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Bhutan Travelers Information
 

Area: 147,181 sq. km
Geography: bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India
Capital: Thimpu
Population: 725,296 (July 2013 est.)
Culture: Bhote 50%, ethnic Nepalese 35% (includes Lhotsampas - one of several Nepalese ethnic groups), indigenous or migrant tribes 15%
Climate: varies; tropical in southern plains; cool winters and hot summers in central valleys; severe winters and cool summers in HimalayasLanguage: Sharchhopka 28%, Dzongkha (official) 24%, Lhotshamkha 22%, other 26%
Currency: Bhutanese ngultrum (BTN)
Political System: Constitutional Monarchy

Bhutan knows several climate zones, ranging from alpine with eternal snow in the mountains to temperate in the center of the country to subtropical in the south. The climate can be quite unpredictable, even within a day or from one day to another.

In the Thimphu and Paro valleys, the winter daytime temperature averages 15°C during clear winter days but drops well below freezing during the night. You can expect light snowfall there, alternated with infrequent heavy snowstorms. Mid December to early January can be a beautifully clear and dry time in Western Bhutan. In the higher elevations late December through mid-February is the period of heaviest snowfall. During the summer, the fluctuations are less; daytime temperature often rises to 30°C. Usually Punakha and the central valleys are a few degrees warmer. The Himalayan higher peaks are snow covered all year long and because of frequent snowfall, the road ices up at the higher passes, particularly around Thrumshing La. From May to late September summer monsoon affects Bhutan. From June to August you can expect clouded views over the Himalayas from the higher passes. The wet season does have its advantages though, because from March through May the valleys have beautiful shades of fresh green and only in springtime you can see the spectacular rhododendron in full blossom. In August many species of wild orchids are in full bloom. September through November are usually very mild and clear, with sharp clear skies and magnificent views of the Himalaya range. Although each of Bhutan’s seasons has its' advantages and disadvantages, the spring and fall are traditionally the most popular times to visit the kingdom.
High Season: Mar, Apr, May, June, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec
Low Season: Jan, Feb, July, Aug

TEMPERATURE (in °Celsius)
 
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
June
July
Aug
Sept
Oct
Nov
Dec
Places
max. 
min.
max.
min.
max.
min.
max.
min.
max. 
min.
max.
min.
max.
min.
max.
min.
max.
min.
max.
min.
max.
min.
max.
min.
Paro
9.4
-5.8
13.4
1.5
14.5
0.6
17.6
4.6
23.5
10.6
25.4
14.1
26.8
14.9
25.3
14.7
23.4
11.7
18.7
7.4
13.9
1.4
11.2
-1.7
Thimphu
12.3
-2.6
14.4
0.6
16.4
3.9
20.0
7.1
22.5
13.1
24.4
15.2
18.9
13.4
25.0
15.8
23.1
15.0
21.9
10.4
17.9
5.0
14.5
-1.1
Punakha
16.1
4.2
19.6
5.3
21.2
9.2
24.4
11.9
27.2
14.8
31.2
19.5
32.0
21.6
31.4
19.8
29.9
20.4 
27.8
18.9
22.3
13.0
15.0
7.9
Wangdi
17.0
4.3
19.0
7.8
22.8
10.4
26.2
12.9
29.1
17.7
29.2
20.1
18.4
16.2
29.1
20.0
27.5
19.1
26.1
14.7
22.6
9.6
19.1
6.3
Trongsa
13.0
-0.2
13.9
0.4
16.7
4.4
20.1
6.6
21.0
11.6
22.2
13.6
25.3
15.3
23.8
15.0
22.6
14.2
21.8
11.7
19.8
6.4
18.2
2.5
Bumthang
10.8
-5.1
10.0
-1.4
16.2
3.5
18.7
3.9
21.3
9.5
22.5
13.5
14.1
10.9
23.0
13.7
21.6
12.1
19.5
5.9
16.1
-0.5
12.3
-2.3
Mongar
15.5
8.2
15.9
8.3
20.0
11.6
22.8
14.0
25.1
17.4
26.1
19.5
16.1
15.8
25.4
19.6
24.7
19.4
22.7
15.8
19.9
11.2
15.7
9.5
Trashigang
20.4
10.5
21.7
11.5
24.8
14.4
28.3
17.0
30.0
20.6
30.7
22.6
31.5
23.1
30.2
22.7
30.0
23.9
29.1
17.7
26.1
13.6
23.0
11.6

Bhutan is one of the rare countries in the world where you can still travel ahead of the masses. For centuries Bhutan lived completely isolated from the outer world and it’s only since the 1970’s that tourism is possible. To safeguard its rich natural environment, religion and culture, the country has consciously adopted a controlled tourism and development policy. Although there is no longer a restriction on visitor numbers; all tourists have to pay a minimum daily tariff of approximately 200 US dollars, fixed by the government. This automatically regulates the number of tourists.

All tourists (group or individual) must travel on a pre-planned, prepaid, guided package tour or custom designed travel program. You cannot travel independently in the kingdom. The arrangements must be made through an officially approved tour operator, either directly or through an overseas agent. If you make it to Bhutan, you can expect a first class treatment in the hotels and during trekking.
Travel tip: Book your travel as early as possible, especially during high season and festivals. This ensures you will get a good hotel and confirmed Druk Air flight seats. If you want to travel to Bhutan for the festivals, you must book your tour four to five months in advance. If you are traveling for different seasons, book your tour two to three months in advance.

  • TRAVEL DOCUMENTS

Passport

You need a valid passport to enter Bhutan. Make sure it has sufficient empty pages for stamps, especially if you are travelling via India or Nepal. Also make sure your passport isn’t about to expire (six months or less). In case you loose your passport, you have to travel ‘stateless’ to India, since it’s the only country in the region that can issue a replacement passport. Always carry some additional form of identification and a photocopy of your passport with you.

Flight Tickets

Druk air is the only airline that flies to and from Bhutan. Therefore the fares are expensive. You find the latest fares at www.drukair.com.bt. Discounts or special student fares only apply to Bhutanese citizens. Also be aware of the Druk Air rule that if fares are increased after the ticket is issued, the flight company may collect the difference when you check in.

Visa

Prior to your arrival in Bhutan, you must apply in advance for a visa through a tour operator. If you don’t have an approved visa, you will not be permitted to board the Druk Air flight to Bhutan. All applications for tourist visas must be initialized by a Bhutanese tour operator and approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thimphu. A visa costs 20 US dollar and is approved and issued prior to entry, with the pre-payment of your travel itinerary. Therefore you need to finalize your travel plans well in advance. Recommend is at least 90 days, especially if you travel to Bhutan in the peak months of September, October, November, March, April or early May. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thimphu issues visa to all foreign travelers.

Visa Extensions

You will receive a visa for the exact period you have arranged to be in Bhutan. If you want to stay longer than two weeks in the kingdom, you can apply with the Bhutan Tourism Corporation Limited (BTCL) in Thimphu for an extension of your tourist visa. A visa extension for a period not exceeding six months costs Nu 510 (10$).

Restricted Area Permits

Exept the Paro and Thimphu valleys, the rest of Bhutan is classified as a restricted area. Tour operators obtain a permit for the places on your itinerary. This permit is checked and endorsed by the police at immigration checkpoints strategically located at important road junctions. Your tour operator must return the permit to the government at the completion of the tour, and it is examined for major deviations from the authorized program.

  • TRAVELING TO BHUTAN

Entering by flight

You can enter Bhutan by plane through the internationals airports of Bangkok (Thailand), Calcutta/Kolkata (India), Gaya (India), Siliguri (India), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Yangon (Myanmar, former Birma) or Kathmandu (Nepal). Paro Airport in the south west of the country, is Bhutan’s one and only international airport. From there a drive of approximately 1.5 hours takes you to the capital of Thimpu. Bhutan’s one and only national carrier is DrukAir. For complete flight schedules and other related flight information go to the Druk Air website: www.drukair.com.bt.

Entering by land

You can also enter Bhutan by land via the border town of Phuentsholing (southwest Bhutan). Note though that unless you are an Indian national, you have to either enter or exit Bhutan on a Druk Air flight. Ask your tour operator what your best options are, depending on your wishes to also visit India and/or Nepal. If you enter Bhutan via India, don’t forget to get your passport stamped when leaving India.
If you enter Bhutan by land, one of the first things you need to do, is obtaining a Bhutanese visa. Go to the visa officer in the drungkhag (subdistrict) office and present your passport, two photos and a US$20 fee. Indian nationals need to fill in two copies of a form, and bring five photos and photocopies of their identification document (passport, driver’s licenSe or voting card) to the office of the Indian embassy.

  • TRAVELING IN BHUTAN

Bhutan knows no trains or domestic flights, so you can only travel by car or bus in Bhutan. The country has a relatively well-developed network of roads accessing all major towns. However, most roads are small and badly or not at all paved and unlit. Because of the mountains, steep slopes and deep valleys, the roads know many bends and the average speed of vehicles is restricted to less than 40 kilometers per hour. Steep ascents and descents are typical for road travelling, so you best travel only during daytime. During monsoon and winter months, roads can easily become blocked due to snow or landslides and can take anywhere from an hour to several days to clear, so be prepared that travelling in Bhutan can take quite some time.
Tourist transport

Travelling on a tourist visa, the cost of all transport is included in the price of your trip. Depending on the size of the group, Bhutanese tour operators use Japanese-made buses, minivans or cars. If you travel to central and eastern Bhutan during wintertime (December to February) or monsoon (June to September) a 4WD vehicle is an advantage, and often necessary.
Public Transport

Regarding public transport, the good news is that public buses are cheap. A minibus fare between Thimphu and Paro costs 40 Nu ($ 1), between Thimphu and Phentsholing 120 Nu ($ 3), and between Thimphu and Jakar 202 Nu (4 $). The bad news is that public buses are very crowded and quiet uncomfortable. Daily three or four buses run between Thimphu and Phentsholing, Paro and Punakha. Fares and schedules are all monitored by the Road Safety and Transport Authority.

If you get car sick easily and want some more comfort, another option is travelling with the more comfortable Toyota Coasters, operated by several private operators like Leksol Bus Service and Karma Transport. It costs about 50% more than the minibus fare, but it might be worth it.

  • TRAVELING FROM BHUTAN

If you want to purchase old and used items (100 years or older), be cautious. The Bhutanese customs authoritiesstrictly monitor the export of any religious antiquities or antiques of any kind from the Kingdom. You’re not allowed to take items out of the country which haven’t been officially certified as non-antique. Therefore always look for a government seal/stamp.

If you bring electronic devices with you like camcorders, cameras, computers or portable telephones, you have to register them with the customs authorities on arrival at Paro. They will be checked on departure. When you arrive in Bhutan, a customs form is issued. You must fill out this form with declarations and return them to the authorities before you leave the country. Import of plants, soils, et cetera, are subject to quarantine regulations. You must declare these items on arrival. For smokers, all tobacco products will be subject to a custom tax of 100% upon arrival.

When departing from Paro, you have to pay an airport tax of Nu 500 (10 $); this is included in the price of the ticket.

 

  • Money

Bhutanese currency is the ngultrum (nu), which is divided into 100 Cheltrum. The approximate exchange rate is 45.00 nu for one USD. The ngultrum is on par with the Indian Rupee and in Bhutan you can both use the Nu and Indian Rupee. In the larger towns and hotels you can exchange Euros, US dollars and other world currencies as well as travellers’ cheques from Monday to Friday between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm. In most hotels and stores you can pay with euros and US dollars. In the more rural towns and villages you need to pay with Ngultrum or rupees. In Thimphu some of the smaller bank branches are open Saturday and Sunday for currency exchange.  

  • ATMs

Presently, the few Bhutan National Bank ATMs can only be used by local customers.

  • Cash

If you plan to make a major purchase, consider bringing US dollars or Euros in cash.  

  • Credit Cards

Don’t count on using a credit card in Bhutan. They are accepted at the government-run Handicrafts Emporium, a few other handicraft shops and some of the larger hotels in Thimpu, but these transactions take quiet some time. Also, credit card companies charge high fees and the verification office is only open from 9am to 5pm. This precludes paying your hotel bill at night or when you check out early in the morning.

  • Traveller’s Cheques

You can cash travellerscheques at any bank, most hotels and the foreign-exchange counter at the airport. Banks charge 1% for cheque encashment. Make sure you only carry well-known brands like American Express, Visa, Thomas Cook, Citibank or Barclays. There is no replacement facility for travellerscheques in Bhutan.

  • Local Time

GMT +6

  • Communication

The international dialing code for Bhutan is 00975 (+975). Most of the hotels and guest lodges have international direct dial telephones and faxes. You can make international direct dial to or from Bhutan to anywhere in the world and telephone call booths are found in all major towns. Most of Bhutan has mobile phone coverage.
The internet country code for Bhutan is .bt Most cities have internet cafes, buth the connection is slow and it is relatively expensive.

  • Electricity

In Bhutan you need a plug adaptor (220Volt/50Hz)

  • National Holidays

Bhutan’s major and annual returning national holidays have a set date:
Birthday of the third King May 2nd
Day of Crowning June 2nd
Labour day May 1st
Independence day August 8th
Blessed Rainday September 23rd
Birthday of the King November 11th, 12th and 13th
National Day December 17th
Banks, shops and government buildings can be closed on these national holidays. Besides these major holidays, there are many other Buddhist holidays which happen every year are at a different day or month.

  • What to Bring

Bhutan has a changeable climate, so bring a layered wardrobe, rain gear and warm clothes for the evening, just like good walking shoes or hiking boots, even if you’re not hiking. Also bring a hat or cap and a good pair of sunglasses. A water bottle, binoculars and polarizing filter for your camera can be very useful, as well as a day pack or shoulder bag and a telescoping, aluminum or composite walking stock.

  • Courtesy in Bhutan
    • The Bhutanese deeply respect their king. Keep this in mind when you talk with local people.
    • Sacred objects: always pass mani stones, stupas and other religious objects with your right side nearest to the object, and turn prayer wheels in a clockwise direction. Never sit on mani stones or stupas.
    • Clothing: if you visit temples, remove your shoes and head gear and wear clothing that expresses respect for the sacred nature of the site. You will need to wear pants and long shirts.
    • Donations: it’s custom at monasteries to make a small donation to the monks as a sign of respect. Also donate to the Buddhist statues as a means of developing a generous and spacious mind. There are many places in each temple where you can donate, and it is expected that you donate to each place. Remember to have small notes for this gesture, although it’s not mandatory.
    • Smoking is illegal at monasteries and in public places. Don’t bring cigarettes or chewing tobacco to sacred sites.

 
 
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