Bhutan Travel Guide

At A Glance

Bhutan is a small, landlocked kingdom nestled deep in the Himalayan mountains, sandwiched between giants China and India. A Buddhist country – and the last Himalayan Buddhist kingdom – Bhutan is one of the most intact traditional societies on earth, even in the face of rapid globalization. The nation has pioneered the new economic model of “Gross National Happiness,” and takes great pride in its efforts to promote sustainability, carbon neutrality, and well being in the world. Getting to this Shangri-La at the roof of the world can be a bit of a challenge – partly due to geography and partly by design — but the adventure that awaits in the Thunder Dragon Kingdom is well worth the effort!

Population

742,737

Capital

Thimphu (Pop. 104,000)

Population Density

50 people per square mile

Government

As of 2008, Bhutan is governed as a constitutional monarchy

Ethnicity

There are numerous ethnic groups in Bhutan, and no one group composes a majority of the population. The most politically and culturally influential group is the Ngalop people

Language

The official language of Bhutan is called Dzongkha

Overview

  • Bhutan Words and Phrases

    Greetings / Hello : Kuzoozangpo La (Response is also Kuzoozangpo La)

    Welcome : Joen pa Leg So

    How are you : Ga Day Bay Zhu Yoe Ga ?

    Good wishes : Tashidelek !

    Thank you : Kaadinchhey La

    Good Bye : Log Jay Gay (means we’ll meet again)

    What is this ? : Ani ga chi mo ?

    How much is it ? : Dilu gadem chi mo ?

    Water : Chhu

    Milk Tea : Na Ja

    Butter Tea : Su Ja

  • Travel Requirements / Visas / Passports

    Visas will be arranged by BEFORE Travel and issued on arrival. It is not required that you visit a Bhutanese embassy or consulate. Your travel must be paid in full in advance via a wire transfer to the Tourism Council of Bhutan before a tourist visa will be issued – this is something that Before Travel processes for you with the fees you pay us.

    Most visa applications will be processed within 24 hours once payment and paperwork is in order. Travel to Bhutan nearly always requires layovers in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Singapore, or Thailand, so ensure you have proper visas for your transiting country, as well.

    The government of Bhutan does not limit tourist arrivals, and it is not difficult to obtain a tourist visa. Citizens of all countries except India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives must obtain a visa before arriving in Bhutan.

    Bhutan charges all foreign tourists a fee of US $250 per traveler per day during the high season, and $200 during the off season, however this money is used to cover accommodation, transportation, meals, bottled water, and many entry fees. There are discounts for minors and larger groups, and other surcharges for groups smaller than three.

  • Money

    Bhutan uses a currency called the ngultrum (Nu.), and it’s pegged 1:1 to the Indian Rupee. Currently, US $1 will buy you about 66 Nu. There are 100 cherrtum in each ngultrum. Bring hard U.S. currency with you to exchange since Bhutan’s few ATMs don’t work with bank cards from outside Bhutan or India. Indian Rupees are also accepted in some places.

  • Food

    The most distinctive characteristic to Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chilis are an essential part of nearly every dish, and Bhutanese would be hard pressed to enjoy a meal that wasn’t spicy. Most meals will include rice with one or two side dishes of chicken, pork, beef, or vegetables. The national dish of Bhutan is Ema Datshi, a spicy mix of chilis, rice, and a local cheese. The dish is a staple of nearly every meal around the country, and variations can include green beans, ferns, mushrooms, or yak cheese. Tibetan-style dumplings called Momos are a tasty treat often eaten during special occasions. Tripe is also popular in Bhutan, and is cooked with plenty of spicy chilis and chili powder.

  • Climate and Weather

    Despite its small size, weather in Bhutan varies considerably from north to south and depending on the elevation. In the north, near the border with Tibet, you’ll find snow year round. In western, central, and eastern parts of the country, including the capital Thimphu, weather is mild with four distinct seasons similar to Western Europe. Southern Bhutan, near the Indian border, can be hot and humid, especially in summer, with a subtropical climate. Winter lasts from November to March, and is the driest season of the year. The summer brings monsoon rains, but not as severe as in neighboring India. Temperatures in Thimphu range from around 20 degrees Fahrenheit in winter to as much as 80 degrees Fahrenheit in summer.

  • Festivals and Holidays

    Celestial holidays, royal commemorations, and Buddhist festivals make up the most important events of the Bhutanese calendar. The Winter Solstice, celebrated in early January, is a big day in western Bhutan, celebrated with archery displays (the national sport) and visits to religious monuments. Bhutan’s New Year is called Losar, and takes place near the end of February each year. The current king’s birthday is marked each February 21-23, and National Day is December 17 and commemorates the 1907 coronation of the first Druk Gyalpo, or dragon king. Buddhist feast days are also important, including Buddha’s Parnirvana in June, the Buddha’s First Sermon in July, and the Descending Day of Lord Buddha in November. Additionally, each region and town may have its own Tshechus, or regional holidays. Two Tschechus of note are the Drubchen and Thimphu Tschechu each September in the capital.

  • Religion

    Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom, and the influence of the Vajrayana Buddhism that was introduced by the tantric master Guru Padmasambhava in the 8th Century is present everywhere, from the architecture of the fortress-like Dzongs to the monasteries clinging to the mountainsides. Though Bhutan’s Buddhism has its roots in Tibetan Buddhism, the version practiced in Bhutan differs significantly in its rituals, liturgy, and monastic organization. Evidence of the government’s efforts to bring Buddhism to the people is evident in the abundant religious monuments, prayer flags, and sacred mantras carved into stone. Many of the public holidays also mark important Buddhist feast days, like the Buddha’s Parnirvana in June, the Buddha’s First Sermon in July, and the Descending Day of Lord Buddha in November. Some, but not all, monasteries and religious institutions are open to visitors and enable good insight into the country’s cultural heritage.

  • Health and Medical

    The main health concerns in Bhutan are diarrhea, respiratory infections, or exotic infections. There’s a relatively high risk of contracting diarrhea – about 30 to 50 percent of travelers will encounter it, most commonly through meals in restaurants. Travelers going on mountain treks also face risks from altitude sickness and trail accidents. Pack all medications you need or may need before you go, including a wide range of over-the-counter meds, antifungals, and antibiotics. Don’t rely on many medications being available at pharmacies in the country. You’ll want to purchase insurance with evacuation coverage before traveling to Bhutan.

  • Safety

    Crime against tourists is rare in Bhutan, but you’ll want to take the same precautions as you would anywhere. Street dogs can bite if agitated, and they also bark a lot at night, so you’ll want to bring earplugs to sleep with. Smoking and consumption of all tobacco products is prohibited by a 2010 law and results in heavy fines.

  • LGBTQ+ Travel

    Homosexuality is illegal and enforced in Bhutan, with infractions earning the offender between a month and a year in jail. Travelers should refrain from public displays of affection.

  • Solo Female Travel

    Women are generally safe in Bhutan traveling alone.

  • Disabled Travel

    Wheelchair accessibility is limited to only the newest buildings around the capital. Few monasteries, temples, or museums accommodate wheelchairs, but by planning in advance with your tour guide, you may be able to arrange help when visiting certain sites.

  • Cultural Customs

    Modern Bhutanese culture derives from ancient culture. This culture affected the early growth of this country. Dzongkha and Sharchop, the principal Bhutanese languages, are closely related to Tibetan, and Bhutanese monks read and write the ancient variant of the Tibetan language, known as chhokey. The Bhutanese are physically similar to the Tibetans, but history does not record when they crossed over the Himalayas and settled in the south-draining valleys of Bhutan. Both Tibetans and Bhutanese revere the tantric guru, Padmasambhava, the founder of Himalayan Buddhism in the 8th century.

  • Tipping

    Tipping in Bhutan is not traditionally practised. Hotels and restaurant bills include service charges of 20%, so there is no need to add anything further onto these bills. If you do a tour, the tipping of your guide and other service professionals is acceptable, and is your personal choice. A tip per day of 10 USD for your guide is a safe general rule.

Map

Top Experiences in Bhutan

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