Travelling To Bhutan

Travelling to Bhutan is expensive, like really expensive. So you really want to make sure that you’re doing it right.

I’ve just come back from a nine-day tour in Bhutan and unfortunately, I can’t say that I did everything right. However, since going I’ve learnt a lot about Bhutan and how best to visit it.

Here’s a guide with everything you need to know about travelling to Bhutan and how to make the most of it.

Tours

  • The only way to get into Bhutan is on a tour.
  • The government sets a minimum daily price, which is USD $200/day (offseason) and USD $250/day (peak season: Mar-May, Sep-Dec).
  • If you are ** travelling alone or in an odd-numbered group**, you will need to pay an extra USD $40 / night hotel fee.
  • That doesn’t include flights.

Flights

  • Your agent will book flights for you.
  • Paro is the only international airport in Bhutan.
  • Flights there from Singapore, Bangkok, Nepal, or India only.
  • Limited flights into Bhutan each week, so you need to book early.
  • Make sure to get a window seat on the flight into Paro, it’s the world’s most spectacular airport approach.

Tour payment

  • Paying your tour agent is strange.
  • You have to wire money to the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) who then forwards it on to the agent after deducting certain amounts.
  • Sounds dodgy, but it’s legit.
  • When wiring the money, make sure to put your agents company name in the wire description, otherwise shit gets complicated.

Agent

I had a terrible time with my tour agent. There were some difficulties which were my fault, but resolving them with him was terrible. More importantly my itinerary seemed filled with a lot of filler.

  • “Tour agents“ are people that do the organization and logistics planning. Some of them employ full-time tour guides, but a lot of them just use freelance contractors.
  • So what you are really paying the agent for is a good itinerary. Make sure you get one that suits you.
  • Most of the tour guides I’ve seen are top notch, so don’t worry about that.
  • Since going I heard about this solid looking agent called My Bhutan.
  • They created a custom itinerary for me based on food, nature, and Buddhism, which looks amazing!
  • Though I haven’t used them, I really wish I did!

Daily spend

  • Most expenses are covered by the daily fee.
  • But you will spend money on extras like extra food, trinkets, drinks, etc.
  • Local currency is Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN).
  • This is a closed currency, it’s only worth anything inside Bhutan. Seriously, outside its monopoly money.
  • It’s pegged to the Indian Rupee, meaning its international exchange value mirrors the Rupee.
  • You can convert foreign currency to BTN at the airport or banks here in Bhutan.
  • You cannot convert local currency (BTN) back out.*
  • 200-500 Ngultrum per day is plenty ($3-7 USD).
  • The easiest thing to do is just convert a small amount and plan to spend it all.
  • *You technically can convert 30% of your money back if you keep your original exchange receipt.

Itinerary

  • There are four regions of Bhutan, West, Central, East, South.
  • Most of the things you hear about are in Western Bhutan.
  • Central is known as the “second Switzerland” and South is tropical rainforests. Both sound lit
  • Many agents are currently not sending people to Central Bhutan because the road quality is poor while they are currently widening the highway. I wish I went, regardless of the shitty roads. If you do too, make sure to tell them.
  • A lot of the museums and cultural activities are pretty average and feel like itinerary filler. You could either knock out a whole bunch in one day, or else do a little research on each and just go to the good ones.
  • Your guides will be happy to change your itinerary if there is something that catches your attention here (just can’t change hotels or towns).
  • Paro is tiny, don’t spend too much time there.
  • Ask to do a ”packed lunch” one day in the forest (I did mine in the forests near Chele La pass )

Food

I’m a massive foodie. What’s more is that when I travel I ruthlessly search out local food to get a sense of what it tastes like to be a local.

Bhutan is horrible for this.

Like other tourist towns such as Siem Reap Cambodia, many restaurants are purely focused on tourists, so you end up eating “white-washed” food. This is bad.

  • Bhutanese food can be summed up in two words: chili and cheese.
  • However, restaurants will go easy on the chili because you are a tourist.
  • Tell your tour guide that you want to eat as much local food as possible. Full chili.
  • Most hotel and restaurant meals will be a buffet. These are average.
  • Tell them to limit the amount of buffet’s that you go to and want “a la carte” (they use this term, I’m not trying to be fancy) as much as possible.
  • Hotels will serve a white breakfast, don’t eat it.
  • Ask your hotel for local fried rice, with egg and chili for breakfast (local breakfast), they will happily make.

sebastiankade

Sebastian Kade, Founder of Sumry and Author of Living Happiness, is a software designer and full-stack engineer. He writes thought-provoking articles every now and then on sebastiankade.com

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