Why Few Have Experienced Bhutan Travel, & Why You Need To
Not many people have experienced Bhutan travel. It’s not one of the least travelled countries in the world, but with a restricted tourism policy, there are certainly much more visitors in neighboring countries such as Nepal and India.
It wasn’t until I looked at a map and planned a travel route through Bhutan did I start to get interested in Bhutan travel. And soon I realized it wasn’t as easy as just getting on a plane or crossing a border. But with promised beautiful mountains and peaceful landscapes, I knew I had to go.
So let’s take a look at the ins and outs of Bhutan travel.
How to Get to Bhutan
Firstly, how do you get to Bhutan?
There are a few options to get to Bhutan.
Firstly and probably the most conventional; by flight. You can take a flight to Bhutan’s international airport in Paro. It’s surrounded by mountains and often gets the title as the ‘world’s most dangerous landing’, as the pilot has to navigate through mountainous scenery to land in a small flat area. Indeed, the landing is both terrifying and incredible.
The only airlines that fly to Bhutan are Druk Air and Bhutan Air. They’re both domestic airlines and, similar to getting a flight to North Korea, booking a ticket through a travel company is the easiest way. There are direct flights from Nepal, India, Bangkok, Bangladesh and Singapore.
If you’re more adventurous or the plans work out better for you, you can choose to drive over the border from India. The only land borders open to foreigners are;
Phuentsholing – Southwest Bhutan
Gelephu – Southcentral Bhutan (250km from Thimphu)
Samdrup Jongkhar – Southeast Bhutan (700km to Thimphu, approx. 3 days travel)
You can also travel INTO India from Bhutan, but you should be aware that if it is your first time entering India on this visa, you can only travel by plane. If your visa has already been approved and you have a double-entry visa, you can use your second entry to enter over a land border.
There is also a bus available from Kolkata to Bhutan, however, this is only open to Indian tourists, who also travel Bhutan on a different tourist policy with different restrictions.
Bhutan’s Travel Policy
Bhutan has a travel policy?
Yup. If you want to travel Bhutan, it’s not actually that easy. And, it’s very expensive.
Until 1960, Bhutan was relatively closed off. And it reminds me a lot of North Korea in terms of the travel restrictions. After opening it up in 1974, Bhutan has kept its tourism numbers low. Deliberately. And it still continues to see few tourists annually.
The tourist policy of the Bhutanese Government works on high value, low impact. Meaning basically they only want ‘high quality’ (rich and considerate) tourists and few of them, instead of a load of backpackers slumming it. This way, Bhutan achieves its goal to maintain its traditional culture, keep the environment protected, and be recognized as a more ‘exclusive’ travel destination.
Almost all nationalities need a visa to travel Bhutan, and to get that you need to be booked on a group tour. You can’t travel Bhutan unless you are on a group tour – and this price is regulated by the Bhutanese Government who charge a minimum charge per day of being in the country.
On top of the visa cost (USD $40), you have to pay a daily fee of:
- USD $250 per person per night SPRING Season: March – April – May
- $250 per person per night AUTUMN Season: September – October – November
- $200 per person per night – Remaining Months
You also have to pay more if you’re a solo traveler or traveling only as a group of two.
Until you’ve paid this in full, you won’t get your visa. And without a visa, Bhutan travel is off the cards.
How to Travel Bhutan
How to go about booking a tour to Bhutan?
It reminds me of how travel might have been about 10 years ago. There aren’t that many tour companies that offer travel to Bhutan, and most are Bhutanese companies. Their websites are… basic, and their payment systems… seemingly dodgy. I chose my company through a friend and so I knew there was no issue, but if I hadn’t I probably wouldn’t have trusted paying. I’m pretty sure that I literally sent my money by bank transfer to “Bhutan Government” or something similar.
Some western tour companies will offer Bhutan tours through their Bhutanese partners, but will often add a massive premium on the price. But you may be able to find one that doesn’t.
Once you’ve booked your tour and paid in full, you will get your flight confirmation and visa. Then all you have to do is get to the airport and board your flight, and get excited for that pretty intense landing.
WHY Bhutan Travel?
Why should you make all the trouble to travel to Bhutan?
Bhutan is unique in many ways. Apart from its unique tourism policy, it’s also pretty unique for its untouched landscapes, and untouched culture and traditions. Bhutan’s tourism policy works for Bhutan. You see people wearing traditional clothing pretty much all the time, the streets are relatively clean, and the landscapes unharmed. There is a peaceful feeling wherever you go.
This may have a lot to do with the strong Buddhist influence the country is built upon. There are also countless temples to visit whilst you’re there.
I talk a lot about landscapes, mountains… But it’s hard to imagine until you’re actually there. Each city you visit is nestled deep within the mountains, meaning that all around you are beautiful peaks, and there’s even a point where you can see the Himalayas. Although, as a sacred spot in Bhutan, it is not permitted for anyone to hike the Himalayas there.
If there’s one place everyone knows in Bhutan, it’s Tiger’s Nest. And this place is pretty impressive. It’s an absolute must for those who want to travel Bhutan.
It’s a monastery with a story, balanced precariously off the side of a high mountain 900 meters above sea level.
Legend has it, that Guru Rinpoche was carried here by a tiger from Tibet, leading to the name.
You can hike up the mountain here, taking around 4 hours, and you can have a look around once you get to the top. All the while you will be blessed with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.