Bhutan

Bhutan – the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” – is a landlocked kingdom that has existed in quiet isolation and pristine beauty for centuries, only revealing its wonders to the outside world in 1974.

An otherworldly land of mountains, monasteries and magic…

Described as the last Shangri-La, Bhutan is the sole remaining Himalayan Buddhist kingdom where time seems to have stood still. With its ancient gompas, traditional architecture and sacred mountains, the Bhutanese way of life is one steeped in religion and mythology.

Guided by a ‘Gross National Happiness’ philosophy, the country and its people have managed to preserve their cultural identity and contentment despite embracing globalisation; captivating visitors in this pristine pocket in the Himalayas which some call “the happiest place on Earth”.

Journeying through Bhutan’s unique topography and picture-book landscape also offers travellers a rare chance to visit monastic temples perched precariously on clifftops, experience a vast spectrum of biodiversity and witness majestic dzongs rising out of the clouds.

Before returning home, travellers can expect to immerse themselves in the Bhutanese way of life, culture and hospitality that, though fiercely rooted in Buddhist traditions, promises an intoxicating blend of the ancient and modern that fascinates and invigorates.

Described as the last Shangri-La, Bhutan is the sole remaining Himalayan Buddhist kingdom where time seems to have stood still. With its ancient gompas, traditional architecture and sacred mountains, the Bhutanese way of life is one steeped in religion and mythology.

Guided by a ‘Gross National Happiness’ philosophy, the country and its people have managed to preserve their cultural identity and contentment despite embracing globalisation; captivating visitors in this pristine pocket in the Himalayas which some call “the happiest place on Earth”.

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Journeying through Bhutan’s unique topography and picture-book landscape also offers travellers a rare chance to visit monastic temples perched precariously on clifftops, experience a vast spectrum of biodiversity and witness majestic dzongs rising out of the clouds.

Before returning home, travellers can expect to immerse themselves in the Bhutanese way of life, culture and hospitality that, though fiercely rooted in Buddhist traditions, promises an intoxicating blend of the ancient and modern that fascinates and invigorates.

Reflections from Bhutan

Discover this Kingdom in the clouds from our experience makers and fellow escapists

The Juneydrak Monastery caretaker

“I’ve been the temple’s caretaker for the last 15 years. Before that, I worked as a bodyguard for the royal family and sometimes I’d take them hunting. As animals would get slaughtered and killed during these hunts, I felt the need to atone for what I felt were sinful acts after retiring, so I decided to become of service to the monastery.

Everyday I sit here, read the scriptures, clean the monastery, maintain the trails and light the butter lamps. My goal is to complete 100,000 prostrations in my lifetime. I believe I lead a simple but fulfilling life, and at the end of each day, I thank myself for getting through the day because I feel like each day could be my last.”

– Tashi

Meet Tshering,
our Bhutanese naturalist

“My friends call me “Japay”, which means ‘rooster’ in Dzongkha because I was always up bright and early for school before everyone else. I suppose this eagerness and enthusiasm to start each day anew and make it count led to me becoming a guide. I’m often asked if I ever tire of showing travellers around the same places in the Kingdom but the truth is I don’t. Every time and every season has their own beauty, and this never fails to intrigue me.”

– Tshering (aka Japay)

Trekking to the
‘hidden land’ of Laya Village

“When we reached one of the most remote villages in Bhutan that was 3,800m above sea level, we ascended some 200m higher to document and film the semi-nomadic yak herders. At that time of the year, they were setting up near the village in preparation for the Highlands Festival to showcase highlanders’ lifestyles and exhibit the Highlands.

We also met the interesting characters who specialise in plucking precious cordyceps from the Himalayas, Layap women who practiced polygamy and the sole remaining bamboo hat weaver in the village. Together with the help of our adept guides, we got to discover the stories behind the Layap people.”

— Victoria Cheng

A Bhutan Journey

Get inspired for your perfect escape with this journey previously crafted for a fellow traveller

Immersive Bhutan Experiences

  • Ascend the sacred Tiger's Nest monastery
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    Camp one night under the stars as you make the pilgrimage to the holiest site in all of the Kingdom. We'll provide you with boutique support on this lesser known Bumdra route via the Bhutanese Himalayas, where the vistas are prettier and the crowds are fewer. Alternatively, take the more trodden three-hour return route.
  • Set up camp in the Kingdom of the clouds
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    Hike or cycle through forests and valleys lush and green, quaint villages and ancient gompas to discover the yo-yo topography, flora and fauna of this exotic, raw and wild land up-close. When night falls, sleep in a tent in the arms of nature, with bonfires, yaks and so much more of the great outdoors to keep you company. There are day trips or multi-day options — boutique camping support included — available.
  • Awaken your spiritual self
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    Whether it's receiving a long-life blessing from a true-blue spiritual master, participating in a meditation session in a peaceful monastic setting or doing downward-facing dog with a Bhutanese yogi guru, there's arguably no place better in the world to discover divinity than in the last remaining Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom.
  • Saddle up in the "Valley of Beautiful Girls"
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    Discover the lush and fertile landscape of Bumthang on horseback. Select from a range of riding trails - whether you prefer a countryside canter or a gentle hack - and ride down hidden valleys or upwards to admire magnificent mountain vistas.
  • Take a voyage of discovery through the eyes of locals
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    It doesn't get more personal than this: Take advantage of our exclusive access with renowned local historians and personalities to learn first-hand about the history of Bhutan from those who know best.
  • Stay with a local family for an unparalleled hospitality experience
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    Spend a night in a traditional or refurbished family farmhouse built in Bhutan's distinctive architectural vernacular and fall under the romantic sway of a slower pace of farm life. Enjoy sumptuous meals cooked by a mud clay-packed oven, take a hot stone bath and learn how to play khuru (dart game).
  • Take lessons in rural Bhutanese life
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    Suspend the lures of the modern world with our local friends. From observing how araa (rice wine) is brewed, to gathering dried pine leaves for cow bedding and adding another string to your bow with archery, these decelerated delights of slow travel will leave an indelible impression.
  • Unlock a treasure trove of cultural delights
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    Quench your thirst for Bhutan's rich religious and mythological history at majestic monasteries carved into cliffsides, age-old nunneries, fortresses and temples framed by lilac-flowered jacaranda trees. Besides offering some of the best views of this mystical land, some even have secret caves hidden deep within their stone folds.
  • Raft the Paro and Punakha rivers
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    Run through rapids and marvel at the natural beauty of changing scenery with a guided rafting experience. Keep an eye out for striking sights like the gold, ochre and white-washed walls of the Punakha Dzong.

Bhutan Regions

All
West Bhutan
Central Bhutan
East Bhutan

Bhutan Travel Tips & Insights

Bhutan’s landlocked location lies between the autonomous region of Tibet in the north, Arunachal Pradesh in the east, and the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam in the south.

Featuring a landscape of peaks and valleys, Bhutan can be roughly divided up into three areas: the southern borderlands and foothills of the Himalayas, which so happens to be the most densely populated and fertile region; the valleys of central and western Bhutan, where most of the major towns are located in; and the mountain chains of the high Himalayas up north.

Thimphu, which is located in west Bhutan, is the capital city.

Having ready access to local currency is vital, so here are some things we think you should know:

The currency of Bhutan is the Ngultrum (Nu.). 1 Nu = 100 chetrum. The ngultrum is fixed in value to the Indian Rupee, which is also accepted as legal tender throughout the country. You can only get ngultrum in Bhutan.

ATMs are found in all main towns throughout Bhutan and money can be withdrawn using Visa and MasterCard cards. The Bank of Bhutan has the largest ATM network. You can also exchange money at the local bank or convenience stores – just ask your guide!

Wherever they are accepted – mostly in cities like Thimphu and Paro – you can use Visa and MasterCard to pay for your purchases. American Express cards are not widely accepted in Bhutan, although some luxury hotels and handicraft stores accept them. However, there may be a surcharge on the final bill.

We recommend bringing traveller’s cheques (preferably American Express) and some cash in US Dollars for miscellaneous expenses. Traveller’s cheques can be easily cashed into ngultrum at banks in Thimphu and Paro.

All tourists must pay US$250 per person per night (US$200 per person per night from December to February and June to August), with a US$40/30 surcharge per person per night for those groups of one/two. This fee is all-inclusive and covers accommodation, transport, a guide, food and entry fees. Refer to this website for more details.

Bhutan has only one international airport in Paro. The only airlines to fly to Bhutan are Druk Air, the official airline of Bhutan, and Bhutan Airlines. The crew are specifically trained for flying in the Himalayan terrain, and both airlines have the same safety record as Qantas – which is to say, excellent.

Visitors can catch a direct flight from Bangkok, Singapore or India (Delhi and Kolkata are possible but flights are not on a daily basis).

Flights are weather and daylight dependent. Therefore, it is important that visitors leave a 24-hours transit time between connecting flights to account for delays.

We deal with visa applications on your behalf with the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Just remember to print a copy of the visa confirmation letter sent to you. Visas are stamped in your passport on arrival when you produce a copy of the visa letter.

On arrival, visitors will be given a Baggage Declaration form. This form ensures that visitors don’t re-export items brought into the country. Visitors will be required to list expensive belongings such as laptops and cameras.

The Baggage Declaration Form must be shown before visitors leave Bhutan. If misplaced, visitors must inform their guides to have it replaced.

Exporting antiques and wildlife products is strictly prohibited. If visitors wish to buy an antique-looking souvenir, they should have their guide certify it as a non-antique item with the Department of Culture.

There is a duty free allowance of 1L of liquor.

Visitors may bring in one carton of cigarettes (200 sticks) into the country. However, this attracts a 200% duty payable on arrival. Visitors will not be able to buy tobacco in Bhutan as there is a nationwide ban on the sale of it. Smoking in public places is also prohibited.

March – May: Spring makes for ideal weather for travellers to Bhutan. There is little rainfall during this period. However, this is also the peak period for trekking. Travellers are advised to plan and book flights in advance as accommodation options get snapped up quickly.

June – September: This is the monsoon rain season. Trekking is not advisable during this period.

September/October – November: Autumn is another high season when the weather is pleasant. It’s also a great time to witness the rice harvests.

December – February: In winter, visitors can expect nice weather but temperatures can drop, especially in December and January. Due to their lower altitudes, the southern regions have considerable warmer winters. For travellers who want to save some money, travelling during the non-peak season is an option.

Currently, there are no vaccinations required to travel to Bhutan. However, visitors coming from an area infected with yellow fever are required to get a yellow fever vaccination. This must be administered at least 10 days before arrival.

Likewise, visitors arriving from a cholera-infected area must get vaccinated.

Anti-malaria medication is strongly recommended for travellers visiting rural areas bordering India. Malaria is limited to the lowland areas adjoining the Duars and the low valleys of Punakha. However, there is no risk of malaria in Paro, Thimphu or any of the other main trekking areas.

Bhutan’s landlocked location lies between the autonomous region of Tibet in the north, Arunachal Pradesh in the east, and the Indian states of West Bengal and Assam in the south.

Featuring a landscape of peaks and valleys, Bhutan can be roughly divided up into three areas: the southern borderlands and foothills of the Himalayas, which so happens to be the most densely populated and fertile region; the valleys of central and western Bhutan, where most of the major towns are located in; and the mountain chains of the high Himalayas up north.

Thimphu, which is located in west Bhutan, is the capital city.

Having ready access to local currency is vital, so here are some things we think you should know:

The currency of Bhutan is the Ngultrum (Nu.). 1 Nu = 100 chetrum. The ngultrum is fixed in value to the Indian Rupee, which is also accepted as legal tender throughout the country. You can only get ngultrum in Bhutan.

ATMs are found in all main towns throughout Bhutan and money can be withdrawn using Visa and MasterCard cards. The Bank of Bhutan has the largest ATM network. You can also exchange money at the local bank or convenience stores – just ask your guide!

Wherever they are accepted – mostly in cities like Thimphu and Paro – you can use Visa and MasterCard to pay for your purchases. American Express cards are not widely accepted in Bhutan, although some luxury hotels and handicraft stores accept them. However, there may be a surcharge on the final bill.

We recommend bringing traveller’s cheques (preferably American Express) and some cash in US Dollars for miscellaneous expenses. Traveller’s cheques can be easily cashed into ngultrum at banks in Thimphu and Paro.

All tourists must pay US$250 per person per night (US$200 per person per night from December to February and June to August), with a US$40/30 surcharge per person per night for those groups of one/two. This fee is all-inclusive and covers accommodation, transport, a guide, food and entry fees. Refer to this website for more details.

Bhutan has only one international airport in Paro. The only airlines to fly to Bhutan are Druk Air, the official airline of Bhutan, and Bhutan Airlines. The crew are specifically trained for flying in the Himalayan terrain, and both airlines have the same safety record as Qantas – which is to say, excellent.

Visitors can catch a direct flight from Bangkok, Singapore or India (Delhi and Kolkata are possible but flights are not on a daily basis).

Flights are weather and daylight dependent. Therefore, it is important that visitors leave a 24-hours transit time between connecting flights to account for delays.

We deal with visa applications on your behalf with the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Just remember to print a copy of the visa confirmation letter sent to you. Visas are stamped in your passport on arrival when you produce a copy of the visa letter.

On arrival, visitors will be given a Baggage Declaration form. This form ensures that visitors don’t re-export items brought into the country. Visitors will be required to list expensive belongings such as laptops and cameras.

The Baggage Declaration Form must be shown before visitors leave Bhutan. If misplaced, visitors must inform their guides to have it replaced.

Exporting antiques and wildlife products is strictly prohibited. If visitors wish to buy an antique-looking souvenir, they should have their guide certify it as a non-antique item with the Department of Culture.

There is a duty free allowance of 1L of liquor.

Visitors may bring in one carton of cigarettes (200 sticks) into the country. However, this attracts a 200% duty payable on arrival. Visitors will not be able to buy tobacco in Bhutan as there is a nationwide ban on the sale of it. Smoking in public places is also prohibited.

March – May: Spring makes for ideal weather for travellers to Bhutan. There is little rainfall during this period. However, this is also the peak period for trekking. Travellers are advised to plan and book flights in advance as accommodation options get snapped up quickly.

June – September: This is the monsoon rain season. Trekking is not advisable during this period.

September/October – November: Autumn is another high season when the weather is pleasant. It’s also a great time to witness the rice harvests.

December – February: In winter, visitors can expect nice weather but temperatures can drop, especially in December and January. Due to their lower altitudes, the southern regions have considerable warmer winters. For travellers who want to save some money, travelling during the non-peak season is an option.

Currently, there are no vaccinations required to travel to Bhutan. However, visitors coming from an area infected with yellow fever are required to get a yellow fever vaccination. This must be administered at least 10 days before arrival.

Likewise, visitors arriving from a cholera-infected area must get vaccinated.

Anti-malaria medication is strongly recommended for travellers visiting rural areas bordering India. Malaria is limited to the lowland areas adjoining the Duars and the low valleys of Punakha. However, there is no risk of malaria in Paro, Thimphu or any of the other main trekking areas.

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