Bhutan might not be one of the fest destination which is available for the traveller’s mind when planning for a holiday but if you’re sold on visiting Bhutan, here are real-life tips covering everything from language, currency, food, customs and dress codes. You can thank us later!
Going on holiday? Here is what all you need to know to plan for Bhutan.
1) Planning for your trip to Bhutan
A common misconception about travelling to Bhutan is that visas are hard to get and extremely expensive, which isn’t the case. No pre-purchased visa is required to enter Bhutan, you’re not required to book through a local tour operator, and you also get out of paying a minimum daily amount, unlike visitors from all other countries. Lucky you!
Even if you have a different passport, the visa only costs USD 40, and is issued as soon as you pay for your trip in full, through bank transfer (No credit card payments!). However, all travel arrangements have to be made through an approved Tour Agent, who will prepare the itinerary of your trip for you.
2) Bhutan on a Budget? Your Indian passport will help you save.
Depending on the season, travellers who, like me, are not lucky enough to hold an Indian, Bangladeshi or Maldivian passport, will have to pay a daily tariff of about USD 200 – 250 daily in order to enter the country. This fee covers the basic food, accommodations, tour activities, entry fees to attractions and costs to hire a tour guide and driver for your entire stay.
3) How to get to Bhutan:
If you book with a tour agent, they will probaly book your flights for you on DrukAir or Bhutan Air. Tip: If you are flying into Bhutan, request for a window seat for unparalleled views of the Himalayas from your seat. Try to avoid emergency aisle seats or those by the wing so your view isn’t blocked!
4) Currency in Bhutan: Cash is King.
You can withdraw cash from the local bank’s cash machine for a fee. Money changers in the towns were few and far between, and a couple of times, the ATMs didn’t work properly and we had to borrow some from our tour guide.
5) Food in Bhutan
Cheese and chilli everywhere.
If you really like the spicy food then its your luck if not… good luck. Food in Bhutan is quite hot. There are of course non-spicy options and at some restaurants they served items modified to a foreign palate. Red and white rice as well as noodles are usually served with every meal.
Food in Bhutan is also amazingly fresh, with many of the restaurants serving their dishes farm-to-table. Fresh vegetables and fruit are readily available, and I’d never seen a head of broccoli so green. There were even ripe avocados served for breakfast, grown in one of the farm lodges we stayed in.
If you get the chance, stop by a café and ask for a cup of butter tea, usually made with tea leaves, butter and salt. It’s an interesting taste which some may find strange, but if you think of it as a soup while you savour it, you will enjoy this salty, oily beverage.
6) Data Coverage and Wi-Fi in Bhutan
If you hate being off the grid, you can easily get a SIM card at any of the general stores in Bhutan. Data plans are reasonable and your guide will be able to get that sorted for you easily. I don’t believe we paid more than 15 USD for the week for 2.5GB, which was more than enough. Wi-Fi is also readily available at most hotels and accommodations.
7) Language in Bhutan
Although Dzongkha is the National Language of Bhutan, all Bhutanese schoolchildren learn English, which makes it very easy to get around.
8) Bring along sunscreen, lip balm, sunglasses
Due to the dry, cold and windy air at higher altitudes, our lips got burned easily as we were outdoors most of the time. Even with frequent applications of lip balm, none of our pouts were unscathed. PILE IT ON. That goes the same for moisturiser and sunscreen and a versatile pair of sunnies. The sun is extremely bright, after all, Bhutan is much closer to the heavens, and the sun.
9) Dress Modestly
Bhutan is one of the most religious, modest, Buddhist country and most of its citizens are dressed in the traditional gho, or its female equivalent kira, which is their national dress of Bhutan and consists of layers of fabric covering their body. Only men can expose their knees and lower legs.
That being said, try to wear light layers that you and add on or take off depending on the climate and time of day. If you are going to be visiting temples, arms and legs must be covered appropriately and for ladies, nothing exposed too low below the neck. Footwear is also important, especially if you will be on the road/trekking most of the time. 2 pairs of running shoes were just fine.