Bhutan is a small Himalayan kingdom nestled between India and China. Despite being a small country, they have managed to protect itself from outside cultural influences. They have restricted the number of tourist by making a minimum spending requirement for foreign travelers. That’s why Bhutan trip cost is many folds higher than neighboring Nepal. There are several options to travel from India to Bhutan, it can be by air or by road.
Here are some practical tips regarding the best time to visit Bhutan, travel cost, culture, and other useful things to know before you travel to Bhutan. This Bhutan travel guide is based on my personal experience.
Best season to visit Bhutan
Spring and autumn in Bhutan
This is the best time to travel to Bhutan though 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 like spring because the 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.
Bhutan in monsoons
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
It looks 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.
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 and overtourism. 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.
How to reach 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 by Drukair. The main advantage of traveling by air is that you will see Mount Everest and Himalayan range from the flight if the weather is clear. Captain of our flight announced as we approached the mountain range and this helped me to locate and capture the Himalayan range with Mount Everest.
By Road from India 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
Most of the Bhutanese nationals wear traditional dresses (Kira for women and Gho for Men) with pride. It is so different from other countries where people wear traditional dresses on special occasions.
There are no rules about dressing but it is better to dress modestly.
My advice to everyone is that wear clothes which cover your legs and shoulder. While visiting any Dzong or Monastery or religious place you can not wear shorts, spaghetti top, goggles, hats and legs should be covered. Always carry a light jacket even in the summer months because you never know when it gets cold.
Sim Card in Bhutan
A call to or from India to Bhutan with an Indian sim card will cost equal to a call cost for 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 photocopy of your passport and a passport size photograph. Sim card gets activated within 2 hours and the connection is pretty good. Most hotels provide free of cost Wi-Fi connection.
Is Bhutan safe
Based on my experience, I can say that Bhutan is one of the safest countries in Asia or rather in the world. I never received any negative impression even when I was out on road after sunset. It is safe for a female traveler.
ATM in Bhutan and acceptable currencies
There are several ATM in big cities like Thimpu and Paro. You can withdraw 10,000 Nu (Bhutanese currency) per day. Visa and Mastercard are acceptable in Bhutan. I will suggest that carry the cash with you because at times ATM doesn’t work properly and the credit card is not accepted everywhere.
The official currency of Bhutan is Ngultrum (Nu) which is equivalent to Indian rupees. The smaller denomination of 50, 100 and 200 INR are acceptable everywhere while carrying 2,000 INR currency note is illegal. USD or Euro can be exchanged to Nu in markets.
If you are not Indian, Bangladeshi or Maldives national then you have to pay for your whole trip in advance and hence require very less cash.
The cuisine of Bhutan and What to eat in Bhutan
Rice is the staple food of Bhutan and it is consumed with pork, beef, and chicken. Bhutanese people prefer red rice, which is locally grown and is very good for health. The temperature remains low in Bhutan so spinach, turnip, reddish, beans, onions, potatoes and tomatoes are easily available. Wheat, barley, and buckwheat are also consumed.
Most of the dishes from Bhutan’s cuisine are blend in taste though in some dishes they add green or red chilly to add hotness. Otherwise, spices are not used in the food of Bhutan.
Ema Datshi is the national dish of Bhutan, it is made with Green chilly and local cheese. This is one of the spiciest items and served in every buffet lunch or dinner. The curries in Bhutan are served with local red rice though white rice is available everywhere. Vegetable and egg noodles are available everywhere.
Momos (Steamed dumplings) is one of the most popular food items in Bhutan. You can get these in the local market stalls as well as in restaurants. The shell of Momos is made with the refined floor and it is filled with vegetable or minced meat or potatoes with cheese. Momos are steam cooked and that’s why light on the stomach.
Indian food is also available everywhere, it is very popular among Indian as well as foreign travelers going to Bhutan.
Important tip – The food takes a minimum of 20 to 40 minutes to arrive after you place the order. They cook and finish the food after you place the order. Keep this in mind otherwise you feel that you are wasting time. When I was in Paro, I used to order my food and ask the restaurant how much time they will take to serve the food. Instead of waiting in restaurants, I did some souvenir shopping in the market while my food was prepared.
Alcohol in Bhutan
It is ok to consume alcohol in Bhutan. You can easily buy a can of beer or a bottle of wine or whiskey from a local departmental store in Paro or Thimpu. Several Indian and Internation liquor brands are available in Bhutan. Tourists can carry one bottle of alcohol with them while entering Bhutan. The price of alcohol is cheaper at the duty-free shop in Paro, Bhutan. It is financially viable to buy there if you are not very particular about a brand.
Ara is a traditional alcoholic drink of Bhutan. It is made from a high-altitude crop of barley, rice, maize, millet, or wheat. Ara is either fermented or distilled from these grains. It is also available in the market and you can ask your hotel for the same.
Smoking in Bhutan
According to the law passed on 16th June 2010, smoking is prohibited in Bhutan. Tobacco is not sold in Bhutan. Use of tobacco in any form in public areas such as dzongs, Chortens, parks, hotels, restaurants, markets, cinema halls, public transport, etc is prohibited.
All foreigners are allowed to bring with them up to 200 sticks of cigarettes or 30 pieces of cigars. The Cigarettes are subjected to 100 percent customs duty and 100 percent sales tax which is around 1,600Nu per carton.
No traffic light in Bhutan
There are no traffic lights in Bhutan. Not even in the capital city and still traffic runs smoothly.
Significance of King in Bhutan
The king of Bhutan is known as Druk Gyalpo means “Dragon King”. Though Bhutan became a democratic country since 2007 still King is regarded as the most respected person in the country. People of Bhutan consider him like God and have a picture of King with the queen at or near the entry gate of all shops and houses. When you are in Bhutan, show the respect for King and queen.
Most interestingly only royal people of family use the family name. People of Bhutan don’t use their father or mother’s name, they get individual names upon birth. Local lama names the child after birth.
Culture of Bhutan
Buddism is the main religion of Bhutan. People are very religious and respect their gods and deities a lot. There are several monasteries, Chortens, Lhakhang, etc in Bhutan.
Women are the head of the family because Bhutan is a matriarchal society. According to the age-old tradition, inheritance is passed on to the daughters. After marriage husband settles into the family house of women. Though these days girl and boy have a choice to decide where they like to live. In highlands of Bhutan, nomadic women can marry more than one man and it is acceptable in society. Usually, she marries the brothers.
Carbon negative country
Bhutan is the only country in the world which is carbon negative. The government of Bhutan constantly worked to save its forests and environment.
Dogs in Bhutan
There are dogs everywhere in Bhutan. Most of them are not personal pets, they are more like community dogs. They live in a particular place and looked after by people of that area. The population of the dogs exploded in the last decade but to control the number, the Bhutanese government has sterilized and vaccinated 75% of dogs of the country. The sterilized dogs have a triangular notch in their left ear.
The dogs of Bhutan are friendly and well behaved in general. The only problem I faced during my stay was their barking at night. On some of the nights, they continuously barked for hours. If you are a light sleeper than carry a set of earplugs to avoid this problem.
Clapping in Bhutan
People of Bhutan do not clap as a congratulatory gesture. They believe that clapping is done only to ward off evil spirits. So, don’t clap when you are in Bhutan.
Bhutan has preserved its heritage and culture very carefully. These are some useful and interesting information before you travel to Bhutan. Hope this Bhutan travel guide will help in planning your trip.