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All Your First-World Questions About Travelling to Bhutan – Answered!

Are you a city person? The kind that needs hot showers, clean rooms, and food that won’t cause too much of tummy problems? Well, I am. Before I went Bhutan less than 2 weeks ago, I had difficulty finding answers to my ‘first-world concerns’ about how it’ll be like to go Bhutan. So now, I’ve put together an article from my Bhutan trip experience, to help you have a better idea about visiting the Land of the Thunder Dragon!

(PS: This Bhutan blogpost was written after my first trip to Bhutan in Dec 2017, so points here are generally applied for Western Bhutan travel. In May 2019, I went exploring Eastern Bhutan on a road-trip. Eastern Bhutan is very different, keep a lookout for my posts!)

All Your First-World Questions + Everything to Know About Visiting 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.

prayer flags, Chele La Pass | Bhutan in December – It Might be the Best Time to Visit Bhutan • The Petite Wanderess

Getting into Bhutan

There are basically two methods: By flight or overland (via road). The international airport is at Paro, and is served by two airlines: DrukAir (aka Royal Bhutan Airlines), and Bhutan Airlines. Druk Air is the national airline. Am 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.

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 is 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 via India, you’ll need to apply for a separate visa for India.

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 of 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) 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. (I read that sometimes, strong winds at the valley will cause turbulence.)
For Druk Air flights from Singapore, the typical flight plan includes a refueling pit-stop at Kolkata Guwahati, India. Bhutan-bound passengers will have to stay on the plane. The plane will then continue to Paro Airport.

On my flight, close to dawn, sleepless, I was staring out of the windows and thinking wow, Kolkata has such beautiful views.

First view of Bhutan’s mountains

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, so I didn’t see how full the plane was), and 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.

The landing was beautiful, dramatic, smooth and may I add, too soon, it was over.

Bhutan Airport runway travel photo | Made Wanderful • The Petite Wanderess
Bhutan Airport runway with its surrounding mountains. Click to see this art print available for purchase!

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.

From Singapore, Druk Air will make a short refuelling stop at Guwahati (India) airport, before continuing to Paro International Airport in Bhutan. Paro-bound passengers need not get off the plane in India. For a view of the Himalayan mountain range on your flight, sit on the left side of the plane from Singapore to Bhutan, and the other side for your return flight.

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 blogs 😅 You will only see Mt Everest if you fly from Kathmandu (Nepal) into Paro (Bhutan).
All Your First-World Questions about a Bhutan Trip, Answered! • The Petite Wanderess
leaving Paro Airport to Kolkata and then Singapore. That’s Mount Jomolhari

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!Druk Asia banner • The Petite Wanderess


Adapting to Bhutan’s altitude


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 and I was walking very slowly, mildly panicking internally,  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 realized, through my TCM physician’s recent adjustments to my health that – my heart is pretty weak. It contributed to why I had problems breathing in Bhutan.)

My 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, 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. It’ll be useful to keep some mountain sickness pills at hand.

No matter what, breathe deeply and take your time to adapt in Bhutan.

Dochula Pass | All Your First-World Questions about a Bhutan Trip, Answered! • The Petite Wanderess
Dochula Pass, 3100m above sea level. Looking at the snow-covered Himalayan mountain range in the distance, some mountains above 7000m

Road conditions & 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, just sitting for an hour in the car to get from Paro airport to the hotel in Thimphu, I was so close to throwing up, from 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 the hotel soon enough and I quickly popped ginger pills and drank some hot tea at the hotel lobby.

At higher altitudes, there might even be frost on the roads.

All Your First-World Questions about a Bhutan Trip, Answered! • The Petite Wanderess • The Petite Wanderess
sometimes, the roads aren’t concrete roads, but roads cutting through fields (very seldom)
Ginger pills and peppermint essential oil helped greatly (especially ginger pills – I used Blackmores Travel Calm Ginger pills) to alleviate my car-sickness for the rest of the trip.

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 more rough and tough. Keep a lookout when I share in a next article on how I use TCM & natural wellness methods to prevent motion sickness!

Bhutanese Food & Restaurants


What kind of food would 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, 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 the country, so all the meat you eat in Bhutan are 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 generally like Asian cuisine, 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. In fact, Bhutan’s veggies are organic – very healthy!

food in Bhutan | All Your First-World Questions about a Bhutan Trip, Answered! • The Petite Wanderess
lunch at Punakha

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, 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.
Druk Asia banner • The Petite Wanderess


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. If you worry, you can bring thicker sleepwear.

In Bhutan, you need to strategize exactly when to strip off your clothes in the shower as soon as hot water arrives, and also master the art of quick showers 😉

Also, not all hotels provide the equivalent standard shampoo, conditioner, body wash, body lotion, so it’s better for you to bring your own. Bring your own toothbrush and toothpaste, as well as bedroom slippers if you need.


Bhutan hotel reviews

Here’s a quick summary of our hotel stays in Bhutan:

Osel Hotel review (Thimphu)

Good beds and good pillows, there’s a TV in the room. Hot water suddenly stopped coming in 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 parent’s 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.

Punatsangchhu Cottages hotel review (Punakha)

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. Breakfast has limited options. Dinner food is tasty.

• Review of The Resort at Raven’s Nest hotel (Paro)

A very thoughtful hotel! 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)

In May 2019, I stayed at this hotel that used to be a palace. Was looking forward to staying here as online reviews showed how ornately decorated the rooms are. We arrived very late at night (10pm) to check in. Hotel staff had already sent my luggage to my room on the second floor, so I couldn’t do the standard knock-before-entering procedure.

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 incense. The bathroom was clean but chilly. There was a retro heater in the bathroom, but its wire behind came loose, so I didn’t use it. There were dogs barking nearby before I slept, but the noise stopped afterward. My last night in Bhutan was spent having unrestful sleep, with the room lights and music on because I was scared. Thankfully, nothing concretely scary happened.

From the room windows, you can see the illuminated Paro Dzong, which stays lit till 4.30am. I took a quick shower very early 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 breathtakingly gorgeous in the morning.

 

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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.

| Living, Love & Death – Lessons Learned from Bhutanese People & Culture |

on the way up Tiger's Nest in Bhutan | Travel reflections from 2017 • The Petite Wanderess
clean air, for sure!

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. 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 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!)

wooden shed for toilet at Chele la Pass | All Your First-World Questions about a Bhutan Trip, Answered! • The Petite Wanderess
wooden shed for toilet at Chele la Pass
Another au naturel toilet worth mentioning was at the checkpoint while driving to Punakha from Thimphu – in the bushes out in the open, aka the Bush Toilet. Men can pee turning away from the road, while ladies will go up a little slope, away from being seen. I didn’t have to go, thankfully. There was a cow staring though, hahaha!

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.


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!

All Your First-World Questions about a Bhutan Trip, Answered! • The Petite Wanderess
agile Bhutanese kid who’d climbed up the tree and “Hi!”-ed to us cheerfully & posed

What languages do they 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 in English.


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 tripexcept for the hike up Tiger’s Nest. Can’t give you any 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.

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!


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.

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 (more like 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! |

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 (you’ll ascend 900m to reach 3100m), 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. Due to the winding and bumpy roads, a responsible driver will not speed, instead, drive with caution to minimize danger and car-sickness. My driver kept to about 30-35kmh max. The roads are often 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 cars you’ll see 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: Paro – Thimphu – Punakha – Thimphu – Paro

Tourists, 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 never 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.

Regardless, crime can happen anywhere in the world. Regardless you’re travelling solo or not, always practise a good level of awareness about your surroundings. And keep your room doors locked, 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) which 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’ll also not be 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 arrangement work for you!

Druk Asia banner • The Petite Wanderess

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.

Bhutanese people value personal space and are well-mannered. This translates to how they treat visitors too.

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 😉

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?

Not as cheap as the Asian countries like Bangkok. A commemorative T-shirt (those that has the country name written on it) costs like 600-700 nu (USD$10), my second-hand book 850 nu (USD$13), a packet of dried chilli for cooking was 700 nu (USD$10) too. Making a sheet of postage stamps at Thimphu will cost 500nu. Paper materials at Jungshi Paper Factory (Thimphu) are also expensive, with each sheet of paper from 35onu onwards. We barely bought anything much in Bhutan, actually.

At Thimphu, there’s a craft bazaar of stalls that your guide might bring you to. Over there, all the items sold 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 stone accessories.

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.


Bhutan’s Weather & Temperature


Seasons in Bhutan

Spring is March to May. Summer happens from June to August. Autumn takes place from September to November. Winter is from December till February. I visited in winter, which you can read in detail in this article.

How’s the weather in Bhutan?

(I was in Bhutan in December, on the second week.) We landed in Paro at -2 degrees at 7am (our flight had reached way ahead of schedule because it skipped Kolkata). In the afternoon at Thimphu, it was more than 20°C – a stark contrast from the morning weather. We never had rain, it was always bright and sunny in the day. For most of the trip, it was 10+°C in the daytime I think.

The temperature can differ a lot across different districts (Punakha is always warmer). Always have a good jacket with you! Paro was bitingly cold outdoors at night, especially after the sun has set.

| Also read: TCM tips to stay healthy on your winter trip |


Should I Visit Bhutan?


Is Bhutan boring?

prayer flags at Chele La Pass | All Your First-World Questions about a Bhutan Trip, Answered! • The Petite Wanderess
prayer flags at Chele La Pass

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.

All Your First-World Questions about a Bhutan Trip, Answered! • The Petite Wanderess
hiking up a small hill to Chimi Lhakhang

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 involves quite a bit of walking, even uphill.

However, if you want to skip the physically-taxing activities, you can always discuss with your agency or tour guide ahead so they can modify otherwise.


How much does a Bhutan trip cost?


Minimum daily tariff:
• Off-peak months (Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, Nov): USD$200/day per person.
• Peak months (Dec, Jan, Feb, Jun, Jul, Aug): USD$250/day per person.

On top of that, solo and duo travellers will need to top up USD$40 and USD$30 per person respectively, per day. 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.

This daily tariff actually includes* your 3-star hotel stays, three meals, unlimited 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). Don’t forget to get travel insurance too.

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.

Druk Asia banner • The Petite Wanderess

Tipping in Bhutan

On top of that, consider tipping USD$5/day/pax for your tour guide, and $3/day/pax for your driver. Tipping is completely up to you, but it’ll be a nice gesture. You don’t need to tip at other individual places.

How much cash to 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.

We only used 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. Same goes for Bhutan – it might not suit you, 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.

Druk Asia banner • The Petite WanderessMy family and I really appreciate the care and professionalism of our assigned tour guide (Namgay Tenzin) and driver (Sigay Hi Roof) during the trip. We paid 50% of the trip cost to Druk Asia as the deposit to book, then the remaining, a month before the trip.

Did I miss anything out? Any other questions about Bhutan? Feel free to ask via the Comment box below!

Read my next comprehensive Bhutanese post – Hiking Tiger’s Nest,
or check out all my posts about Bhutan!


Visited in mid-December 2017
Bhutan districts covered: Thimphu, Punakha, Paro
Check out Druk Asia’s website for tours and plenty of testimonials and its Facebook Page!

Disclosure: Druk Asia covered my land tour (daily tariff); I paid for my return air-tickets and visa. The rest of my family went as full-paying customers. All opinions and editorial content, as always, strictly remain my own.

More Bhutan travel articles on the blog!

Hiking to Tiger’s Nest without a Flying Tigress
• Why You Shouldn’t Ride A Horse to Tiger’s Nest
A different kind of rafting experience in Bhutan
How visiting Bhutan in winter is like
Lessons from the Bhutanese – On living, love, and death

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41 comments

    1. They planned the itinerary for me according to the districts that are possible for me to reach within my timeframe (for e.g. Bumthang will be too far to drive to). You can always discuss with the tour agent if you have certain districts you want to visit 🙂

      1. Thank you for taking your time to write this, It is very informative and covers many areas (the cleaningness of toilets partially). I am still deciding if I will go to Bhutan, but it is definately on my list!

        1. Glad to hear you appreciate my post, thanks so much for telling me, Lisa! Yeah, I wrote this because I had a hard time finding answers before I went, so hope this post would benefit others who might be holding back due to the same “first-world concerns”, lol! All the best in planning your trip if you’re heading over. For me, I can only daydream about my next trip happening soon =D

  1. Love your post and photos Kristine; excellent guide, through and through. As an Indian, it’s one of those few countries we can visit without any restrictions lolol. (WE don’t have too many of those) and I can’t wait to go. I was supposed to go last but my plans fell through. I’ll definitely use your guide when I do make it there, Bhutan seems a wonderful place to visit. Thanks for sharing. Xx

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Divya! It’s so nice that you can freely visit Bhutan without as much procedures as the rest of the world. I’m sure you’ll get to go there soon and have a wonderful time in Bhutan!

  2. Thank you Kristine for taking the time to put this valued advice out there – I’m currently in Chennai and flying to Paro tomorrow evening via Kolkata. Very useful to know about the TCM for high altitude, I’m going to try and find some tomorrow. Many thanks again 🙂

    1. Most welcome, Frances! If you can’t find the pills, just take your time slowly to acclimatize in Bhutan. Have a superb trip! Stay warm =)

  3. Thanks so much for this! Bhutan has always been one of my dream destinations, and I was always a bit confused about what to expect and how to prepare. This gave me a much better idea of what to do!

    1. Definitely not alone in the confusion – so was I before going. Am glad to report back on the expectations! Hope you can visit this dream destination in no time =)

  4. Great post and so much information that will be really useful to us when we plan our trip there probably next year. Thanks for all of this information.

  5. How about getting a visa to enter Bhutan? I’ve heard that’s tricky unless you are going on a group tour.. true? Always wanted to visit this heavenly eco-friendly land 🙂 Thanks for putting such a comprehensive post together!

    1. Hi Richa! The visa can only be applied and processed by registered travel agents. We went in a group of 4 and there were no issues for our agency (DrukAsia) with our visas, so I can’t advise otherwise! I would suggest you drop an enquiry email for your chosen travel agent =)

  6. This was such an interesting read. After we moved to Singapore a couple years ago, I looked into visiting Bhutan, but since we are a family of three who typically travel on a budget, the daily tariff alone would have maxed us out. I’ll get there one day, though!

    1. Thanks Sarah! Ps: it’s actually more economical to travel in at least a group of 3, because any lesser than 3, there’ll be even higher surcharges 😉

      Best wishes, hope you can get there when you’re ready!

  7. Amazing post. Mountain sickness? To be honest I have never heard of that. I have been up to 3000 metres – breathing becomes a bit more challenging but can you actually get sick? Or what pills are these? What are they for?

    1. Thanks Claudia! Mountain sickness can strike anyone, from the young to the old, even the healthy, so the opposite is true too – I guess it’s a matter of luck and maybe other factors? You’re lucky! For me, it was difficulty inhaling deeply; for my elderly father, he gets giddy and also felt rather sick, tired and lethargic towards the end of the trip. The pills I ate were herbal pills, there are the western versions of mountain sickness pills =)

  8. Wow — what a comprehensive article! Thanks for answering all those questions…although, before reading this, I never even knew I wanted to visit Bhutan 😀 I think I do now, mainly for that airport landing!

    1. Thanks for coming by, Kristen! I was really looking forward to the landing too, and got so excited that I don’t know to use hp or camera or just remember the experience with my eyes, #FirstWorldProblems indeed, lol!

    1. Before this trip became confirmed, I too had wondered if I’ll ever get to Bhutan. You won’t regret! Hope your wish will come true, Eryn!

  9. thank you sooo much for all this valuable information. I am a slightly..well, slightly more than slightly.overweight 81 year old. I’ve wanted to visit Bhutan for a few years…and will be in Thailand, VietNam and Cambodia starting in November. I AM concerned about some of the issues you addressed. I have yet to make up my mind….and now need to make up my mind.
    This blog has been very helpful. One question…would your dad make such a trip again??

    1. Hi Walt! Glad to hear that you find my info useful =)

      As for the last question to whether my dad will want to visit Bhutan again, he will not. But hear me out. The main reasons he didn’t love Bhutan as much were because of his preferred traveling style. He enjoys good food (as in — seafood and a lot of meat). He also does not appreciate things like culture and nature. Lastly, his health and fitness level are not great, plus he got a cold in Bhutan at the beginning of the trip, so those some slopes and hikes were taxing to him. On the other hand, my mum did not share these same issues, so she’s fine.

      Hope this helps!

  10. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience in Bhutan, I am a solo traveller and looking forward to visit Bhutan early next year. Your information gives me an idea of what to expect. By the way I like visiting Singapore when ever I can. Thanks again.
    Brian
    Australia.

    1. My pleasure, Brian! Great to hear you’re going Bhutan solo soon, that’s really awesome. I’ll love to visit Bhutan again but as a solo traveller next time – the experience will be felt even more deeply! All the best for your trip!

  11. Awesome blog. Thinking of going to another country before or after this as I’m coming from Los Angeles. Would you say going to Singapore then Bhutan is better or India to Bhutan?

    1. Thanks Hilda! I only experienced flying from Singapore to Bhutan, so can’t really advise anything about flying from Kolkata. It’s a short plane ride from Kolkata to Paro though, if that will influence your decision!

  12. So glad to read this post! Thank you so much for sharing!

    ‘Will be visiting Bhutan solo this last week of December, that is why I’m reading and reading travelers’ posts about their journeys. Yours made me much more excited. Thank you so much for sharing a lot, from the ground temperature to the sensation, to the restrooms!

    I am having a number of concerns similar to what you mentioned at the first part of this post (altitude, breathing adjustment, body fitness for the Tiger’s Nest hike, etc.). The preparations are really important, especially for a solo traveler. Nevertheless, Bhutan is a country which I really really would love to go to as well.

    Thanks so much again, and looking forward to this trip!

  13. Hi Miss Li,
    loved to read about your Bhutan trip.Hope you enjoyed your trip to Bhutan a lot.
    God Speed….
    regards
    Sudhanshu

  14. Thanks for your comprehensive overview of Bhutan. I am researching a trip to Bhutan for my family. There is not a lot of information around about travel as a family. I understand about the altitude and this might be a deciding factor. But apart from this our kids are good little travellers so I have no hesitation in taking them. Other……than the flight. We flew in and out of Lukla before kids and there is no way I can do another scary flight like that with the kids. How scary is it really?? Thanks, Amber

    1. Hi Amber! If you didn’t look out of the window, it’s not scary at all, it would feel like any other normal flights. Even if I looked out of the window, any fear all came only from the mind, because the flight was pretty amazing actually!

  15. Thank you for this wonderful detailed post!
    I’m also travelling solo to Bhutan and found your info extremely useful. Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and for the travel tips. Love your website layout and design 🙂
    Gali from Israel

    1. Great to hear, Gali, thank you for telling me! Hope you’ll have a very enjoyable time discovering the beauty of Bhutan! =)

  16. That’s a lovely post on Bhutan. Being Indians, it isn’t as challenging or as expensive for us to enter the country. Glad that so many people are now putting Bhutan on their bucketlist. I’d love to return and hike the Paro Monastery again. Gorgeous pictures you have here. 🙂

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