Bhutan is a tiny, remote and extraordinary kingdom nestled in the Himalayas. Cloaked in mystery and cut off from the world for centuries, this county has a traditional Buddhist culture that has now begun to embrace some modern values and global development as well.
Bhutanese follow the philosophy of Gross National Happiness and is believed to be the happiest country in Asia and at the eighth position in the World. It has a sustainable approach to tourism where a foreign visitor can famously shell out about $250 as the minimum tariff for a single day making Bhutan appear to be one of the most expensive destinations of the World. This fee includes accommodation, food, guide and transport which might not be a bad deal for some.
Bhutan Travel Info
Language: The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha with the significant population of the county speaking the same. English is the language of instruction in schools, and hence you will find most people in big cities versed in English. You might face a few language issues once you move towards smaller towns and mountains.
Currency: Bhutanese Ngultrum.
Visa: Citizen of India does not require a Visa to enter Bhutan. The rules for the residents of Bangladesh and Maldives are also same but they need a Passport valid for the next six months. It is advisable for the foreign tourists to use a Bhutanese tour operator with license or international partners for booking a holiday and pre-arrangement of their visa. A stay for everyday costs a daily fee. In the tourist season, the fee is almost $250 a day and $200 per day for the low season.
Electricity: Bhutan has a 320 V A.C. electricity supply with a frequency of 50Hz. The power sockets are D, F and G type. I recommend bringing a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to keep buying new adapters for each country you visit.
Bhutan Festivals & Celebrations
Thimphu Tshechu: This festival takes place on the tenth day of the eighth month of the Lunar Calendar and is the most famous festival in Bhutan. Lots and lots of people wearing colorful attires gather at the capital to take part in the dance, activities, and festivities that mark the beginning of this three-day festival.
Jambay Lhakhang Drup Festival: In November, Bhutan celebrates Jambay Lhakhang Drup which is characterized by its unique dancing styles like the fire dancing, naked dancing, mask dancing, etc. The people celebrate the foundation of Jumbay Lhakhang Monastery and honor Guru Rimpoche through their traditional dance performances. The celebrations continue for four days and attract thousands of tourists.
Punakha Drubchen and Tshechu Festival: Among all the festivals celebrated in Bhutan, this is by far the unique one of all. The local military recreates some important scenes and moments from the 17th century Tibetan Army battle. It is celebrated to pay homage to the villagers who came forward and saved their country by driving out the Tibetan army.
Safety In Bhutan
Safety is not a concern for either gender traveling to Bhutan. Bag-snatching, pick-pocketing and other scams to take advantage of travelers are not at all common here. Travelers should still be mindful of local customs and dress appropriately to show respect to their host country. Based on many years of solo travel around south Asia I would never leave home without travel insurance, even when visiting a relatively safe place like Bhutan. I recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks before your Bhutan trip. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Top Things To Do In Bhutan
Visit The Tiger’s Nest
900 meters above the Paro Valley, precisely at the face of the cliff clings the Taktsang Lhakhang or the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. The place is postcard perfect and adorns every book, brochure, and website about the country. A lung-bursting trek up a rocky and steep track leads to the Monastery. As the legend goes, Guru Rinpoche arrived here on a flying tiger and chose this site to meditate. The trek might sound harsh, but the view from the top is breathtaking and ensures that if visited, the place will remain in your memories forever.
Try your hands on Archery
Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and something that the country is exceptionally passionate for.
Whether you are on a hill or in a stadium or on a field, one common sight is men in their multicolored ghos taking turns to shoot arrows at a tiny target stationed at a distance of 140 meters. Surrounding them are people from neighboring villages and cheerleader in their most beautiful silk outfits, singing, dancing and cheering their teammates.
Lookout for a Yeti
Since Bhutan has remained aloof from the world for a very long time, it has its share of myths and legends. The most popular is the Yeti or a Mogoi. If speaking logically, it is believed to be a Himalayan bear, but people hold on to their beliefs and narrate tales of encounters with yetis. Bhutan even has a national park dedicated to the preservation of the Yetis known as Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary. Although you won’t spot one, you can find other endangered species like snow leopards, Red pandas, and Tigers.
Increase Your Gross National Happiness
All across the world, Bhutan is known for emphasizing on enhancing the quality of life of its citizens. They call it Gross National Happiness, a term coined by the king Jigme Singye Wangchuk in 1972. Visitors can take this opportunity to take a different approach to life and try to understand what makes them happy and form a society where the primary motive of the governance is to take care of the well being and happiness of the people.
Bhutan has something to offer to every trekker, whatever level of trekking he might be interested in doing. The most popular trek is the Jhomolhari Trek. On the way, you can witness fabulous views of the Jhomolhari peak on the Tibetan Border. If time and money are not a constraint, go trekking the infamous Snowman Trek. It is believed to be the toughest trek in the world and the most expensive too where you will scale peaks as high as 5300 meters.
Visit Buddha Dordenma
Buddha Dordenma is a 51 meters tall statue of Lord Buddha overlooking Thimpu. This impressive structure was completed in 2015 and is a construction for the prosperity of the country. It is a famous pilgrimage for the locals and a center of attraction for visitors. Ensure that you hike up from behind the statue to have a better look from above. Locals have set tents and camps there and will welcome you wholeheartedly.
Cross the Suspension Bridge
The longest suspension bridge in Bhutan lies at a short distance from Phunaka Dzong. This 160 meters long bridge runs over the Po Chu River and connects Phunaka Dzong with the town of Phunaka. The bridge is beautiful with prayer flags swathed over the railings all over. Walk across the bridge and see people enjoying white water rafting in the river below.
Dance with Monks at Tsechu Festival
Paro Tsechu is the highlight of Bhutan every year. Its main attraction is the Cham dance where the monks wear terrifying masks and intricate costumes and dance to traditional music. Every dance has a message especially focusing on compassion for all living beings and is a form of meditation.
Visit Phunaka Dzong
It is the most famous Dzong in Bhutan. Dzong were fortresses converted into administrative complexes with a vast interior courtyard and surrounded by outer walls. Apart from being the administrative buildings they also house monks. Phunaka is Bhutan’s second oldest Dzong constructed in 1637 and is the most majestic Dzong. In 2011, the king’s wedding took place here. Currently, it is open for visitors from across the world.
White Water Rafting
White water rafting is always fun and just outside the town of Phunaka is a natural white water rafting trip taking rafters through the valley. You will see mountains, pass under suspension bridges, cross dzongs and chortens. Rafting is recommended during the day to refresh yourself. The waters are icy after sunset and will chill you to the bones. It is also an exciting way to come back to the city.
Other than these top things to do in Bhutan, there is so much more to see and experience in this amazing country. Plan ahead so that you can take your time exploring and be prepared to be flexible because sometimes travelers you meet along the way will have the best suggestions for undiscovered gems.
What To Eat In Bhutan
Bhutan has an incredibly appealing cuisine to offer. What the Bhutanese love the most in their food are the spices and use them boldly in most of their traditional recipes. They are also very fond of cheese, and their passion for cheese can be seen in many of their dishes such as their signature dish Ema Datshi. Some of the food items that you must try when you are in Bhutan are listed here.
Ema Datshi: Datshi in Bhutanese is cheese, and Ema Datshi is the national dish of Bhutan. It is somewhat like a stew made from chili and cheese and might be excessively spicy for some. Chilies are vertically split, deseeded and mixed in cheese, garlic, oil and water to form a thick stew. Red, white or brown rice accompanies the dish.
Shamu Datshi: Another staple cheese dish of Bhutan is Shamu Datshi i.e. cheese with mushrooms. People cook the local Bhutanese mushroom from the Himalayas with butter in a saucy cheese stew. Just like Ema Datshi, the locals eat this dish along with rice.
Shakam Pa: Shakam pa is a delectable Bhutanese dish made of dried beef cooked in dried red chilies and with some radish. Since the meat used is dry and preserved, it turns out a bit chewy and the whole dried chilies used make the dish extra hot.
Jasha Tshoem: It is a spicy stew which prepared with beef and flavored with ginger, garlic, chili, onions, pepper and at times mushrooms. Locals have it with bread, but mostly this is served with brown or white rice.
Ara: Ara is Bhutan’s Traditional alcoholic beverage made by distilling or fermenting rice, maize, wheat, millet, buckwheat or barley. It might be whitish, creamy or clear in appearance and extremely strong in taste and smell. Ara can also be boiled with eggs and butter to make it more wholesome.
Where To Stay In Bhutan
Bhutan is an incredibly affordable place to visit. Finding excellent accommodation in Bhutan is super easy because there’s so many options whatever your budget. Hostels and dormitories make travel to Thailand affordable for backpackers and any travelers on a shoe-string budget.
If you’re traveling to Bhutan during peak season or wish to stay in a luxury hotel then it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best places to stay have already been snapped up. Bhutan is a pretty popular year-round destination for many tourists around the world you know!
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Bhutan.
If you’re backpacking in Bhutan or traveling on a tight budget then Hostel World is another great option. Staying in hostels makes travel in Asia much more affordable and is also a great way to meet new travel buddies.
Bhutan Trip Planner
Best Time to Visit Bhutan
The best time to visit Bhutan for warm, dry and sunny weather is between October and March. As Bhutan heats up in April and May travel prices begin to drop and you can get some excellent value trips. Monsoon season arrives in May and ends in September and if you’re visiting Bhutan during this time expect a lot of torrential rain. The hottest time of the year is in May and June and most travelers choose to visit Bhutan during the winter between October and March.
Bhutan Travel Budget
Bhutan is generally an affordable destination for travelers on all budgets. The cost of your trip to Bhutan really depends on the level of comfort you will expect while here. If you’re backpacking and planning on staying in dormitories, hostels and eating street food then budget between $25 to $35 a day. If you prefer to stay in 3-4 star hotel rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $35 to $60 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants then budget about $60 to $150 plus a day.
- Budget: $10-25
- Mid-range: $25-$60
- Splurge: $60+
Meal For One
- Budget: $1.00-$5.00
- Mid-range: $5-$15
- Splurge: $15-$50+
Bhutan Packing Guide
Packing for a trip to Bhutan, like most other places in south Asia, is a breeze but lightweight and breathable lose fitting clothing is essential no matter what time of year you are planning on visiting. Bhutan can get very cold so make sure you are well equipped to deal with the low temperatures and high altitude. If you’re visiting during the wet season bring a rain jacket and an umbrella.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to Bhutan include, most importantly, a good quality travel backpack. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.
For the full list of everything you need to pack for a trip to Bhutan check out the Jetset Bunny South Asia Packing List For Female Travelers.