11 Things you need to know when on travel to Bhutan | Bhutan Travel
11 Things you need to know when on travel to Bhutan from Singapore, the Lion City.
A brief description of Bhutan
If you are a Singaporean and intend to book Bhutan tour packages or Bhutan travel from Singapore, the underlining basic understanding that you need to know is: Bhutan is a small, mountainous Buddhist kingdom (38,816 sq km), with a sparse population of just 7,50,000 with 20 districts, about the size of Taiwan, landlocked and sandwiched between two classic Asian giants – China on the north and India in the west, east and south high in the eastern Himalayas. The Bhutan standard time is 6 hrs ahead of GMT. Bhutan is also called “Druk-Yul” or “The Land of the Thunder Dragon”. Bhutan’s landscape ranges from the sub tropical foothills (150 m) in the south to alpine forests and snowy mountains (7000 m) in the north. It’s about 300 km from west to east and 150 km from north to south. About 70% of the land is still under forest cover as mandated by the country’s constitution, so it naturally has a well maintained rich biodiversity with more than 700 species of birds, 50 species of rare rhododendrons and an estimated 300 species of medicinal plants and orchids.
That’s the main reason why Bhutan is one of the ten biodiversity hotspots of the world. It emits less carbon than what it consumes making it the first carbon negative country of the world. Singapore is the greenest city of the world but you can still find the difference when you book Bhutan trip packages from Singapore. Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu city (2320 m) is the third highest capital in the entire world. Here Gross National Happiness (GNH) is given a higher platform than Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and religion, tradition and age old culture has been preserved for centuries. The national language is Dzongkha, but English is widely spoken throughout the country. Your guide will speak fluent English as most young Bhutanese do.
Places of tourists’ interest and things to do in Bhutan
It would really depend on what you hope to see and experience during your travel to Bhutan from Singapore. The magnificent fortresses known as Dzongs which are in fact very ancient and the Buddhist Monasteries, the stunning, pristine and virgin valleys and mountains, the ancient Bhutanese art and artifacts, the unique architecture, the cantilever wooden bridges, the colorful mask dances at Tshechu festivals, and the Bhutanese culture and tradition that is intact and preserved even today. Thanks to preservation efforts by the government, Bhutan is still a thriving and living museum even now as most visitors acknowledge. Bhutan’s landscape and culture are so diverse across different regions of the country and they do present their distinctive charm and facets for exploration and experience to the inquisitive and spirited visitor.
Western Bhutan is considered and recognized as the gateway to Bhutan with the tourist circuit starting from Paro city (2280 m), as it has the only international airport of Bhutan, Thimphu (2320 m), Punakha (1310 m), Wangdue (1320 m) and Haa (2670 m) districts. Paro is also home to the spectacular Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) situated 900m above the Paro valley (one has to hike to reach the Tiger’s Nest and the famous Drugyel, Rinpung and Ta Dzongs. Paro valley is also considered the “rice bowl” of Bhutan. Thimphu, the capital city, is a modern and vibrant cultural centre where one can see and feel tradition and modernity equally blended.
Punakha, the former ancient capital of the country, enchants tourists with the magnificent Punakha Dzong at the confluence of the Pho-Chu and Mo-Chu (the Male and Female rivers). And the Gangtey Monastery on a ridge overlooking the bowl shaped alpine wetland valley of Phobjika (3000 m), where the black necked cranes migrate in winter from the cold Tibetan highlands come November at Wangdue district. The west is also the starting point for many of Bhutan’s famous treks, the Jhomolhari Trek, the Druk Path Trek, the Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek, the world famous Snowman Trek to name a few, which traverse to the north of the country. Laya, Gasa, Lunana, the northern reaches of Bumthang and Trongsa complete this circuit. There are three domestic airports at Bumthang (central), Gelephu (south) and Yonphula (east)
Central Bhutan can be literally called the spiritual heartland of Bhutan and comprises the four valleys of Bumthang district and the district of Trongsa. After having toured Western Bhutan, you you get into the real veins of the country. This is where you get to understand real gist and essence of Bhutan. Bumthang was where the first mask dance festivals were initially started way back in the 8th century. Kurjey Lhakhang in Bumthang was from where Buddhism actually started to take root in Bhutan. Your travel to Bhutan will never be complete if you don’t visit the Bumthang valley. The world famous “Yathra” and “Mathra” fabric from yak hair and sheep wool are woven in Bumthang. The massive Jakar Dzong, Jambay Lhakhang, temples and festivals of Bumthang and the historical grandeur and significance of the Trongsa Dzong showcase a rich and lively cultural heritage. Trongsa in ancient times used to be the gateway between western and eastern Bhutan and was the capital during the reign of the second King. Before being crowned King of Bhutan, the crown Prince has to be the existing Governor of Trongsa.
Eastern Bhutan, a congregation of six eastern districts, is actually itself a world away from the world, be it the distinct way of life of Brokpas of Merak and Sakteng or the woven fabric, art & craft and woodwork in Trashigang and TrashiYangtse or the kishuthara fabric weaving of Lhuentshe. The Drametse Monastery at Mongar district where the famous Drametse mask dance is performed is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Our destination specialists will make the best recommendations for you as per your travel preferences, and you can in fact choose the exact Bhutan tour packages for Singapore from our website (www.traveltobhutan.travel). Many travelers incorporate Paro (2280m), Thimphu (2320m), Punakha (1310m), Wangduephodrang (1320m), Gangte (3000m), Trongsa (2316m) and Bumthang (2800m), though some travel solely for trekking in the Himalayas.
How to travel to Bhutan from Singapore:
Visa formalities and procedure for travel to Bhutan:
It’s a government regulation that you must and always use a licensed Bhutanese Tour Operator (Yak Holidays Int’l) or one of their international partners to book your travel to Bhutan.
Every visitor requires a passport, valid for at least 6 months longer than their journey, and an entry visa/visa clearance for Bhutan which must be pre-approved prior to your arrival in Bhutan. Applications for tourist visas are submitted by your tour operator and takes at least 10 days to process. Air tickets to Bhutan cannot be purchased without a visa clearance. Your Bhutan visa will be arranged by Yak Holidays Int’l (www.traveltobhutan.travel), your tour operator, and all we usually need is a quality scan or photo of your passport photo page. Please be sure you carry the same passport that you submitted for your Bhutan visa or you will be denied entry. Bhutan visas generally cost $40USD but are sometimes built into your travel package.
A visa authority letter is finally issued after the prepayment for your travel arrangements but the actual visa is entered into your passport on your arrival at Paro Int’l Airport. Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines are the only airlines that fly into Bhutan, please make sure you check with the Druk Air office at Singapore for availability of flights to Bhutan. When you check in at the airport starting in Bangkok, Singapore, Delhi, or Kathmandu, you must show your approved visa authority letter for Bhutan (that has been sent to you via email by the tour operator). When you arrive at Paro Int’l airport, all visitors are now required to provide biometric fingerprints and a facial image which is a smooth process and you’ll get through quickly.
Druk Air provides it’s standard baggage allowance of 20 kg for economy class travelers and 30 kg in business class. The allowance for carry-on bags is 5 kg. Just prior to landing at Paro airport @2280m, as the Druk Air plane makes the descend from amongst the clouds, you will get wonderful views of the beautiful, serene Himalayan mountain ranges. This special occasion/chance to view these mountains from above them would more than justify your Druk Air fares.
This particular experience is “priceless” and it won’t happen to you every other day. For the best views and pictures/videos of the landscape, please check-in early for your Druk Air flight and reserve your seats on the left side of the plane if you are flying in from Singapore or Bangkok. Likewise on your return flight, pl request for a seat on the right side of the plane to get the best views. Seats on Druk Air are allocated on a “first come first served” basis. Yes, we promise, fulfillment of sublime satisfaction will be at hand. Simple as that.
- 3 flights per week from Singapore, duration – 6hrs 35m
Singapore (SIN) to Paro, Bhutan (PBH)
|07:20 am||→||15:30 pm||Druk Air 500||–||M||–||–||–||–||–||SIN-PBH|
|07:20 am||→||15:35 pm||Druk Air 500||–||–||–||W||–||–||–||SIN-PBH|
|07:20 am||→||15:35 pm||Druk Air 500||–||–||–||–||–||–||S||SIN-PBH|
(includes a 35min layover at Kolkata (WBengal), passengers don’t need to disembark though)
- 2 flights per week from Paro, duration – 6hrs 35m
Paro, Bhutan (PBH) to Singapore (SIN)
|07:20 am||→||15:35 pm||Druk Air 540||–||–||–||W||–||–||–||PBH- SIN|
|07:20 am||→||15:35 pm||Druk Air 540||S||–||–||–||–||–||–||PBH- SIN|
(includes a 35min layover at Guwahati (Assam), passengers don’t need to disembark though)
- What is the cost structure of the daily tariff when you travel to Bhutan from Singapore?
During the low season months (Jan, Feb, Jun, Jul, Aug and Dec), it costs US $200 per person per night and on the high season months (Mar, Apr, May, Sep, Oct and Nov), it costs US $250 per person per night for groups of three or more.
For groups of two, it costs $280 USD per person per night and for a single traveler, its US $290 USD per person per night.
Bhutan visa fee is US $ 40 and is payable only one time.
So on the face of it, Bhutan may seem like an expensive destination than nearby Nepal, India, Maldives or elsewhere, but on a broader perspective it’s actually not such a bad deal, considering all that is included and packaged within that fee. This fee actually includes a 3 star accommodation, all meals, a licensed Bhutanese tour guide and a driver for transportation, entrance fees to sites, camping equipment & haulage for trekking tours during the entire course of your stay within the country. Also included within the fee is a $65 per day royalty that goes to the government towards free education, free healthcare and poverty alleviation. Healthcare is free even for tourists. The philosophy behind the mandatory minimum fee being that it creates a “high-value/low-impact” tourist environment, as envisioned by the government of Bhutan. The government executes and regulates this minimum fee in order to manage tourism in a more sustainable way, to grow and blend sensibly with the world, without taxing the local environment and more importantly, highlight and conserve the unique ‘culture and tradition” of the country.
11 Things you need to know when on travel to Bhutan from Singapore:
Bhutanese currency is known as the Ngultrum (Nu). Its value is pegged to the Indian Rupee which is also accepted as legal tender. However Indian Rupee notes in 500 and 2000 denominations are not acceptable in Bhutan. US Dollars are widely accepted.
Here are some useful tips on currency & credit cards.
- Consider a budget of US$30 per person per day to cover tips, drinks & handicrafts.
- US$100 bills do receive a better exchange rate at local banks.
- US dollar bills issued before 2000 will often NOT be accepted!
- ATMs are available for use by visitors in western & central Bhutan.
- ATMs generally only offer small sums (around $100-200USD)
- You may need to try different bank ATMs to accept your card.
- It is best to obtain some Bhutanese Nu from the Paro airport ATM (right of exit door).
- ATMs accept Visa & MasterCard (debit & credit).
- Traveler’s Cheques (Amex) are accepted, but we don’t recommend bringing them as the exchange rate isn’t very good.
- Visa, MasterCard & American Express are now frequently accepted in the larger handicraft shops and in most hotels. When using your credit card please ask the merchant if there is a fee surcharge (usually 3-7%).
Food and Cuisine
There are 2 things you need not worry about when traveling in Bhutan. This is particularly true if you are used to Singaporean/Chinese food which is highly likely. [One], You will “Never get Hungry”, the Bhutanese dish courses are quite a handful to negotiate and [Two], Bhutanese food tastes pretty much like Chinese/Southeast Asian food, except that it’s a bit more chili and cheese on top of it. You might miss out on your Nasi Lemak, Ikan Bilis, Satay and Sambal, Fish Head Curry, Rojak, Black Pepper Crab etc. but if you happen to be a jalapeno or hot sambal lover, you can consider yourself lucky, because typical Bhutanese cuisine revolves around chili and cheese.
The Bhutanese equivalent of hot Southeast Asian sambal is Ezay, a fiercely fiery one in its own right. But you may not get your usual satays though. Rice (white fluffy Indian basmati rice or the indigenous Bhutanese red variety), is the main dish, accompanied by several side dishes of pork, beef, yak meat, lamb, chicken, fish and veggies and “Emma Datshi”, the national dish with lots of chilies n cheese. You can also try “Momo”, the Tibetan dumplings and the various noodles on offer. But most hotels, restaurants and eateries do modify the cuisine to make it more palatable for visitors and also do Chinese, Continental and various Indian dishes.
(Award-winning chef, Vikas Khanna is the owner of New York’s Michelin star restaurant, Junoon)
(Mark Wiens, based in Bangkok is a world known Travel and Food Blogger)
Please avoid drinking unboiled water as most water sources are not treated. However bottled mineral water is available at all shops.
Climate and Weather
Bhutan has four distinct seasons: Spring, Monsoon/Summer, Autumn and Winter. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit and travel to Bhutan (end of Feb till May) and (Sep till Nov). Summers are usually warm (avg. temperature ranging from 20-25 degrees Celsius), while winters are cold (usually below 10 degrees). Bhutan can be visited all the year round! Even in the busy seasons it is not terribly crowded with tourists and naturally there are even fewer tourists in the off-peak seasons. One reason we recommend travel to Bhutan/ Bhutan Travel during the summer/monsoon season is for cost reasons. Since it’s considered the low season, you can save as much as 20% of your daily tariff! Furthermore, most of the time, you will have the whole place to yourself e.g. restaurants, hotels, sightseeing, so no sundry waitings at long queues. For example, during your visits to most places, you will be surprised that you may be the only guests in the entire hotel and can land yourself the best rooms with the best views they have on offer.
Clothes, Travelling Kits and other Paraphernalia
As a Singaporean from 1 degree north of the equator on travel to Bhutan/ Bhutan Travel for the first time, from a country with an average elevation of 15 meters above sea level (Bukit Timah is your highest point at 165m) to almost 3000m at most times, you may want to bring lots of warm clothes and comfortable shoes to negotiate with the variable cold weather and the rugged mountainous terrain. With high attitudinal variations, weather can be quite erratic in the cold sense in Bhutan. So please be prepared to brace the erratic weather as you venture outdoors. You might even consider what to wear when hiking, trekking and sightseeing, as well as for dinners, appointments and functions. A pair of sunglasses, sunscreen lotion and a hat; antiseptic cream, anti diarrhea pills, altitude & car sickness medicines (induced by the winding roads); insect repellents, flash light, umbrella, camera and accessories etc. Visitors are expected to dress modestly and respectfully especially when visiting monasteries, Dzongs and religious institutions. As a mark of respect, please remove hats, caps etc. as you enter religious and administrative premises and institutions or in any other place where the national flag is raised.
Tobacco & Smoking
It is against the law to sell or purchase cigarettes or tobacco products while travelling in Bhutan. It is, however, not forbidden to smoke in appropriate areas. You may carry a small supply for personal use. Please note a 200% duty applies to all imported tobacco products and you must show a valid receipt of purchase to avoid confiscation.
The following are the allowances per person when entering Bhutan:
- 1 liter bottle of spirits or wine (rigidly enforced)
- 250 mls. of perfume
- 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250grams tobacco. A 200% duty fee will apply to bring cigarettes and tobacco products into Bhutan. If you do not have your receipt, you will not be able to bring it into Bhutan.
- Currency – no restriction
- Gifts/Souvenirs – no restriction
Communications & Internet
The country has a good network of modern communications facilities. Almost every town has an internet café and IDD calling booths from where you can log and connected to the world. You can also purchase a local SIM card that would give you connectivity outside the hotels or when you are traveling, if you want to. Bhutanese SIM cards are available at a SIM counter located in the post office (to the right of the terminal exit door) at Paro Airport. Here you can purchase and get assistance for activating your new SIM cards in your devices. The cost for the SIM is approximately US$2.00 plus call credits.
Bhutan operates at 230 volts, 50 cycles AC system, which is generally reliable, although power outages can occur. The standard socket is the Indian-style round pin socket. We always suggest bringing a universal plug adaptor.
Bhutan is an ideal place and a frequent haunt of photographers and offers immense opportunities for photography, especially during outdoor sightseeing trips. However on the other hand you may need to check with your guide for indoor photography as it’s not allowed inside Dzongs, temples and monasteries or religious institutions.
Before embarking on a tour to Bhutan it’s advisable to have tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A inoculations.
Bhutan still remains an extremely safe destination with an exceptionally low risk of theft or harassment. Foreign tourists are usually held in high esteem and respected. However we do recommend you to keep all cash & valuables either on your person or in your vehicle where they will be safely managed by your driver and tour guide whom you can trust implicitly. Please do not leave cash or valuables on display in hotel rooms. Your guide and driver can be your best safety advisors.
Some useful words in Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan
Kuzuzangpo La – Respected Greetings.
Tashi Delek – May all good things come to you. (please use this as a farewell)
Kardenche La – Thank you.
Goempa – Meditation Centre.
Lhakhang – Temple.
Chapsa – Toilet.
Chuu – Water.
Bang Chhang – Rice Wine
Toh – Food/Rice
Our guide can even arrange a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse visit for you, wherein you can get to see and experience exactly how the local people lead their daily lives through self-subsistence farming and with the bare basic amenities; where you can blend yourself with the real Bhutanese way of living. Sitting cross legged on the floor of a traditional kitchen to have dinner can be quite an experience. It can indeed be an eye-opening experience for someone on travel to Bhutan from Singapore. Seeing exhibits at grandiose museums is one thing but experiencing the Bhutanese culture and tradition first hand in the true Bhutanese sense and @ real time, can be quite another!
So an opportunity to travel to Bhutan, considered a “special destination” by even the most privileged travelers, can be the experience of a lifetime. Bhutan is often described as the last Shangri-la on earth, and this holds true in many ways than one. It’s a secluded location, so secure and pristine in her own domain and is still a magical kingdom of the past in many ways. Preservation efforts have shielded many from visiting this jewel of the Himalayas. Bhutan opened its doors to tourism in 1974, with the number for tourists kept to an alarmingly low and at an environmentally sustainable level through government structured tourist regulations. We @ Yak Holidays Int’l (www.traveltobhutan.travel), make our best efforts to see that your tour to Bhutan/Bhutan Travel from Singapore translates and manifests itself into a very successful and memorable one. The Bhutan experience and takeaways you will share with friends and relatives will be bestsellers, that’s for sure.
The choice is for you to make..
Welcome to Bhutan!!