Better Bhutan

Bhutan: What To Know Before You Go

A Bit About Bhutan

The Last Shangri-La on earth, shrouded in mystery to many is a tiny Buddhist Kingdom tucked in the heart of Himalayas between China to the north and India to the south. Bhutan is one of the most sought after travel destination in the world.

Be happy! Bhutan is the only country in the world that measures its success and development  in terms of “happiness,” not GNP. The vision of Bhutan's 4th King is popularly known as GNH, "Gross National Happiness."

The Kingdom has been voted as the top ten global environmental hotspots in the world. Bhutan is home to many exotic and rare species of flora and fauna.  The country’s various habitats are believed to contain over 5500 species of plants, and close to 200 species of mammals and over 600 species of birds. More than 70% of the country is covered in old growth forest.

insuranceInsurance

We strongly recommend trip insurance that covers you for emergencies and losses of all kinds. Every year hundreds of thousands of people who believe "that will never happen to me" end up losing substantial sums of money because they were not prepared for the most common kinds of problems that plague travelers. If you are one of them, please read this.

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A passport and visa are required to enter Bhutan. Your passport must be valid for at least six months after your date of entry. We handle issuance of your visa-on-arrival as part of your package. You cannot arrange for a visa on your own. You will get "permission" documents before you travel to Paro and your actual visa will be stamped into your passport on arrival. There is no need to bring extra passport photos unless you will need them somewhere else in your trip.

When to Visit

There is no bad time to visit Bhutan. However, February through May and August through November are considered high season and the minimum cost to visit the Kingdom set by the government is higher. The other months are cooler or wetter, but they have their own charm.

Weather in Bhutan depends on the altitude and varies from region to another. The central valleys of Punakha, Wangduphodrang, Mongar, Trashigang and Lhuntsi have a semi tropical weather with cool winters while Ha, Paro, Thimphu, Trongsa and Bumthang have a much harsher climate with snowfalls in the winter. Southern Bhutan is tropical with a monsoon season. The temperatures in the valleys where most of the tourist activities take place range form 16-18 degree C (60-65 degree F) in the spring. The monsoons arrive in mid-June which is the period of the rainy seasons. Autumn is extremely pleasant and ideal for visiting.

Money

The currency of Bhutan is the Ngultrum, which is divided into 100 Chhertum.

Ngultrum  :Ngultrum  coins

The Ngultrum is pegged to the Indian rupee so you may get rupees in change. There are ATMs throughout the country that are part of the Plus or Cirrus networks. Major credit cards are accepted in hotels, but not in some shops. Data connections may not be good, which may mean problems when trying to process credit card payments. Banks gladly cash travelers checks. If you do not want to bother with the nuisance of buying and using travelers checks, your only alternative is to carry cash in Dollars, Euros, Pounds or Rupees. Dollars are preferred. Thai baht or Singapore dollars are a bad idea.

Language

The official language of Bhutan is called Dzongkha. Two most spoken languages of Bhutan are Sharchop and Dzongkha. There are 19 dialects in Bhutan. English Language is also widely spoken in Bhutan and all road and shop signs are in English. Our guides all speak fluent English.

Time Difference

Bhutan standard time is six hours ahead of GMT and Bhutan is thirty (30) minutes ahead of Indian Standard Time, one hour behind Thailand and 15 minutes ahead of Nepal.

Your Personal Itinerary

All of Better Bhutan's tours are private and customized. No two are alike because no two customers are alike. While other tour companies offer "cookie cutter" programs that are very scripted, we are adept at incorporating places and things that make your journey with us personal and unique. If you have not done so already, read about "Custom Buhtan Tours Built For You." You can tell us more about your interests, health and diet issues, personal expectations and more by completing our pre-travel questionnaire. It will take only a few minutes and will give us plenty of information to understand your better and add some surprises that we hope will delight you.

What to Pack 

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 warmer clothes, including long johns to wear under trousers and a warm jacket. Gloves and a warm scaf are also advisable. Visits to monasteries, Dzongs and other religious institution requires appropriate attire. Wearing shorts in public buildings and monasteries is considered a sign of disrespect. However, wearing shorts for hiking in the country and walking in towns is perfectly acceptable. During winter months also pack some lip balm and skin moisturizer.

packing

Casual clothes are generally more suitable though a smart casual outfit will come in handy for festivals or in the likely event that you are invited to a Bhutanese home or a social function. You will be outdoors a lot so you might also want to carry sunglasses, sun caps, sunscreen lotion and lip protection. Rain gear, like a cheap folding plastic raincoat, will be a useful item in your check list if you are traveling during the "green" season during June and July. Rain shows are generally brief and not every day--not a constant deluge.

Bhutan is officialy a non-smoking country. Smoking is not allowed in most areas of Bhutan and the sale of tobacco products is prohibited. Visitors are allowed to bring 100 cigarettes into the country, but they will be subject to a 200% tax.

An electrical converter should be on the packing list of just about anyone who travels abroad regularly. Electricity in Bhutan is 230 Volts, 50 cycles.  Electrical outlets in Bhutan accept three types of plugs: three round pins arranged in a triangle, two round pins and two parallel flat pins with ground pin. Most hotels will have a converter that you can borrow, although they are not in unlimited supply so you should have your own.

And take a refillable water bottle with you. Read about that below.

Your Footprint

Bhutan is a pristine, landlocked country with limited facilities to dispose of garbage or to recycle. We recommend taking reusable beverage bottles for water, tea or coffee so that you do not contribute even more plastic to the environment. We do not provide plastic bottles of water. For more information read: www.douglas-thompson.com/blog/September2016.htm. Please also read our Responsible Tourism page. We are so serious about Bhutan's environment that we founded Plastic Free Bhutan, an organization of tourism and hospitality businesses that want to help reduce the amount of plastic waste that is going into the Kingdom's landfills.

Medical Services

Every district in Bhutan has a general hospital and is staffed with competent doctors and offer basic health services. However, we strongly advise that visitors have insurance that provides for transportation to Bangkok, Delhi or Singapore if you have a serious accident or critical illness.

Bhutan does not require any specific shots (injections) to enter the country because there are very few health threats. Still, it is a good idea to talk with your physician about keeping inoculations current any time you travel abroad. Bhutan's water is just about as pure as it gets.

Shopping

Bhutan is popular for its hand-woven textiles, cane and bamboo products, handicrafts, woven baskets handmade paper products, thangka paintings, wooden bowls, carved masks, finely crafted metal objects and Bhutan’s highly-collectable postage stamps. You will probably get to stop at the post office in Thimphu.

Be cautious about buying anything that appears to be antique since you may not be able to take it out of the country.

Ask your guide to help you select purchases. They will recognize good quality, know the fair price, and negotiate for you if necessary. However, you need to ask since offering an unsolicited opinion is considered bad manner. Our guides do not receive commissions from shops.

bookCuisine

Bhutanese food is known for being spicy. Bhutanese love their chilies! The only complaints we ever hear from people who have been to Bhutan are about "tour food." Meals for tourists are normally served in buffet style in hotels (to keep costs down), and are normally very bland. If you are more adventurous, have a frank discussion with your guide about your expectations soon after you arrive. Wherever possible we try to avoid hotel buffets in favor of restaurants serving authentic local cuisine. Thimphu has plenty of international cuisine, including Indian, Japanese, French, and pizza. For our CEO's take on Bhutanese food, please read his blog: www.douglas-thompson.com/blog/feb15.htm.

One prominent travel journalist we know once suggested that visitors to Bhutan take "Alkaseltzerand peanut butter." Food for visitors has improved significantly since that story appeared, and we promise to take you to eat in places where you will need an antacid or peanut butter. But if you are prone to indigestion it's worth packing something that might help later.

Most hotels and restaurants serve instant coffee. If you are picky about coffee, take your own along with a plastic cone and filter paper to match.

Telecommunications

Bhutan is surprisingly "wired" for a country that is underdeveloped and isolated. Most hotels have WiFi or a hard-wired internet connection of some kind.GSM and satellite phones work in Bhutan. Use of mobile phones is as widespread as it is in the rest of Asia.

Tipping

Since all of your meals are included in your tour price it is not necessary to leave tips in restaurants. Like everywhere else, however, guides and drivers appreciate gratuities. So if your guide and/or driver are pretty fabulous, please be generous. The average tip for a guide is $15 to $20 per night. For drivers $5 per night.festivals

Festivals

Bhutan is one of the most religious countries in the world. Like all Buddhist nations, festivals have a special place in the hearts or Bhutanese people. Most of the festivals have their roots in their Buddhist religion. The largest annual festival in Bhutan is known as “Tsechu,” an event honoring Guru Rinpoche through religious dances. These religious festivals are a perfect occasion to catch a glimpse of Bhutanese culture and tradition. Tsechus take place annually in and around the great Dzongs, attracting both tourists and large number of locals form the surrounding villages. The dates and the duration of the Tsechu Festivals may vary among Dzongkhags (Districts) but they always fall on or around the 10th day of the month in the Bhutanese calendar. It is believed that merit is gained by attending this religious festival. The festival is filled with series of mask dances performed to bless onlookers, to teach the Buddhist Dharma to protect them from misfortune and to exorcise all evil. Apart from the religious implications, the Tsechu is also an annual social gathering where people dress in their finest clothing and jewelry. Small fairs may be organized outside the Dzong for those looking for a variety of entertainments. Bhutan Festival Calendar.