Bhutan Travel Information
Fun facts about Bhutan
The United Nations recognized Bhutan as a country in 1974.
Thimphu is the only capital in the world without traffic lights.
Bhutanese have a long tradition of painting phalluses on their houses to serve as a symbol of fertility and good luck.
Tantric Buddhism is the official religion, followed by Hinduism.
Bhutan is one of the only countries in the world where citizens have a constitutional obligation to preserve and protect the environment.
The national sport of Bhutan is archery.
Bhutan is the first country to switch from Gross National Product to “Gross National Happiness.”
By air: You get direct international flights to Bhutan from Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore and Mumbai. The flight between Paro and Kathmandu is one of the most exciting and popular. If you are travelling that way, you get to admire incredible views of four of the five highest mountains on earth.
By land: Phuentsholing, Gelephu, and Samdrup Jongkhar are the only land border areas open to tourists. The town of Phuentsholing in southwest Bhutan is located approximately 170 km east of the Indian national airport at Bagdogra. After crossing Phuentsholing, it takes you about 6 hours to reach Thimphu. Most tourists wishing to travel to Thimphu via Nepal by land choose the Phuentsholing route.
Visa information and travel requirements
Indian, Bangladeshis, and Maldivian nationals can obtain a visa at the port of entry by producing a valid passport with a minimum of 6 months validity (Indian nationals may also use their Voters Identity Card (VIC). For other tourists, you will to need to acquire visa clearance in advance. Visas are processed through an online system by your licensed Bhutanese tour operator, directly or through a foreign travel agent. Tourists are also required to book their holiday through a Bhutanese tour operator or one of their international partners. The tour operator will take care of Visa arrangements for visitors.
You are required to send the photo page of your passport to your tour operator who will then apply for your visa. The visa will be processed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) once the full payment of your holiday (including a USD $40 visa fee) has been wire transferred and received in the TCB bank account. Once received the visa clearance will be processed within 72 working hours. At your point of entry you will be required to show your visa clearance letter, and the visa will then be stamped into your passport.
Banking and Foreign Exchange
Bhutan’s unit of currency is called Ngultrum (Nu.). A Ngultrum has the same value as the Indian rupee, which is also legal in Bhutan. There are no coins, and you can expect to be handed wads of cash. Please take note that USD 50 and USD100 notes are given a better exchange rate than USD 20 notes or lesser. The smaller USD notes fetch about 5% less. Tourists can exchange cash at the foreign exchange desk at Paro Airport and Bank of Bhutan branches in major townships such as Paro and Thimphu. As you travel into remote towns, ATM and banking facilities are almost non-existent. We suggest that you do your banking whilst in Paro or Thimphu, and take local currency with you to the countryside. Some hotels also provide foreign exchange services; however, many of these are limited to U.S. Dollar exchanges.
Note that credit cards are not a convenient source of payment in Bhutan as only a handful of hotels in a few places provide this facility. Also, only MasterCard, Visa, and American Express are accepted. Traveler checks and US dollars are the most convenient currency and are cashed by most banks.
Electrical sockets (outlets) in the Kingdom of Bhutan usually supply electricity between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you’re plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then you will only need an adapter.
If you are in Bhutan for trekking in remote locations, it’s best if you do not bring heavy electrical appliances. As for your lightweight video camera, you can bring enough batteries to last the trek. However, if you are in Bhutan for tours in major townships, its best to carry chargers and adapters with you as you will be able to use them. For trips that combine both tours and treks, you can bring important necessary electrical items and use them when touring and leave them at your hotel during the trek.
You should avoid drinking tap water altogether, but it is okay to use it for brushing your teeth. Bottled water is widely available and is best for drinking. It is also wise to carry water purification tablets when trekking in remote locations of Bhutan. The hotels provide either mineral water or boiled water. On treks you’ll get boiled water, so you should bring a bottle to fill.
Best time to visit Bhutan
Southern Bhutan has a tropical climate as eastern Bhutan is warmer than the western parts of the country. The northern part of the country with the Himalayas gets snowfall almost all throughout the year. Therefore, the best time to visit Bhutan also depends upon the part of the country you will be traveling in. Generally, October through December is considered ideal as the sky is clear and sunny.
January and February are colder and you will rarely find tourists traveling to Bhutan around this time. March to April is one of the best times to visit Bhutan as the climate is dry and pleasant and in late spring the beautiful rhododendrons in full bloom are yours to admire.
In May the rhododendrons are still in bloom, but the heat and humidity increase making it difficult for easy travel.
June to August is the monsoon season in Bhutan. There is rainfall in the eastern, western, and southern areas of Bhutan whereas the mountains are covered by monsoon clouds.
September, October and November is the busiest tourist season thanks to the excellent weather. If you want to see the rare black-necked cranes then visiting Phobjikha Valley between late October and mid-February would be ideal.
December is cold but the valleys are sunny with clear skies.
The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chilies are in fact an essential part of nearly every dish. Red Rice is the main dish with buckwheat and maize as close seconds. Usually rice is served together with a bowl of vegetable and another bowl of meat. While in Bhutan be sure to taste EmaDatshi which is made with chilies and cheese. Other popular Bhutanese food includes JashaMaroo or Maru (spicy chicken) and PhakshaPaa (pork with red chilies).