so turns out that it’s not entirely a product of our imagination; we have been drawing BHUTAN all along. This was our exact feeling while driving through this Himalayan paradise. Visiting and exploring Bhutan is one of our most cherished experiences and we have compiled all the information in this article, making it THE Ultimate Bhutan Travel Guide you will need to plan your awesome trip!

Bhutan travel guide
PIN IT to read later

placesinpixel’s Bhutan Travel Guide

INTRODUCTION TO BHUTAN

Bhutan – Land of the Thunder Dragon – doesn’t that sound cool, exotic and mystical!! Bhutan is no ordinary place – it is probably the last great Himalayan kingdom, shrouded in mystery and magic, where a traditional Buddhist culture carefully embraces global developments. The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small landlocked country located in the southern foothills of the Himalayan mountain range, sandwiched between China in the north and India in the south.
Although Bhutan shares its geographical border with India, it’s very different from the Indian Subcontinent. Bhutan is a country where development is measured not by Gross Domestic Product, but by Gross National Happiness.
Some facts:
Capital – Thimphu
International Airport – Paro
Currency – Ngultrum (Nu) {1 Nu = 1 Indian Rupee ~ 0.015 USD (July’19)}
Time Zone – GMT + 6
Some FUN facts:
Bhutan is the only country in the world without traffic lights
There is a very old tradition of painting phalluses on their houses to serve as a symbol of fertility (check out this article by culture-trip for more details..)

Bhutan travel guide landscape
Scenic!

VISA / ENTRY PERMIT

Bhutan travel VISA (a.k.a entry permit ) has been categorized in two –
1. For citizens of India, Bangladesh, Maldives
2. For citizens of any other country.

If you fall in category #1 (i.e. if you are a citizen of India, Bangladesh, Maldives), you don’t need to apply for a travel visa in advance. You can simply obtain an entry-permit at the point of entry on producing a valid passport with a minimum of 6 months validity (or Indian voter ID card). The good news is Bhutan entry permit is FREE of cost.

ALSO READ:
👉 How to EASILY get Bhutan Entry Permit for Indian Citiens.

All other tourists (category #2) must obtain a visa clearance prior the travel to Bhutan.  Visas are processed through an online system and you will need to hire a licensed Bhutanese tour operator for this purpose (or via a foreign travel agent).
But unlike the entry-permit (category #1), this will not be free of cost. The tourism sector is controlled by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) which has set a minimum daily package.
(a) $200 per person per night for off-season (January, February, June, July, August & December)
(b) $250 per person per night for high season (March, April, May, September, October & November).
I know what you are thinking – “That’s insanely huge!!”, right? But, don’t get disheartened, for the price that you pay i.e. $200 / $250 includes the following:

  • A minimum of 3 star accommodation (4 & 5 star will require an additional premium)
  • All meals
  • A licensed Bhutanese tour guide for the extent of your stay
  • All internal transport (excluding internal flights)
  • Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours
  • All internal taxes and charges
  • A sustainable tourism Royalty of $65. This Royalty goes towards free education, free healthcare, poverty alleviation, along with the building of infrastructure.
Thimphu Buddha point Bhutan travel guide
WE at the famous Buddha point!
we have included all our learning from the trip inside this Bhutan travel guide!!

HOW TO REACH BHUTAN

AIR

Paro Airport, situated at a height of 2,225 m, is Bhutan’s only international airport. It is well connected with major Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and also with other domestic & international airports like Bagdogra, Guwahati, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Singapore and Bangkok.
flight map Bhutan travel guide

LAND

Road + Rail is one of the cheapest ways to enter Bhutan, especially from India. You can take a train to the nearest train-station (Hasimara) or fly down to Bagdogra (nearest airport) and take a cab from there to Phuentsholing.
Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar are the only land border areas open to tourists. bhutan map Bhutan travel guide
[1], [2]

Pro-tip: Although we had taken the “rail+road” option (details can be found in this article), we would recommend taking the “flight+road” option – take a flight to Bagdogra Airport and then take a cab. This is the most optimized way (taking cost + time into consideration).

BEST TIME TO VISIT BHUTAN

If you are planning to visit primarily the major cities (like Thimphu, Paro, Punakha) then the best times would be March-April-May and September-October-November. These major cities are located in the central (or central-western to be precise) part of Bhutan thereby Spring and Autumn offer the most suitable weather. Do keep in mind that September to November is the busiest tourist season and hence hotels (and cabs) are most likely to charge a bit of peak pricing.

December, January, and February are colder months and you will rarely find tourists traveling to Bhutan around this time. Most parts of Bhutan would be snow-covered and some roads might also be blocked. June to August is the monsoon season in Bhutan. There is rainfall in eastern, western and the southern areas of Bhutan whereas the northern mountains are covered by the monsoon clouds.

We made our trip during the last week of April and the first week of May, and we would highly recommend the same. Weather will be nice and cool, you will get bright and clear skies and you might also be lucky to catch rhododendrons in full bloom.

Festivals – Just like India, Bhutan is also a land of many festivals and the exotic face of Bhutanese culture is captured brilliantly by them. TSECHUs are Bhutan’s most dramatic festivals, wherein a series of religious dances are performed by spectacularly masked and elaborately robed dancers. The dates and duration of the tsechus vary from one district to another but usually take place on or around the 10th day of the Bhutanese calendar. For more details and exact dates of all festivals, kindly check TCB’s website.

festival Bhutan travel guide
Bhutanese festivals – bright and spectacular – are a treat to your eyes [3]

PLACES TO VISIT IN BHUTAN & THINGS TO DO

With atmospheric monasteries, towering pine trees and a barrage of smiling faces everywhere you go, these are some of the places in Bhutan that should definitely be on your bucket list:


Thimphu is the beating heart of Bhutan and we suggest the Great Buddha Dordenma (a.k.a Buddha point) tops your list of must-visits.



Taktsang Monastery or Tiger’s Nest in Paro is the ‘not-so-easy’ stairway to heaven. It is one of the most stunning treks that you will ever come across.



Out of all the mesmerizing Bhutanese architecture, we believe the Punakha Dzong is the epitome.


To reach Punakha, you will need to drive through Dochula Pass, home to 108 memorial chortens. We loved combing through the small-small chortens while enjoying the serene weather.


Located between the Haa and Paro valleys and nested at a whopping 3988 m (about 13,000 ft) above sea level, Chelela Pass is the highest motorable road in Bhutan.



Motithang Takin Preserve (Thimphu) is a wildlife reserve area for TAKIN, the national animal of Bhutan. It’s worthwhile taking the time to see these oddball mammals.

ALSO READ:
👉 Top places to visit and things to do in Thimphu

Apart from these, there are multiple other enchanting places that you should explore and experience a culture that will inspire you. You will find our article on suggested itineraries wherein we have given a detailed overview of the itinerary that we followed and multiple other possible itinerary options.

TYPICAL COSTS

Accommodation:

Shoestring budget – around 500-800 Nu per night; these hotels will be very basic and some might even lack a few comfort amenities.
Average: between 1,500-2,500 Nu per night you will get pretty good hotels. These will be neat, clean and hygienic and will offer complimentary breakfast, WiFi and many other amenities.
Luxury: There are multiple 4-star, 5-star hotels and a few luxury home-stays available in most of the major cities which are most likely around 3,500-5,000 Nu per night (or even higher..)

Local commute:

There are few places where local buses do ply, however, it is better to take a cab. You can also choose to walk to some of the tourist places in Thimphu.
We would suggest the use of local taxis for sight-seeing and also for exploring different cities. Typically the local cabs will ask around 2,400-3,000 Nu for a full-day. However, during the non-peak season, you can bargain a bit and get it at 2,000-2,500 Nu.
(as always, we did bargain a lot and hired a cab for 6,000 Nu for 3 days!!)

Pro-tip: if you are an Indian citizen, Bhutan will turn out to be a surprisingly less expensive trip. Just to give you inspiration, we did our entire trip in Rs. 34,000!! This included Every.Single.Thing, door-to-door, 2 adults!! And, this is also one of the reasons why we feel that Bhutan is the perfect choice for your first international travel experience! Also, check out our plethora of articles in the Bhutan travel guide series to know more…

ALSO READ:
👉 Why Bhutan is the Ideal Choice for an Indian traveler’s First Foreign Trip

DELICACIES TO TRY

One of the most distinctive characteristics of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Red chilies are in fact an essential part of nearly every dish. Red Rice is the main dish with buckwheat and maize as close seconds. Usually, rice is served together with a bowl of vegetables and another bowl of meat.
When in Bhutan, be sure to try the national dish Ema Datchi (a dish based on large chillis and cheesy sauce), a variety of delicious Tibetan style Momos and various meats cooked in spicy gravy. Given the cold climate of the mountain regions of the country, spices and meats make up a large portion of the cuisine, along with locally grown herbal teas.

bhutan food Ema Datchi red rice
Super yummy and Super spicy!!

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU TRAVEL

  • Connectivity – Most hotels have WiFi, but if you need to stay connected on the go, you may get a local SIM card from Tashi Cell or B-Mobile and top up with prepaid cards.
  • Language – The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha, but most locals are fluent in English as that is the medium of education so communication shouldn’t be a problem.
  • ATM – There are a few ATMs in Bhutan, but only in the main towns. A word of caution, the ATMs do not always work and we would advise you to carry some cash always.
  • Clothes – Do pack warm clothes (atleast a jacket) irrespective of the season as you may experience huge changes in elevation, with certain valleys colder than others.
  • Electricity – Electrical sockets supply electricity at 220~240 volts AC. The plug type is the same as that of India (type C, D). A word of caution: Most hotel rooms have limited electrical plugs, so it’ll be wise to carry a multi-socket extension board along with a travel-adapter if you have many devices.
  • Photography – Bhutan offers immense opportunities for photography especially landscapes. Feel free to capture images of the panoramic views of the mountain ranges, rural life, flora and fauna, distinctive Bhutanese architecture and the exterior of Dzongs and Chortens. However please check with your guide (or some locals) before taking pictures or filming inside Dzongs, temples, monasteries.
Here are some related articles in the Bhutan travel guide series which will help you prepare better and travel awesome!
We are sure that the Ultimate Bhutan Travel Guide will motivate you to plan your next vacation to Bhutan and/or would have definitely helped you to get better prepared. Take a trip of a lifetime to this ancient land of monasteries, fortresses (called Dzongs) and ancient temples—the ‘Last Shangri La’, and be mystified as you explore travel world’s best-kept secret—Bhutan.
[1 & 2] , [3]

Sharing is Caring !!

17 Comments

  • Background checks

    Thanks for another informative blog. Where else may just I am getting that type of info written in such a perfect approach?
    I have a mission that I am simply now running on, and I have been on the
    look out for such info.

  • Good evening images

    If someone wishes to be updated with latest technologies then they must pay a visit this web page and be up to date all the time.

  • Tshewang Penjor

    Hi,

    Your Blog is good enough to provide complete information on Bhutan. Thanks and keep update your information with changes of rules and regulations.

    Thanks

  • Corina at Chasing our Financial Freedom

    Wow! Amazing guide! I would love to go to Bhutan. I’ve done the whole region there, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The only reason I haven’t been to Bhutan is because I’m a smoker and they don’t allow smoking. It’s stupid I know but planning to quit smoking soon. Anyway, great article!

  • Chrinstine

    I could not refrain from commenting. Very well written! I’ve been browsing on-line greater than 3 hours
    today, but I by no means discovered any fascinating article like yours.
    It is pretty worth sufficient for me. In my view, if all site owners
    and bloggers made just right content material as you did,
    the web might be much more useful than ever before.
    I want to to thank you for this very good read!!
    I absolutely loved every bit of it. I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff from you.

  • Rachael

    Very detailed and helpful tips! Things like connectivity are really useful to know in advance. Thank you very much! The red rice and Ema Datchi sound delicious too.

  • Samidha Mathur

    This blog was one of the best travel blog I have ever read. You have covered every single aspect that is something very important. You have made this blog beautiful as well.

    I am bookmarking this blog, as I was planning to visit Bhutan very soon. Thank you for sharing.

    • Mainak

      Thank you so much Samidha.. we are really glad that you liked the blog. Enjoy your trip to Bhutan, its a wonderful place.
      feel free to contact us if you need any assistance.
      cheers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *