Bhutan Visitor Guide
Bhutan is a wonderful destination…...
Make it an even better experience by thoroughly reviewing this visitor information document and especially please read the sections listed just below very carefully.
- Cancellation Charges & Travel Insurance
- Communications in Bhutan
- Currency & Credit Cards
- Hotel Accommodation & Meals in Bhutan
- Tipping Guide
COVID-19 UPDATES & PROCEDURES:
Our Sherpa travel app will keep you updated with COVID-19 requirements pre, during & post travel. These include PCR Tests and where to get them, vaccination certificates & other documentation plus any tracing apps required at your destination and stopovers.
Once your tour booking is confirmed and the ex-Australia air travel process commences we will provide you with your personal Sherpa app web link to assist you manage the COVID-19 procedures that will be relevant at the time of travel.
Here are three additional website links to assist you to navigate and manage travel in a COVID-19 environment.
Airline Baggage Alert:
We have received an advice from some major airlines to remind travellers that power boards and spare or loose batteries are considered ‘Dangerous Goods’ and must only be packed in your carry-on baggage. Please do NOT pack these into your checked baggage.
Bangkok Airport Stopover Hotel
We personally recommend, the Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel at approx A$270.00 per room per night (including taxes) which you can book direct on-line. The hotel shuttle runs every 5-10 minutes 24/7 and can be accessed by Arrival Hall exit door 4 or you can take the 300m underground walkway from the lower terminal level.
Airport Check-in Information:
When checking in at Bangkok or Singapore airports, for your flight to Paro, please ensure you are physically in the departure gate lounge no later than 45 minutes before flight departure. Both Drukair & Bhutan Airlines aircraft sit on an open tarmac some 2 kms from the main terminal and passengers are taken to the aircraft by airport bus. You do NOT need to reconfirm your inbound flight to Bhutan and only the return flight from Bhutan needs to be reconfirmed 3 days in advance and your guide will attend to this.
A fixed price system prevails in most shops and many Bhutanese find bartering offensive so please only barter in a relaxed and friendly manner. The best places to consider bartering are at the weekend markets in Thimphu, the traders along the Taktsang hiking trail and the many handicraft shops in Thimphu & Paro main streets where it is deemed more acceptable.
Bhutan Land Travel Package Inclusions:
- A professional English-speaking guide & driver with SUV, minibus or coach subject to party size.
- All touring, transfers, entrance fees, hiking & sightseeing throughout your stay in Bhutan.
- Hotel accommodation (3 stars) with private bathrooms.
- Farm Stays offer shared bathroom facilities with no showers. Please take your own towel.
- All meals; usually taken in hotels interspersed with selected local restaurants for lunches.
- Bottled water daily (except on treks when boiled water is used).
- When trekking, tented campsites replace hotels. Additional support crew & ponies are included.
- Bhutan visa fees & processing.
- Sustainable development fee (SDF)and local Bhutan taxes.
- A comprehensive pre-departure information kit.
- Access to our exclusive travel app COMPANION.
Cancellation Charges & Travel Insurance:
The Drukair / Bhutan Airlines air flight component of your tour package will be totally non-refundable once tickets are issued which is soon after your deposit is paid. Your Bhutan land arrangements are subject to the cancellation fees below. Comprehensive travel insurance should be purchased no later than the day you pay your deposit for your protection.
Failure to purchase adequate cancellation insurance by the time your deposit is paid could result in serious financial loss should you be forced to cancel your journey.
- Deposit date until 35 days prior arrival in Bhutan – Land tour deposit is refundable if staying in 3* hotels throughout less B&B service fees.
- 35 days or less prior to arrival in Bhutan – No land tour refund permitted.
- If upgrading to 4* or 5* & luxury hotels additional deposits will be required & we will provide you with the hotel’s own terms & conditions should you need to cancel prior to your final payment due date.
- These conditions cover land travel arrangements only, not airfares, which are subject to their own cancellation conditions.
Special Note Re Travel Insurance:
Many comprehensive policies only cover you for hiking up to 2000 metres. In Bhutan you land at the airport at 2300 m and often day hikes could be as high as 4000 m. Please ensure you are appropriately covered!! ALSO…. Many insurers no longer cover ‘soft-adventure’ activities such as motorcycling, high altitude trekking, mountain-biking & white-water rafting etc. If you intend to undertake these activities in Bhutan please ensure you purchase a fully comprehensive insurance policy covering all such activities. Neither Bhutan & Beyond nor our Bhutanese suppliers will accept responsibility for any accident, loss or death resulting from such adventure activities.
Checking in your Baggage to/from Bhutan:
- Please DO NOT tag your baggage all the way to Paro from Australia or your home country. It will not make it!!
- Please check your baggage in at the Drukair/Bhutan Airlines counter immediately before your flight to Paro.
- Departing Paro, you can tag your baggage all the way to your home city, with a reasonable degree of reliability, if connecting to Thai Airways with a minimum connection time of 3 hours between flights. There is NO guarantee your baggage will make a connection on to any other carrier, despite what either Bhutanese airline may tell you at check-in at Paro airport.
- When departing Bhutan, and connecting on to Thai Airways over Bangkok, please advise check-in staff at Paro airport to tag your baggage through to your final destination. You will be given a boarding pass to Bangkok and a baggage tag to your final destination. On arrival in Bangkok please go to the Airlines Transfer Counter in the transit area of the airport and present your baggage tag and Thai Airways e-ticket to obtain your onwards flight boarding pass.
- Warning!! If you are connecting on to a low-cost airline, or an airline not supported for baggage interlining, you must have no less than 4+ hours connection time between your flights. You will need to collect your baggage & clear immigration (at Bangkok for example) before checking in for your next flight which may be from a different terminal or even a different airport.
Please click here for monthly temperature & rainfall averages for Bhutan. WARNING! Many weather websites list very inaccurate temperatures.
Average daytime highs and nighttime lows in Celsius:
Climate – continued:
Global climate-change has made weather patterns unpredictable and Bhutan is no exception. Please always prepare for the possibility of extreme weather events regardless of the season you are travelling in. Please always carry warm clothing, even in the summer months, to guard against lower than average temperatures.
Bhutan has made big steps in coffee quality and presentation over the last few years. Excellent coffee shops are springing up in Thimphu and Paro and quite a few of the 3-star hotels now have Illy coffee machines. If you are keen to stop and enjoy a coffee during the day just let your guide know and he’ll factor in time for you. Coffee at local shops is at your own expense.
Communications in Bhutan:
Telstra & Optus both support global roaming in Bhutan provided you are already a subscriber and on a plan. Pre-paid credit subscribers may be unable to access global roaming in Bhutan. Other Telco’s may not allow your phone to work in Bhutan and we recommend you contact your Telco for the latest advice.
Smart phones are now working extremely well in Bhutan. It seems to be a matter of trying the different service providers to see which one allows your smart phone to function best.
Local SIM Cards: We can pre-arrange a SIM for you and just need the details of your mobile device and size of SIM required. The cost for the SIM and some call credit vouchers is approx US$8.00-US$10.00 and you can pay this to your guide on arrival. Alternatively ask your guide to stop at a local telco store where you can purchase & gain assistance for activating local SIM cards in your device. You must have a scanned copy of your passport photo page to purchase a local SIM.
WIFI: Smart phones; iPads; Notepads etc. generally work well in WIFI zones and more are springing up all the time. WIFI is generally offered for free (sometimes 2 hours per day free then charges apply) in most tourist hotels, albeit sometimes in the lobby area only, except in Phobjikha valley and some parts of eastern Bhutan where WIFI is still not available. The WIFI will probably be accessible about 75% of the time you are in Bhutan due to network disruptions. The odd hotel may levy a small fee for WIFI and most will levy a fee if you use the hotel PC’s in their business centre.
If you can avoid sending large files/images etc., and lower your connectivity expectations, you won’t be too disappointed. Your guide and driver have local mobile phones and are in regular contact with the support office.
Cuisine, Beverages & Drinking Water: Please Read This!
Many Bhutanese exist on rice, chillies and some vegetables 3 times per day. So if you want to eat like a local that’s what you’ll get! More generally the Bhutanese diet consists of a little meat and poultry, dairy, grain (particularly red and white rice) and vegetables. Ema datse (chilli pepper and cheese stew) is considered the national dish with many interpretations to this recipe throughout the country. Salted butter tea (suja) is served on all social occasions. Chang, a local beer, black mountain whiskey and Arra, a spirit distilled from various grains, are also common and widely favoured. A very good Scotch blended whiskey called K5 is worth trying.
The standard tourist class hotels generally offer a western style breakfast and Bhutanese style lunches & dinners slightly adjusted to western tastes. Increasingly Indian style food is also on the menu. At Amankora Luxury Lodges, and selected other luxury hotels, an international menu is generally available in addition to Bhutanese favourites.
The Bhutanese eat very simply and, whilst tourists are offered a wider range than the locals enjoy, please expect basic but wholesome fare with an emphasis on rice and vegetables.
Water is generally safe from the hotel tap for brushing teeth. Bottled water is recommended for drinking and you will be provided with safe bottled water daily.
Cultural Shows & Adherence:
For those of you keen to see a traditional cultural performance consider a visit to the Taj Tashi hotel in Thimphu for late afternoon tea/drinks and enjoy their nightly song & dance performance. Cost for this will be at your own expense and see your guide to make the arrangements.
Some of the Dzongs and Lhakhangs are not open for visits by tourists. This is to ensure monastic life can continue unhindered and also for environmental reasons. Please be wary when purchasing antiquities, as souvenirs, as many are not permitted to be exported and will be confiscated without a letter of certification. Special Note – Photography is only permitted in the courtyards of most monasteries. Please consult your guide for advice as the rules seem to be constantly changing!
Currency & Credit Cards:
The Bhutanese currency is the Ngultrum (Nu) and is the same value as the Indian Rupee. Both can be used in Bhutan. It is recommended that foreign visitors take in US$ and/or Indian Rupees which are widely accepted. In theory India rupee notes over 500 are not officially accepted however we have been informed most Bhutan hotels and local service providers will accept the new INR1000 and INR2000 notes. Best to take INR500 or lower value notes where possible.
Here are some useful tips on currency & credit cards.
- Consider a budget of US$50-70 per person per day. This will cover porter’s tips, drinks & small handicraft purchases.
- US$100 bills do receive a much better exchange rate when exchanging money at local banks, shops or at hotels.
- NOTE! US$100.00 dollar bills issued before 2000 will NOT be accepted!
- Selected ATM machines are available for use by tourist visitors throughout western & central Bhutan however only offer small sums in Ngultrum and many will not work for foreign cards at all. You may need to try different banks ATMs to accept your card.
- Please do not rely solely on ATM use for withdrawal of funds to use while in Bhutan as these machines can be non-functioning for days on end due to internet outages.
- Try and obtain some Bhutanese Ngultrum from the Paro airport bank/ATM or local Thimphu bank on arrival. The ATM in the Paro Airport arrivals hall generally works well for amounts up to 2000 Nu.
- ATMs only accept cards marked Visa (credit or debit cards) and/or Cirrus or Maestro debit cards.
- Since JAN20 there has been an on-going problem with Credit Card acceptance. Please carry extra US$ currency.
- If bringing travellers cheques please ensure they are US$ cheques. No other countries T/chqs are accepted!
- Australian dollars are accepted for exchange at the main banks in western Bhutan, once again the A$100.00 notes receive the best rate of exchange.
- Recent reports are ANZ Travel Cards in Australian dollars were being accepted by Bank of Bhutan branches only.
- During Festival periods banks will be closed for up to 4 days at a time – please be prepared!!
We DO recommend you carry some US$100 notes with you, even if you plan on using the local ATM’s or credit cards, as a back-up. If internet outages occur ATM machines can be non-functioning for an extended period.
Visa & American Express are now frequently accepted in the larger handicraft shops and in most hotels except in eastern/central Bhutan. When using your credit card please check with the merchant first to ascertain their merchant fee surcharge.
Please advise your bank of each country you are travelling to, and the dates, before your departure from Australia. You can generally now do this on-line. That way your ATM debit and credit cards will be accepted without interference or extra security checks as you travel.
Deposits & Final Payments:
It is essential you have your comprehensive travel insurance in place, at the time of paying your tour deposit, for your protection.
- Deposit date until 35 days prior arrival in Bhutan – Land tour deposit is refundable less B&B service fees.
- 35 Days or less prior to arrival in Bhutan – No land tour refund permitted.
- Any related air flight tickets will be subject to the airline’s terms & conditions.
Dogs & Noise:
Whilst dog numbers are reducing, and their general health is much improved due to a successful and an ongoing program for canine rehab run by the Government, there are still problems with stray dogs and caution is suggested. They can be noisy at night…especially in the capital Thimphu and Paro town. You might consider carrying ear plugs if you are especially sensitive to noise at night.
Dress for Bhutan:
The official word is dress should not be too formal. Plain, simple and inoffensive clothing, but no singlet tops or short shorts. 3/4 pants are fine as long as you are not entering Dzongs or Lhakhang’s (temples). Remember to pack warmer clothing for the evenings and try and take just 2 pairs of footwear. A pair of comfortable walking shoes or light boots (unless trekking) will see you right for day use and a more comfortable pair of shoes for about the hotels in the evenings.
Suggested Clothing Guide (trekkers please refer to the separate guide):
- Light rain jacket any time of year.
- Warm clothes, hats, gloves and a scarf for winter (December-early March).
- Comfortable jeans, trousers or long skirts.
- Long and 3/4 sleeved tops/shirts (tops with collars to be worn when visiting Monasteries.)
- Polo style T-shirts with a collar (for warmer months of May-Sep).
- A jumper or jacket is essential at all times of the year due to the chance of unseasonal weather.
- Comfortable walking/hiking shoes for day use and a second pair for evenings at hotels.
- Sun hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm and moisturiser (required all year round).
Other necessary items to carry with you
- Essential medications & a small medical kit including travel motion sickness medication.
- Trekkers, or those with lung related conditions, should also consider Diamox or Viagra (for altitude sickness).
- Special Note!! Many visitors mistake motion sickness for altitude sickness due to the very windy roads!
- A small flashlight can be useful, especially if staying at a local farmhouse.
- Day pack, binoculars and camera.
Dress Code for Entering Dzongs & Monasteries:
Depending on whom you talk to the exact dress code for Dzongs, Monasteries & Temples can differ. Use the details below to assist with your planning and we recommend you discuss each days’ visits with your guide to reconfirm appropriate attire.
Surprisingly every year we have some clients who refuse to adhere to the dress code guidelines below. This causes great offence to the Bhutanese and we kindly ask all travellers to respect these requirements and listen to advice from your guide.
- Please wear shirts with collars, long or short sleeved.
- Women can wear a pashmina, or scarf, in lieu of a collared shirt to cover neck & shoulders.
- Full long pants or long skirts – ankles must be covered ladies!
- NO hats (pls ensure you wear sunscreen), umbrellas, slippers, T-Shirts without collars, knee length or short skirts, ¾ pants or shorts please.
- In many religious sites you will be required to remove your shoes. We recommend thick long socks to cover your ankles which you will appreciate on the often-cold stone floors.
- It is safer to dress up in “Smart Casual” and avoid short pants, skirts, tank tops etc.
Dry Day – Tuesdays!
Tuesdays have been declared ‘dry days’, as in alcohol free, by the Bhutanese Govt. Although highly unpopular and, outside of the capital Thimphu, rarely adhered to it is important you are aware of this and that local bars, including some tourist hotel bars, may well be closed on a Tuesday. We recommend you prepare in advance as you may only be permitted to consume alcohol in your hotel room on Tuesdays if staying in Thimphu.
Duty Free Allowances:
The following allowances are per person for bring items into Bhutan:
- 1 litre bottle of spirits or wine (rigidly enforced)
- 250mls of perfume
- 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250grams tobacco
(a duty will apply to bring cigarettes and tobacco products into Bhutan of 200%. No receipt no entry for tobacco!)
- Currency – no restriction
- Gifts/Souvenirs – no restriction
- The exportation of genuine antiquities, religious objects, and manuscripts are strictly forbidden.
- Bhutan does not seal liquor & it may be confiscated from you in Bangkok or Delhi so carry it in your checked luggage!!
Approximate costs in US$ at standard 3* hotels. Prices may differ in luxury hotels & restaurants.
- Large bottle of Mineral Water………………………………. US$0.75
- Local beers …………….……………………….………………….. US $2.50-3.00
- Imported Beer………………………………………………………. US $3.50-4.00
- Bottle of imported red and white wines……………….. US$35-40.00
- Bottle of local or Indian wine ……………………………….. US$10-15.00
Bhutan operates on 230 volts, 50 cycles AC system, which is generally reliable although short duration power outages are not uncommon. The standard socket is the Indian style round pin socket, however these come in a variety of sizes and there’s no assurance the plug you have on your appliance, or converter, will fit the socket in your hotel. Most European round-pin plugs work, albeit loosely in the socket. Take an adapter with you and if you are still having problems there are plenty of electrical shops in Thimphu who can assist with a local version. Power points are often unreliable, and too few, so do consider taking a power board with you.
Emergency Telephone Numbers in Bhutan:
Ambulance 112; Police 113; Fare 110.
A stay in a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse is possible in several valleys. This is a genuine & rustic experience and ‘not for everybody’. It is best considered outside winter months as Bhutanese homes are not well heated. We recommend you take your essential luggage in a small sports or duffel bag for ease on steep, narrow, Bhutanese stairs which do not lend well to large suitcases! Usually you will get a western style toilet but washing will largely be restricted to a basin of warm soapy water and you should carry your own hand towel. Please note – some farm stays offer a traditional hot stone bath experience (additional cost US$15-18 pp). Consider carrying a torch or use the flashlight in your smartphone for farmhouse stays.
Festivals in Bhutan have reputations for being raucous, joyous affairs. The most popular for tourists are those held in Thimphu & Paro and those seeking a more intimate Bhutan experience should consider avoiding these major festivals as they mark the busiest time of the year for the tourism industry. Festivals in Bhutan.
The Bhutanese frown on frivolous gifts for local people, including children, as they are believed to encourage begging which the Bhutanese Government is determined to avoid at all cost. The very best gifts are reading glasses of different strengths (readily available from low cost shops), oral hygiene kits (preferably individual kits incl floss, toothbrush, mouthwash, toothpaste, body wash or soap) and functional shoes, or warm clothes. These can be left with your guide who will pass them to our charity organizers in Bhutan – The Tarayana Dragons. Coloured pencils, pens, paints & pastels are always welcomed however, best to give them to your guide, or other adults to distribute, rather than to the children themselves. Stick pins/fluffy koalas are a novelty but of little practical value so best left at home.
Health & Personal Fitness Requirements:
Whilst Bhutan is a relatively safe country to visit, and there are currently no mandatory health requirements, public health facilities are basic in some regions. Please note there is a rabies risk in the entire south Asian region and ideally you should seek professional health advice at least 8 weeks prior to your departure. We also encourage all travellers to ensure that their hepatitis and tetanus vaccinations are always kept up to date and to carry some stomach upset medical as a precaution.
Your nearest Travellers Medical Alliance Clinic in Australia can be contacted by telephoning: 1300 421 142.
Altitude Sickness: It is advisable to avoid any trekking or climbing until day 3 unless you are at least moderately fit and do not suffer from any lung related condition such as asthma. As a precaution we suggest those in the high-risk category and/or those undertaking high altitude trekking carry Diamox or Viagra for altitude sickness as the Bhutan trekking crews rarely carry such medication. If you suffer from altitude sickness please descend as quickly as possible and drink plenty of fluids. Diamox (Acetazolamide) or Viagra may be combined with Ibuprofen or paracetomol and after initial treatment symptoms may last for a few days. There is no provision of oxygen cylinders in Bhutan.
Motion Sickness Bhutan’s roads are very windy and motion sickness medication is recommended as a precaution. In our experience most people who believe they have altitude sickness actually suffer from motion sickness.
Personal Fitness No matter your age we recommend a level of fitness that enables you to be agile enough to climb & descend steep stairs and to walk over uneven ground. Cultural touring in Bhutan often requires short walks and/or steep stairs to access temples and dzongs. Undertaking any of the hiking options we offer in our itineraries is completely optional.
Hiking Poles; Snacks & Boots/Shoes:
If you wish to use a quality hiking pole, please take one from your home country. The only hiking poles available in Bhutan are made from branches collected in the forest and are not readily available at all hotels. It is also a good idea to consider taking a snack with you when hiking. Such snacks will be at your own expense and your guide can assist with purchasing these. Please clean your hiking shoes before departing Bhutan!
Most visitors to Bhutan take the standard tourist tour package which includes Bhutanese style 3-star hotel accommodation with private bathroom. For you to get the best from your Bhutan experience we urge you to consider the following points.
- Please don’t expect your hotel to be any more than a basic 3-star property … and you won’t be disappointed.
- Double bedded rooms are rare in some valleys. We will request one for you but please expect twin rooms in many hotels.
- All hotels offer private bathrooms however the hot water supply can be ‘erratic’ in some valleys in Bhutan.
- Consider carrying a plug for your bathroom basin. They are rarely supplied.
- Power outages are possible in some valleys, particularly in the Phobjikha valley and eastern Bhutan.
- It is possible to upgrade to 4*, 5* & luxury hotels in some valleys.
Opening Times for Major Institutions in Thimphu
Please note all timings listed are subject to change at short notice for a variety of reasons so use as a guide only ! Bhutan Public Holidays 2021
* School of Arts & Crafts: (The Painting School) Mon – Fri 2.00pm to 4.00pm, Sat 9.00am to 12noon. Closed Sun, Public & Winter Holidays.
* The National Library: Sun – Thu 9.00am to 5.00pm. Closed Fri, Sat & Public Holidays.
* Royal Textile Academy: Mon – Sat 9.00am – 4.00pm. Closed Sun & Public Holidays.
* Institute of Traditional Medicine:
Mon to Fri 9.00am to 5.00pm. Closed Sat, Sun & Public Holidays. Visitors only permitted to the museum & library.
*Thimphu Post Office: Mon to Sat 9.00 am to 4.00pm. Closed Sun.
* Handmade Paper Factory: Open Mon Fri 8.30am till 5.00pm. Closed Sat & Sun
* Gold/Silversmith: Mon – Fri 9.00pm to 5.00pm. Closed Sat & Sun.
* Zorig Chusum – The Institute of the Thirteen Arts & Crafts:
Mon to Fri 10.00am to 12.00pm and 1.30pm – 3.00pm. Saturdays 10.00am-12.00pm (closed school holidays)
* Royal Academy of Performing Arts: Mon to Fri 3.30pm to 4.30pm. Closed Sat & Sun.
* Incense Factory: Mon to Fri 9.00am to 5.00pm. Closed Sat & Sun
* Folk Heritage Museum:
SUMMER: Mon – Fri 9.00am to 5.00pm; Sat 10.00am to 5.00pm. Closed Monday.
WINTER: Mon – Fri 9.00am to 4.00pm; Sat 10.00am to 4.00pm. Closed Monday.
* Gagyel Lhandrup Weaving Centre: Mon-Fri 09.00am to 5.00pm (closed Govt holidays).
* Sukbi Biswa Art Gallery: Mon to Fri 09.00am to 5.00pm.
*Tashichodzong: Open for visits only in winter after 4pm, when the Monk Body is in Punakha.
Passports & Visas:
All visitors require a passport, valid for at least 6 months longer than their journey, and an entry visa for Bhutan which must be pre-approved prior to your arrival. Your Bhutan visa will be arranged by Bhutan & Beyond and all we need is a quality scan (or smart phone image) of your passport photo page. If entering Bhutan overland from India please also carry 2 passport sized photos as these will be required by Bhutan Immigration.
**Special Note** Please ensure you travel on the same passport you originally provided to Bhutan & Beyond or you may be denied entry as your visa will be invalid. If you are permitted to board your flight to Bhutan, you will be fined up to US$330 for travelling on an invalid visa, by Bhutan Immigration on arrival in Paro airport.
Bhutan visa costs are built into your travel package. A visa authority letter is issued after prepayment for your travel arrangements and approx 15-20 days before your arrival in Bhutan. The actual visa is entered into your passport on arrival at Paro Airport or at one of the land border crossings. Please carry your visa authority with you when sightseeing as it will be inspected when entering some important sites, especially in Thimphu.
If travelling to India and Nepal please note visas are also required and we will provide you with the relevant information.
Bhutan remains an extremely safe destination with an exceptionally low risk of theft or harassment. However, we do recommend you 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/valuables on display in hotel rooms.
The road widening works along Bhutan’s National Highway, in Western & Central Bhutan, are largely complete. Minor curb & drainage work is still underway but does not impede the flow of traffic. Eastern Bhutan is still undergoing road widening works and road closures of up to 3-4 hours are not uncommon. Times of road closures can change at short notice. Please be flexible and patient when travelling in eastern Bhutan! As a result, your driver & guide will suggest best times for road travel to suit the conditions on the day.
Some handicrafts sold in Bhutan come from Nepal so check first. The best weavings and textiles will generally be Bhutanese and can be quite expensive as they are top quality. For general trinkets and handicrafts, the cheapest place to buy is from the traders at the beginning of the Taktsang Monastery hike trail and, also at the first view point on that same trail (Paro valley). Thimphu and Paro main streets generally offer the best shopping. Check out the new Gagyel Lhandrup Weaving Centre in Thimphu whose products are all made on site and quite exquisite. Next door is also the artist S. Bishwa’s gallery which is also worth a visit. Paro is good for inexpensive local jewellery. The weaving centre in Chhume Valley, central Bumthang region, also offers some of the best weavings, handicrafts and textiles shopping in the Kingdom.
Here are a few basic phrases to help you along the way. Your guide, along with most Bhutanese up to around 45 years of age, will generally speak very good English.
- Kuzuzangpo La – Respected Greetings. (use this when meeting new people – drop the ‘La’ for friends)
- Tashi Delek – May all good things come to you. (use this as a farewell)
- Kardenche La – Thank you.
- Goempa – Meditation Centre.
- Lhakhang – Temple.
- Chapsa – Toilet.
- Chuu – Water.
- Arra – Whiskey.
- Bang Chhang – Beer.
It is forbidden to sell or purchase cigarettes or tobacco products in Bhutan. It is however NOT forbidden to smoke in appropriate areas, and 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.
Taktsang Monastery (Tigers Nest):
Taktsang Monastery will close to visitors each day at 3.00pm. Please avoid taking a horse up to the Taktsang Monastery viewpoint unless you feel there is no way you can make it on foot. The horses walk precariously close to the cliff edge on the trail, which many visitors find quite alarming, and not all of the horsemen are as professional as we would like. This is an option you must elect to take at your own risk!
Tipping Guide: Updated to include Porters & Temple Donations!
With the exception of your guide, driver and, more recently hotel porters where you feel the need, please avoid tipping. It is generally accepted that accompanied children do not need to be included in the tipping formula. The tips for your guide and driver should be paid to them directly on the last afternoon of your stay in Bhutan. You can pay in either USD or local Ngultrum (Nu). Tips for hotel porters, often young ladies, should be paid direct at the time.
These are suggested tips for your guide & driver and are at your discretion, however tipping is expected!
1-2 adults travelling: US$8-10 per person per day for your guide & US$5-7 per person per day for your driver.
3-8 adults travelling: US$6-8 per person per day for your guide & US$3-5 per person per day for your driver.
8-16 adults travelling: US$4-6 per person per day for your guide & US$3-5 per person per day for your driver.
For travellers visiting Bhutan for more than 8 nights we recommend a slightly lower daily rate is paid for your guide and driver tips and again at your discretion.
Porters: US$.50c per bag. This equates to approx 30 Indian rupees or Bhutanese Ngultrum @ MAY17.
Temple Donations: Each time you enter a temple it is customary to leave a small donation. Nu100 is sufficient.
Tipping Guide When Trekking:
At the end of each structured trek component of your stay in Bhutan (not applicable to day hikes) you will also need to tip your trekking cook, helpers and horsemen. Your trekking guide will normally be your guide throughout your entire journey so wait and tip guide and driver at the end of your stay in Bhutan using the formula in the previous page.
Recommendations for tipping trekking crew: These figures below are the total tips to be offered and not per person. You can arrange to pay these tips via your trekking guide who will assist with this process.
Private treks of 5 trekkers or less:
Short Treks of 4 nights or less: Total US$100 to the 2 cook/helpers and total US$80 to the 2+ horsemen/porters.
Longer Treks of 5 nights plus: Total US$150 to the 2 cook/helpers and total US$100 to the 2+ horsemen/porters.
Group Treks of 6 trekkers or more:
Short Treks of 4 nights or less: Total US$150 to the 2 cook/helpers and total US$120 to the 4 horsemen/porters.
Longer Treks of 5 nights plus: Total US$200 to the 2 cook/helpers and total US$200 to the 4+ horsemen/porters.
Premium Trek Tips: Please add 15% on to above suggested tipping regimes if you are taking our ‘Premium Trek Equipment’ option. This is due there is more work for the crew to set up and pack up the campsites.
It is mandatory for all visitors to Bhutan to hold a valid comprehensive travel insurance policy in order to be granted a visa. We recommend that you have your travel insurance in place at the time of paying your Bhutan travel deposit for your protection. Bhutan & Beyond can assist you with travel insurance from CoverMore. Please request a quote.
Many insurers now offer limited extra cover for COVID-19/Coronavirus related events. Please ensure you carefully review travel insurance Product Disclosure Statements (PDS) before you make your decision to purchase insurance.
Travel insurance does NOT cover you if Governments close international borders, therefore preventing travel to be undertaken at late notice. This exclusion has always been in place pre-COVID-19, and is not a new exclusion.
Many comprehensive policies no longer cover ‘soft-adventure’ activities such as motorcycling; high altitude trekking; white-water rafting etc. and often only cover hiking up to 2000m. If you intend to undertake these activities in Bhutan please ensure you purchase a fully comprehensive insurance policy covering all such activities. Neither Bhutan & Beyond, nor our regional suppliers, will accept responsibility for any accident, loss or death resulting from such adventure activities. Motorcyclists MUST hold a travel insurance policy which will cover them whilst riding a motorcycle of 500 cc . Please note that many policies DO NOT provide this cover.
You can trek most of the year (except mid-June to late September when it is too wet) and treks range from 2 to 12 days with varying degrees of difficulty. Guides, horses, horsemen & a cook support trekking groups. Campsites are set up in advance and trekkers enjoy the magnificent scenery & culture with only a daypack to carry. Binoculars, camera, sunscreen, insect repellent (in summer), sunglasses, lip balm, a good pair of walking boots and warm clothing are essential. Winter trekking is kept to the lower altitudes in the valleys. We will supply you a more detailed trekking information guide when this is included in your itinerary. Many treks take you to high altitudes and the air is thin. Altitude sickness is a potential threat and should be considered when planning your itinerary.
You must provide your own sleeping bag (a quality sleeping bag can now be hired in Bhutan – at additional cost). An extra sleeping mat is recommended as only a thin mat is supplied unless you purchase our ‘Premium Trek’ option. Do also consider a Thermarest self-inflatable mat for longer treks.
If you wish to use a quality hiking pole, please take one from your home country. The only hiking poles available in Bhutan are made from branches collected in the forest and are not readily available at all hotels. You may also want to consider taking extra snacks for between meals. These will be at your own expense.
Please clean your hiking shoes/boots before departing Bhutan. This will enable a smoother entry to your next destination.
Warning: Global climate-change has made weather patterns unpredictable and Bhutan is no exception. Please always prepare for the possibility of extreme weather events regardless of the season you are travelling in. If trekking, please consider mid-April to June and early October to mid-November for best weather & trekking conditions.
Visas for Bhutan, India & Nepal:
A visa to enter Bhutan will be pre-arranged on your behalf by Bhutan & Beyond. All you need to do is email us a quality scan (or smartphone image) of your passport photo page in colour please. When entering Bhutan through the southern land border crossings at Phuentsholing or Samdrup Jongkhar two passport sized photos are also required.
Warning: If you obtain a new passport, without alerting us, or enter Bhutan on a different passport to the scan you have sent us, you will invalidate your visa and be fined up to US$330.00 which you must pay on the spot to be granted entry to Bhutan. You MUST enter Bhutan on the passport that you have emailed us in advance.
STOP PRESS -01 FEB 2021
Foreign tourists entering Nepal are no longer able to obtain a visa on arrival at Kathmandu airport & tourist visa’s must be pre-arranged prior to travel in your home country.
A visa to enter Nepal is provided on arrival at Kathmandu Airport for a fee starting at USD30.00 pp. If you are travelling or trekking in more remote areas an additional permit must be obtained and Bhutan & Beyond will prearrange this on your behalf. Please refer to this web link for the Nepal e-tourist visa application process.
A visa to enter India must be prearranged well before you depart your home country. This is your personal responsibility and Bhutan & Beyond cannot assist you with this process other than in an advisory capacity. All necessary information can be found on the following web link below.
OR for India if arriving/departing by air try the new e-Tourist Visa process which is faster & easier although please read the conditions carefully to ensure it is suitable for your visit.
Special Notes on India Visas: Whilst a transit visa is lower in cost it is only valid for 15 days from date of issue and does NOT allow you to take any domestic flights inside India. We do NOT advise you to obtain this type of visa. A single entry; double entry or multi entry visa for India is best, depending on your itinerary.
Wildlife in Bhutan:
Despite a plethora of National Parks, and wildlife refuges, spotting wildlife in Bhutan is more a matter of good luck unless you visit one of the remote eco lodges located in southern central Bhutan close to the Indian border, this is still relatively new and only for the fit and more intrepid as the hikes you take to spot wildlife are quite strenuous.
Trekkers in other regions of Bhutan also have the opportunity to spot wildlife such as deer & mountain goats and regularly monkeys, languars & yaks can be seen from the main road through the Kingdom. Bird life is common and very rarely a leopard, bear or tiger is spotted. Please do not factor in a guarantee of major wildlife encounters on your Bhutan visit.
Winter Travelling: December-February:
Whilst this is a terrific time to visit Bhutan, with far less tourists and surprisingly mild daytime temperatures, there are reduced daylight hours and you will need to compromise on missing some of the suggested sights unless you factor more days into your visit.
Tashi Delek – May All Good Things Come to You.