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What to expect
Bhutan is an isolated, mysterious country slowly embracing the rest of the world. It features stunning mountainous scenery and a deeply spiritual culture that embraces Tibetan-Buddhism, evident in the many temples and monasteries throughout the country.
As Bhutan is at a high altitude, you may need to allow time to acclimatize. Tourist infrastructure may be of a different standard to what you are used to, and allowances should be made for schedule changes or disruptions to travel plans, particularly if a local festival is occurring.
Accommodation standards are generally very comfortable and on par with those found in Western countries, however incorporating local touches. Road journeys are generally on well-maintained roads, yet may seem slow through the mountains.
From New York
approximately 15 hours
From Los Angeles
approximately 16 hours
Banks, public offices and some tourist sites will be closed on the vacations listed here. As major vacations are set according to the lunar calendar, dates change every year. Please check with our USA-based Asia specialists for details.
on the seventh day of the eleventh month of the Tibetan calendar is the winter solstice, celebrated by some Bhutanese like the new year. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
January/February - the Traditional Day of Offering
is marked, where Bhutan's citizens give thanks to the founder of their country. It is celebrated with feasting and participation in traditional sports, like archery. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
February/March - Losar
is the Tibetan new year, a huge 15 day celebration where people clean out their homes and prepare food and drink. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is a vacation celebrating the birthday of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the current head of state. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
April/May - Shabdrung Kurchoe
is held, a national day of mourning for a Tibetan Buddhist lama who unified Bhutan in the 1600s. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is the birth anniversary of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, Bhutan's third king. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is the coronation day of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan's fourth king. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is Parinirvana Day, commemorating the day when Buddha was said to have achieved complete nirvana upon the death of his physical body. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
10 July celebrates the birthday of Guru Rinpoche
the founder of Bhutan. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is a vacation marking Buddha's first sermon. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
September - Blessed Rainy Day
marks the end of the monsoon and beginning of the harvest season. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is a vacation celebrating Dashain, the main Nepalese and Hindu festival, where houses are cleaned and families gather. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
celebrates the coronation of Bhutan's fifth and current king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
marks the birthday of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan's fourth king. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
Lhabab Duchen marks Buddha's return to earth after attaining nirvana. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is National Day. Celebrations include a public address by the king and a procession. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
Health & Fitness
Travelers to Bhutan should be aware of their own health and safety as they would traveling elsewhere in the region. International level medical care is available on a limited basis and only in the capital, and in remote areas is quite basic. Diseases known to exist in Bhutan include hepatitis A and B, tuberculosis, Japanese encephalitis, tetanus, typhoid, polio, rabies, diphtheria and HIV/AIDS.
We advise that you take every precaution possible to minimize your risk of disease. You should consult with your doctor at least one month prior to travel about potential malaria risk and for current health advice.
All international visitors to Bhutan must have a visa. Independent travel is not permitted in Bhutan; you must apply for a tourist visa prior to travel through a licensed tour operator and receive approval before you travel. Visas are issued only when you arrive in the country, either at Paro airport or at Phuentsholing, if entering by road.
Please keep in mind that Bhutanese visa regulations and arrangements are subject to change and you must make your own visa arrangements prior to travel. We strongly advise that you check with the relevant embassies in your home country for current visa guidelines.
Safety and security
Bhutan is a relatively safe place to visit, however petty street crime can still occur. It is recommended that you keep photocopies of your passport, credit card details and airline tickets in a safe, separate place to the originals.
Valuables should be locked in any hotel safety deposit boxes provided, and minimal jewelry should be worn. It is a good idea to keep spending money in a secure place close to your body. Read our safety guidelines for further information.
The Raven Crown by Michael Aris
an informative book chronicling the Wangchuck Dynasty, who have ruled Bhutan for over 100 years. It also features over 100 rare historic photographs.
Beyond the Sky and the Earth by Jamie Zeppa
an evocative and spiritual memoir of a young woman's time living and teaching in Bhutan, and falling in love with a local man along the way.
Treasures of the Thunder Dragon by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk
a photographic journey highlighting Bhutan's beauty, from its ancient fortresses to colorful festivals. It features areas of Bhutan seldom seen by Western visitors.
The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden
by the first Bhutanese woman to write a novel in English, this book captures a slice of 1950s Bhutan and the restrictive gender roles found in the country pre-modernisation.
Dreams of the Peaceful Dragon by Katie Hickman
an account of a year traveling in the remote eastern part of Bhutan, including encounters with lamas, hermits and a sorceress.
Bhutan Kingdom of the Dragon by Robert Dompnier
a French photographer's beautiful photos of Bhutan and its people, with a particular emphasis on people going about their everyday lives.
Useful words & phrases
Hello (or hi)
How are you?
Cho Gadebe yo
What is your name?
Cho meng gaci mo
My name is…
Where do you come from?
Cho gati la mo?
I come from...
Can I take a photo
Pa tabney chokar la?
Where is the toilet?
Chapsa gati in-na?
Arrival and departure transfers
Exploring Bhutan's fascinating monasteries, markets, villages and ancient forts is often done on foot, so it is important to pack suitable footwear. Most sites are easy to access, although some can only be reached via a lengthy trek. Some of these, such as the two-hour trek to Tigers Nest Monastery, are optional.
Road travel in Bhutan is generally in a comfortable van or mini bus, as large buses cannot typically navigate the steep and winding mountain roads. Road journeys can often be slow. Taxis are sometimes available in Paro and Thimpu, but beyond these cities are rarely found.
The telecommunications industry in Bhutan is relatively undeveloped, and television only made its debut in 1999. Internet cafes can sometimes be found in the larger towns, and despite the fact some hotels feature internet access or even WiFi, the service can be very intermittent or sometimes unavailable.
International direct dial phone calls can be made from some hotels and the cell phone network is relatively effective, although prior to travel you should check with your service provider if they are able to provide global roaming for Bhutan travel.
Food & drink
Bhutanese cuisine features similarities to those found in other Himalayan countries. Rice is a staple and a lot of vegetables and lentils are used, with some dishes featuring chilli. Hot dishes are sometimes toned down with visitors in mind. Beyond major towns, dining options are quite limited.
You should not consume the tap water in Bhutan, however bottled water is commonly found. There are soft drinks and beer available in Bhutan, although wine is prohibitively expensive. Not too many Western-style snack foods are available, although bakeries are commonplace in the towns.
Tipping is accepted in Bhutan although it is not an obligatory practice. At the start of each trip your Western tour leader or local guide will request a small sum from each traveler, such as 50 cents per day, to be used as tips for local service staff. This means you don't need to constantly keep small change on hand, and excessive tipping is prevented.
Compulsory tipping is not included on any Travel Indochina tour, though if you wish to provide tips to our representatives such as drivers or guides for exemplary service levels, it is entirely up to you.
Bhutan is a landlocked country so offers little opportunities to swim. Not many hotels feature swimming pools, although there are sometimes therapeutic hot stone baths you can soak in, where heated stones are used to warm spring water to relaxing effect.