Going to Bhutan is as much exciting and mysterious at the same time. Most travelers are unaware about a handful of uncompromising directives entailed by the government. The Bhutan Travel FAQs we have presented here is our effort to keep you well-versed about the mesmerizing Himalayan dragon kingdom and some of its stringent imperatives that a traveler should always be knowledgeable before traveling in the land of the Shangri La.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Officially known as the kingdom of Bhutan, the dragon nation is a landlocked Himalayan country in south Asia. Bhutan is positioned in the eastern Himalayas bordered by Tibet in the north and India in the east, west and south. Surrounded by the mighty Himalayas, Bhutan is a tiny country sandwiched between India and Tibet, just east of Nepal and north of Bangladesh. The northern border is the Chumbi Valley in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Bhutan is bordered by Sikkim and West Bengal in the west, and portions of West Bengal along with Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in the south and east.
The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha, a Sino-Tibetan language. However, when it comes to languages, Bhutan is somewhat diverse with about two dozen different languages being actively spoken within the country. Bhutanese people do speak English as a second language but the way they speak is a bit different from what native English speakers would speak. The dialect used by the Bhutanese is normally used as an adopted common language owing to the linguistic variations in different parts of the country. The medium of instructions in schools in Bhutan is English and it is not shocking to know that most of the educated populace can understand and speak adept English. However, the older generation and the village folks may not be able to speak the English language because they probably never went to schools. As stated earlier, Bhutanese people have tone of voice and accentuation different from native speakers. Based on region, religion, dialect, etc their English accent is affected by their mother tongue. Thus, you may notice that the southern Bhutanese population speaks different English from northern and eastern Bhutan, as least in terms of accent and pronunciation. In the recent years, a small segment of the Bhutanese residents have been found to be speaking British or American English while the larger group has a mild Indian accent. Other languages prominently spoken in Bhutan are Hindi and Nepali. Overall, Bhutan is looked upon as an English-friendly country. On special request, travelers can ask for tour guides who can speak other foreign languages like Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, French, and many more.
Absolutely yes! It is hard to witness a violence or resistance against the government thereby making the political situation quite stable. As the country is covered by more than 70% forest, it makes Bhutan the only carbon negative country in the world thus contributing to the decrease in natural disasters with exceptions during monsoon season. Bhutan has a low rate of traffic accidents because of the well-operated transportation system. It is the only country in the world that has no traffic lights. Bhutan is also very safe for female travelers as the local Bhutanese people are extremely helpful and gentle. Crime is extremely uncommon in Bhutan and the crime rate is negligibly low. Getting mugged or robbed or other incidences of serious crimes like terrorism, cars hitting pedestrians on the streets and other violent crimes are very hardly reported in the country. You won’t find any bugging shop keepers, no intense tourist traps, and no commercialized tourist sites. Besides, you won’t find a single beggar in the entire country. Though Bhutan is a very safe country, you must be aware of your surroundings and look out for a handful of things:
- High altitude issues if you are trekking or hiking in Bhutan.
- Bad weather and natural calamities – landslides and road blocks are very common during rainy season. Traveling during monsoon is unsafe especially in eastern Bhutan.
- Furious stray dogs that sleep silently during the day in the streets usually become intense and aggressive during the night time.
- Snowfalls during the onset of winter could disrupt your road trips.
- Wildlife could possess a menace if hiking or trekking off the beaten trails in Bhutan.
- Lots of accidents have been reported at Bhutan’s hairpin bends, so if you are on a road trip or cycling or motor-biking, avoid night rides.
Of course, everyone needs a visa to enter into Bhutan except for Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian nationals. There is no Visa on Arrival service in Bhutan. Getting visa is fortunately not a difficult process for all foreign travelers although being the strictest process on the planet. You must be aware that you cannot apply your visa on your own self and also the Bhutan Embassy does not have travel visa services. The only way to enter into Bhutan is to book a trip with an international tour operator or a local travel agent registered with the Tourism Council of Bhutan and the Bhutan Foreign Ministry. After you have booked a trip, your tour operator will make an application through an online system on your behalf. For processing your Bhutan visa, you are required to send an electronic copy and a scanned copy of the photo-page of your passport to us. Your visa will be processed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan using the details on your passport, which will be processed and cleared as early as 72 working hours. A visa clearance number in the form of a letter will be provided once the visa application is approved. This clearance number will be sent to the tour operator, the immigration terminals at Paro International Airport, road border checkpoint at Phuentsholing, Gelephu or Samdrup Jonkhar as well as both the national airlines of Bhutan, Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines. Depending on the method how you enter into Bhutan, your visa will actually be stamped into your passport on arrival at the entry point, either road border or at the airport.
Your Bhutan visa will be processed once your tour operator makes the payment of the tour package cost to Tourism Council of Bhutan. The visa clearance number in the form of a letter will be released in as early as 3 days after applying and sent to your tour operator, the airport immigration terminal and specific road checkpoints and also to the airlines that you will be flying with. Usually it is about 1 to 2 weeks before your arrival in Bhutan that your visa clearance is sent to your agency. Based on this clearance number, you will have your visa stamped on your passport at your entry point in Bhutan.
Getting to Bhutan from Nepal is possible in the following ways:
- Direct flight from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu to Paro International Airport in Paro.
- Domestic flight from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur, eastern Nepal and then a 6-hour road trip across India to Phuentsholing entry point.
- A budget trip by traveling overland from Kathmandu to Phuentsholing which takes around 18-20 hours. The overland journey passes through Indian roads for 5 to 6 hours before arriving at the Bhutan entry point.
Bhutan’s tourism sector is closely monitored by the government. It is mandatory for all foreign tourists, with an exception to nationals of India, Bangladesh and Maldives, to book their tour through a tour operator. In simple words, travelers cannot simply book their flights to Bhutan and travel around on their own. On booking a guided package tour through an agent, your visa, hotel, transportation, guide, driver, etc will be arranged. Your visa will be given to your operator on full payment of the trip package cost. In a nut shell, you cannot travel to Bhutan independently and it is obligatory that you book your holiday with a registered tour operator.
Normally, there is a minimum daily fee for a foreigner visiting Bhutan, which is actually set by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB). Depending on the season and the level of comfort desired by a traveler, the cost of a trip package for a single person per day is anywhere between US$ 200 to 290 or even more. This cost also includes the visa cost, but on its own, the cost for Bhutan tourist visa is US$ 40 per person. However, if you wish to upgrade your hotel accommodation, food and transportation options, then the trip package cost per day will increase accordingly.
Bhutan is the land of the thunder dragon popular for its spectacular landscapes, celebrated ancient temples, monasteries and age-old fortresses. Bhutan is brimmed with highly spiced yet appetizing food, vibrant festivals, and authentic culture and traditions. Bhutan is obviously a good travel destination and a place for you to travel if you need a break from the fast-moving urban life to meditate in solitude or get involved in spiritual awakenings. Despite the travel costs, Bhutan is undoubtedly an amazing trip. Putting the value and experience into some standpoint, here is why we think it is worth the money you spend traveling to Bhutan:
- A big portion of the fee that you pay goes towards backing health care and education in Bhutan.
- Bhutan tourism has sustained due to its strategy of Gross National Happiness (GNH). This holistic and sustainable approach to development is key to Bhutan’s tourism.
- Bhutan is a country where you will witness locals stick to their traditions and cultural values that are pure, authentic and divine.
- The government’s strategy of ‘Low Volume, High Impact’ makes Bhutan appear very expensive, but the fee a tourist pays is an all-inclusive tariff. Indian nationals do not need a visa or a licensed tour guide to travel inside Bhutan.
- Bhutan is a country with a wide selection on food varieties. Chili is almost their national fruit – most of the food items contain chilies in it. Yak meat and red rice are something to munch on. The national dish of Bhutan, Ema Datshi is a blazing mix of green chilies and local cheese.
- The cultural legacy of Bhutan is vast with numerous monasteries and old fortresses known as Dzong. Travelers get a good glance of Buddhism that is deeply engraved throughout the country.
- While exploring the beautiful country, one can experience countless natural wonders including the high mountain passes, flora and fauna species, wildlife and birds.
Overall, Bhutan is no ordinary place and a good travel destination shrouded in mystery. It is definitely worth visiting the Himalayan kingdom, the last Shangri La once in your lifetime and explore the exotic lifestyle.
It is always in your favor when you know some of the most-visited places or significant landmarks of the country you are visiting shortly. So, before entering into the dragon kingdom of Bhutan, here are some major attractions and the most considerable places that you need to know about. Cover these places along with your friends or your family on worthwhile tours in Bhutan. If not all, at least try to visit a handful of them – you will remain awestruck in the natural splendor and the architectural marvel of this tiny country nestled on the lap of the Himalayas.
- Rinpung Dzong – Enjoy the spiritual environment and the finest architecture
- The Folk Heritage Museum – Take a cultural tour of Bhutan under one roof
- Dochula Pass – Overlook the Himalayas on top of a mountain pass
- Chomolhari – Trek for a real high mountain adventure through scattered hamlets
- Tiger’s Nest (Taktshang Palphug monastery) – Hike up to the pride of Bhutan
- National Museum of Bhutan – Explore Bhutan’s cultural focal point
- Motithang Takin Preserve – Observe Bhutan’s wildlife
- Phobjikha Valley – Tour to one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys
- Jambay Lhakhang Temple – Visit the temple with a colorful past and an equally colorful present
- Gangtey Monastery – Pay homage at the biggest Nyingmapa monastery in Bhutan
- Haa Valley – Travel to the magical place beyond mountains
- Tashichho Dzong – Wander around the office of the king of Bhutan
- Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan – Learn the art of yarn dyeing and traditional weaving
- Tower of Trongsa (Ta Dzong) – Look around at the country’s most fascinating museum that once used to be a watchtower.
- Punakha Suspension Bridge – Walk over one of Bhutan’s longest suspension bridges
- Samdrup Jongkhar – Buy bamboo and silk products in Bhutan’s oldest town
- Drukgyel Dzong – Take a stroll to the ruins of the fortress of victory
- Buddha Dordenma Statue – Marvel at the massive statue of Lord Buddha
- Zuri Dzong Fort – Enjoy the scenic views of the Paro Valley
- Tango Buddhist Institute – Lace up for spiritual awakening
- Talo Village – Visit one of the cleanest and pictorial villages in Punakha
- Chele La Pass – Savor the spectacular views of the Himalayan peaks
- Hidden Valleys of Bumthang – Discover the hidden natural beauty of Bhutan
- Simtokha Dzong – Explore the ‘Palace of the Profound Meaning of Secret Mantras’
- Norzin Lam Street – Shop till you drop at this famous shopping destination
- Jigme Dorji National Park – Enjoy wildlife in Bhutan’s second largest national park
- Dagala Thousand Lakes – Traverse on the iconic and surreal trekking trails
- Punakha Dzong – Visit the administrative center of Punakha
- Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary – Visit the home to some of the rarest wildlife species like Red Panda and Himalayan Monal Pheasant
- National Institute for Zorig Chusum – Observe locals preserving local art works like woodwork, painting, embroidery, sculpting, carving, paper-making, etc
- Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory – Learn about paper-making techniques
- Choki Traditional Art School – Spend time for souvenir shopping
- Wangdue Phodrang – Observe the bamboo products, slate and stone carvings
- Main Street – Spend money in the wooden shopfronts and restaurants
- Royal Manas National Park – Explore the beautiful haven for wildlife lovers
- Namgay Artisanal Brewery – Take a tour and learn to brew many style beers
- Simply Bhutan – Study the diverse aspects of Bhutan
- Jangtsa Dumtseg Lhakhang Temple – Hear about the old folk stories
- Kyichu Lhakhang Temple – Visit the sacred Jewel of Bhutan
- Chimi Lhakhang Temple – Listen to the age-old stories of the fertility temple
Here are some of the most popular luxury accommodation options in Bhutan:
- Le Méridien Thimphu
- Le Méridien Paro, Riverfront
- Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary Paro
- Dhensa Boutique Resort Punakha
- COMO Uma Paro and Punakha
- Aman Kora Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang
- Zhiwa Ling Ascent Thimphu
- Gangtey Lodge Gangtey
- Taj Tashi Thimphu
- Pema by Realm Thimphu
- Six Senses Bhutan Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang
- Deluxe Camping in the wild Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang
Bhutanese festivals are known for their magnificence, liveliness and cheerfulness. Most of the festivals are dedicated to Guru Rinpoche and comprise mystical dances, fearless fire events, and numerous engaging performances. The major festivals in Bhutan which you should try not to miss during your visit are as follows:
- Thimphu Tshechu: one of the biggest festivals in Bhutan
- Paro Tshechu: the most popular spring festival in the country
- Jambay Lhakhang Drup: traditional and mask dances are performed
- Punakha Drubchen & Punakha Tshechu: theatrical amusement depicting a scene from the 17th century battle with the Tibetan army. Punakha Tshechu is held immediately afterwards.
- Haa Summer Festival: celebration of traditional Bhutanese culture, sports, and religion
- Wangdue Phodrang Tshechu: the festival is famous for local songs and ornamental speeches
- Matsutake Festival: harvest festival that marks the celebration of mushroom harvesting
- Nomad Festival: nomadic people from all parts of Bhutan gather in Bumthang to celebrate the annual festival
- Black-Necked Crane Festival: celebrated at Gangtey monastery to create awareness on conserving the endangered black-necked crane
- Mountain Echoes: a festival of mix of different art forms, including visual arts, literature, music, film, theatre, photography, and dance
- Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival: performed by the Royal Bhutan Army instead of monks as a tribute to the king
Bhutan is a country not to be compared with the likes of Thailand, Malaysia or Singapore. You will neither find any shopper’s heaven nor any theme parks here. There are plenty of monasteries, temples and old fortresses while Buddhism is deeply imprinted everywhere you look. The land is a surprise mix of traditional Buddhist culture and modern developments and has an adequate of things for travelers to feel, see and experience. Here are some of the things to do in Bhutan when you visit the magical country:
- Experience Bhutan’s natural wonders
- Travel across high mountain passes
- Observe the unique architectural marvels
- Participate in an archery competition
- Trek in the Bhutan Himalayas
- Hike up to the Tiger’s Nest (Taktshang Palphug Monastery)
- Take a bike tour
- Attend festivals
- Go out for camping
- Take on kayaking and rafting tours
- Do cycling or rock climbing activities
- Go fishing and take a hot spring therapy
- Wildlife safari and bird watching
- Mountain biking and horse riding
- Dance with the monks
- Go for antique shopping and explore the handicrafts market
- Experience the diverse Bhutanese cuisine
The small Himalayan kingdom of the thunder dragon is known for so many things that an endless list can be prepared. Topping all others, Bhutan is best known for its revolutionary Gross National Happiness index. GNH is a measurement machination used to provide motivational policies and increase the well-being of the people of Bhutan. Next, the dragon kingdom is popular for being the only carbon negative country on earth owing to its major segment (70%) of the forested area. Other significant things that Bhutan is known for are:
- Natural beauty and forest conservation
- Vibrant local traditions and festivals that are celebrated throughout the country with much rigor and gusto, one example being the annual Black-Necked Crane Festival
- Diversified Bhutanese cuisine including the most popular Ema Datshi
- Archery tournaments, colorful prayer flags and rural farmhouses
- Popular Himalayan treks such as Druk Path Trek, Jumolhari Trek, Bumdra Trek, and Chelela Trek
- Wildlife like Phobjikha valley and Motithang Takin Preserve
- Bhutan’s arts and crafts and the fascinating Dzongs and monasteries such as Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory, National Textile Museum, Taktshang Palphug, Buddha Dordenma, Tashicho Dzong, Punakha Dzong, Kyichu Lhakhang Temple and more
Bhutan proffers an extensive preference for accommodation during your trip, from the comfy hotels and luxurious resorts to home-stays and plush 5 star hotels. It is mandatory that your tour operator provides you with a minimum of 3 star accommodation assuring warmth and comfort. You can always ask your agency to upgrade your hotel with a higher level of comfort to a boutique range of luxurious lodges and resorts with spa and yoga facilities if you are willing to pay that extra surcharge. Generally speaking, the types of accommodations are categorized into hotels, resorts, farm-stays and home-stays. Travelers have the choice to stay in their preferred categories. The place where you stay is equally important as is your Bhutan trip. Except for huge luxury hotels, the budget 3 star and 4 star hotels are the most popular ones amongst tourists. For people who wish to experience authentic local culture and life, we recommend to stay in traditional Bhutanese style hotels, home-stays or farm-stays. Staying at a distinctive Bhutanese farm house, you will get an excellent glimpse into the daily life of a typical Bhutanese family. It is a perfect opportunity to observe old farming traditions, enjoy delicious home-cooked meal and experience an unparalleled hospitality. If you come to Bhutan to embark on long treks, you will be sleeping in the tents during the trip. Other camping equipment, if deemed necessary, will be made available to you. Regardless of where you stay during your Bhutan tour, you will, no doubt feel the warmth and comfort of the traditional Bhutanese hospitality.
Paro International Airport (PBH) is the only international airports of the four airports in Bhutan. The two airlines operating in the Himalayan kingdom are the government-owned Druk Air, and a private airline Bhutan Airlines. These national carriers both provide international flights from various destinations into Bhutan’s international airport at Paro, which is a one and a half hours drive from the capital city. Druk Air has a fleet of modern Airbus 319 and ATR planes flying in and out of Bhutan from:
- Bangkok, BKK – Thailand
- New Delhi, DEL – India
- Mumbai, BOM – India
- Kolkata, CCU – India
- Bagdogra, IXB – India
- Bodh Gaya, GAY – India
- Guwahati, GAU – India
- Kathmandu, KTM – Nepal
- Dhaka, DAC – Bangladesh
- Changi, SIN – Singapore
Bhutan Airlines also operates the modern Airbus 319-100 with a capacity to carry 125 passengers in and out of Bhutan from:
- New Delhi, DEL – India
- Bangkok, BKK – Thailand
- Kathmandu, KTM – Nepal
- Calcutta, CCU – India
The foremost reason as to why you should visit Bhutan is there are fewer travelers as compared to the neighboring countries of India and Nepal. The government of Bhutan follows the policy of ‘High Value, Low Impact’ tourism to conserve the nation’s matchless cultural heritage and reduce the harmful impacts of mass-tourism. Secondly, Bhutan is the only carbon-negative country in the whole world, so pollution is hardly felt in the country. The government is fully aware of the shortcomings of high-speed modernization of the country, so it is making a hesitant move. Other reasons why one must visit Bhutan after all are:
- Bhutanese food that are unique and sumptuous
- Meet Bhutanese people who have a optimistic mind-set on life
- Witness the ancient traditions that are still embraced
- Visit the ancient monuments, temples, monasteries and ruined fortresses
- To understand the myth and magic of Bhutan’s history
- Traverse on some of the best Himalayan hiking trails
- Experience village walks on off-the-beaten path
Solo travelers are prohibited to enter Bhutan in the sense that they will not be allowed to travel independently without a guide or a driver. This is mainly only for the nationals of India, Bangladesh, and Maldives. Solo travelers from other countries are allowed to visit Bhutan when they book a package with a tour operator and travel places along with a licensed tour guide. It is true that Bhutan highly discourages solo travelers to independently roam around the country. One of the main reasons for this deterrent is because of the rise in illegal migrants from India. As a solo traveler, you will have to pay an extra surcharge of $40 per day in addition to the regular fee.
The daily cost for Bhutan tour is $200 during the offseason and $250 during the high-seasons in autumn and spring. If you are traveling solo, it is mandatory that you pay an additional $40 per day bringing the total spending up to $290 per day. However, if you are traveling on a private tour with only two people, you’ll pay another $30 per day totaling the cost up to $280. Those wishing to opt for luxurious accommodations in 5 star hotels or deluxe resorts need to pay several hundred dollars extra per day and the same goes for those who plan to go trekking with first-class gear and camping equipment. The per day price you pay includes visa, licensed guide, driver and transportation, accommodation, entrance fees, food and non-alcoholic beverages, trekking gear and all other applicable taxes. Your additional expenses not included in the cost are international flights, souvenirs, alcoholic beverages and tips to guides and drivers.
Whether you want to do a day hike or a week-long or even a month-long adventure, trekking in Bhutan definitely has something to offer to everyone. For those in lookout for a demanding high-altitude trek, the Snowman Trek is undoubtedly one of the best treks in Bhutan involving several high-altitude passes and requires camping in the snow. Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek and Laya Gasa Trek are shorter challenges that come with various advantages and less adversities. If you are looking for something more than a hike or an alternative to hiking tours in Bhutan, then Druk Path Trek, Bumthang Owl Trek or Jumolhari Trek may just be right for you. For beginners who wish to walk on easy trails, Gangtey Trek, Punakha Winter Trek, and Nabji Korphu Trek would be perfect choices.
The free baggage allowance for checked baggage for adults and children aged 2 years and above, as specified by Druk Air to the conditions and limitations in Carrier’s Regulations is as follows:
- Business Class – 40 kg (88 lb)
- Economy Class – 30 kg (66 lb)
If 2 or more passengers are traveling together, they will be permitted to total free baggage allowance equal to their combined weights. If the baggage weight exceeds the free allowance, the passenger is bound to pay a charge for the extra weight in accordance to the rules provided in the regulations of Druk Air. The hand baggage of a passenger must fit under the seat in front of the passenger or in an attached luggage compartment in the cabin. If the weight of the hand baggage is more than the permitted limit, it won’t be allowed inside the cabin.
The most distinguishing attribute of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chilies are unbelievably an indispensable part of almost every dish in Bhutan. Bhutanese people would not enjoy their meal without including chilies in it – it is that important to them. The following are the most popular traditional Bhutanese dishes:
- Ema Datshi: The national food of Bhutan which is a spicy mix of chilies and cheese. There are several variations on this dish by adding green beans, ferns, mushroom, or potatoes.
- Momos: The Tibetan style dumplings stuffed with pork, beef, or vegetables like cabbage and cheese.
- Phaksha Paa: Pork cooked with spicy red chilies. Sometimes, the dish is prepared by adding radish or spinach.
- Shakam Paa: Dried beef cooked with dried chilies and sometimes slices of radish.
- Yaksha Shakam: Dried yak meat that is cooked in a number of ways, but normally with fermented yak cheese.
- Hoentoe: Pungent buckwheat dumplings filled with turnip greens, yak cheese, spinach and other vegetables.
- Jasha Maru: Spicy minced chicken dish with tomatoes and other ingredients that is normally eaten with plain rice.
- Red Rice: The extremely nourishing and filling dish is quite similar to brown rice. When cooked, it is dull pink, soft and somewhat gummy.
- Goep or Tripe: Like other meat items, it is cooked with plenty of chilies and chili powder. Although the dish is getting extinct elsewhere, it is still enjoyed by the Bhutanese people.
- Jaju: Bhutanese milk and vegetable soup made with some type of local spinach or turnip leaves. The soup broth contains milk and butter.
- Drink Specialties: Numerous varieties.