Travel information

GETTING TO BHUTAN

The way to Bhutan: travel by air and travel by land.

The Kingdom of Bhutan remained largely cut off from the rest of the world up until the early 1960’s. Entering the country was difficult as it was only accessible by foot from two main entry points, one in the North and another from the South. The Northern route was through Tibet, crossing high mountain passes that were inaccessible throughout the winters.   The second entry route from the South came through the plains of Assam and West Bengal. The high, frozen passes in the North and the dense, jungles in the South made it extremely difficult to enter the country.

However, carefully planned economic development has made the country much more accessible and there are now a network roads entering and traversing the country, as well as one international and multiple domestic airports.

Today the main roads entering the country are through Phuentsholing in the south, linking Bhutan with the Indian plains of West Bengal, through the border towns of Gelephu, in the central region and Samdrup Jongkhar, in the east, that link with the Indian state of Assam.

All visitors to Bhutan require a visa to enter the country.  Visa clearance must be obtained before coming to Bhutan and travel must be booked through a Bhutanese tour operator or international partner.  Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals can receive a visa on entry and it is not necessary for them to book travel through a tour operator, however it is recommended.  In the case of Indian nationals a passport or voters card are acceptable on entry.

VISA

All tourists (excluding Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian passport holders) who wish to travel to Bhutan require a visa and must book their holiday through a Bhutanese tour operator.  The tour operator will take care of Visa arrangements for visitors. 

Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals can obtain a visa at the port of entry on producing a valid passport with a minimum of 6-month validity (Indian nationals may also use their Voters Identity Card (VIC)).

All other tourists must obtain a visa clearance prior to travel to Bhutan

You are required to send the photo-page of your passport to us who will then apply for your visa.  The visa will be processed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) once the full payment of your holiday (including a USD $40 visa fee) has been wire transferred and received in the TCB bank account.  Once received the visa clearance will be processed within 72 working hours.

At your point of entry, you will be required to show your visa clearance letter, the visa will then be stamped into your passport.

TRAVEL BY LAND

Phuntsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar are all located along the southern border of India and are the only overland border entries open to international tourists.

The town of Phuntsholing is located approximately 170 km east of the Indian national airport Bagdogra. After crossing Phuntsholing, your will begin a mountainous climb through hair-pin bends until you enter Thimphu, the capital city. The 176 km journey usually takes around 6 hours.  Travel sickness tablets are recommended for young children and adults who may not be accustomed to the mountain roads.

Gelephu in South-Central Bhutan is another entry point to Bhutan. It is approximately 250 kms from Thimphu. The journey will take you through lush sub-tropical jungles and pristine alpine forests before finally bringing you into Thimphu. You will traverse across three districts with a travel time of approximately ten hours.

Samdrup Jongkhar is the only entry point in eastern Bhutan. The town borders the Indian district of Darranga, Assam and is approximately 150 kms from Guwahati, the capital city of Assam. The journey from Guwahati is about three hours. Tourists entering Bhutan through Samdrup Jongkhar will have to travel through Trashigang, the largest district in the country, and from there east through Mongar, Bumthang, Trongsa and Wangde Phodrang to reach the capital city, Thimphu. The distance is about 700 kms and you should allow three days journey time.

TRAVEL BY AIR

The national airlines,  Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines flies from BKK(Thailand), Bodhgaya, Bagdogra, Kolkatta, New Delhi and Mumbai (India), KTM (Nepal), Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Singapore to Bhutan’s Paro International Airport, located in the west of the country.

Paro is situated at a height of 2,225 m (7300 ft) above sea level and is surrounded by mountains as high as 4,876 m (16,000 ft). Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines are the two of the Airlines operating flights into and around the country with a fleet of Airbus A319’s.  There are also regular domestic service to Bumthang (central region) and flights available to Trashigang (eastern region) and Gelephu (southern region). A second international airport is currently under construction in Gelephu along the southern border to India.

Flying into Bhutan’s Paro International Aiport is typically an exciting experience as the descent into Paro valley brings you closer to the mountain tops than most other flights in the world. The flight between Paro, Kathmandu and Delhi is particularly rewarding as it offers spectacular views of 4 of the 5 highest mountains in the world. In clear weather, as you soar higher up, you’ll be treated to amazing close-ups of Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kangchenjunga at their best.

MINIMUM DAILY PACKAGE
In keeping with the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s policy of “High Value. Low Impact” tourism a Minimum Daily Package is required for tourists. 

The minimum daily package covers the following services.

• A minimum of 3 star accommodation (4 & 5 star may require an additional charge).
• 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

It also includes:
• 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.

The minimum daily package for tourists travelling in a group of 3 persons or more is as follows:
USD $200 per person per night for the months of January, February, June, July, August, and December.
USD $250 per person per night for the months of March, April, May, September, October, and November.

These rates are applicable per tourist per night halt in Bhutan.

On the day of departure, the ‘local agents’ host obligation shall be limited to providing breakfast only and any extra requirements shall be payable on usage basis.

The Royal Government of Bhutan sets minimum selling prices for packages to Bhutan. These must be paid in US dollars prior to arrival in Bhutan.

DELAYED ARRIVALS

There is no charge for delays in arrival and departure because of weather conditions disrupting flights or road blocks. The tourist must however bear the cost of food, accommodation, transportation, and other services required.

It is highly recommended that you purchase travel insurance prior to travel.

SURCHARGES
Tourists travelling in a group of two (2) persons or less shall be subject to a surcharge, in addition to the minimum daily package rates.

These are as follows:

Single individual – US$ 40 per night

Group of 2 persons only – US$ 30 per person per night

The surcharge will not be applicable to representatives of foreign travel agents on business study or promotional visit duly approved and cleared by TCB.

CANCELLATIONS
Tour Programmes booked and subsequently cancelled shall be subject to cancellation charges as follows:

• within 45 days of start of programme ~ no charges
• within 30days ~ 20% of rate
• within 14 days ~ 50% of rate
• less than 7 days or without notice ~ 100% of rate

WIRE TRANSFER

Prior to your trip to Bhutan you will be asked to wire the full payment for your holiday to the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

This money will remain with the Tourism Council of Bhutan until your trip is complete. Only after you have completed your holiday will the monies be transferred to the local tour operator with which you booked your travel through. This helps to ensure the high quality of service received throughout your trip.

TOUR GUIDES

In order to ensure that our clients receive high quality, all our guides are registered and certified guides. Guides are trained to specialize in either cultural or adventure tours. Many guides complete language courses in German, Japanese, Thai and other languages so that they can easily communicate with guests and all are proficient in English. 

TRAVEL/MEDICAL INSURANCE

You should not travel internationally without travel insurance.

The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan has initiated a travel and medical plan solely for our visitors. Travel insurance can be provided through your Bhutanese tour operator or international partner. You may also visit the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan website at www.ricb.com.bt for more information.

MONEY

Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (Nu.) It is at par with the Indian rupee which is accepted as legal tender in the country.

Note: INR (Indian Rupees) denominations of 500 and 1000 are not accepted in Bhutan.

ATMs are located within all main towns throughout Bhutan, where money can be withdrawn using a Visa or MasterCard. For concerned travelers a list of ATM locations throughout Bhutan is found here: http://www.bob.bt/contact-us/atm-locator/.

In addition, POS (Point of Sale) services are available nationwide, meaning visitors can pay by credit card at most hotels and handicrafts stores.

BANKING

Financial institutions in Bhutan have been greatly enhanced and today we have a number of banks that cater to the needs of the people.

Some of the banks that you can avail of while in Bhutan are the Bank of Bhutan Limited, the Bhutan National Bank, the Druk PNB and the Tashi Bank. Traveller’s cheque can be easily withdrawn and exchanged for local currency. Many of these banks provide internet banking facilities.

ATMs are located within all main towns throughout Bhutan, where money can be withdrawn using a Visa or MasterCard. For concerned travelers a list of ATM locations throughout Bhutan is found here: http://www.bob.bt/contact-us/atm-locator/.

In addition, POS (Point of Sale) services are available nationwide, meaning visitors can pay by credit card at most hotels and handicrafts stores.

TRAVELLING KITS

Bhutan experiences great variations in its climate. In general summers are warm with average daily temperature ranging from 20 to 25 degrees Celsius, while winter temperatures are usually below 15 degrees Celsius.

The northern regions of the country are colder than the more tropical south and it is recommended you pack accordingly. Trekkers will need to bring appropriate warm clothes and comfortable hiking boots (well broken in) preferably with ankle support and weather-proof to complement the weather and rugged terrain.

Others suggested items to pack:

• A pair of sunglasses
• Sunscreen lotion
• Hat
• Camera
• Spare camera batteries
• Flash light (with spare batteries)
• Travel sickness tablets
• Antiseptic cream
• Anti-histamine cream
• Anti-diarrhoea pills
• Altitude sickness medication it trekking above 3000m
• Insect repellent

SHOPPING

Some popular handicraft items available for purchase are hand-woven textiles of raw silk or silk, carved masks of various animals, woven baskets of cane and bamboo, wooden bowls known as Dapas, handmade paper products or finely crafted gods of silver. Other items you may be interested in are the exquisite Buddhist thangkha paintings or Bhutan’s wide array of colourful and creative postage stamps. You can come across these items in the many handicraft shops in and around Thimphu and in other major towns. Please remember that buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden in Bhutan.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Bhutan offers immense opportunities for photography especially during outdoor sightseeing trips.

Kindly check with your guide before taking pictures or filming inside Dzongs, temples, monasteries and religious institutions as in some area photograph/filming is not permitted.

You are free to capture images of the landscape, the panoramic views of the mountain ranges, rural life, flora and fauna, distinctive Bhutanese architecture and the exterior of Dzongs and Chortens in particular.

GRATUITIES

Tipping is a purely personal matter. We leave it up to you as to whether you want to give a gratuity to your guides and drivers. However, if doing so, we recommend that you place the gratuity in an envelope.

COMMUNICATIONS

The country has a good network of telecommunication facilities. Most hotels and cafe’s offer Wi-Fi internet access. Bhutan has a comprehensive mobile (cell) phone network with global roaming also assessable.

Language
Bhutanese speak a variety of languages with Dzongkha being the national language and one of the most widely spoken. English is also spoken by the majority of Bhutanese making communication very easy. It is encouraged to speak with the local Bhutanese, especially in the urban areas and towns,as it will enhance your knowledge on Bhutan.

Guides and Interpreters
Bhutan has a good team of interpreters and licensed guides that are well versed in local history and possess good communication skills. All guides are tested and certified by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Guides are available who are fluent in Japanese, Thai, Spanish and other European languages.

CLOTHES AND OTHER PARAPHERNALIA

With great altitudinal variations, weather is quite mixed in Bhutan. So be prepared to face the unforeseen weather conditions.

We expect visitors to dress modestly and respectfully especially if you are planning a visit to the monasteries, Dzongs and other religious institutions. Long pants and long sleeved tops should be worn when visiting such places. As a mark of respect, be kind enough to remove your hats, caps etc. as you enter religious and administrative premises, institutions and in any other place that you come across with the national flag being raised.

MEASURES, WEIGHTS & TIME
Bhutan ascribes to the metric system and most weights are measured in gram (g) and kilogram (kg). The standard time is 6 hours ahead of GMT.
HEALTH 
INOCULATIONS

Before embarking on a trip to Bhutan, please seek advice from your doctor with regard to vaccinations and appropriate medication you should have prior to your travels. As a minimum you should have tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A inoculations.

PRECAUTIONS

Bhutan is one of the safest countries in the world however you should still exercise caution when visiting. Please ensure that your belongings especially your passports, cameras, wallets and purses are properly secured. Please refrain from leaving such items within sight in locked vehicles while sightseeing.

Avoid drinking tap water which has not been boiled or ice cubes in drinks at all times as most water sources in Bhutan are untreated. One can easily acquire affordable treated and bottled water.

Also, Bhutan has a duty to protect its citizens from drugs and tobacco products. To do this we need your help and cooperation. Please co-operate if stopped and asked about your baggage. Please do not carry tobacco goods in excess of the set limit. For more information please see following link. Tobacco Control Act.

CUSTOMS
The following articles are exempt from duty:

(a) Personal effects and articles for day to day use by the visitor

(b) 1 litre of alcohol (spirits or wine)

(c) 200 cigarettes, on payment of import duty of 200%

(d) Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use

(e) Photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use

You have to complete the passenger declaration form at your port of entry.

Visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate.

If importing any items to Bhutan which are for sale or gift, they may be liable for customs duty. On departure, visitors are required to fill out a departure form, which will be asked for by Customs authorities.

Import/export of the following goods is strictly prohibited:

(a) Arms, ammunitions and explosives

(b) All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs

(c) Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species

(d) Antiques

Imports of plants, soils etc. are subject to quarantine regulations. These items must be cleared on arrival.

ACCOMMODATION

There are many different types of accommodations available to visitors in Bhutan. There are hundreds of options available ranging from luxurious 5-star resorts to cozy little hotels and home-stays in traditional Bhutanese homes.

The types of accommodations can be divided into:

  •  Hotels
  • Resorts
  • Farm-stays
  • Home-stays
  • Camping

Additionally, visitors embarking on long treks will be provided with tents and whatever other camping equipment is deemed necessary. Regardless of where they stay, visitors can be assured of their comfort and traditional Bhutanese hospitality.

FARM-STAY

Visitors also have the option of spending a night in a traditional Bhutanese Farm House. Agriculture is still one of the major sources of livelihood amongst the Bhutanese people and a Farm-Stay will give you an excellent glimpse into the day-to-day life of a typical Bhutanese family.

You’ll be able to observe age old Bhutanese farming traditions as the family goes about its daily tasks. You’ll enjoy delicious home-cooked meals and the unparalleled hospitality of a Bhutanese host.

All officially sanctioned and listed Farm-stays are located in the gorgeous Bhutanese countryside amidst lush farmland far from the noise and crowds of population centers. In order to experience a traditional life, electricity and running water are not available at Farm-Stays. Hot water can be provided by the family but will be served in a wash basin/bowl.

HOME-STAY

Visitors have the option of spending a night in the traditional home of a Bhutanese family. A Home-Stay will give you an excellent glimpse into the day-to-day life of a typical Bhutanese family.

You’ll enjoy delicious home-cooked meals and the unparalleled hospitality of a Bhutanese host.

All officially sanctioned and listed home-stays are located in the gorgeous Bhutanese countryside, far from the noise and crowds of population centers. In order to experience a traditional life, electricity and running water are not available at Home-Stays. Hot water can be provided by the family but will be served in a wash basin/bowl.

FOOD

The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chilies are an essential part of nearly every dish and are considered so important that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that was not spicy.

Rice forms the main body of most Bhutanese meals. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are the meats that are eaten most often. Vegetables commonly eaten include Spinach, pumpkins, turnips, radishes, tomatoes, river weed, onions and green beans. Grains such as rice, buckwheat and barley are also cultivated in various regions of the country depending on the local climate.

The following is a list of some of the most popular Bhutanese dishes:

  • Ema Datshi: This is the de facto National Dish of Bhutan. A spicy mix of chillis and the delicious local cheese known as Datshi. This dish is a staple of nearly every meal and can be found throughout the country. Variations on Ema Datshi include adding green beans, ferns, potatoes, mushrooms or swapping the regular cheese for yak cheese.
  • Momos: These Tibetan-style dumplings are stuffed with pork, beef or cabbages and cheese. Traditionally eaten during special occasions, these tasty treats are a Bhutanese favourite.
  • Phaksha Paa: Pork cooked with spicy red chillis. This dish can also include Radishes or Spinach. A popular variation uses sun-dried (known as Sicaam). Hoentoe: Aromatic buckwheat dumplings stuffed with turnip greens, datshi (cheese), spinach and other ingredients.
  • Jasha Maru: Spicy minced chicken, tomatoes and other ingredients that is usually served with rice.
  • Red Rice: This rice is similar to brown rice and is extremely nutritious and filling. When cooked it is pale pink, soft and slightly sticky.
  • Goep (Tripe): Though the popularity of tripe has diminished in many countries it is still enjoyed in Bhutan. Like most other meat dishes, it is cooked with plenty of spicy chillis and chilli powder.

 

Apart from the Bhutanese dishes, all restaurants and hotels provides international and continental cuisines. 

ELECTRICITY

All major towns are well connected with electricity that runs on 220/240 volts with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets.

It is recommended that you bring flat-to-round pin converters for your electronics if necessary, however, most hotels offer multi plug sockets. Bhutan is a carbon neutral destination. Our energy is clean and green generated by hydro power.

If you have questions feel free to contact us.