Bhutan is a must-see and should be on the top of your bucket list! Popular destinations include Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, the Phobjika Valley, Gangtey and Bumthang. Before you head off do a bit of research and learn the do’s and don’ts from various sources, read this to help you plan your trip!
Capital: Thimphu (the international airport is at Paro, which is an hour or so away by car)
Religion: Approximately three quarters of the population is Buddhist, and the other quarter Hindu.
Emergency number: 113 (police), 112 (ambulance)
• There are no traffic lights in Thimphu, the capital.
• Bhutanese will refuse a gift three times before accepting it.
• Archery is the national sport.
• The sale of cigarettes is banned throughout the country.
• Plastic bags have been banned in the country since 1999.
• National dress is compulsory for Bhutanese citizens.
The key dates
Bhutan uses its own calendar, a variation on a Tibetan calendar, so it’s important to look into holiday and festival dates before you travel.
Each year is bookended by two especially big days:
2 January, or Nyinlog, which is a winter solstice festival and considered the most auspicious day on the calendar, and 17 December, which is National Day.
The hot spots
Popular destinations include Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, the Phobjika Valley, Gangtey and Bumthang.
Some itinerary ideas
• The Essentials: Paro – Thimphu – Punakha – Gangtey
• The Challenge: the Snowman Trek is a legendary four-week walk in the Himalayas, with some campsites above 5,000 metres.
How to stay healthy
• Travellers’ complaints in Bhutan are generally the same as those in other countries in the region, ranging from diarrhoea to more exotic illnesses. Make sure you’re vaccinated, and take the regular precautions when eating (be wary of buffets that may have been sitting around for some time, for example).
• If you’re trekking the high altitudes, be sure to acclimatise, and familiarise yourself with the symptoms of AMS (acute mountain sickness) before you go.
While you’re there, please don’t…
• Act disrespectfully in a dzong or other religious site. This means you should avoid tight or revealing clothing, take off your headwear, and refrain from swearing or making negative comments about religious leaders.
• Walk the wrong direction around temples and mani walls; follow the locals, who you’ll soon notice are all walking clockwise.
Before you go, read …
Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa – the memoir of a Canadian woman’s two-year stint in the country.
Before you go, watch …
Travellers and Magicians – the first feature film shot entirely in the Kingdom of Bhutan. It was directed by Tibetan lama Khyentse Norbu and received some international attention, including a couple of minor awards.
They said it
“If I had to name the biggest difference between Bhutan and the rest of the world, I could do it in one word: civility.” – Linda Leaming, author
“Nothing could be more striking than the pristine, haunting beauty of the landscape of Bhutan, or the atmosphere of peace and sacredness, which pervades the land from end to end.” – Sogyal Rinpoche, Buddhist spiritual master
Do I need a visa?
All tourists (excluding Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian passport holders) require a visa when visiting Bhutan and must book their holiday through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator or one of their international partners. These operators and partners look after your visa arrangements.
How long will it take me to get there?
The flight is 5 hours from Singapore, with a 45-minute refuelling stopover in Kolkata, India. Bhutan time is 6 hours ahead of GMT, 2 hours behind Singapore.
What’s the money situation?
Bhutanese currency is the ngultrum (Nu), which has no coins but only notes. Indian rupees, which are on par with the ngultrum, are also accepted all over Bhutan, except in Rs500 and Rs1000 currency notes. They are also occasionally given as change. ATMs accepting withdrawals using Visa or MasterCard are found in main towns. Major hotels and tourist shops also accept credit cards but travellers’ cheques and cash are the easiest here.
When’s the best time to visit?
Bhutan can be visited throughout the year but the best months are between March and May and September and November. Winter in Bhutan is from mid-November to mid-March; at this time of year, the climate is dry and sunny for the most part, with perfect blue sky, and temperatures peaking at around 15 degrees Celsius in the daytime and falling below zero at night. The monsoon usually arrives in mid-June, with light rain falling mainly in the afternoons and evenings.
What’s the lingo?
Dzongkha is Bhutan’s national language. English is commonly spoken in main towns.
Here are some phrases to get you started:
Hello – Kuzu zangpo la
What is your name? Na gi chen ga chi mo?
My name is __ Nge gi ming __ een
How much? Gademchi mo?
Thank you – Kadinchey la
Yes – Ing
See you again – Log jay gay
Is there anything I should know about meeting the locals?
A formal greeting is to bow with hands open and outstretched and the palms up.
What’s a must-try dish?
Ema datshi, a chilli-and-cheese stew, and jasha maroo, spicy chicken.
What should I buy as a souvenir?
Postage stamps. Bhutan is a philatelist’s dream. Visit the philately counter at the National Post Office at Chang Lam to buy some colourful local stamps or, for a unique a unique souvenir, buy a personalised stamp with your picture on it.
Where to stay
Hotels are few and far between, and most accommodation is in three-star local lodges. The Bhutanese government imposes a daily tourist tariff of US$250 per person (US$200 in colder months), which includes basic accommodation in these lodges, along with meals. You’ll also find a small handful of luxury hotels in various locations, all with world-class facilities and food. These include Uma by COMO Punakha, Uma by COMO Paro and Amankora.
For more holiday ideas head to our Travel section!