Are you a city person? The kind that needs hot showers, clean rooms, and food that won’t cause too much tummy problems? Well, I am. Before I went Bhutan for my first time, I had difficulty finding answers to my ‘first-world concerns‘ about how it’ll be like to go Bhutan.
Three trips to Bhutan by now in total, this post on my travel blog contains a good bulk of all my gathered experiences. It’ll definitely help you have a better idea about planning and visiting the Land of the Thunder Dragon!
This Bhutan article was originally written right after my first time to Bhutan in Dec 2017 with my family, so the bulk of information here is generally as per that first trip, more on western Bhutan. In May 2019, I went exploring eastern Bhutan on a road-trip. The eastern circuit of Bhutan turned out to be very different from the west. In Dec 2019, I flew to Bhutan again with Druk Asia for a spiritual course, called Neykor.
| Read all about the special Neykor meditation trip in this post! |
All Your First-World Questions &
Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Bhutan!
Bhutan Topics Covered in This Post
- All Your First-World Questions & Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Bhutan!
- How to Get to Bhutan
- Adapting to Bhutan’s altitude, thin air or mountain sickness
- Bhutanese Food & Restaurants
- Hotels in Bhutan
- Cleanliness & toilets in Bhutan
- Bhutanese People and Culture
- Bhutan’s Weather & Temperature
- What to Do & Where to Go in Bhutan
- Crowds & Safety in Bhutan
- About Tours to Bhutan
- Shopping in Bhutan
- Mobile data & WIFI in Bhutan
- Should I Visit Bhutan?
- How much does a Bhutan trip cost?
- Is Bhutan worth the money?
- How do I book a trip to Bhutan?
How to Get to Bhutan
First, where is Bhutan?
You’re really not the only one asking, simply because so few people visit Bhutan and actually talk about their trips (but you have me as your helpful blogger!). Bhutan is located in the Eastern Himalayas, South Asia. It’s a landlocked country bordered by Tibet, India, North Bengal, and India. For convenience’s sake, you can tell your relatives it’s “somewhere near Tibet, Nepal, and India“!
The Kingdom of Bhutan is fondly referred to as the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
Getting into Bhutan
There are basically two methods: By flight or overland (via road). Bhutan’s international airport is at Paro district, and is served by two airlines: Druk Air (aka Royal Bhutan Airlines), and Bhutan Airlines. Druk Air is the national airline. I’m not too sure about the latter, as I booked my trip via Druk Asia Bhutan Travel Specialist, which is Druk Air’s agent in Singapore. We flew from Singapore to Paro Airport in Bhutan.
The second method to travel to Bhutan is overland. You can fly into India, then enter Bhutan via one of the border checkpoints. If you enter by road, do note that it’s a longggg drive (days long) to the western part (Paro, Punakha, Thimphu).
If you’re Singaporean, you’ll need a visa to enter Bhutan. Also, if you’re entering through India, you’ll need to apply for a separate visa for India.
Flights to Bhutan
Usually, there’re three Druk Air flights a week from Singapore to Bhutan. Druk Air flies daily from Bangkok into Bhutan. As for other cities, you can search Google for more info.
At times, the airline will change timings. Especially for domestic flights, which is mainly due to weather.
Is it dangerous to fly into Bhutan?
Paro Airport is considered one of the most challenging and dangerous airports to land at, for good reason, but don’t let that scare you too much. The airport is located in a valley at 2,235m above sea level, surrounded by high mountains about twice that height. Only a select few pilots* in the world are certified to land in Bhutan. This means you’re in very good hands because of these aviation experts.
* As of May 2019, Druk Air has 14 Captains and 14 First Officers.
Due to the challenges in the surroundings, the pilot will use manual methods (aka his eyesight and skills, but there’s a fancier term for that) to judge and land, instead of relying on high-tech navigation systems. All flights landing in or leaving Bhutan can only happen in the daytime, in good weather.
For Druk Air flights from Singapore, the typical flight plan includes a short refueling pit-stop at
Kolkata Guwahati, India. Bhutan-bound passengers will stay on the plane. The plane will then continue to Paro Airport.
Then it dawned upon me that our plane had skipped India altogether (the reason was that the flight was full). We were in Business class then, so I didn’t see how full the plane was). We were gonna land in Bhutan soon, omg! If not for that, we would never get to see this light at sunrise. I was thoroughly captivated by the mountain peaks so close to us and at eye level with our plane, and the turns the plane was making. The air-steward passed by and joined my brother and me in admiring the window views, sharing that there’s the 2nd highest peak (Mt Jomalhari) in Bhutan.
First view of Bhutan’s mountains
The landing was beautiful, dramatic, smooth and may I add, too soon, it was over.
Where to sit on your flight to Bhutan, and about Mount Everest
Druk Air does not allow early check-in online. You can only check in at the airport, so go a bit earlier to choose your seat. You can check-in online now before your Druk Air flight!
If you fly from Singapore, Druk Air will make a short refuelling stop in India, before continuing to Paro International Airport in Bhutan. On my first trip, we didn’t stop at all, even though the original plan was to refuel at Kolkata, and I chose seats on the left. On my third trip, the plane refuelled at Guwahati, and we sat on the right. Honestly, I’m not too sure which side you should sit now. I had views of the Himalayan mountain range on my direct flight from Singapore to Paro, from the left side of the plane. Looking at the world map, I still think a better bet is to sit on the left side of the plane.
You will NOT get to see Mount Everest on your Druk Air flight between Singapore and Bhutan. Please don’t be misled by other travel blog 😅 You might get to see Mt Everest only if you fly into Bhutan from Kathmandu (Nepal).
Should I upgrade to Business Class on my Druk Air flight?
A flight from Singapore to Paro takes about 6 hours, including the short refuelling stop in India. I was upgraded to Business Class on the first Bhutan trip, and sat Economy Class for the other two trips. There are 16 Business Class seats in total, in a 2×2 layout. Economy Class seats 102 passengers, in a 3×3 configuration.
I’ll summarize my Druk Air Business Class flight for you and you can decide.
Business Class passengers get to use DNATA Lounge at Changi Airport and Paro Airport before your flights. I also got served a welcome drink on board. Before the main breakfast meal, they served us starters. Business Class seats cannot be reclined fully unlike other airlines. I would feel the Business Class is more like Premium Economy. Besides that, I find the engine rather loud, so having earplugs on the flight was useful for me.
Can I travel to Bhutan on my own?
If you mean flying into Bhutan and then exploring it on your own a la backpacker style, the answer is no. For citizens from India, Bangladesh, and Maldives, there are exceptions, which you can read about here.
Bhutan’s law requires you to engage a tour guide and driver from a government-approved tour operator, and also to pay the minimum daily tariff, all into a trip package. We used Druk Asia and I highly recommend it!
Adapting to Bhutan’s altitude, thin air or mountain sickness
The elevation in Bhutan that you’ll experience, can range from above 1000m to almost 4000m (Chele La Pass).
Would I have difficulty acclimatizing in Bhutan?
It depends on the individual. My brother and Mum had no issues, while initially, I struggled to inhale normally at higher altitudes. Our first spot on the first day was Buddha Point in Thimphu. I was walking very slowly, mildly panicking inside, feeling rather short of breath. My Dad (who has high blood pressure) got giddy pretty often in Bhutan.
(Update Nov 2018: After some observations, I learned through my TCM physician, that my heart is pretty weak. It contributed to why I had problems breathing in Bhutan on my first trip.)
My Bhutanese tour guide mentioned that your body takes the very first few days to acclimatize. After that, you’ll be fine. Being Singaporean where patience isn’t my virtue, later on, I ate some TCM tablets recommended by my GP then, a day before and on the day that we’ll be going to higher altitudes (such as Dochula Pass, Chele la Pass, and Tiger’s Nest – all above 3000m), and breathing became easier. Although I don’t always recommend medical pills, it might be useful to keep some mountain sickness pills at hand.
No matter what, breathe deeply and take your time to adapt in Bhutan.
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Road conditions? Will I get motion sickness in Bhutan?
Due to the mountains that exist in Bhutan, they cut mountains to build the main roads. The roads are always winding, and often bumpy. On my first day reaching Bhutan in 2017, just sitting for an hour in the car to get from Paro airport to our hotel in Thimphu, I was so close to throwing up. It is probably a combination of fatigue (I hadn’t slept properly for 2 consecutive nights right up to flying into Bhutan), mountain sickness, and also motion-sickness.
Thankfully we reached our Thimphu hotel soon enough and I quickly popped ginger pills and drank some hot tea at the hotel lobby.
Update Dec 2019: The roads at the western side of Bhutan are a lot better, wider and smoother than in 2017. Great job!
At higher altitudes, there might even be frost on the roads.
Ginger pills and peppermint essential oil helped to alleviate my car-sickness for the rest of the trip in 2017.
In 2019, I took a longer road-trip to the remote, eastern side of Bhutan, and barely suffered car-sickness or body-aches even though the journeys were a lot more rough and tough. In this TCM tip post, I shared about magical acupoints that helped prevent motion-sickness for me!
Bhutanese Food & Restaurants
What kind of food will I eat in Bhutan?
It’s always buffet-style of Asian (Chinese) food –– rice plus several dishes, which you take as you want. It’s either white rice or red rice (really doesn’t taste too weird). Sometimes, a few dishes might be a little spicy, but often not. Vegetable dishes are always the majority of the dishes, with 1 or at most 2 meat options. The vegetables are assorted veggies of the current season’s harvests, sauteed in different ways. As my family doesn’t eat beef, I’d specified this ahead of our trip. The only meat we ate in Bhutan was chicken, pork, fish, with fish being the least frequent.
As a Buddhist country, the Bhutanese don’t eat a lot of meat. In fact, killing (including fishing) is not allowed in Bhutan, so all the meat you eat in Bhutan is mostly imported from India. You also won’t find international chains like McDonald’s or Starbucks. Neither will there be seafood, simply because there’s no sea in Bhutan.
And you should try ema-datshi, the famous national Bhutanese dish – chilli cheese! Although ema-datshi is not exactly a fixed dish – but rather – more of a cooking style and flavor. Depending on season, on our December trip, it was long beans or mushroom cooked in chilli-cheese. Very delicious but so spicy! Tell your guide you wanna try ema-datshi and he’ll get the restaurant to include it.
If you appreciate Chinese cuisine in general, you’ll enjoy Bhutanese food.
As a Singaporean, the food is actually pretty tasty for all our meals, definitely not awful, not salty. Bhutanese food is also not overly-processed in strange-tasting sauces. You might be happy to know, Bhutan’s veggies are organic – very healthy!
I didn’t get any tummy problems in Bhutan.
In fact, my tummy felt quite cleansed somehow. You won’t eat a lot but soon you’ll feel full. I also avoided raw veggies including salad, and fruits, especially if they looked as if they’d been left on the buffet table for some time. It’s something I do every time I travel.
There were Caucasian travelers at restaurants and hotels and they ate the same dishes too. Again, this might not paint the entire picture, as the groups of people we saw are also likely using the same agency (Druk Asia) as us, thus eating the same things at the same places at the same time as us.
Breakfast is always at your hotel’s restaurant. Lunch will mostly take place at local restaurants. Dinners are often at your hotel restaurant too. At Paro, my guide will ask if we prefer to eat dinner at restaurants in town or at the hotel. For convenience, we always chose to eat at the hotel. He’ll then call and make the arrangements. If you wish to eat beyond the agreed venues, you can always discuss with your agent/guide and swap accordingly at your own costs.
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What can I drink in Bhutan?
If you’re having a long drive getting from one district to another, your guide will arrange breaks at cafes (not those boutique kind of cafes, but more like hotel or attraction spots’ cafes). They’ll always ask “Tea-Coffee?”, meaning, would you like some tea or coffee? Ginger tea? Black tea? Coffee with milk? Drinks like these are included in our package tour with Druk Asia and we need not top up money.
Don’t drink from the taps in Bhutan, even after you boil it. Our tour group was provided with bottles of mineral water throughout our trips.
An alcoholic drink that’s popular for buying in Bhutan is Zumzin Peach Wine.
Hotels in Bhutan
How are Bhutan’s hotels? Clean? Hot water for shower? Bed comfort? Blackouts?
The hotels we were assigned were actually better than I thought. (If you don’t like the suggested hotels, you can research for more and discuss with your travel agent.) Bhutan’s hotel rooms were spacious (spacious enough for me to do yoga with my travel yoga mat) and clean.
All of the hotels we stayed in western Bhutan came with in-room heaters, hairdryers, electric kettles, and mineral water-bottles. We didn’t experience any blackouts in Bhutan if you’re wondering! Some of the in-room heaters might not be very strong, but the duvets/comforters should suffice. I slept in my thin cotton tees and loose pants, and add on a cotton cardigan if I feel cold. If you’re going Bhutan during its winter months, I suggest you bring thicker sleepwear, and stay close to the heater.
Also, not all hotels provide the equivalent standard toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, in-room tissue paper (not toilet papers, don’t worry) so it’s better for you to bring your own. Bring your own bedroom slippers if you need.
In winter, it can get a bit more challenging for hotels in Bhutan, especially when it comes to hot water from taps, so do manage your expectations and be prepared.
Bhutan hotel reviews
Here’s a quick summary of all the hotels I’ve stayed in Western Bhutan:
Namgay Heritage Hotel (Thimphu), Dec 2019
Comfortable hotel room to stay in, recommended! Good bed. I can’t remember if I heard any dogs barking at night. No problem with hot water when I showered early morning. My room comes with a living room area. Adequate breakfast. Beautiful lounge and common area.
Osel Hotel review (Thimphu), Dec 2017
Good beds and good pillows, window ledges are dusty. Bathroom was chilly. Hot water suddenly stopped coming during the later part of the day when my brother was in the shower. We could get the hotel staff to take a look, but as we were just staying for one night, I decided to shower in my parents’ bathroom next door.
In the middle of the night, you can hear dogs barking on the streets. Good dinner and adequate breakfast. Hotel staff are polite. You can spot the Buddha statue (Buddha’s Point) from the restaurant and hotel entrance.
Punatsangchhu Cottages hotel review (Punakha, more like Wangdue Phodrang actually), Dec 2017
Spacious room, pillow’s not as comfortable for me personally; room has TV. No problems with hot water for showering. In-room heater was not very effective (but Punakha wasn’t too cold then). The room’s quiet for sleeping – we barely heard dogs barking. My room comes with a small balcony facing the river – a delightful place to sit at in the morning. Dinner food is tasty, while breakfast has limited options.
Metta Hotel (Paro), Dec 2019
Stayed at the new wing of this hotel. Room is very bright and modern in design. Beds are comfortable, and come with heating pads. Paro was already -1 degrees before midnight on my most recent trip. The room felt cold if I weren’t standing near the heater. There’s virtually no sound-proofing between the rooms, lol.
One morning, I woke up to discover there’s no water coming from the taps. Turned out, the water in tanks had turned into ice. A while later, there was water running but the color was brown. I boiled mineral water and mixed it with unboiled water so that I can wash my face and continue with the day’s plan to hike Tiger’s Nest. Breakfast is tasty, including stir-fried beehoon. They even have nasi lemak if you want.
The Resort at Raven’s Nest hotel (Paro), Dec 2017
Cosy, spacious room with sofa and coffee-table, no TV though. They have extension power cords for multiple plugs; a huge bathroom. Mattress comes with heating pads. The very spacious bathroom has heated flooring. Hot water for showering was a little tricky to manage for my room (no problems for my parents’) – either too hot or not warm enough. On my 2nd night, the hot water ran out halfway, brrr! On the 3rd evening, it went back to being fine.
Food is served to tables at the restaurant instead of buffet style, and they took care to change the many dishes every night for all our 3 nights. Restaurant staff is thoughtful and polite. You can see Tiger’s Nest from outside the rooms.
Gangtey Palace Hotel review (Paro), May 2019
In May 2019, I stayed at this hotel that used to be a palace. I had been looking forward to staying here as online reviews showed how ornately decorated the rooms are. We reached Gangtey Palace Hotel late at 10pm to check in. Hotel staff had sent my luggage to my room on the second floor, so I couldn’t do my usual knock-before-entering hotel room tradition.
When I entered, I was surprised by the dimness of my room. I was very sure there’s certain dark energy lurking. To cleanse the energy, I lit my rare wood scent sticks. The bathroom was clean but chilly. There was a small vintage heater in the bathroom, but its wire behind came loose, so I didn’t use it. Dogs were barking nearby before I slept. My last night on my otherwise-lovely, 10-day Eastern Bhutan tour was spent having unrestful sleep, with the room lights and music on because I was scared. Thankfully, nothing concretely scary happened.
Furniture is very old. Room felt musky and dusty. From the room windows, you can see the illuminated Paro Dzong, which stays lit till 4.30am. I took a quick shower very early in the morning and hot water was fine. We checked out at 5.30am to head to the airport, so we didn’t have any meals at this hotel. Gangtey Palace hotel’s surroundings are delightfully gorgeous in the morning.
Gangtey Palace hotel’s surroundings are delightfully gorgeous in the morning.
Cleanliness & toilets in Bhutan
Is Bhutan clean?
The Bhutanese believe that “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”.
The hotels and restaurants are always clean. You won’t really see litter dumped haphazardly in Bhutan. In the open and tourist spots, they have rubbish bins and collection points for things like plastic bottles. The locals value and respect their natural environment a lot, and will do what they can to protect it. This again is another admirable trait of the Bhutanese.
Are toilets in Bhutan clean?
My very big concern before going. Toilets at hotels and restaurants in Bhutan are clean. There’re toilet bowls and taps, even at the cafe halfway up Tiger’s Nest, or the cafe at Dochula Pass. In fact, I never came across any gross toilet in Bhutan, not even in the remote side – eastern Bhutan. There was one restaurant in Thimphu where the washroom could be as clean and luxurious as a good hotel in Singapore! One time in Punakha, we had outdoor lunch at big tents set up. It was a charming picnic spot for locals. There was a small building with a few toilet cubicles and they were all squat toilets FYI, but still not dirty.
Yes, the toilets are flushable.
You don’t need to dump water manually to flush them. Be smart and not put in too much toilet paper at one time. Yes, there will be toilet paper even for public toilets most of the time (I still always bring tissue-paper with me).
Still, I would advise you not to drink too much water during the day. Hydrate with strategy. For example, if you know you’ll be taking a long ride from Paro to Haa Valley, minimize your water intake hours before the journey. I always rehydrate at night and straight after waking up, so I can use the hotel toilets before heading out 😉
The most primitive toilet we had to experience in western Bhutan was a wooden shed at Chele La Pass (almost 4,000m in elevation). Inside, there’s a small rectangular hole for you to squat over and aim into, then scoop & pour sand-dust into it. There’s no tap to wash hands, lol. It wasn’t that bad, actually. Just bring something to cover your nose (and have a quick glance before squatting, in case of unwelcome things like snakes?!? I don’t know!)
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Are there cockroaches? Or exotic/dangerous animals to look out for?
Hahaha. I saw one cockroach in Punakha out in the open at my hotel compounds, not in the room though. Earlier, I was reading a book and there was a discussion on whether the locals (being Buddhists) should kill cockroaches (the conclusion is.. No).
Bhutan’s most exotic animal is its national one – Takin, which looks like a mix of different animals. I didn’t see this animal though, as we didn’t visit the Takin preserve. There are indeed tigers in Bhutan, and also farm animals like horses, cows and bulls. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t do stupid things.
Yaks and highlands of Bhutan
If you happen to be heading to highland areas (above 3000m at least) such as Merak (eastern Bhutan), or in winter from Thimphu (western Bhutan) to Trongsa (central Bhutan), you might get to see yaks grazing along grasslands.
Bhutanese People and Culture
How are the Bhutanese people like?
I’ve only met polite, gracious and friendly locals in Bhutan, even the police officers at Druk Wangyel Festival at Dochula Pass. No one was ever hostile or rude. Kids are curious and cheeky. Everyone was respectful towards one another – a very admirable culture!
What languages do Bhutanese speak?
Locals will speak to one another in Dzongkha, their national language, and to you in English. You might be surprised at how many Bhutanese can actually speak English! In fact, Bhutan’s school lessons are conducted in English from a very young age. Road signs and shop signboards are required to be in English.
Bhutan’s Weather & Temperature
Seasons in Bhutan
- Spring in Bhutan: March to May
- Summer: June to August
- Autumn: September to November
- Winter is from December to February
How’s the weather in Bhutan?
(I was in Bhutan in December 2017, on the second week.) We landed in Paro at -2 degrees at 7am. In the afternoon at Thimphu, it was 22°C – a stark contrast from the morning weather. We never had rain on our December trip to Bhutan– it was always bright and sunny in the day. For most of the trip, it was 10+°C in the daytime I believe.
The temperature can differ a lot across different districts, simply because of different elevations (Punakha was the warmest among the districts we went). Paro was bitingly cold outdoors at night, especially after the sun has set.
Even during spring in May, it got very cold (like 7 degrees Celcius in the afternoon), at some areas of my Eastern Bhutan adventure, and then as warm as 30 degrees at another district.
Always bring a good jacket with you to Bhutan!
| Check my post on how to use TCM to stay healthy on your winter trip |
What to Do & Where to Go in Bhutan
We were only in 3 districts: Paro, Thimphu and Punakha for my first trip to Bhutan. These 3 districts are located in the west of Bhutan. Most first-time travellers to Bhutan will only visit the western circuit of Bhutan on their trips.
What are some of the activities to do or places to visit in Bhutan?
It’s mostly sightseeing for places of nature, or visiting huge dzongs (fortresses that now operate as administrative offices and religious temples), temples, and learning about the cultures. A trip to Bhutan will involve quite a bit of walking (strolling) and also some hiking, especially Tiger’s Nest at the end. We went to a few dzongs and they often have steep, narrow staircases to climb.
At Paro, you’ll get to explore the town a little, where shops sell lots of stone necklaces, bracelets, and souvenirs.
| You can view my full Bhutan itinerary on my Travel Resources page! |
Trekking in Bhutan: Can everyone hike Tiger’s Nest?
It depends on your physical health. My amazing Mum hiked all the way to the monastery with my brother and me, not even using the horses to shorten the journey, while my Dad opted out totally after hiking the simple ones in Bhutan. My Mum is very fit to begin with (she hiked Mt Takao and also to Chureito Pagoda in Tokyo to see Mt Fuji – very easy hikes compared to Tiger’s Nest).
The trek to Tiger’s Nest is not easy, from the sheer height elevation, constant uphill terrain, and also the many steps to go downhill then uphill to reach the monastery. Also, remember how you get there will also be how you return.
| View my post & guide on hiking Tiger’s Nest! |
We decided to go rafting at Punakha and it was the most beautiful ride down the river and rapids! Read about the river-rafting experience we had in Bhutan!
Will I spend a lot of time in the car, getting from place to place?
Yes. Because it’s all mountaineous roads, so there’s no shortcut. Also, now, they’re working hard on expanding the roads and also improving the conditions, so sometimes, they might close roads to do the maintenance. Your guide and driver will plan timings based on road-closures.
Due to the winding and bumpy roads, a responsible driver will not speed, instead, drive with caution to minimize danger and car-sickness. Sometimes, the roads are slightly larger than one lane, but has to fit bi-directional vehicles. You’ll see many ‘slim’ cars that operate as cabs, which they’d imported from India. The most number of cars you’ll see in Bhutan would be in Thimphu, the capital.
It’s one main road, the National Highway, from Paro to Thimphu to Punakha and the same way back.
Our journey by road in 2017: Paro – Thimphu – Punakha – Thimphu – Paro
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Crowds & Safety in Bhutan
Why are there so few tourists in Bhutan? Is it because no one wants to go there?
Ahahaha nope. With only so few pilots in this world qualified to fly into Bhutan, and limited flights only allowed in the daytime in good weather, this automatically reduces the number of flights and thus tourists. The other method to reach Bhutan is overland from India – even so, they’re a really long distance away from Thimphu, Paro, Punakha. Which means it’s hardly crowded in Bhutan, yay!
Bhutan is also not the cheapest destination to visit due to the daily minimum tariff.
Is Bhutan safe?
We moved around in a group and I’ve never felt any form of acute danger. Everyone strolls in Bhutan, even the animals on the road, even with cars approaching. Vehicles will thus drive at a slow speed everywhere and give way to pedestrians and animals.
I would say generally, Bhutan felt safe. Regardless, crime can happen anywhere in the world. (My brother told me his friend went Bhutan and someone opened her hotel room door?!?) Whether you’re travelling solo or not, always practise a good level of awareness about your surroundings. And keep your room doors locked, valuables locked away, of course.
Is it safe to visit Bhutan as a solo traveller?
Your guide will be with you most of the time during the land tours in the day, even hiking all the way to Tiger’s Nest, so don’t worry.
| Read about my hike to Tiger’s Nest & hiking tips! |
However, one thing to note is that your guide might not be staying at the same hotels as you. So if they’ve ended the program for the day, if you head out on your own, you’re on your own.
About Tours to Bhutan
Will I join other groups of tourists?
If you book independent agencies like Druk Asia, it’s a private tour, meaning your guide and driver will be responsible for just you and your group’s well-being during your time in Bhutan. I really appreciate this as we can explore Bhutan at our own pace, and also modify the itinerary according to our preferences and needs.
There’re other established tour agencies (for eg. Chan Brothers in Singapore) that organize group trips to Bhutan, but they have a minimum number of participants (like 10 or more) before a trip will take off. You’ll thus be joining other groups/strangers and sitting in mini-buses on probably a fixed itinerary.
Are tours long? Rushed?
Our tour guide typically picked us at 9am every morning, and we’ll be out till about 4+, sometimes 5+pm. We’ll then rest and shower and get ready for dinner which mostly will be ready from 7pm. After dinner, it’s winding down in your own room and getting ready for bed!
| Check out some of the tour options available on Druk Asia now! |
We also did not get rushed during tours, unless there’s a certain timing that we need to keep in mind (some temples close early). Your tour guide and driver will do all these background work for you!
What language will your guide speak?
Tours are conducted in English by default. If you have elderly parents who need guides that speak Mandarin, you’ll need to top up money for that request.
Isn’t it annoying & intrusive to have strangers (tour guide & driver) with you all the time?
Not at all. The tour guide will show you around places, explaining the origins and stories. He’ll always be looking out for you, even protecting you from the mules and buffaloes when you’re out in nature. They will help you translate when you want to buy stuff from shops. The driver will get you to places safely. Sometimes, they’ll leave you to explore places like Dochula Pass and tell you where they’ll be waiting once you’re done with photos and such. During meals outside, they’ll discreetly disappear after arranging your seating and stuff, then appear again when you’re ready to leave.
Before heading to Bhutan, I’d thought I won’t feel comfortable too (am an Introvert – social settings exhaust me). But it turned out that having them around makes us feel well taken care of (TripAdvisor review here!). Imagine them like respectful hosts – they look out for you but they won’t be intrusive.
If you’re a solo traveller, your guide will also be your meal companion, something I noticed. Maybe the Bhutanese don’t enjoy dining alone 😉
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🇧🇹❤️Everyday, I dream about when I’ll return to Bhutan, even though it wasn’t the easiest country to get used. Ps: that’s my guide in the distance, always one to carry himself well and checking that his gho is straight. P/s/s: Have you checked out my post about all the possible concerns about food, hotels and hygiene for a trip to Bhutan? Click link in profile! #PetiteWanderessInBhutan ✩—————————————✩ 🌎Travel blog → ThePetiteWanderess.com 🐥Tweet me! @ PetiteWanderess 💃🏼FB: @ ThePetiteWanderess ✩—————————————✩
Will you see monks everywhere? Will they pose for you?
You might see just a few monks at dzongs or temples or groups at special praying occasions. As a form of respect, we didn’t approach any monks for photos.
Shopping in Bhutan
Is Bhutan commercialized?
Not at all. There won’t be touts hounding you to buy things from them (you’ll probably only get someone asking if you wanna ride a horse halfway up to Tiger’s Nest), or a child asking you for donation (we experienced this once in Punakha).
Will shopping in Bhutan be cheap? ?
Shopping in Bhutan is not as cheap as Asian countries like Thailand. A commemorative T-shirt (those that has the country name written on it) costs like 600-700 nu (USD$10); my second-hand book about Buddhism was 850 nu (USD$13), a packet of dried chilli for cooking was 700 nu (USD$10) too. Making a touristy sheet of postage stamps at Thimphu’s Post Office will cost 500nu. Paper goods at Jungshi Paper Factory (Thimphu) are also expensive, with each sheet of paper from 35onu onwards, but I must say they’re so lovely! We barely bought anything much in Bhutan, actually.
Goods sold in Bhutan did not come easy due to the difficulty in obtaining them. *For example: cars. They have to import the cars into India, then send the cars into Bhutan by land. As for goods, cargo planes don’t fly into Bhutan. Local shopkeepers are limited by the baggage limit for commercial flights when they fly back into their own country from overseas, or they’ll just import from India.
What are the things to buy in Bhutan?
At Thimphu downtown, there’s a craft bazaar of stalls that your guide might bring you to. All the items sold at the craft bazaar are specifically made in Bhutan. You can purchase things like cotton scarves or wool knitted shawls, hand-made bags, souvenirs etc. At the main street in Paro, you’ll see shops selling phallus-shaped souvenirs, and plenty of precious stone accessories aka bracelets and necklaces.
Mobile data & WIFI in Bhutan
Is there WIFI? How’s the internet speed and mobile data?
You’ll likely get free WIFI from your hotel in Western Bhutan. The WIFI might get spotty in rooms, depending on your hotels. At some restaurants (rarely though), you might get free WIFI, but don’t count on its reliability!
In 2017, as I wanted to post on the go to my Instagram, I bought a Tashi Cell prepaid simcard from a shop in Thimphu on the first day. The initial charge cost 350nu (S$7.35 / USD$5.45), which includes some local call-time and 400MB of mobile data. Later on, I paid 100nu to top up another 400MB of data for the later part of my trip. The rates should be cheaper by now. Connectivity was pretty okay most of my trip – except for the hike up Tiger’s Nest. Can’t give you insight about doing work on laptop, as I didn’t bring it.
In 2019, for our trip in Eastern Bhutan, we used BMobile as our prepaid data sim card. Each charge of 299nu will give 3GB of data, which is a very reasonable price considering how much more expensive it was in 2017.
Whether you’re using free WIFI or from the tourist simcard, be prepared that the internet won’t be as fast and stable as fibre networks in developed cities.
Well, when in Bhutan, take it as a chance to disconnect!
Should I Visit Bhutan?
Is Bhutan boring?
Not to me! You’ll only find Bhutan boring if you can’t appreciate nature, crazily beautiful sceneries, or a more laidback kind of travelling style, or if you love lots of alcohol, night-life, music and entertainment in your travels.
Bhutan’s uniqueness is truly not something that every kind of traveller will appreciate. Being in Bhutan comes with its set of challenges due to its climate and country conditions, a little something like visiting the outskirts of Myanmar (but I’ll say Bhutan is more uncomfortable).
Is Bhutan suitable for children?
Unless you’re a super tough parent, I won’t encourage bringing kids that are too young, especially toddlers. Firstly, the food might be a little spicy sometimes, though the restaurants already try to serve non-spicy food for foreigners. Secondly, the climate is pretty harsh. From the first landing at Paro Airport, you’re already at >2000m above sea level, and the lowest you’ll go is probably Punakha – > still 1000m above sea level. As mentioned above, I for one had issues breathing deeply, not to mention if your small kids cannot articulate this to you.
Using strollers in Bhutan is close to impossible, that’s why all the Bhutanese have their small kids strapped to their back. Medical facilities are very limited in Bhutan. There’s a quality hospital in Thimphu.
The youngest kid we saw from a Singaporean family during our trip was about 9-10 years old.
Can the elderly visit Bhutan?
In winter, the weather gets cold (less cold in Punakha when the sun is shining brightly). Add that to challenges in acclimatizing, the elderly might have problems adapting. My elderly mother (almost 70 years old) had no issues at all, not even breathing difficulty. My Dad (almost 75 years old), on the other hand, had breathing problems, struggled with giddiness and low energy, flu, cough and he also opted out of hikes. The cold also affected him, giving him a stuffy nose.
Visiting Bhutan will definitely involve a good amount of walking (uphill)/ trekking, even uphill.
However, if you want to skip the physically taxing activities, you can always discuss with your agency or tour guide before booking your trip. My recommended Bhutan travel specialist – Druk Asia – will be able to advise better.
How much does a Bhutan trip cost?
Minimum daily tariff:
• Off-peak months (Dec – Feb, Jun-Aug) : USD$200/night per person.
• Peak months (Mar – May, Sept – Nov): USD$250/night per person.
On top of that, solo and duo travellers will need to top up USD$40 and USD$30 per person respectively, per night. It’s more financially-efficient to travel in a group of 3 or 4 to Bhutan!
Many people misinterpret that minimum daily tariff as a daily visa cost, as something on top you need to pay on top of usual travel expenses. It is not.
Think of the daily tariff as a tour package cost.
This daily tariff actually includes* your 3-star hotel stays, three meals, tea & coffee throughout your stay, bottled mineral water, a planned itinerary, all entrance fees in your itinerary, tour guide+driver+vehicle fees (*from referencing what Druk Asia provided for us). It’s more like an all-in tour package’s minimum-price guideline, minus the flight tickets.
So, what happens is, tour agencies will quote you a Bhutan trip package with a price higher than that minimum daily tariff. If yours doesn’t, that agency’s breaking Bhutan’s law.
Other than the minimum daily tariff, you’ll need to pay for your flight ticket into Bhutan, as well as the international tourist visa (USD$40).
To give you perspective, for my family’s trip (4 of us) in mid-December (6 nights – departing on the seventh early morning), my family member each paid S$3110 (flight ticket S$1320, visa S$55, land tour S$1735) to Druk Asia.
Tipping in Bhutan
On top of that, consider tipping USD$5/day/pax for your tour guide, and $3/day/pax for your driver. You don’t need to tip at other individual places.
How much cash should I bring into Bhutan?
Basically, you really don’t need to bring much cash into Bhutan – can consider having about USD$100/pax with you when you enter Bhutan – it’s very likely more than enough, unless you’re a shopaholic. We changed some USD to ngultrum at a local’s shop, or you can change at the banks, or even at the airport before you go through immigrations.
On my first trip, we only used up about USD$90 (for four of us, in total!) worth of Bhutanese currency for things like sim cards, some shopping like souvenirs or fruits, temple offerings, etc. Our water-rafting experience which we wanted of our own accord, was another USD$150 in total.
And next, the million dollar question:
Is Bhutan worth the money?
Bhutan has always been a country that’s out of reach to me, like Mongolia, so I was glad to finally experience this Land of the Thunder Dragon in person. Bhutan’s significantly different from any other countries I’ve visited. However, this kind of question is always subjective. You might find Myanmar not worth visiting at all no matter how much or little you pay, but I find it a blessing to have visited Myanmar. The same goes for Bhutan – Bhutan might not suit every kind of traveller, but I appreciate what the trip was.
If you enjoy luxury and relaxing vacations where you do nothing except go to spas, Bhutan is not an ideal destination for you (unless you stay at COMO Uma Paro resort).
How do I book a trip to Bhutan?
Which Bhutan tour agency do you recommend?
Only approved tour operators are allowed to do tours. I chose Druk Asia after reading plenty of good reviews, and would definitely recommend it! My travel agent (Sangay Dorji) was prompt to answer my countless questions and emails before the trip. I didn’t have to go down to the agency in person – everything was processed online, including payment. The visas were also handled by the agency with no problems.
Other than suggested tours, Druk Asia also offers fully customizable tour packages to Bhutan, which means you can go from the East to the West of Bhutan (which I did on my second time, in 2019), or simply stay in the West of Bhutan.
Druk Asia is Druk Air’s official sales agent in Singapore, so getting air-tickets at the best prices possible, will not be an issue too.
My family and I really appreciated the care and professionalism of our assigned tour guide and driver during the trip. We paid 50% of the trip cost to Druk Asia as the deposit to book, then the remaining – one month before flying into Bhutan.
Read my next comprehensive Bhutanese post – Hiking Tiger’s Nest,
or check out all my posts about Bhutan!
Visited: Mid-Dec 2017, May 2019, early Dec 2019
Bhutan districts covered in this blog post: Thimphu, Punakha, Paro
Disclosure: Druk Asia covered my land tour (daily tariff) for my firs trip; I paid for my return air-tickets and visa. The rest of my family went as full-paying customers. The next two trips were media trips. All opinions and editorial content, as always, strictly remain my own.
Check out Druk Asia’s website for tours and plenty of testimonials and its Facebook Page!
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More Bhutan travel articles on the blog!
• Road Trip in Eastern Bhutan (Part 1) – A Journey to Stir Your Wanderlust
• Hiking to Tiger’s Nest without a Flying Tigress
• Rafting in Bhutan – A Different Kind of Adventure
• What to Expect during Bhutan’s Winter in December
• Lessons from the Bhutanese – On living, love, and death