From colourful festivals to pristine Himalayas
The Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan lies in the heart of the Himalayas. It’s a small country that’s wedged between China and India, and it has a very unique culture. Until the 1960’s there were almost no foreigners admitted, and infrastructure plus currency weren’t present. If you decide to go discover this Bhutan travel gem, you will enjoy and experience for yourself the impressive attractions, the beautiful monastery forts, colourful festivals, myths and untouched nature while going on different adventure tours. This is the destination to be at to experience the famous brand ‘Happiness is a place’ with its preserved cultural heritage and sustainable tourism approach.
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A Bhutan travel experience
Bhutan’s unique culture
The unique culture of Bhutan is the main reason for visiting the country. It’s a country full of interesting myths and legends. Each mountain and temple has stories about dragons, tigers, gods and demons. One of the most famous stories is the Tiger’s nest: a monastery that balances on the edge of a steep cliff. Climbing the monastery should definitely be on your to do list. The Bhutanese believe that Guru Rinpoche flew on a tiger to the cave where the monastery now stands. The climb to the Tiger’s Nest is great. On the way up you’ll get to enjoy beautiful views. A great start to your Bhutan travel adventure.
A Kingdom of Happiness
The preservation of Bhutanese culture is very important for the country’s inhabitants. The king of Bhutan wants to lead the country into a responsible way of life for the future. The previous king introduced the Gross National Happiness, in which preservation of culture, nature and sustainable economic development are key factors. The quality of life is measured by this standard.
Festivals in Bhutan
If you go to Bhutan, you should try to attend one of the annual festivals. These are great shows with coloured costumes, frightening masks, uplifting music, swirling dancers and extremely enthusiastic Bhutanese people dressed in traditional clothing. These festive day tend to take place in one of the beautiful monastery, also known as Dzongs. Our local travel expert, Suchie, helps you design the perfect Bhutan travel experience.
Bhutanese way of life
The special culture of Bhutanese people can be seen in every detail of their day-to-day life. The national sport of archery is a great example of this. The archers shoot at a distance of more than 120 metres. A shot to the ‘bullseye’ leads to players engaging in a victory dance. Their food is also special because of the enormous amount of red peppers that the Bhutanese add to their dishes. Here, pepper is not considered a herb. It is considered a vegetable. Do you want to get to know and understand life in Bhutan? The best way for a full Bhutan travel experience is to stay in a homestay in the Bhutanese countryside. If you really want to go into nature, then you should trek through Bhutan’s untouched Himalayas.
Best way to plan
It is often thought that it is difficult to enter Bhutan. This is not the case but it is true that there are several rules for doing a trip here. In order to travel through the country’s amazing landscape, you must book a complete round trip which costs at least 250 euros per person per day. The Bhutanese government deliberately keeps the price high, in order to prevent the country from being overrun by tourists. Everything is included in your trip: flights, hotels, excursions, admission fees and meals. Therefore you virtually have no costs once you are there. Part of the money you pay is invested in education and healthcare. This is how Bhutanese people benefit directly from tourism.
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Know Before you Go
General Information and Insider Tips
Residents of the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand do need a visa for travel to Bhutan, and it MUST be applied for through your Better Places Travel local expert. Your visa will be processed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) only after your holiday has been paid for, including a $40USD visa fee. Upon approval, you will receive a visa clearance letter that you must show at your point of entry in Bhutan. At that point your passport will be stamped with your visa authorization, valid for 15 days. A longer stay can be accommodated—discuss with your local expert before applying for the visa. For other countries, check visa requirements here.
All tourists must pay at least $250USD per person per day during high season ($200USD/day from December-February and June-August). This inclusive fee covers accommodation, transport, local guide, food and entry fees for groups of three or more. There is a surcharge if traveling solo or as a pair. Your local expert will advise on details based on your itinerary.
Note: Travel to Bhutan requires that you fly from India, Nepal, Singapore or Thailand. Make sure you meet the visa requirements for the country you’re traveling through, including multiple entries if necessary. Some countries offer transit visas.
Your passport must be valid for at least six months after you return from Bhutan and have one blank visa page. It is your own responsibility to ensure that you are in possession of valid and correct travel documentation.
Insider Tip: The Bhutanese government regulates the number of foreign visitors so as not to overwhelm the country with mass tourism.
There are no particular requirements for Bhutan, but make sure all routine vaccinations are up to date (MMR, polio, tetanus, etc.). Hepatitis A and Typhoid are recommended. Malaria can be a threat in the south, so seek medical advice about anti-malarials and whether or not they are needed. Altitude sickness can be a problem above 8,000 feet (2,500 meters), so inquire about altitude sickness pills before you arrive. They are often only available by prescription. With or without pills, be sure to stay hydrated. We recommend all vaccines be completed at least six weeks prior to travel.
If traveling from a country that has yellow fever, you will be required to show proof of yellow fever vaccination.
Insider Tip: Most tourist attractions are below 3,000 meters, so unless you are trekking, altitude sickness probably won’t be an issue.
The safety of our clients is of the utmost importance to us, and our local experts are always well-informed about the current situation in Bhutan. For up-to-date information about safety, security and travel warnings, please refer to the US State Department, UK Foreign Travel Advice, or your local government resource.
Insider Tip: In 1998 “Gross National Happiness” (as opposed to Gross National Product) was established with the objective of increasing economic growth and development, preserving cultural heritage, encouraging sustainable use of the environment and establishing good governance.
Most sockets use the European two-pronged round (Type C), Indian-style three-pronged round (Type D) or the UK three-pronged flat (Type G) plugs. Power can be inconsistent, so pack a torch or flashlight. A USB charger can also come in handy.
At Better Places Travel, you book your own international flights. Your travel expert will gladly advise you on the best option. Read here for more information and tips.
When to go
Southern Bhutan is sub-tropical with hot, humid weather for much of the year. Central Bhutan enjoys warm summers and cool winters, whereas the north gets quite cold in the winter. The monsoon hits hardest during July and August, which can restrict trekking. Spring (March-May) and autumn (September-November) are peak travel seasons with pleasant temperatures and plenty of Tshechus (festivals) to attend.
Insider Tip: The monsoon is heaviest in the southwest region, so it can be a good time to go up in elevation to see some of the blooming flora. It is also low season, so the tourist tariff is reduced and there are fewer people.
The national language is Dzongkha.
Also known as Bhutanese, Dzongkha is the official language of Bhutan and is written in Tibetan script. Some English is also spoken.
Hello = Kuzoozangpo la
Goodbye = Log Jay Gay
Thank you = Kaadinchhey la
Excuse me = Atsi zur nang
Yes = Inn
No = Men
Insider Tip: The suffix “la” is polite and respectful, so it is commonly added to the ends of words. This is sometimes done with English words as well (e.g. yes-la).
Sometimes referred to as the “Last Shangri-la,” Bhutan is the only remaining Buddhist Himalayan Kingdom in the world. Its government puts a lot of effort into preserving their culture and traditions, which is what draws tourists every year. Tshechus, or festivals, mark important events in the life of the second Buddha. Each village has its own unique event, but the Paro and Thimphu tshechus are among the most popular. Women can be seen wearing the traditional Kira, while men don the Gho.
When entering a monastery or temple, remove your shoes, hat and sunglasses. Always walk clockwise around stupas or religious objects.
Insider Tip: Homosexuality is illegal in Bhutan, so public displays of affection should be avoided.
The local currency is Bhutan Ngultrum (BTN).
The ngultrum is linked to the Indian rupee and has the same value. Rupees are also accepted throughout the country (except for 500 and 1000INR notes). Because tours are prepaid, you will only need money for souvenirs, drinks, incidentals and tips. ATMs are available in major towns, but you should bring US dollars as they are accepted in some souvenir shops and easy to exchange. $100 bills will garner a better exchange rate than smaller bills.
Credit cards are accepted in some of the larger souvenir shops and hotels, but they should not be counted on. Visa is most commonly accepted.
Insider Tip: The tourist tariff also includes a sustainable tourism fee of $65USD which goes directly to the government for free education, health care and poverty alleviation.
Tipping is not compulsory as a 20% service charge is usually added to hotel and restaurant bills.
- Restaurants – No tipping beyond 20% service charge
- Hotels – No tipping beyond 20% service charge
Insider Tip: It is customary to tip your guide, driver and trekking crew. Your local expert can advise based on your itinerary, but a general guideline is $10USD/day for guides and $6USD/day for drivers.
Southern Bhutan is hot and humid, whereas the north can be quite cold, especially in the evening. Layering is a good practice. Since you must remove your shoes when entering a temple or monastery, some people carry a pair of “temple socks” to avoid walking around cold floors in bare feet. Dress is conservative, and shoulders and knees should always be covered in holy areas. Pants, skirts and longer shorts with short and long-sleeved shirts are best. Bring a jacket for cool nights and higher elevations.
- Walking shoes or hiking boots, especially if trekking
- Sunscreen, sunglasses and hat
- Mosquito repellant
- Light sweater or jacket for cool summer nights
- Warm jacket, scarf and gloves for colder areas
- Daypack for trekking
- Protein bars for trekking
- Umbrella or rain jacket—it can rain outside the monsoon season
- Simple medical kit with over-the-counter drugs and first aid (including anti-diarrheal and stomach meds for potential food contamination plus altitude sickness medication if prescribed and motion sickness pills for windy roads)
- Rehydration salts for potential altitude sickness
- Hand sanitizer or wet wipes
- All prescriptions
- Flashlight/torch for possible power outages
- Tissues in case toilet paper is unavailable
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