Last updated on May 7th, 2018
Bhutan is a small landlocked Buddhist country. India borders it in the south and China in the north; world’s two most populated countries. It has population of about seven hundred ninety thousands.
In Asia, only North Korea accepts fewer tourists than Bhutan. Its government doesn’t want to allow growth of tourism at the cost of its cultures, traditions and pristine nature environment.
Therefore, Bhutan tourism policy of ‘High Value, Low Impact’ is designed to meet this objective. It’s almost impossible for solo backpacking travel for longer duration in Bhutan especially for tourists who come Bhutan on Tourist VISA.
However, Bhutan’s unique cultural traditions with majestic mountainside monasteries and imposing ancient fortresses make it one of the most elusive tourist destinations.
Therefore, today we are bringing out a comprehensive Bhutan travel guide for people planning to travel Bhutan. We tried our best to keep it simple with required details. Our Bhutan travel tips should help people who are into solo backpacking trip to Bhutan.
BHUTAN VISA RULES
If you are from a country other than India, Maldives and Bangladesh, get Bhutan VISA before travelling to Bhutan. You must come to Bhutan only through a Bhutan Tourism Council authorized tour operator.
The VISA would be processed only on the receipt of advance of Minimum Daily Tariff (MDT) calculated base on duration of your stay in Bhutan. You have to pay 40 USD for the VISA and 16 USD for an extension.
You need to submit copies of passport having validity of at least six months and confirmed air ticket to the tour operator through which you want to travel Bhutan.
Bhutan government also issues Bhutan VISAs for normal tourist, business people, personal guests, Government Guests, expatriate volunteers, employees and also for students.
BHUTAN TOURIST TARIFF
Bhutan’s Tourism Policy mandates tourists to pay USD 250 per day which shall cover cost of hotels, tour guide, transportation, meals and all entrance fees. This is MDT. It’s also Bhutan travel cost for this category of tourists in Bhutan.
Tourists from India, Bangladesh and Maldives don’t have to pay this tariff. They don’t have to compulsorily travel through authorized tour operators either. But this means they have to arrange everything own their own – starting from meals to hotels.
However, MDT isn’t fixed. It is lower during seasons when Bhutan doesn’t get maximum tourists. There is also a discount for group that has more than three travel members. Students can travel Bhutan on discount.
|Seasons||Group of 3 or more||Group of 2||One person|
|Winter & Summer||USD 200||USD 230||USD 240|
|Spring & Autumn||USD 250||USD 280||USD 290|
Tourists travelling Bhutan on a Personal guest VISA has to pay one time fee of Nu.2,500 on entry. Government’s guests, expatriate volunteers, and delegates don’t have to pay MDT for their trip in Bhutan. Some discount schemes in MDT and Royalty Fee are:
- 25% of MDT for full-time students below the age of 25 years.
- 50% of MDT for one person in the group of 11 members.
- No MDT for one person in a group of more than 16 members.
- 50% of $65 (Royalty Fee) after 8th day of your stay in Bhutan.
- No Royalty Fee after 15th day of your stay in Bhutan.
BHUTAN ENTRY POINTS
Paro International Airport connects Bhutan directly with countries like India, Nepal, Thailand, and Singapore. In India alone, it has connection to 5 airports.
Tourists from these countries can enter Bhutan from Paro. DrukAir (Government Company) and Bhutan Airline (Private Company) operate airline business.
Tourists from India, Maldives and Bangladesh can also enter from land routes Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar.
However, I don’t recommend entering from Samdrup Jongkhar and Gelephu as administrative procedures for getting a permit is nothing like in Phuentsholing.
BHUTAN ENTRY PERMITS
Tourists from India, Bangladesh and Maldives don’t need Bhutan VISA to travel Bhutan. But you’ll need Entry Permit issued by Immigration Department of Bhutan in your own name.
Tourists entering Bhutan from Phuentsholing can apply for travel permit at Regional Immigration Office of Phuentsholing. People travelling by plane process at Paro International Airport.
Documents required at the time of processing Bhutan Travel Permit:
- Recent passport size photo.
- Voter Card/Passport.
- Hotel Booking Proofs.
- Itinerary with dates.
You can read our Bhutan travel guide written specifically for solo Indian traveller to Bhutan. We have mentioned everything an Indian tourist will need to travel Bhutan.
BHUTAN TRAVEL COST
Tourists travelling to Bhutan on MDT, your travel cost will be to the limit of an amount you paid in advance to your tour operator. Your hotel charges, transportation cost and food will be met from that advance MDT.
Unless you want to do things that aren’t covered by that tariff, literally you won’t need money in your pocket. However, you must ask your tour operators on things that are covered by this Tariff. Read our article Bhutan Tipping Guide which tells Bhutan tipping etiquette and also culture of tipping in Bhutan restaurants.
Tourists from India, Bangladesh and Maldives, you have to arrange everything yourself unless you travel through a local tour operator in Bhutan.
Therefore, tourists from these countries can travel as Bhutan backpackers. I have come across quite a number of solo Indian travellers to Bhutan. You have a scope to save and travel more as per your spending behaviours. But you have to submit itineraries and hotel booking proofs to get a travel permit.
If you are wondering which currency is used in Bhutan, it’s their own currency Ngultrum (BTN). It has notes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000. You must be careful with 50 and 500 notes. I was told tourists often make mistake between the two.
Ngultrum is at par with INR. Indian currency is also accepted as legal tender in Bhutan. However, shops and hotels generally don’t accept INR 500 and 2000 on the ground of being counterfeited notes.
If you want BTN, you can exchange at banks near entry gates and also in airport. I was told that Indian PNB Debit Card and Master Card also work well in Bhutan.
Just like in any other countries, you cannot come to Bhutan carrying more than USD 10,000 and above without a declaration.
International credit cards and debit cards are not much in use. Therefore, it will be safe on your part to carry few currencies. You might need to do things that your advance MDT doesn’t cover.
THINGS TO DO IN BHUTAN
Keep your expectation low when travelling to Bhutan. You won’t find things that are in other countries. Bhutan is a country to be felt just through small basic things of life. Following are things to do in Bhutan:
- Enjoy bicycling on some of the world’s highest road passes.
- Plough field with a pair of oxen using traditional tools.
- Challenge yourself with paddy plantation in Paro/Punakha.
- Hit bull-eye with traditional bow and arrow.
- Go for fishing in government approved fishing areas.
- Bike through some of the medieval trails of Bhutan.
- Meet monks on hilltop monasteries.
- Experience the less travelled places of Bhutan.
- Learn the art of preparing Bhutan’s traditional tea, Suja.
- Experience rock climbing in countryside.
- Go rafting and romance the untamed Bhutan’s white rivers.
- Join the locals in their finest attires and relish their festival meals.
- Realize the meaning of life through the acts of various mask dances.
- Meet and take selfies with Atsaras, jesters of Bhutan festivals.
- Enliven your spirit with a sight of giant scroll paintings (Thongdrel).
- Receive blessings from display of sacred relics and antiques.
- Dress in Bhutanese costume by choosing your favorite color.
- Unwind at yak herder’s camp with hot butter tea.
- Wade through fresh mountain creeks.
- Experience the medieval ambience of nomad lifestyles.
- Embark on the thrills of Himalayan trek routes.
- Traverse the trails of wild blossoms.
- Earn a reward of breathtaking Himalayan landscapes.
- Challenge yourself on a snowman trek.
- Find happiness by having a meal by a riverside.
- Add 565+ species of birds in your ornithology dictionary.
- Feel the fresh grass under a blanket of stars.
- Spot wildlife from a boat on Manas River.
- Take a leisurely walk through pristine nature.
- Hike through the tapestry of Bhutanese colours.
- Explore array of Bhutan’s flora and fauna.
- Scroll through protected national parks.
- Relieve city’s stress in nature laps by outdoor camping.
- Experience Bhutan’s rural household cultures in various farm houses.
- Learn cooking various Bhutanese dishes and cuisines.
- Savour locally brewed alcohol, Ara fried in eggs.
- Rest by a bonfire to drift away with soothing melody of folklore music.
- Make a wish by building a miniature stupa Tsasa out of mud flour.
- Learn Bhutan’s indigenous arts with students of traditional art schools.
- Get married in Bhutan like a royal couple.
- Visit Drayangs/Karakoes and dance with Bhutanese music.
- Renew your wedding vows the Bhutanese styles.
- Put Bhutanese souvenirs in your collection of souvenir items.
- Milk a cow and test your skills in making cheese and butter.
- Spread merit by hoisting prayer flags on mountainsides.
- Practice yoga amid the serene environment.
- Sooth your soul with your favourite book by riverside.
- Sit with monks through chanting of prayers.
- Discover your inner-self through meditation.
- Take part in annual rituals with the locals.
- Light thousand butter lamps in temples and make wish.
- Take lessons on Buddhism from Buddhist masters.
- Drink Bhutan Cordyceps tea and medicinal herbal tea Tsheringma.
- Treat your body with herbal and hot stone bath.
- Heal your mind with yoga and meditation.
- Immerse in natural Himalayan hot spring.
- Try out indigenous therapies and herbal medicines.
- Experience undisrupted calmness of nature.
- Try your skills with organic cooking from local organic products.
- Enjoy a session on meditation with a renowned master.
- Treat your lungs with fresh mountain air every day.
Popular tourist destinations in Bhutan are Paro, Haa, Thimphu, Punakha and Wangdue. If you want to feel real Bhutan, travelling farther to Gasa, Trongsa and Bumthang would be a worth.
You can also travel directly to eastern Bhutan from Paro by air to explore less travelled places of eastern Bhutan. You can have interactive moments with Brokpas; tribal communities of Bhutan at Merak-Sakteng.
Yonphula, Gelephu and Bumthang, three domestic airports of Bhutan connect less travelled places of East, Centre and South with mainlands like Paro.
WHEN TO VISIT BHUTAN
I don’t recommend visiting Bhutan in winter and summer. Literally tourists have fewer things to enjoy and explore during these seasons. However, you can consider reading this article.
Spring and autumn are the best time to travel to Bhutan. MDT is bit higher but for a reason. Bhutan points of interest or popular festivals of Bhutan like Thimphu Tshechu, Paro Tshechu and Thimphu Dromchoe happen during these seasons.
Recommend to read following travel experiences and stories related to Bhutan Travel Guide:
- Interesting walk over the long suspension Bridge of Punakha Bhutan.
- Tips for Tourists in Riding Taxi Cabs from Phuentsholing Bhutan.
- Phaktshoding Lake – An Oasis for Fishes at Gedu Jungle.
- Dzongdrakha Temple which looks Similar to Taktsang Temple.
- You want to travel Bhutan for Free? Here is how you can do it.
- To Lhuentse Singye Dzong – Slice of Last Shangri-La in Bhutan.
- Khoma: The Birthplace of Traditional Weaving Culture in Bhutan.
- Free Bhutan Travel Package – Bhutan Personal Guest VISA.
- The Guideline for tipping in Bhutan | How to Give Tips in Bhutan.
- Bumdeling – The winter residence of Black-Necked Cranes in Bhutan.