15 things to know before you go to Bhutan

Snuggled in the Himalayas is the quaint little country that is carbon negative and boasts of its success in Gross National Happiness. Referred to as “The Last Shangrila” or “The Land of the Thunder Dragons”, Bhutan is very welcoming.

The country has been shrouded in mystery and folklore for the longest time and not too many travelers have been there.

While finding information on “what to do and places to visit in Bhutan” is easy, I thought of listing down few points to be kept in mind while traveling to Bhutan.

1. Permit is only valid for 7 days.

The Tourism office in Phuentsholing permits travel to Thimphu and Paro only. If you wish to visit more places (Haa, Punakha, Bumthang, Phobjikha) or wish to extend the permit beyond 7 days, please visit the Immigration Office at Norzim Lane in Thimphu. Getting the process is an easy-peasy process. You would be out of the visa office with the permit in your hand in less than 45 minutes.

(I will be writing another post on documents to carry and how to fill the permit form)

2. Be ready to shell out $250 a day if you are not from India, Bangladesh or Maldives.

If you do not belong to any of these three countries, you would need to hire a guide from Bhutan and follow a pre-planned itinerary with a daily expenditure of $250.

3. No Smoking in the public areas – Bhutan is the only country in the world that completely bans the sale and production of tobacco.

Tourists are allowed to carry a maximum of 200 cigarettes, however, you should find some hotel, restaurant or bars with indoor smoking zone.

4. Get a local SIM.

Say bye to your girlfriend/boyfriend and switch off your mobile phone as soon as you enter Bhutan. Else you will be paying an exorbitant charge of INR 70/minute. Visit the local market in Phuentsholing along with a photograph and photo copy of your ID proof. Like the travel permit, getting the SIM is also a smooth process (call charges to India is INR 5/min), however, the internet pack is a little expensive.

5. No currency conversion needed – 1 Indian rupee and 1 Bhutanese Ngultrum is pegged equal.

INR is accepted everywhere in Bhutan, however, the currency notes of 1000 and 2000 may not be accepted. Carry in the denominations of 100 and 500 and travel hassle free.

6. Bhutan is 30 mins ahead of Indian Standard Time. Once you cross Phuentsholing, time will be displayed in Bhutan timezone.

7. Bhutan-India gate closes at 11 pm.

If you visit India side for a quick smoke or cheap dinner, be sure to be back to Phuentsholing by 11 pm.

8. The meal is incomplete without chilly pepper.

The national dish of the country, Ema Datshi, is nothing but a fiery curry of chilies and cheese with rice. Be sure to specify the amount of chilly you want in your food while ordering.

9. Don’t disrespect the tradition.

Be mindful of your dressing when visiting Monasteries, Lakhangs, Dzongs and other places. You will be fined INR 500 if not dressed appropriately.

10. Not a backpacker friendly destination.

Tourism in Bhutan is designed for group travels. Starting from the local taxis, hired cabs, guides, hotels or restaurants, everything is expensive. Traveling on a shoe-string budget is very difficult.

11. There is a BAR at almost every ten steps.

A bottle of Druk Beer costs INR 60 and 20ML whisky costs INR 20.

12. Public Transport is safe, however, the bus tickets have to be booked atleast 1 day in advance. However, shared taxis and private taxis are available everywhere and at almost all the times.

13. Do not forget to submit the visa permit at the last check point before entering the Phuentsholing town. If missed, you might be charged a heavy fine next time you plan to visit Bhutan.

14. There is nothing called a public convenience. Being a solo traveler, this was most challenging for me. My only suggestion would be – drink less water and get used to peeing in the open.

15. Mountaineering in Bhutan is banned out of respect to the local spiritual beliefs.

In the next posts I will be sharing the itinerary I followed and information on hotels, buses and shared taxis.

Got a question? feel free to ask.

Happy travels.


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