Bhutan is a very small country in terms of the area still they have preserved their culture very well. Bhutan is also known as “Land of Thunder Dragon” and thunder dragon is its national symbol. They have preserved their culture and heritage while accepting modernization. There are some really beautiful places to visit in Bhutan. I have decided to see some of the most popular tourist places in Bhutan during my 7 days trip.
Nowadays when every nation measures its development through “GDP”, Bhutan has a unique system of “GNH” which means Gross National Happiness. Bhutan government work toward the well being and happiness of its citizens. They have consciously saved their culture from the blunt influences of the western world. Bhutanese people have a modern approach but at the same time, they are very traditional. I have observed a good balance of traditional values with technology.
Where is Bhutan?
It is tucked between India and China. Bhutan is surrounded by Indian states from three sides and share its eastern border with China.
Bhutan travel cost and visa
All foreign travelers except for citizens of India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives must obtain a visa before traveling to Bhutan. Travelers from these 3 countries don’t need a visa. They don’t need to commit a minimum amount per day. Though since 2018 Bhutan government had issued an advisory to have confirmed hotel bookings before entering their country. Indian gets 7 days permit but if they like to stay more than it can be extended in Thimpu.
Travel visa for Bhutan
To restrict the number of tourists, Bhutan has a system of minimum tariff per day. This is a conscious effort to minimize the impact of tourism on the culture and environment. There is no mad rush of tourists and backpackers in Bhutan. We have all seen in several parts of the world how things got spoiled after the intensive tourist flow. In a way, it is a good step to control over tourism but at the same time, the budget can be a hindrance for conscious travelers.
Foreign tourists must use a licensed Bhutanese tour operator to pre-arrange their visa and to book a complete holiday. Check the list of authorized tour operators on the official website of Bhutan government to avoid any scam.
Travel cost per day for foreign travelers in Bhutan
Daily expenditure of USD 200 per person per night during the off-season (January, February, June, July, August & December) and USD 250 per person per night for high season (March, April, May, September, October & November) if you traveling in a group of 3 or more.
In case you are traveling solo then you have to pay an additional surcharge of 40 USD per day and for 2 people it is 30 USD per day.
USD 65 Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) is included in this amount.
* Depending upon the number of day’s tour operator will calculate the cost of the trip. In addition to this amount, you have to pay USD 40 as a one-time visa fee.
** Full amount is transferred to the Bhutan National Bank through one of their certified international partners. They then transfer the money to the tour operator.
* This amount covers a stay in a minimum of 3-star accommodation. If you want to upgrade to 4 or 5-star accommodation than pay extra.
** All meals are included in this package.
* Transport and sightseeing in Bhutan are included in this.
** A licensed Bhutanese tour guide will accompany you for a complete trip.
* In case you are going for trekking or camping then tour operator will provide you all the equipment.
Best time to travel to Bhutan
Spring and autumn are the best time to travel to Bhutan but it is beautiful throughout the year. Spring is from March to May and Autumn is from September to November. It’s sunny during the day and gets slightly cold still the weather remains mild.
I personally like spring because flowers blooming makes everything looks spectacular. If you like to attend some of the biggest festivals of Bhutan then autumn months are best to travel.
June, July, and August are monsoon months and it rains very heavily. You can’t go out as it gets cold and muddy. Trekking is not possible during this time of the year.
Bhutan in winters looks totally different. If you don’t mind cold and snow then it is a good time to travel to Bhutan. The temperature varies between 6-7 degree Celcius in southern parts of Bhutan to minus 2-3 degrees in northern parts. December is cold but the sky remains clear and you can see beautiful snow-clad Himalayan mountain ranges. It snows mostly in January and that’s why January & February are coldest months of the year.
How to travel to Bhutan
By flights to Bhutan
There are many valleys in Bhutan and that’s why there is not much open space to make a big airport. The only international airport of Bhutan is in Paro. The valley of Paro is also surrounded by high mountains. Flying into Paro is an experience in itself because during the landing aircraft come very close to the mountains.
There are several flights to Paro every week from Kathmandu, Delhi, Mumbai, Singapore, and Bangkok. Some of these flights are direct and some are via Dhaka, Kolkata or Bagdogra. The annual schedule of flights changes with the season.
Only The Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines operate international flights as other airlines are not allowed to operate flights.
I have flown from Delhi to Paro and I saw the Mount Everest from my flight since the weather was clear. Captain of our flight made the announcement as we approached the mountain range and this really helped to see.
By Road to Bhutan
Though traveling to Bhutan by air is most convenient but it is a bit expensive as ticket prices are high. If you are on a tight budget then you can travel to Bhutan by road. There are only 3 points at the Indian border are opened for international travelers. These are Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar.
Phuentsholing is the most popular as well most convenient border for entering into Bhutan. The travel time from Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar to Paro or Thimpu takes too long. From Gelephu it is more than 10 hours road journey to Thimpu and from Samdrup Jongkhar it is 2 to 3 days to reach Thimpu.
Phuentsholing is 170 Km from India’s domestic airport in Bagdogra. The immigration office remains open between 8.00 AM to 6.00 PM from Monday to Friday. An Indian tourist can enter and stay in Phuentsholing without a permit but for traveling to other parts, they need to obtain a permit. Indian can get permit against Voter ID card and passport.
Dressing tips for Bhutan
Everyone wears traditional dresses (Kira for women and Gho for Men) with pride, unlike other countries where people wear traditional dresses on special occasions.
It is advisable to wear clothes which cover your legs and shoulder when you are visiting any Dzong or Monastery or religious place. Always carry a light jacket with you even in the summer months.
Sim Card in Bhutan
A call to or from India to Bhutan on Indian sim card cost equal to the call cost to Europe. I bought a Tashi cell connection after arriving in Paro and it was very economical. You can also buy a BMobile sim card, which is another mobile company in Bhutan.
To obtain a tourist sim card you have to give a copy of your passport and a passport size photograph. Sim card gets activated within 2 hours and the connection is pretty good.
Must visit tourist places in Bhutan
Even though Bhutan is small in area but it’s not possible to see everything in a week or 10 days time. If you are traveling to Bhutan for the first time then you like to see and experience the best of it. I recommend that you should visit the capital Thimpu, Paro, and Punakha. There are many beautiful places in these cities to experience the essence of Bhutan.
My Bhutan itinerary for 7 days
Here is my itinerary for Bhutan if you have 7 days to explore the land of Thunder Dragon. This itinerary is most useful if you travel to Bhutan by flight.
Day 1: Fly from Delhi to Paro
I reached Paro around 10.00 AM and after obtaining permit checked in to the Olathang hotel. Paro is a valley and situated at an altitude of 2200 meters above sea level, most people don’t have any altitude issue at this height. Still, it is better to relax before going for any sightseeing in Bhutan.
After relaxing for some time we went to the local market and explored the area. Paro’s local market is located on one long road. The shops are made in the traditional Bhutanese style of architecture. Almost all the shops have a photograph of King and Queen inside or at the gate of the shop.
The air is clean with no pollution as there are few cars on roads. Everything is very laid back in Paro.
Read more about my First day in Paro
Day 2: Drive from Paro to Thimphu
Before leaving for Thimpu we visited the National Museum of Paro. It’s beautiful well preserved building through a part of it was destroyed in the 2009 earthquake.
Bhutan’s capital Thimpu is 70 km from Paro and it took us about 2 hours by road.
We stopped on the way at Iron chain bridge. This bridge connects to a Dzong across the river but it is private property so entry is not allowed without prior permission.
Our hotel Kisa in Thimpu was at the beginning of the main market and very centrally located. Thimpu’s Archery ground was in front of our hotel and we had an amazing view of the ground with mountains in its background.
We had more than half of the day and we spent that time for local sightseeing. We visited the Painting School, National Library, and the Textile Museum.
Later that evening we went to Thimpu Dzong and watched the flag lowering ceremony. It was a small yet colorful ceremony.
Day 3: Sightseeing in Thimphu
We dedicated this day to visit the areas around Thimpu. First, we went to the Buddha viewpoint, it is the highest point in Thimpu. Then we went to Takin Zoo where they have kept Bhutan’s national animal Takin, which is a rare animal.
We returned to Thimpu market for lunch.
Afterward, we visited Simtokha Dzong and National Memorial Chorten, which is one of the religious places for people of Bhutan.
Later that evening I bought some souvenirs from the National textile museum and from Thimpu’s local market.
Day 4: Thimphu to Punakha return to Thimphu
Punakha is 137 km from Thimpu and driving time is 4 hours because roads have several curves & bends.
We stopped on the way at Dochula pass. There are a monastery and 108 Chortans at Dochula pass. We stopped there for some time and explored the area. The view of Himalayan mountains from Dochula pass is mesmerizing.
Finally, we reached Punakha and visited Punakha Dzong, which is situated on the confluence of Pho Chuu, Mo Chu rivers. This is a beautiful dzong and the intricate work inside the main hall is spectacular. It is so beautiful from inside that I can’t describe it in words. Photography is not inside the prayer halls.
Later on, we spent some time near Sankosh River and finally went to a nearby village for lunch.
The temperature in Punakha is higher as compared to other parts of Bhutan because it is situated in a narrow valley at low altitude. We returned to Thimpu by evening.
Read more about My experience in Thimpu and Punakha
Day 5: Thimpu to Paro
We started from Thimpu to Paro after breakfast. In Paro, we left our luggage at the hotel and left for Chele La pass.
Chele La Pass is one & half hour drive from Paro. The road to the Chele La pass is narrow and have hairpin bends. The scenery from Paro to Chele La pass is a delight for any nature lover. There are lush green tall trees on both sides of the road.
Chele La pass is at the altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level and its Bhutan’s highest motorable road. The view of mountains from Chele La pass is mesmerizing while for me, it was the journey, which was the high point of this day trip.
Later on, we visited Drukgyal Ruin Dzong, which is in ruins but the view of mountains around it was worth visiting this place.
Day 6: Paro to Tiger nest
We went to the base of the Tiger nest by van and trekked from there. Till halfway trek is simple but afterward path is narrow and a bit steep at some points. Tiger nest is the most important religious place in Bhutan and the Dzong at the top is beautiful. We returned in the late afternoon.
Later that evening our hotel has organized a cultural program in the conference hall. Artists performed several traditional dances in colorful Bhutanese costumes with live music.
Read more about Places to see Paro Bhutan
Day 7: Paro to Delhi flight
Our flight from Paro to Delhi was at 05.00 PM so we had more than half a day to explore Paro. We visited Paro Dzong and later on spent some time at Paro Chuu.
I again went to Paro market for lunch and also did some shopping. I bought some asparagus & Bhutanese cheese to bring back home.
Travel tips for Bhutan
* Bhutanese currency is Ngultrum. It is equivalent to the Indian rupee. US Dollar and Indian Rupee are widely accepted. Indian currency notes of 500 and 2,000 are not acceptable.
** English is widely spoken in urban areas. In rural areas language can be a problem.
* Bhutan time is six hours ahead of GMT, 30 minutes ahead of India and one hour behind Thailand.
** Credit Card facilities are very limited. International ATMs are limited even in Thimpu, so it’s advisable to carry cash.
* Bhutanese dress modestly. Short skirts and shorts are generally not worn in public. While visiting temples, monasteries and Dzong wear trousers or a long skirt and tops with sleeves. Hats, sunglasses, sleeveless tops, shorts, and short skirts are not permitted inside these places.
** Always carry a shawl or light jacket while traveling. Weather gets extremely cold and windy even during summer months. We had this problem while we visited Chale La pass but fortunately, we were carrying Jacket.
* Bhutanese people are religious and most of them follow Mahayana Buddhism (Kagyu tradition).
** When entering an inside a prayer hall in Dzongs or Monasteries, remove shoes outside and photography is prohibited inside the temples.
* When passing by Chortens, Mani walls or prayer flags, always walk clockwise.
** Smoking is prohibited in public areas.
* Bhutanese people respect and consider their king and queen next to God, keep this in mind when talking about them.
** Road from Thimpu to Punakha and Paro to Chele La pass has many twists and turns. If you have motion sickness problem then take the medication in advance.
* Wear comfortable shoes for the trek to Tiger Nest.
** Most restaurants prepare food after you place an order, so be patient because it can take 25-40 minutes.
Here are some interesting facts about Bhutan