1. Debunking the myth that surrounds your visit to Bhutan
Its highly likely that the first time “would be visitor” somehow has this notion that its very expensive to visit Bhutan. “Bhutan?? way too expensive!!” or ” What’s so special about it anyway?” without necessarily understanding the intricacies surrounding the hearsay myth of this last Shangri-la on earth.
Yes, on the face of it, Bhutan may seem like an expensive destination than nearby Nepal, India or elsewhere, but it’s actually not a bad deal, if you consider all that is included and packaged within that fee. This fee actually includes a 3 star accommodation, a private guide and a driver for transportation, entrance fees to sites and all meals and Camping Equipment and Haulage for Trekking Tours, during the entire course of your stay within the country. Also included in the fee is a $65 per day royalty that goes to the government towards free education, free healthcare and poverty alleviation.
So when you are actually touring Bhutan, you will pleasantly realize that you really don’t need to dig your purse often as most of the things involving the visit has already been organized and paid through by your Tour Operator! And that you are actually a hassle free tourist on tour with your guide and driver as guardian deities 24×7.
2. Erasing the understanding that only limited tourists are allowed into Bhutan.
There are no limitations on the number of tourists visiting Bhutan. Till 1999, the limit was 5000 visitors but that has long ceased to exist. According to the Bhutan Tourism Monitor Annual Report (2016), a total of 209,570 foreign individuals visited Bhutan in 2016 which is an increase of 35% over 2015.
3. Ask yourself about “The Best Times to Visit and Travel to Bhutan”
The Tourism Council of Bhutan categorizes the tourist season into the “high season”” and the “low season” depending upon several factors like climate etc. and there are different daily tariffs for both the seasons. The high season months are March – May and Sept – Nov. March, April, Oct and Nov are the busiest months and most visitors try to come during these months. These are also the best months for trekking and festivals.
If you plan to visit Bhutan during these months, please book your tour packages at least three months prior to your visit. The two airlines that fly to Bhutan are Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines, so at most times the flights are packed in advance. Please check the flight schedules well in advance from their websites or your Tour Operator.
But if you want to travel in peace and avoid over crowdedness, you can try the low season months as well.
4. Getting into Bhutan
If you are from Australia, Singapore, Malaysia or thereabouts, take the thrice a week Druk Air flights from Singapore’s Changi Airport to Paro. Singapore – Kolkata – Paro with a brief stopover at Kolkata. Bangkok has direct Druk Air flights to Paro.
Likewise, if you are coming from USA or Europe, travel east through Europe, then West Asia and then to Delhi or Kathmandu and get the connecting Druk Air flights to Paro.
Note : Paro, about an hour drive from Thimphu, is the only international airport.
5. Daily Tariff
During the low season months (Jan, Feb, Jun, Jul, Aug and Dec), it costs $200 USD per person, per day and on the high season months (Mar, Apr, May, Sep, Oct and Nov), it costs $250 USD per person per day, for groups of three or more. For groups of two, it costs $280 USD per day, per person and for a solo traveler, its $290 USD per day, per person.
Note that it costs $30 more if you are in a group of two and $40 more if you are solo. So you can indeed save costs if you are in a group of three or more. So why not go for this option?
6. Factor in the difference in the Daily Tariff in the low season.
Bhutan can be visited all the year round! Even in the busy seasons it is not terribly crowded, so there are even fewer tourists in the off-peak seasons. The reason we recommend travel to Bhutan during the summer/monsoon season is for cost reasons, Since it’s 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, sight seeings, so no waitings at long queues. For example, during your visits to most places, 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. So you can definitely give it a thought.
7. Tour Operator
It is mandatory by law that you can only book your tour package to Bhutan through a registered Bhutanese Tour Operator. All visa processes will be managed by Tour Operator.
8. Rainy Season (Monsoon)
Rainfall or Monsoon generally starts from June till August but it’s not like the continuous daily rains in India. Yes once in a while they are heavy but not always.
9. Places/Things of Interest
It really depends on what you hope to see and experience during your tour to Bhutan. Following is a list of options that you may consider.
Magnificent Dzongs (Fortresses);
Buddhist Monasteries and Monuments;
Stunning, pristine Valleys, Mountains & Passes;
Ancient Bhutanese Art and Artifacts;
Unique Bhutanese Architecture;
Colorful Mask Dances; the Festivals of different valleys, Paro and Thimphu Tshechus;
Various Mountain Treks on offer (Druk Path Trek was the most popular in 2016);
The Bhutanese culture and tradition that is still intact and cocooned even today.
Preservation efforts by the government have ensured that Bhutan is still a living museum. Bhutan’s landscape and culture is so diverse across different regions that it offers distinctive charms and environs for exploration and experience to the enthusiastic traveler.
10. Other Miscellaneous Tips
National Language : Dzongkha, but English is widely spoken. Your guide will speak fluent English.
Currency & Money : 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. US Dollars are widely accepted.
It is best to obtain some Bhutanese Nu from the Paro airport ATM (right of exit door).
ATMs are available for use by visitors in western & central Bhutan.
Food & Cuisine : Rice (white Indian rice or the indigenous red variety), is the main dish, accompanied by several side dishes of pork, beef, chicken and veggies and “Emma Datshi”, the national dish with lots of chilies n cheese. You can also try “Momos”, the Tibetan dumplings. But most hotels, restaurants and eateries do modify the cuisine to make it more palatable for visitors and also do a variety of Chinese, Continental and Indian dishes.
Climate & 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 15 degrees).
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.
Communications & Internet : The country has a good network of communications facilities. Almost every town has an internet café and IDD calling booths from where you can log and connected with the world. 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.
Electricity : 230 volts, 50 cycles AC system. The standard socket is the Indian-style round pin socket. We always suggest bringing a universal plug adaptor.
Photography : Bhutan is an ideal place and 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.
Health Innoculations : Before embarking on a tour to Bhutan it’s advisable to have tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A inoculations.
Safety Precautions : Bhutan still remains an extremely safe destination with an exceptionally low risk of theft or harassment. Foreign tourists are usually held in high esteem. However we recommend you to keep all cash & valuables either on your person or in your vehicle where they will be safely managed by your driver 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
Kuzuzangpo La – Respected Greetings.
Tashi Delek – May all good things come to you. (use this as a farewell)
Kardenche La – Thank you.
Goempa – Meditation Centre.
Lhakhang – Temple.
Chhapsa – Toilet.
Chhu – Water.
Bang Chhang – Rice Wine.
Toh – Rice.