Upon your arrival, you will be issued a permit after endorsement by the immigration officers. It is important for all travelers to go personally for this. You will need to carry your passport (also some passport photographs) or voter’s registration card. For those travelling by road, the endorsement is done at the entry points in Phuentsholing, Samdrup Jongkhar, and Gelephu. If by flight, you will enter from the Paro Airport.
Traversing the Kingdom
Despite the inaccessible terrain, the high mountain passes and gorges, a good road network connects all major towns and important tourists’ destinations.
However, Bhutan’s landscape has made its road system one with innumerable curves, loops and bends. Additionally, the road network is characterized by steep ascents and descents. All this makes travelling a slow process, with average speed rarely exceeding 40 kilometers an hour. Tourist buses ply at even lower speed limits. But all this inconveniences would fall on the blind spots of visitors as one relishes the breathtaking beauty offered by mountains and peaks, lush green jungles, ancient villages, majestic temples and monasteries and the many road side restaurants and inns, through which the roads pass.
While the roads are well sealed, it can be bumpy at times as the lanes are single and narrow at most points. However, with experienced and careful drivers who know each and every curve, travelling by road will be an experience you will never forget.
Due to the width of roads, tourists cannot travel in larger buses. Only medium-sized buses (20-22 seats), small buses (8-12 seats) or hired cars are permitted.
Travelling in your own private vehicles
Indian visitors are permitted to bring in their own vehicles. However, the endorsement of the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) – www.rsta.gov.bt – is required for the entry of foreign cars. But it is recommended that you use our cars and the services of the local drivers, for the narrow and winding roads may pose a challenge for you.
The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan has initiated a travel and medical plan solely for the visitors. Details can be accessed at www.ricb.com.bt.
Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (Nu) that is at par with the Indian Rupee. However, we recommend that you carry travelers’ cheque or cash, preferably American Express and US dollar, as the ATM facilities for foreign currency is limited to few towns including the capital city Thimphu. Visa and American Express credit cards are also widely accepted.
There are numerous banks whose services and facilities one can avail while in Bhutan. These are the Bank of Bhutan Limited, the Bhutan National Bank, the Druk PNB, Bhutan Development Bank Limited, and the Tashi Bank. SMS and internet banking facilities are provided by most of the banks. ATM facilities can also be availed and are located in a number of places. It is also very easy to withdraw traveler’s cheque and exchange it into local currency. However, as you travel into the interior, ATM and internet facilities are almost non-existent. Thus, we suggest that you do your banking facilities while in Thimphu.
All major towns are well connected with electricity that runs on 220/240 volts with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets. Our energy is clean and green energy generated by hydropower.
The country has a good network of telecommunication facilities. Almost every town has an internet cafe and IDD calling booths from where you can keep in constatnt touch with your loved ones back home. Most hotels have internet access and mobile (cell) phone is widely used with international roaming facilities.
Bhutan experiences a great variation in its climate. Summers are warm with average daily temperature ranging from 20 to 25 Celsius, while winters are cold. In winters, temperatures usually drop below 15 Celsius. Thus, we recommend that you bring along clothes based on which season you plan to visit. Comfortable shoes to go with the weather, the terrain and your program is important. Your decision or choice could be based on what you would need for hiking, trekking, biking and for dinners, appointments and functions scheduled for you. Apart from this, a pair of sunglasses, sun screen lotion and a hat; antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream, anti-diarrhoea pills, altitude & car sickness medicine; insect repellent, flash light (w/spare batteries) umbrella, camera, films and accessories (including spare camera batteries)etc, could be other things that you could consider bringing with you.
Bhutan is an ideal place and a frequent haunt for photographers offering immense opportunities for photography especially during our outdoor sightseeing trips. However you may need to check with your guide for indoor photography as taking photographs inside Dzongs, temples, monasteries and religious institutions are restricted unless you have a special permission from the Department of Culture. One can however, capture images of the landscapes, the panoramic views of the mountain ranges, the rural folk life, the flora and fauna, the Bhutanese architecture and the Dzongs and Choetens in particular.
For those who love shopping and taking home gifts or souveniers, Bhutan’s textile industry offers a variety of goods and products. Items that may interest you include hand-woven textiles that is either in raw silk or silk, carved masks of various animals, woven baskets of cane and bamboo, wooden bowls known as Dapas, handmade paper products or finely crafted gods of silver. Thangka paintings and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps are other products. All these are available in handicraft shops in and around Thimphu and other major towns. However, buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden in Bhutan.
We have no say on tipping, which is a purely personal matter. While there is no tradition of giving tips, the decision to reward your guides or drivers is completely yours.
The following articles are exempt from duty:
(a) Personal effects and articles for day to day use by the visitor (b) 1 litre of alcohol (spirits or wine) (c) 200 sticks of cigarettes, on payment of import duty of 200% (d) Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use (e) Photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use.
You have to complete the passenger declaration form on your arrival before checking out. The articles mentioned under (d) & (e) must be declared on the declaration form. If any such items are disposed of in Bhutan by sale or gift, they are liable for customs duty.
On departure, visitors are required to surrender their forms to the customs authorities.
Import/export restrictions of the following goods is strictly prohibited: (a) Arms, ammunitions and explosives (b) All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs (c) Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species (d) Antiques.
Imports of plants, soils etc. are subject to quarantine regulations. These items must be cleared on arrival. Visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate.
While Dzongkha is the national language, English is also a medium of communication and widely spoken by most Bhutanese. Communicating in English especially with the people in the urban areas and the towns will enhance your knowledge on Bhutan.
Cloths and gear
Due to the great altitudinal variations, Bhutan’s weather is quite erratic. So it is always wise to be prepared to brace the erratic weather as you step outdoor. Moreover, we expect visitors to dress modestly and respectfully especially during visits to the monasteries, fortresses and other religious institutions. It would also be a great gesture on your part if you remove your hats, caps etc. while entering religious and administrative premises, institutions and other places where the national flag is being raised.
Our standard time is 6 hours ahead of GMT and there is only one time zone throughout the country.
Bhutan observes two office hours – the summer timing and the winter timing. The former begins at 9 AM Bhutan standard time and goes on till 5 PM in the evening. This is followed from March till the end of October. The winter timing begins from November till the end of February. While the morning timing starts at 9 AM, it ends at 4 PM in the evening. However, these timings are followed only by civil servants. For employees in corporations and private organizations, the timings are usually from 9 AM till 5 PM irrespective of the season.
Before embarking on a trip to Bhutan, it is advisable to have tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A inoculations.
We have a duty to protect Bhutan from Drugs and Tobacco Products. To do this we need your help and cooperation. If we stop you and ask you about your baggage please cooperate.
Please do not carry tobacco goods that are over the limits.
Hotels in Bhutan have to meet the standardization policy and most tourists accommodate in a 5 star or a 3 star hotel. As tourists are the target customers, the hotels are well maintained and equipped with all basic amenities such as geysers and shower rooms. Moreover, it is not just the infrastructure but people manning the hotels which add to the warmth and comfort of the hotels. While 5 star hotels are mostly located in Thimphu and Paro; towns like Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang also have a variety of comfortable hotels. Camping outside in the forest or making a night halt at the purpose-built-in cabins along some main trekking routes, while away from town would be a memorable experience.
Most Bhutanese dishes are rich and spicy with a lot of cheese and chili. Thus, it is advisable that visitors stick to the Chinese, Continental or Indian cuisine that most restaurants serve. Visitors can also choose among the various vegetarian and non-veg food. Momos, the Tibetan dumplings, is a dish worth trying. Those wishing to experience the typical Bhutanese dish could try out the ema datshi dish served with cheese and chili; which would be a daring feat.
Weights and Measures
Like many countries, Bhutan also has a standard system of weights and measurements in place. Most are measured in grams and kilograms. The influx of better and efficient measurement systems has led to most of the shopkeepers in the capital city making use of electronic and weighing scale. However, as one travels into the interior, the use of the ordinary weighing scale is still predominant.
Though safety is not much of a concern, it is important to come prepared for any mishap. As a precautionary measure, one needs to avoid walking alone or roaming the streets after 9 PM as you may never know of any mishap that may occur. It is advisable to visit the town in groups or with your guides, especially during late hours.
It is very important to ensure that your belongings, especially your passports, route permits, cameras, wallets and purses are properly secured.
Guides and Interpreters
All guides in Bhutan are certified after having undergone training conducted by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. This elevates Bhutanese guides to as higher pedestal. Interpreters and guides are well-versed in history and possess good communication skills. There are also guides who speak fluent Japanese, Thai, French, Chinese, German and other European languages.
Public holidays are declared by the government. However, each district has its own list of holidays that is observed especially while conducting annual Tshechus (religious festivals).