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Travel guide to Bhutan

Travel by Air

The easiest way for visitors to enter Bhutan is by air. Druk Air – Royal Bhutan Airlines is Bhutan’s national carrier and the only airline operating in Bhutan. Druk Air ‘s fleet consists of two modern Airbus A319 which are perfectly designed and crafted for high altitude landings and take offs. The pilots are especially trained and internationally licensed for mountain flying. Druk air has an impeccable safety record, without a single mishap since its inception in 1983.

On clear days the flight to Bhutan offers spectacular views of the Great Himalayas, Mt Everest, Mt Kanchenjunga, Chomo Lhari, Kula Gangri and you can also catch a glimpse of the Great Tibetan Plateau and its grandeur stretching in the distance.

Current flight schedules are available at Druk Air website – www.drukair.com.bt

Exquisite Bhutan will books your tickets well in advance avoiding the last minute rush during the peak seasons without the added commission that outside travel agents charge. To do this you need to confirm your trip especially during the rush of Spring and the Autumn festivals atleast 3 or 4 weeks in advance.

Travel by land

Phuentsholing and Samdrup Jongkhar in eastern Bhutan are the only land border areas open for international tourists. The town of Phuentsholing is located approximately 170 km east of the Indian national airport Bagdogra. After crossing Phuentsholing, your journey then begins its mountainous climb through endless turns and hair-pin bends till you enter Thimphu, the capital city. The travel time for the 176 km stretch can be more than 6 hours.

Samdrup Jongkhar is the only entry point in eastern Bhutan. The town borders the Indian district of Darranga, Assam and is approximately 150 kms away from Guwahati, the capital city of Assam. The journey from Guwahati is about three hours. Tourists entering Bhutan through Samdrup Jongkhar will take you to Trashigang, the largest District in the country, and from there over the lateral route to Mongar, Bumthang, Trongsa, Wangde Phodrang and then finally into capital, Thimphu. The distance is about 700 kms and will take you a minimum of three days to reach Thimphu.

Travelling within Bhutan

It has two domestic flights which flies within Bhutan. It flies to Yonphula which is in the eastern Bhutan and Bumthang in central Bhutan. The other mode of transport within Bhutan is by road. All the major towns in the 20 districts of Bhutan are accessible by road. Despite high mountains, steep slopes and the deepest valleys, Bhutan has a relatively well developed network of roads.

Entry Permit

You will be endorsed by the immigration officers upon your arrival before you are issued with a permit. Make sure you go personally. You may have to carry your passport (also some passport photographs) or voter’s registration card. If you plan to travel by road, the endorsement is done at the entry points in Phuentsholing and Samdrup Jongkhar. If by flight, you will enter from the Paro Airport.

All visitors require visa to travel to Bhutan with an exception of nationalities from India, Bangladesh and Maldives. We will process the visa after getting the required information needed which will take 5 to 6 working days. The only national airline “ Druk Air” will not issue tickets without the visa clearance. Don’t worry about getting approved, our staff will hand carry your passport details and personally book your tickets. To expedite this procedure, it is essential that you send us all the passport information required to apply for your Bhutan visa. Visa will be stamped on your passport upon arrival.

We will need scanned copies of your passport in color and the details below for the visa :

  • Full Name.
  • Permanent address.
  • Date of birth.
  • Nationality.
  • Passport Number.
  • Date of issue.
  • Date of expiry
  • Place of issue.
  • Level of education.
  • Occupation.

What To Bring

Druk Air flights observes the baggage weight limit of 20 kg (40lb) in economy class and 30 kg (60) in business class so it can be troublesome and expensive to carry too much. Even if you pay for excess baggage, it still travels standby and may be offloaded. As with all travel, the less you carry, the easier it is to move around and the less there is to misplace. Due to wide range of temperature and climatic conditions it would be advisable to bring appropriate clothing. From May to September, cotton clothes are sufficient plus a woolen sweater or light jacket. From October to the end of April, you will need very warm clothes including long johns or woolen tights to wear under trousers and down jackets or coat. During visits to monasteries, Dzongs and other religious institution, you should be properly dressed and you should not wear shorts and hats. Casual clothes are generally more suitable though a set of formal wear might come in handy for festivals or in the likely event that you are being invited to a Bhutanese home or a social function. You will be outside a lot so you might also want to carry sun glasses, sun caps, sun cream and lip protection. Rain gear will be a useful item in your check list if you are traveling during the monsoon season from June through August.

Travel Insurance

The tour price does not include travel insurance. All visitors are advised to get a travel insurance cover as we do not provide travel insurance policy in Bhutan. Travel insurance will prove useful should any unforeseen or mishaps occur while your stay in Bhutan.

Tour Guides

Our guides are licensed and trained by Tourism Council of Bhutan. Our trekking guides have an additional mountain guide training including safety and first aid instructions to lead any size of groups. You will be accompanied throughout your stay with English speaking guide, driver and a car at your disposal at all time.

Accommodation

All the hotels are luxurious and are 3 star and above in Bhutan approved and regulated by Tourism Council of Bhutan. We will put you in the best hotels available in Bhutan. Visitors are advised not to expect luxury or five star hotels although a few luxury hotels have opened recently and that would come in with an additional cost on your tour payment.

Transport

We use comfortable and modern Toyota cars, land cruisers, SUVS and coaster buses for all group sizes. Every vehicle is rechecked properly before every tour to ensure the safety and comfort for all clients.

Time difference

Bhutan is 6 hours ahead of G.M.T and half an hour ahead of India

Taxes

A departure tax of US $19 is levied at Paro airport. Subject to change without notice.

Customs

All visitors are required to complete a customs form upon arrival at Paro airport. The following items are exempt from customs duty:

  • Personal belongings
  • Instruments ,apparatus or appliances for personal use
  • Photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods

Tobacco

Bhutan is the first country to ban usage of tobacco products. Smoking is prohibited in the public places. Cigarettes may not be bought or sold in the country however visitors can bring in 200 cigarettes (1 cartoon) on 100% customs duty and 100% sales tax.

Shopping

There are wide array of hand woven textiles, handmade paper products, woven baskets etc… the most popular purchases made by tourists are postage stamps which is world renowned in the philatelic community. Please note that buying and selling antiques in Bhutan is strictly forbidden.

Medical Services

Every district in Bhutan has a general hospital and is staffed with competent doctors and offer basic health services however, you should come well prepared with all the necessary medicines like anti-nausea pills, anti- diarrhea pills, oral dehydration packets , eye drops, anti biotic ointment, and anti -histamine ointment.

Filming

The rules and rates for filming in Bhutan differ from that of normal rates of tours and treks.

Tourists or professionals intent on filming in Bhutan must abide by Bhutanese Filming Regulations 1995 available with the implementing agency (Tourism Council of Bhutan) . The regulation does not apply to feature and cinematography films.

Application for a filming permit must be submitted to the Tourism Council of Bhutan TCB) at least 30 days in advance. The application must be accompanied by :

  1. Synopsis of the film – theme/ background /objective/purpose
  2. Specific location/objects/activities
  3.  Composition of the filming team and the list of equipment including accessories and consumables( film crew members have to pay full daily tourist tariff)
  4. Letter of recommendation from sponsoring agency (application form available with TAB at a cost of Nu 300)

Royalty on filming

  • First 30 minutes or part thereof – US $10,000
  • Next 30 minutes or part thereof- US $6000
  • Every additional 30 minutes or part thereof- US $3000

In addition a security of $5000 must be deposited with TCB. The deposit will be refunded upon completion of the film to the satisfaction of Tourism Council of Bhutan.

The tariff is fixed by Royal Government of Bhutan for packages to Bhutan and this must be paid in US dollars prior to arrival in Bhutan.

1. Daily Tariff

The minimum tariff for tourist visiting in a group of 3 persons or more are as follows:

  • High Season Tariff – USD$ 250 per person per night for the months of March, April, May, September, October, and November.
  • Low Season Tariff – USD$200 per person per night for the months of January, February, June, July, August, and December.

2. Surcharges

Individual traveler and smaller groups of less than three persons shall be subject to surcharge, over and above the minimum daily rates applicable, as follows:

Single individual USD$40 per night

Group of 2 persons USD $30 per person per night

The surcharge will not be applicable to representatives of foreign travel agents on business study or promotional visit duly approved and cleared by TCB.

3. Tour package cost is inclusive of the following:
a) Royalty and taxes to the government.
b) Visa fees.
c) Entrance fees to various museum and temples.
d) Accommodation on twin sharing basis ( 3 star hotel & above ).
e) Meals ( breakfast, lunch & dinner ).
f) Licensed Bhutanese tour guide.
g) Ground transport within Bhutan.
h) All sightseeing as specified in the itinerary.
i) Camping equipment and gear for trekking.
j) Ponies and pack animals on treks.

The rates given above are applicable per tourist per night halt in Bhutan. On the day of departure, the ‘local agents’ host obligation shall be limited to breakfast only and any extra requirements shall be payable on actual basis.

The rates shall apply uniformly irrespective of locations and the type of accommodation provided/asked for. List of hotels and lodges approved for international tourist accommodation updated from time to time shall be issued by TCB.

The 10% agency commission payable to agents abroad shall not be deductible from the surcharge.

The surcharge will not be applicable to representatives of foreign travel agents on business study or promotional visit duly approved and cleared by TCB.

4. Discounts

a) There shall be no charge for CHILDREN up to the age of 5 years. However, those between the ages of 6-12 years accompanied by elders/ guardians shall be given 50% discount on daily rates and 100% discount on Royalty.

  1. Full time STUDENTS below the age of 25 years holding valid identity cards from their academic institutions shall also be given a 25% discount on daily rates.
  2. A discount of 50% on daily rates shall be given to one person in a group of 11 to 15 people. 100% discount shall be given to one member in a group exceeding 16 persons.

5. Cancellations

Tour Programmes booked and subsequently cancelled shall be subject to cancellation charges as follows:

  • Within 45 days of the start of the tour program is free
  • Within 30 days – 15 % of the rate
  • Within 21 days- 20% of the rate
  • Within 7 days- 30% of the rate
  • After arrival in Bhutan : 100%

6. Delayed Arrivals

There is no charge for delays in arrival and departure because of weather conditions disrupting flights or road blocks. The tourist must however bear the cost of food, accommodation, transportation, and other services required.

7. Tour payment

The only mode of payment to Bhutan is by wire transfer. Prior to your trip to Bhutan you will be asked to wire the full payment for your holiday to the Tourism Council of Bhutan account with the ultimate beneficiary in the name of Maebar Tours & Treks. A tourist visa will not be issued until full payment is made prior to departure. This money will remain with the Tourism Council of Bhutan until your trip is complete. Only after you have completed your holiday will the money be transferred us with which you booked your travel through.

1.      Where is Bhutan?

Bhutan is a small, landlocked nation located in the eastern Himalayas between India and China. Its landscape ranges from subtropical plains and forests in the South to subalpine forests and snowy mountains in the North. Bhutan is a predominantly Buddhist country and is known as the last stronghold of Mahayana Buddhism.

2.      Do I need to use a tour operator to book my travel?

It is a government regulation that you must use a license Bhutanese Tour Operator to book your travel to Bhutan or one of their international partners.

3.      Do I need a visa to enter Bhutan?

All International tourists wishing to enter Bhutan require a visa which must be pre-arranged through a license Bhutanese Tour Operator or one of their international partners.  Visa clearance must be obtained through your tour operator prior to travel.  For Indian passport (or VIC) holders, Bangladeshi nationals and persons from the Maldives may obtain a visa on entry.

4.      How much does the visa cost?

International tourist visas a cost of USD $40 applies.  This can be paid in advance to you tour operator or travel agent.  For Indian passport (or VIC) holders, Bangladeshi nationals and persons from the Maldives there is no cost incurred.

5.      How do I get to Bhutan? 

There are a number of airports where you can fly into Bhutan from (Bangkok,Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore and Mumbai.).  At present two carriers operate to Bhutan, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. Also, there are three land border crossings which you can travel into the kingdom overland.  All crossings are along the Indian border only – Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar.  All travel arrangements to Bhutan must be made through a local tour operator. A list of tour companies operating in Bhutan is available on this website. Your selected tour operator will make all the necessary arrangements.

6.      What does the $200/$250 per day minimum daily package include?

The $200 per day (low season) and $250 per day (high season) package includes a minimum of 3 star accommodations, costs for food, an experienced guide and transportation (with driver) within the country.  Also included in the price is a $65 per day royalty that goes towards free education, free healthcare and poverty alleviation.  All of these services will be arranged by your tour operator.

7.      What currency is used in Bhutan?

Bhutanese currency is known as the Ngultrum. Its value is tied to the Indian Rupee which is also accepted as legal tender. However Indian notes in 500 and 1000 denominations are not acceptable.

8.      Is there a limit on the number of tourists that can enter Bhutan each year?

There is no limit on the number of tourists admitted into the country each year. In order to protect our culture, traditions and natural environment the government has adopted a strict policy of “High Value, Low Impact Tourism”. This policy is aimed at attracting discerning tourists that will respect the unique culture and values of the Bhutanese people while also providing the visitors with an unforgettable one of a kind experience.

9.      What’s the food like in Bhutan?

The most distinctive characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. Chillis are an essential part of nearly every dish and are considered so important that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that was not spicy.
Rice forms the main body of most Bhutanese meals. It is accompanied by one or two side dishes consisting of meat or vegetables. Pork, beef and chicken are the meats that are eaten most often.  A wide selection of western and Indian food is also available in many of the restaurants around the country.