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Bhutan Travel FAQs

Since there is an element of uncertainty that surrounds numerous aspects of travelling to Bhutan, and a distinct lack of resources available to provide clarity on these questions, I’ve prepared this little Q&A style post to answer the most frequently asked questions about traveling to the mysterious Dragon Kingdom. Hopefully this should help provide a little insight as to how to go about preparing your trip. If you still have any questions unanswered at the end of this, let me know and I’ll add them to the list!

Made it to the Tiger’s Nest! I had been completely mesmerized by this place before traveling to Bhutan, so seeing it in real life was like a dream come true ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜ I’ve done a lot of challenging hikes – from Ad Deir at Petra, to Angel’s Landing at Zion, and I consider myself quite physically fit, but the high altitude in Bhutan, and the thin air that comes with it makes it a challenge to even breathe normally. I’d walk a few paces, then have to stop and catch my breath ๐Ÿ˜ฑ Proud to have conquered this! ๐Ÿ’ช๐Ÿ™‚ #solofemaletravel #solotravel #wearetravelgirls #sheisnotlost #dametraveller #bhutan #bhutan_ig #instatraveling #travellingram #paro #tigersnest #parotaktsang #travel #himalayas #beautifulasia #hikingadventures

Melissa Douglas ๐Ÿ™‹ Solo Travel(@highheelsandabackpack)๋‹˜์˜ ๊ณต์œ  ๊ฒŒ์‹œ๋ฌผ๋‹˜,

Is Bhutan Expensive?

This is by and large the most common concern when it comes to planning a trip to Bhutan.

The Bhutanese government have decided to focus on “low impact, high value” tourism which is quite smart in many ways. The ideology behind this is to keep out the rowdy backpacker types and to protect the country against the negative impacts of mass tourism (as anyone who has travelled in South East Asia will attest to being a problem)

Unless you are invited by an NGO or the government, the standard fee to travel to Bhutan is $250 USD per person, per day during the peak season, and $200 off-peak. Unfortunately solo travellers have to then pay a single supplement on top of this which weighs in at $40 extra per day if you choose to go it alone.

With that considered, Bhutan is definitely not a budget travel destination, however it is important to be aware of precisely what that fee includes. The daily travel fee covers all of your accommodation (in 3 and 4 star hotels nonetheless), transportation, meals (3 per day), bottled water, and admission fees. As such, you really donโ€™t need to spend any extra upon arrival in Bhutan (except for the odd souvenir). A large portion of this fee is then invested into improving the well-being of the countryโ€™s residents and into policies that commit to providing free healthcare, free higher education, and alleviating poverty. As such, you know that this money is going towards a good cause.

Related article: 10 Reasons Why Bhutan Should Be On Your Travel Bucket List

Is it Difficult to Get a Visa to Travel to Bhutan?

Travel to Bhutan requires a tourist visa to be issued by the Bhutanese government prior to your departure. However the process is incredibly straightforward since this is organised entirely by your Bhutanese tour operator. Contrary to popular belief, there is no cap on the number of tourists allowed to enter Bhutan each year (not sure where that rumour stemmed from originally but I hear it quite a lot!) Simply provide your passport details to your tour provider at the time of booking your trip, ensuring that you have at least 6 months validity ย on your passport and the tour company will liaise with the government on your behalf. Your visa will be issued at least two weeks prior to departure. I haven’t heard of any incidents of a visa being declined so unless you’re some international arms dealer, or you have a track record of being deported from foreign countries or overstaying your visas then I can’t envisage you having a problem.

How Do I Book a Trip to Bhutan?

To travel to Bhutan, you must organise your trip through a registered Bhutanese tour operator. You can find the list of recognised providers here. If you are reviewing using a company and they are not featured on this list then do not use them.

I can hear you wail “organised tour? But whyyy?” Unfortunately there is no route around this (with the exception of travellers from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives who can travel independently for now, though that is subject to change going forwards). Your visa issuance is dependent on the confirmed booking of a tour.

Fortunately, organised tour in this context doesn’t have to mean being lumbered with a group of strangers and trailing around following a guide with little flexibility of itinerary and schedule. If you choose to book through an independent tour company like the one I chose (Druk Asia) then your tour is completely privatised – meaning that it is only yourself/your group accompanied by a personal driver and guide. The itinerary and scheduling offered by these types of tours is more of a guideline than a stringent plan. As such, if you want to make any amendments to your itinerary, or you see anything that you’d like to stop and take a look at while traveling around then you absolutely can do that.

How Do I Get to Bhutan?

To fly into Bhutan, you must use the country’s national airline – Druk Air. You can book directly through the airline but your tour company is likely to be able to assist you with organising your flights.

There are only seven pilots in the world that are qualified to fly into Bhutan (more on that in the next section) and since only one carrier airline services the country, flights are extremely limited.

You can fly into Bhutan from Thailand (Bangkok), Singapore, Nepal (Kathmandu), Bangladesh (Dhaka) and India (Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra and Guwahati) only. Be aware that depending on your transfer airport, you may need a visa so check this in advance.

Is Landing at Paro International Airport Dangerous?

Did you know that Park international airport is considered to be one of the most dangerous airport landings in the world? (I’m sure my mum really appreciated me calling to tell her that right before I flew to Bhutan!) There are just a handful of pilots (circa 7 or 8) in the entire world that are qualified to land there.

Landing here means weaving in and out of the Himalayan mountains and because this is so challenging, the pilots have to use manual techniques (i.e their eyesight and skills) to land instead of relying on any aviation technology as is typically the case.

Flights into and out of Bhutan must occur in the daytime. (My flight from Singapore to Bhutan departed at 3am in order to land before midday!) There are no documented incidents with Drukair however, so you should feel assured that you are in safe hands.

What is the Language of Bhutan?

The Bhutanese speak Dzongkha (aka – Bhutanese!) However you will find that the majority of people speak a good level of English. I mentioned to my guide that I was ย surprised at first that everyone seemed to know some English and he told me that it’s compulsory to learn English from a very young age at school in Bhutan. Signs are always displayed in English too.

 

How Much Spending Money Do I Need in Bhutan?

Since the majority of your trip costings are covered within the daily fee, you will have very few additional expenses during your stay. It is generally recommended that you tip your guide and driver (optional, but highly recommended and polite of course!) So budget a little for that. Otherwise, your only other extra consideration is for souvenirs. For a week or two, I would say that approximately $100 USD worth of ngultrum would be sufficient.

Cards are not widely accepted in Bhutan – You will find stores and hotels that accept credit and debit cards in the major cities but it is not commonplace and often means that you will incur an additional fee.

What is the Currency of Bhutan?

The Bhutanese currency is ngultrum which is pegged against the Indian rupee. ย You can check the latest currency conversions here.

You will find a currency exchange upon arrival at Paro International Airport and another in Thimphu. The latter offers more competitive rates (ask your guide to take you there) but the former is not so expensive or inflated in its prices as compared to what you would typically find with airport kiosks.

Try to change a little currency at Thimphu as you will not find exchanges when you venture into the more rural parts of the country. Cards (either debit or credit) are not widely accepted in Bhutan and although there are some ATM machines scattered around, many do not accept international cards, or you may find that they are broken and out of service.

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Yesterday I met Pema Tshering ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿ‘จ I saw Pema on a travel documentary a few years ago and it was an honour for me to meet him in real life. He is something of a celebrity here in Bhutan. ๐Ÿฒ Pema was born with cerebral palsy and has deformities in his spine which mean he cannot use his arms, has limited use of his legs, and cannot walk. Pema's parents didn't want him, and his future looked bleak. Pema wanted to become a sculptor and instead of feeling disheartened by his condition, he trained himself to sculpt using his feet. His skills have earned him an audience with Bhutanese royalty as well as plenty of international media. Despite everything, Pema considers himself blessed to have his own workshop here in Thimphu, and to make enough money to support his grandparents. He is an inspiration to all of us ๐Ÿ˜Š๐ŸŽจ #bhutan #simplybhutan #visitbhutan #thimphu #inspiration #drukasia #solofemaletravel #solotravel #asiatravel #himalayas #instatravel #instatravelling #travellingram

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Is it Difficult to Acclimatise to the High Altitudes in Bhutan?

In Bhutan, you are going to be predominantly traveling amid altitudes that exceed 3000m. To be honest, everybody is different with regards to how this affects them. Typically your body takes a day or two to acclimatise and as such, your itinerary will likely adopt a slower pace during this time.

For me, the only time I really felt the impact of this was when hiking the Tiger’s Nest in Paro and quickly ascending from elevations of 900m to over 4,100m. Due to the thin air, I found it more difficult to breathe and though I am someone who usually considers themselves as being quite physically fit, here I had to rest a little after every few paces.

I found that there were more pharmacists than I expected there would be in Bhutan (at least in large towns and cities) and most of them seem to speak a good level of English. You could always visit your Doctor prior to departing for Bhutan and get some altitude tablets “just in case”, or alternatively, find them locally if you are feeling a little poorly. Herbal remedies for nausea such as ginger pills are also often a good call.

Is Internet Available in Bhutan?

Internet and WiFi is not as widely available in Bhutan as it is in most places and you should remember that Bhutan is still a developing country. Most hotels do offer wireless internet however the connection is generally not that strong and its reach is limited to the reception or communal areas of the hotel. A few coffee shops and restaurants in major cities have WiFi but it’s not the norm. You should look at your time in Bhutan as an opportunity to disconnect from the modern world and unwind.

In order to stay somewhat connected to those at home and keep up to date while traveling, I picked up a Tashi Cell prepaid SIM card for 350 ngultrum. The price included local call time and 400mb of mobile data. The connection was relatively stable and good enough for checking emails and browsing social media.

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I've seen some pretty awesome things while traveling, but watching the Druk Wangyel festival at Dochu La pass has been a real privilege. The festival features traditional and masked Bhutanese dances in celebration of the victory of a 2003 war against India, and in honour of those who lost their lives. I was able to sit on the front row, right in the heart of the action and in front of the dancers. This is another reason why I love travelling to such remote places. Here, monks play traditional instruments to accompany an ancient masked dance. #bhutan #bhutan_ig #visitbhutan #drukasia #drukwangyel #drukair #solofemaletraveler #solotravel #solofemaletravel #beautifulasia #travel #travellingram #instatravelling

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Is Bhutan Suitable for Solo Travelers?

As above you cannot travel completely alone in Bhutan since the terms of your entry to the country specify that you must be accompanied by a Driver and a Guide. However, this travel style is perfectly suitable for independent travellers. I traveled to Bhutan as a solo female and I felt completely safe for the duration of my time in the country, as well as comfortable in the presence of my guide and driver.

 

When is the Best Time to Travel to Bhutan?

There is an element of personal preference involved with this since the climate and temperatures in Bhutan vary significantly at different points throughout the year. Arguably you are going to want to avoid traveling during the months of July to September as this is monsoon season. The costs of travel may be a factor here since travelling during the high season means a daily administrative fee of $250 per day, whereas in the low season this is just $200 per day. (in both instances please bear in mind that an additional daily fee of $40 applies to solo travellers)

 

What Should I Take With Me to Bhutan?

I’ve written a separate post here covering what to wear in Bhutan. By way of additional considerations, it all comes down to your personal requirements.

Is it Intrusive Having to Travel with a Guide and a Driver in Bhutan?

Not at all! In fact, travelling with these two people felt more like being on a road trip with local friends than it felt as though I was constantly lumbered with strangers. So many travelers are always saying how they want to explore the places that they visit “like a local” – well Bhutan is your perfect chance to do just that! I was really pleased that my guide was able to teach me so much about Bhutanese culture that I perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise known, and that he could take me to his favourite beef momo restaurants and coffee shops in Thimphu.

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So, as I mentioned in my last post, I have been completely mesmerized by how colourful and beautiful the Bhutanese prayer flags are. Of course, they hold religious and cultural significance for the Bhutanese (rather than just being pretty decorations!) I was talking to a Monk on the descent from the Tiger's Nest ๐Ÿ… in Paro and telling him my (admittedly pretty dumb) reasons for liking them. He gave me a flag of my own and told me to hang it in a high place on a mountain and it would bring good luck in 2018. My flag is of the "Green Tara" – A Bodhisattva that represents success and wealth for women ๐Ÿ™‹๐Ÿ’ช With the help of my guide, I fixed it to the top of a tree in the forest. Will it work? ๐Ÿคท I guess time will tell. #solofemaletravel #solofemaletraveler #solotravel #bhutan #bhutan_ig #bhutantrip #sheisnotlost #girlslovetravel #girlswhotravel #instatravel #travelingram #wearetravelgirls #paro

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Are Things Expensive in Bhutan?

The prices of general goods and services is low in Bhutan. Because Bhutan is such an infrequently visited country, one benefit is that there are no touts or touristic/commercialised restaurants – meaning that you will never feel ripped off or as though you are paying a “tourist price” for something. Prices are affordable in Bhutan, but not quite as low as compared to South East Asia.

 

Is the Tiger’s Nest a Difficult Hike?

That depends on your physical health. I am an experienced hiker but I am definitely not a fitness nut – as a Travel Writer I spend large portions of my time crouched over my laptop and stuffing my face with chocolate!

I would say that the hike itself wasn’t too challenging. There are also two different trails that you can take – one is longer in distance and leads you along a relatively flat, steady winding path. The other is a little steeper and requires an element of climbing but gets you there much faster. My guide and I hiked the latter and I didn’t find it strenuous.

The most difficult part of the hike is perhaps coping with the altitudes. (Ascending from 900m up to 3,100m), however if you rest frequently to catch your breath and take plenty of water then you will be fine.

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Pardon my raggly AF hair but I had just got off an overnight flight from Singapore to Bhutan where I had somehow fallen asleep and rolled out of my seat at one point!? ๐Ÿ˜ต The Buddhist Memorial Chorten in the capital of Thimphu is where many elderly Bhutanese people go to pray. Since they are old, they consider it as not being worthwhile to pray for themselves, so you can find them spinning prayer wheels and chanting as they pray for the happiness and well-being of the younger generations. ๐Ÿ‘ต๐Ÿ‘ด๐Ÿ‘ถ๐Ÿ‘ง๐Ÿ‘ฆ #solofemaletravel #solotravel #sheisnotlost #wearetravelgirls #travelingram #instatraveling #solofemaletraveler #bhutan #bhutantrip #bhutan_ig #thimphu #himalaya

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Is Bhutan a Safe Country?

Bhutan is incredibly safe. I have travelled to almost 40 countries now as a solo female traveller and I would say that Bhutan is one of the places that I have felt most comfortable. I feel as though you could be wandering around Bhutan at any time during the day or night and you would never feel uneasy (not necessarily saying that you should do that – just an example!)

The only thing to watch out for is perhaps the stray dogs. I noticed that there were groups of them in both major towns and in rural areas. When I was walking in a village close to Paro I watched a group of dogs chase some guy on his bicycle! As someone who is terrified of dogs, that is something of a nightmare for me. You need to remember that these are wild animals, not domesticated pets so try to give them a wide birth.

Have any more questions about travel in Bhutan that I may have missed? Feel free to let me know below and I can update accordingly!

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With special thanks to Druk Asia for hosting me in this magical and mysterious country.
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3 Comments
  1. Thanks slot for your very detailed description…as a woman who’s very keenly contemplating on visiting this beautiful country I found it very useful

    1. Hey Rajni, thank you for your kind comment! Bhutan is a very beautiful country and if you do decide to travel there, I am certain you will have a wonderful time!

  2. Planning on a trip this November. Thanks for the wealth of information. You really have thought a lot about what visitors need to know.I am 65 and in good health but nevertheless do you have any suggestions for the older me given the elevation? I note the need not to do anything too strenuous in the first days.

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