Bhutan Tours & Travel - Everything You Need To Know
Dubbed as the world’s happiest country, Bhutan, the Kingdom of Thunder Dragon, appeals global travellers by its enchanting beauties of exotic culture, surreal mountainscape, untouched scenery, hospitable people, and unique ways of life. Encapsulating within itself the richness of various local highlights, Bhutan is a promising yet very exclusive Asian country for different travel tastes ranging from culture buffs, lovebirds to adventure enthusiasts, or those simply seeking escapades from the modern life.
Unlike other Asian tourist hubs that are open to mass tourism, Bhutan once limited the number of foreign tourists visiting the country each year. And the main point is, you cannot probably travel self-sufficient in Bhutan. You are allowed to travel to the country only when you make a reservation of Bhutan tour in advance through government-approved travel agencies. It could be challenging, but if you desire to gain remarkable memories like nowhere on earth, your Bhutan trip is truly deserving. Wishing to offer the fullest Bhutan travel guide for everyone, we’re glad to show you an all-encompassing instruction that includes useful tips and necessary information to make a stupendous holiday in Bhutan. Let’s joining with our Asia Tours Experts to uncover hidden charms of this beautiful & mysterious Himalayan country to the wholeness!
1. BHUTAN OVERVIEW
Bhutan is a landlocked Asian country, which idyllically set amidst the region of the fabled Himalayas. With the total coverage of only around 38,400 km2, this small country is sandwiched between India and Tibet, just east of Nepal and north of Bangladesh. Due to its special location, most parts of Bhutan’s terrain are made up of mountainous slopes, valleys and hills.
Bhutan features different climate ranging from region to region and at different altitudes. The southern parts have a sub-tropical climate with monsoons during summer months. The weather in highlands is typically temperate while most mountainous regions to the north, where is the home to numerous snow-capped peaks, feature the polar climate.
Generally, Bhutan has four distinct seasons in a year: Spring starts from late March to May, summer is months between June and August, autumn is from September to November, and winter lasts from December to mid-March. The daytime and nighttime temperature in Bhutan are extremely contrasting with a distinct variation. It gets much colder when night comes, but the temperature may reach up to 30 degrees during daytime Celsius in July. In mountainous regions at higher altitudes, the climate also varies with much lower temperature. The weather in central and eastern Bhutan is milder and drier than the west with warm summer and cold winter. The rainy season in Bhutan lasts from June to September, and the rain could be very heavy at night, but daytime may get a long time without rain.
Best time to visit Bhutan
Commonly, the best time to travel to Bhutan is during the fall (from the end of September to the end of November), with pleasant weather, the clear blue sky and dry sunny days, which is suitable for sightseeing excursions, outdoor activities, and remarkable photographic opportunities. Autumn, especially in October, is also the festive season in Bhutan with numerous traditional festivals celebrated most parts across the country where foreigners could deeply immerse in the world of Bhutanese essences.
Bhutan is enchanting every time all year round and the country invites tourists with different beauties in each season. Comparing to autumn, spring in Bhutan might be rainy but this is also an ideal time for you to admire the wild beauty of magnolias flower, rhododendron flower, and other wildflowers in the valleys. If you want to visit the major cities like Paro, Punakha, the capital of Thimphu, or some other areas in the west, summer is not a bad idea. In case you’re into snow activities, a Bhutan trip in winter is a truly thrilling adventure awaiting you to experience.
Bhutan is often described as the only land on earth remaining traditional Himalayan Buddhist culture. The state religion of Bhutan is Vajrayana Buddhism. Hence, Buddhism plays an essential part in the Bhutanese ways of life and the majority of people here are Buddhists. Buddhism impacts on many country’s aspects including traditions, government, national regulations, administrative works, and even educations. It comes as no surprise that Bhutan houses a wide variety of cultural attractions and most of which are Buddhist sites or influenced by Buddhist architectural art.
The official currency that is used for all economic trades in Bhutan is the Ngultrum, which is fixed to the Indian Rupee. The notes of Ngultrum have something related to Bhutanese culture imprinted on them. The backside of the note has a dzong picture. According to the current exchange rate, 1 US Dollar is approx 74 Nus and this global currency is accepted in many areas in Bhutan. Indian rupees are also widely used in Bhutan, except high denomination banknotes.
Travelling to Bhutan, you’d better bring in US dollars because most of the shops here accept payment in dollars. Besides, there are few banks or ATMs available in Bhutan, so visitors should exchange some of the Bhutanese money when arriving at the airport. A big note that when exchanging a $50 or $100, you can get better rates than exchanging a $20 or less.
Isolated from the world until 1974, Bhutan has been a lesser-known country up to now. Many people considered Bhutan is a somewhat enigmatic country, appearing to be from an alternate universe. Bhutanese exotic culture, wild natural beauty, and very kind people are three core reasons making the little country from a hidden gem of the Himalayas turn out to be a very intriguing Asian destination. Today Bhutanese infrastructure for tourism has been improved a lot with more options for service and amenities. Opening to the world but Bhutan tourism still strictly follow valuable principles which greatly contribute to local culture and environmental preservation as well as sustainable tourism development. As indicated above, travelling to Bhutan is not easy and even pricey, but all that you’ll get when in here is worthwhile for sure.
2. BHUTAN TRAVEL TIPS
Get a Bhutan visa
Everyone must obtain a travel visa before arriving Bhutan. You cannot apply for a visa at the airport like in many other countries or even go to the Bhutan embassy as Bhutan still has limited official diplomatic offices abroad. The procedures of applying for a visa to enter Bhutan is very difficult and you should find help from travel agencies to avoid unexpected problems arising afterwards. They will collect some of the necessary information from your side and assist you to issue a travel visa before departure. A copy of a successful visa will be sent to you via e-mail. You need to print the copy then bring to the airport to fly to Bhutan. You are not able to be allowed flying without a copy of this visa.
Note: Bhutan visa costs 40$ and you can opt to pay in advance through travel agencies or pay that amount at Paro Airport (the only Bhutan International Airport) when you enter Bhutan.
How to enter Bhutan
Other than tourists from neighbour countries who can visit Bhutan by trains or roads, the most convenient and easy way to enter Bhutan is via plane. There are only two airlines that can fly to Bhutan, Druk Air (Royal Bhutan Airlines) and Bhutan Airlines. They also have only several direct flights from selective countries including Thailand, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Singapore. Their operated flights are also limited, hence available seats flying to Bhutan are often sold out in a short time.
To fly to Bhutan, you need to transit at the airports in Bangkok, Kathmandu, Dhaka, Yangon, Singapore, Delhi or Kolkata in India. Airfare is a full ticket with no or very limited discounts or special offers. And the flight will take you a couple of hours. Comparing to Bhutan Airlines, Druk Air operates more options with two daily flights from Bangkok, two weekly flights from Singapore, and daily flights from Nepal or Indian cities.
Travel across Bhutan
As one of the most closed countries in Asia, visiting Bhutan as an independent traveller is pretty much impossible. A pre-booked official tour from agencies is mandatory and you have to pay the full price of the trip before arrival. The full amount of your package is wired to the Tourism Council of Bhutan first; they then pay the tour operator for arranging your stays, service, and itinerary. Discovering Bhutan on a scheduled pre-paid trip, foreign travellers, get very little choice of where to stay or what to do. Cars or jeeps are the common travel methods in Bhutan and it will take hours to traverse through different destinations.
Culinary art of Bhutan is influenced by Indian, Tibetan, and Chinese cuisine. However, people find it less oily than Chinese or Indian food and spicier than most Tibetan dishes. Well-known to be the land of Vajrayana Buddhism, Bhutan is more popular with vegan dishes, staple food, and, of course, their unique cooking style.
There is one word to describe the distinct flavour of Bhutanese food, it’s spicy, spicy, and spicy. They love to eat spicy food and chillies can easily found in many iconic dishes here. Not only is a common seasoning, but chillies are also considered as fundamental ingredients providing flavour to any Bhutanese meal. Ema datshi, a traditional spicy dish made with large & green chilli peppers in a cheesy sauce, is the most famous of all Bhutanese foods. Other local food items worth trying here can be named such as Momos (dumplings), red rice, Maru (spicy chicken), Phaksha Paa (pork with red chillies), etc.
> You should wear decent clothes when visiting sedate or sacred places in Bhutan. Some attractions do not permit visitors to take photos inside.
> Refusing food for the first time is a custom in Bhutan. It is provided to show respect and gratitude. Bhutanese will close their mouth and say “Meshu”.
> Tobacco in public places such as restaurants, streets, halls, etc is banned in Bhutan. No smoking or else you will be fined or even imprisoned by the police.
> National religion in Bhutan is Buddhism, so it is illegal to kill any living organism. This law comes from the traditional values of Buddhist philosophies.
Interesting Bhutan facts
> GNH (Gross National Happiness) of Bhutan is higher than their GDP. Bhutanese are widely considered the world’s happiest people with true internal happiness. They are very nice, friendly and love to interact with foreigners.
> About 60% of Bhutan territory is covered by forests. Along with great efforts from the Bhutanese government in environmental protection, it is known to be the only carbon negative country in the world.
> Bhutan is the home to the world’s highest unclimbed peaks, Gangkhar Puensum. It is located at an altitude of 7570 meters above sea level. Bhutan prohibits any access to the mountain since 1987. Before that time, the mountain had never been conquered at all.
> Bhutan is among the last countries all over the world to adopt television. The country also had no internet access until 1999. A few television channels are received from India.
> Bhutanese still wear traditional costumes nowadays. Following national dress-code, Bhutanese men often wear traditional, knee-length garments and women must wear ankle-length dresses. The colours could even reveal their social class and status as well.
> Education and basic healthcare are free for all citizens in Bhutan.
> Many Bhutanese, especially elders, like to chew the betel nut.
> Bhutanese seriously pay homage to the phallus and people can easily find phallus through images on the walls or handicrafts. They believe that it protects them from ghosts and is also the symbol of fertility and luck.
> Although English has been introduced into the national curriculums, most Bhutanese only speak their mother tongue. There is only a minority of locals who know English, hence having a bilingual tour guide during your trip is a must.
> To preserve local cultural identity and natural heritages, Bhutanese government once limited the number of visitors to the country each year (annually about 6000 visitors). Today the law has been loosened but it is still a much far cry from influxes of visitors in other Asian countries.
> Roads in Bhutan have no traffic lights although they are quite dangerous with steep curves and winding passes in the mountainous regions. However, Bhutanese drivers drive very slowly and cautiously.
> National sport in Bhutan is archery. Bhutan maintains an Olympics archery team too. People usually practise and play archery daily and traditional festivals in Bhutan always host a competition of archery.
> The majority of Bhutanese are Buddhists who follow philosophies of love, sympathy, and selflessness. That’s why it is reported that the crime rates in Bhutan are very low.
> You can even get the opportunities to see the King of Bhutan while strolling around here. Well-known to be a humble, warmhearted and widely-respected monarch, he often goes out to meet his citizens without any formal acts. He also loves to share with people personally about their griefs and wishes. Bhutanese love their King, of course, a lot!
> Paro Airport, the only international airport in Bhutan, is listed among the world’s most dangerous airports. It is located in a valley surrounded by mountains with short runway and planes can only take off and land in the daytime. The pilots have to fly without any help from autopilot, hence the airport requires experienced & licensed aircrew and small planes with its engine. Only 8 pilots in the world are qualified to land in Bhutan.
Travelling to Bhutan, visitors are required to spend at least 200 USD in normal season or 250 USD (or even more) per day in peak season, not mentioning the cost for roundtrip flights. As you’re following a pre-paid package, you may rarely have significant unexpected expenses while touring here except tasting local food or buying some lovely souvenirs to bring home. All in all, Bhutan is not a destination for budget travellers. However, the internal values that you obtain in the hidden country are honestly remarkable experiences to remember ever since.
3. THINGS TO DO IN BHUTAN
Visit a wide range of Buddhist attractions across Bhutan:
Known as a traditionally Buddhist country, Bhutan is famous for myriad sacred Buddhist attractions including temples and monasteries, many of which are prominent religious sites to both locals and foreign tourists. Of all these places, Tiger’s Nest (Paro Taktsang) Monastery is the world-famous and also the most-visited tourist attraction in Bhutan. Taking a pilgrimage journey in Bhutan, you will not only obtain a fabulous glimpse of the hidden kingdom but also get an up-close and personal look at traditional Himalayan Buddhism.
Discover unique architectural heritage of Bhutanese Dzongs
Being the massive combination of fortress and monastery, dzongs in Bhutan are the symbolic and fine examples of Bhutanese architectural art. They comprise multiple functions including religion, military, administration, and society. Each dzong plays a significant role in the kingdom’s management. Hence sightseeing tours in famous Bhutanese dzongs are common routes in most travel itineraries here. Tashichho Dzong, Punakha Dzong, and Rinpung Dzong (Paro Fortress) are most –visited dzongs in West Bhutan while Trongsa Dzong and Trashigang Dzong are other majestic architectures in Middle and East Bhutan worth a pleasant visit.
Venture out into vigorous Bhutanese hike & trek routes
If you’re adventure enthusiasts and have an interest in discovering intact natural treasures, Bhutan is surely a fantastic destination making your dream come true. Home to the majestic landscape, pristine nature, and biodiverse ecosystem, the country offers various options for hiking and trekking from day trips to multi-day adventure, ranging in different fitness levels. Some of the common trails for your reference when in Bhutan: Bumdra, Druk Path, Jhomolhari Trek, the Snowman, Bumthang Owl, etc.
Deeply immerse in exotic cultural highlights of Bhutan
To many people, Bhutanese culture is something very authentic and enchanting, which appears global travellers to come and experience. Sampling some of the iconic Bhutanese delicacies, attending traditional festivals, learning about local arts and heritage, or just merely exploring the daily life of people here through interesting excursions, etc, all will give you in-depth enlightenment of Bhutan with the most unique travel experiences.
Experience what is called “internal happiness”
Not developed and convenient like many rest parts of the world, Bhutan, with its special values originated from traditional Buddhist philosophies, is regarded as the world’s happiest country. Visiting here, admiring picturesque scenery, meeting hospitable people, and indulging in the slow-paid vibe of the local life, you will easily find what is called “internal happiness”, through the richness of local delights like nowhere on earth. The hidden gem of the fabled Himalayas, undoubtedly, is an ideal hideaway for those seeking inner peace and marvellous escapades from modern life.
4. MUST-VISIT BHUTAN TOURIST ATTRACTIONS FOR FIRST – TIMERS
Hosting numerous iconic and world-famous attractions, Paro, Thimphu, and Punakha are the three major tourist hubs in Bhutan. They could be regarded as the Golden Triangle for any classic Bhutan tour. Whether you have limited time or already planned a multi-day trip in Bhutan, the sought-after Bhutan tourist sites below should be included in your travel bucket list:
> Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery (Paro): the utmost fabled religious hotspot as well as the most iconic cultural attraction in Bhutan.
> Punakha Dzong (Punakha): the Palace of Great Happiness and also the most beautiful dzong in Bhutan.
> Chimi Lhakhang (Punakha): a little sacred temple yet the most explicit example of the phallus belief in Bhutan.
> Tashichho Dzong (Thimphu): a significant and marvellous construction in the capital city. The majestic dzong is also the place hosting one of the major traditional festivals of the country in autumn.
> National Memorial Chorten (Thimphu): a notable landmark of Thimphu where was built to pay a tribute to the former revered King of Bhutan.
> Buddha Dordenma (Thimphu): a massive golden statue of Buddha offering stunning views over Thimphu city.
> Gangtey Monastery (Wangdue Phodrang): a stunningly ancient monastery that is famous for the Black-necked Crane traditional festival.
> Dochula Pass: a pleasant halt and scenic viewpoint on the way connecting Thimphu and Punakha.
> Trongsa Dzong (Trongsa): the largest one of all dzong structures in Bhutan.
> Many other beautiful dzongs and monasteries in Paro, Bumthang.
> Various scenic hike and trek routes meeting different levels: Druk Path, Bumdra, Jomolhari, Snowman, etc.
Encompassing some of the most untouched heritages as well as intriguing cultural and spiritual highlights that are well-preserved through many generations, Bhutan arouses the interest of finding the inner peace and internal happiness as well. We hope that a trip to Bhutan will not only help you to broaden your mind about an isolated yet very peaceful country but also raise the awareness of being responsible travellers. Being a magical destination that not many people on earth have the chance to visit, Bhutan is a true dream for those who are seeking somewhere exotic and mesmerizing. Feel free to refer our lists of Bhutan private tours ranging from classic to interest-oriented itineraries to find which suit you best. Just come, experience enchanting Bhutanese essences, and save yourself unforgettable travel memories!