Bhutan travel guide – everything you need to know for leisure travel

Expat life
07 Aug 2023
14 mins read
Written by Team Instarem

Welcome to Bhutan, folks! The land of dragons, happiness, and ‘gross national happiness.’ And no, don’t worry, there won’t be any Khaleesi around with her dragons here. But that doesn’t mean Bhutan isn’t enchanting enough.

 

The moment you step into this magical kingdom, you’re bound to get swept off your feet. And it’s not just the yak cheese and chilli dishes that make your taste buds go tick-tock (although that’s a pretty legit reason too). With its towering mountains and majestic monasteries, Bhutan is that hidden gem you didn’t even know you were looking for. So come along, and let’s dive into the land of dragons and happiness, aka Bhutan.

 

Where is Bhutan?

Nestled between India and China, this little gem is like a world of its own. And, get this, it’s divided into distinct regions based on altitude! Who knew, right?

 

You can literally go from snow-capped mountains to rolling hills in a matter of hours. And don’t even get us started on the capital, Thimphu, or the historic town of Paro – we guarantee you’ll fall in love with both.

How to fly to Bhutan?

Congrats, now come the hard part: actually getting there. And let us tell you, it’s not as easy as hopping on a plane and calling it a day.

Bhutan Airlines at Paro International Airport

First things first – you need a Visa. Unless you’re from India, Bangladesh or the Maldives, in which case, lucky you. For the rest of us mere mortals, it’ll cost USD40 to process and a daily fee of USD200 to USD250. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. But let’s say you magically tackled the Visa process, now you need a plane ticket.

 

And here’s a pro-tip: leave it to the tour agencies.

 

Ticket

Luggage Capacity

Hand-carry Capacity

Prices

Round-trip economy class ticket

30kg

5kg

USD1,064

Round-trip business class ticket

40kg

7kg

USD1,698

Is Bhutan open for tourists?

Yes, you heard it right – you can now roam around Bhutan’s main cities solo (Paro and Thimphu), without a guide. Finally, some freedom!


Except, hold your horses, because let’s be real here, these cities aren’t just a quick walk away. We’re talking mountain passes and twisty roads that would make your stomach do somersaults. It’s like a rollercoaster ride, but with a car!

 

So, unless you want to end up on the side of the road, we suggest you hire a guide. Keep in mind, though, that if you want to venture outside of the city limits, you’ll still need a guide.

But hey, it’s worth the extra cash to experience the beauty and culture that Bhutan has to offer. And if you’re wondering about the cost, fear not my frugal friends, we’ve got you covered with some recommendations.

 

Tour Company

Cheapest Packages as of May 2023

Adventure Himalayan Travels

USD2,575

Intrepid Travel

USD5,020

OneSeed Expeditions

USD4,290

Bhutan Acorn Tours & Travel

USD1,530

Himalayan Glacier Adventure & Travel Company

USD6,500

What is the weather like in Bhutan?

Heads up, Bhutan has all four seasons in a year! Yes, you read that right – all four! Want to frolic through fields of flowers? Visit during March to May for some springtime fun.

 

Want to enjoy a cool summer? Head on over during June to August. Craving the crisp autumn air? Go from September to November. Or are you a fan of icy breath and chapped lips? Visit during December to February for some winter wonderland action. But if you’re not a fan of frosty toes and frozen fingers, we suggest visiting during the clear and pleasant autumn season, perfect for hiking.

 

Bhutan Food

Bhutanese cuisine is about to introduce your taste buds to a whole new world of flavour (and a lot of cheese). We’re talking red rice, buckwheat, and maize paired with dried beef, pork, and chicken. And did we mention the cheese? Because there’s a lot of it. Because hey, who doesn’t love cheese?

 

Spicy Ema datshi

 

Locals rave about the Datshi (cheese) and Ema (spicy) dishes, which are staples in Bhutanese cuisine. Brace yourselves for Shakam Ema Datshi, a dish that’s sure to spice things up with its beef and cheese stew.

 

Or maybe the Kewa Datshi, a deliciously cheesy potato dish, is more your speed. And let’s not forget about the Shakam Shukam Datshi, which is made with white dried chillis. Bottom line? Bhutanese cuisine is a foodie’s paradise.

 

Transportation in Bhutan

Looking for an effortless and comfortable journey? Travel agencies have got you covered with minibuses and SUVs. But if you’re feeling a bit more independent, why not rent a bicycle or car? Though watch out for those twisty roads – we don’t want any dramatic wipeouts. And if you’re feeling particularly daring, haggle like a pro with taxi drivers for a fair rate.

 

Bhutan hotels

After a long day exploring the stunning sights of Bhutan, you must be wanting to dive into a comfortable bed faster than a jackrabbit on a caffeine high. Luckily for you, Bhutan has enough accommodation options to make your head spin like a dreidel. Whether you like to live it up in luxurious resorts or prefer to take it easy in some cosy guesthouses, Bhutan’s got you covered like a warm blanket on a chilly night.

 

Don’t miss out on this list of fancy hotels and resorts that will make you feel like royalty. And if you’ve booked a tour, let the pros take care of the hotel arrangements so you can focus on counting sheep and dreaming of more adventures.

 

Dhensa Boutique Resort

Let’s be real here, who doesn’t love a little bit of Bhutanese-inspired decor in their life? And where better to experience it than at Dhensa Boutique Resort in the stunning Phobjikha Valley? Not only do you get to bask in traditional architecture and indulge in a full-service spa, but you can also work off those delicious local cuisine calories at the on-site fitness centre. Talk about #balance. And the best part? You don’t have to break the bank to live out your Bhutanese dreams.

 

Prices range from USD200-USD300.

 

Terma Linca Resort and Spa

This place is surrounded by forests and overlooks the Wangchu River, so you can bet your bottom dollar that the views are out of this world. What’s even better is that it’s a family-friendly resort, so you won’t have to worry about your little ones running around like wild animals. Unless, of course, they decide to visit the archery field and engage in Bhutan’s national sport.


But hey, who said family vacations had to be boring? And let’s not forget, this place has a spa with a hot stone bath, a fitness center, a restaurant, and a bar, so you won’t be leaving here feeling any less pampered than a queen.

 

Prices range from USD300-USD400 and all the rooms have cable TV, free Wi-Fi, and other essential utilities. Yeah, they don’t skimp out on the necessities here.

 

Le Meridien Paro Riverfront and Le Meridien Thimphu

If you’re looking for a luxurious experience that will take your taste buds on a journey, Le Meridien Paro Riverfront and Le Meridien Thimphu are calling your name. These bad boys offer so much more than just a fancy bed and a view. We’re talking about the chance to fully immerse in Bhutanese culture and devour some seriously delectable food while you’re at it. But listen up, this experience does come with a price tag of USD750-USD800. But let’s be real, you can’t put a price on living your best life.

 

Zhiwa Ling Hotel Bhutan

Let Zhiwa Ling Heritage whisk you away to a world where nature, culture, and tradition are seamlessly intertwined with luxury accommodations. Situated on 10 stunning acres in the breathtaking Paro Valley, it’s the perfect home base for exploring the many awe-inspiring temples and monasteries that dot the Bhutanese landscape.

 

And let’s not forget – this 5-star establishment is 100% owned and staffed by locals, so you can rest easy knowing your stay is contributing to the community. Don’t be shy – fill out their form for a rough quote and treat yourself to an experience that’s anything but run-of-the-mill.

 

Places to visit in Bhutan

Alright, folks! We’ve got all the boring particulars out of the way, so let’s get to the good stuff – exploring Bhutan!

 

Tiger’s Nest, Paro

 Tiger nest monastery, Bhutan

 

Looking for a hike that will have you feeling like a fierce warrior, ready to conquer evil spirits and meditate like a pro? Look no further than the legend of Taktsang, or Tiger’s Nest. This tale dates all the way back to 747 AD when Guru Padmasmbhava (aka Guru Rinpoche) chose a cave on a sheer rock face to do some serious soul-searching.

 

But he didn’t settle for a simple meditation spot–nope, he went full-on wrathful mode, astride a tigress, to put those pesky evil spirits in their place. We’re not sure how he managed to balance on a tigress on the side of a rock face, but who are we to question a legend, right?

 

So, grab some water, a snack, and maybe even a walking stick, and get ready for a hike that will take between 3 to 5 hours depending on your pace. Don’t worry, an average level of fitness should do the trick. You got this, tiger.

 

Kyichu Lhakhang, Paro

Kyichu lhakhang

 

Looking for the spiritual heart of the Kingdom of Bhutan? Look no further than Kyichu Lhakhang – the temple that’s got it all! Not only is it one of the most visited temples in Bhutan, but it’s also the go-to pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists.

 

But that’s not all, folks! Kyichu Lhakhang also hosts public meetings and discussions, celebrations, and receptions – basically, it’s the central spot for all your public functions and community business needs. So next time you’re in Bhutan, don’t miss out on Kyichu Lhakhang – the temple that does it all!

 

Tamchoe Monastery, Paro

Tamchoe Monastery

 

Originally designed by the brilliant Thangtong Gyalpo, this engineering feat was awash in glory until a pesky flood in ’69 took its toll. Thankfully, the tradition-loving King Jigme Singe Wangchuk stepped in, restoring the bridge to its original glory with some modern touches.
Now visitors can stroll across the bridge, surrounded by colourful prayer flags, and soak up the awe-inspiring views. Want to take things a step further? Seek out the monks for permission to enter the Lhakhang and ascend to new spiritual heights.

 

National Memorial Chorten, Thimphu

 The national Memorial Chorten

 

Looking for a spire-ted adventure in Bhutan? Look no further than the Memorial Stupa, aka the Thimphu Chorten. Built to honour a king (how regal!), this stupa stands tall with its golden spires and bells (that’s right, it’s got bling) and is a beloved landmark in the city. And while it may not enshrine human remains, it’s still worth a visit to see the Druk Gyalpo’s photo in all its ceremonial dress glory. Plus, who doesn’t love a good Buddhist religious festival? Get your zen on at the Chorten and soak in all the spiritual goodness. You won’t regret it!

 

Thimphu Dzong

Just when you thought you’d seen all the impressive structures in the world, Thimphu Dzong enters the chat. This mighty fortress houses not only the throne room and offices of the king, but also the secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance. Basically, it’s where all the important stuff happens in Bhutan.

 

And if you think the government officials have it made, think again. They have to share the nearby buildings with other government offices. But hey, at least they all have a killer view of the Dzong, right? Either way, Thimphu Dzong has been holding down the fort as the base of the Royal Government since 1962. That means it’s been through more history than some of us have lived through. Now that’s impressive.

 

Kuensel Phodrang Nature Park, Thimphu

Looking to experience a little bit of peace and tranquillity amidst the hustle and bustle of Thimphu? You might want to check out Kuensel Phodrang Nature Park, the perfect place to find your Zen. Not only will you find stunning views of the Thimphu Valley from the top of the hill, but you’ll also see something that’s hard to miss: the world’s largest Buddha Dhodrenma statue.

 

This majestic statue will make you feel small in comparison but in a good way. It will remind you that no matter how big your problems may seem, there’s always a higher power (literally) looking out for you. Plus, the hike up to the park will give you some much-needed exercise, and a chance to commune with nature. So, go ahead, take the climb, and see what wonders await you at the top!

 

Additional things to take note of

Is there a language barrier?

 

While the national language of Bhutan is Dzongkha, fear not, as most of the locals understand English. So whether you’re sipping tea in Paro or strolling through Thimphu, you’ll be just fine communication-wise. And if you’re feeling particularly sassy, why not try out a few local phrases? Check out our shortlist below and impress your new Bhutanese friends – or at least make them chuckle at your attempt.

 

Bhutanese Phrases

English Meaning

Kuzu zangpo la

Hello

Log jay gay

Goodbye

Tsip maza

Sorry

Inn

Yes

Men

No

Gadem chi mo?

How much is this?

Nga gi ha migo wai

I don’t understand

What are the people in Bhutan like?

You know what they say, if you want to be happy, go to Bhutan. Seriously, people in Bhutan are like the human embodiment of unicorns and rainbows. They’re welcoming, kind, and just downright pleasant to be around. It’s like the whole country is on a permanent high from all the happiness they radiate.

 

And let me tell you, it’s contagious. Tourists flock there just to bask in the glow of Bhutan’s positivity, and who can blame them? Plus, crime is so rare there, it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. So if you’re looking for a place to find your inner Zen and maybe even snag a few Bhutanese friends, pack your bags and head on over to the Switzerland of Asia.

 

Why is it expensive to travel to Bhutan?

It’s because they’ve got a pretty sweet deal going on. For around $200 to $250 USD per day, you get your visa (if needed), meals, transport, sightseeing, accommodation, and fees all covered.

 

Plus, the daily fee you pay helps with education, healthcare, and infrastructure. It’s like your money is doing a good deed while you’re off exploring the breathtaking scenery. And if you’re from a visa-free nation, then consider yourself lucky because your costs will be significantly lower.

 

So really, it’s a win-win situation.

 

Can you pay by credit card?

In the land of the Thunder Dragon, cash is king. While larger tourist businesses might allow the green paper we know as US Dollars, smaller shops and eateries will only let you pay in their own Bhutanese currency.


But let’s be real, if you’re on one of those tours, you probably don’t need to worry about carrying cash anyway. Just save your greenbacks for a cute souvenir or two.

 

PS: If you are a Singaporean, you might want to consider paying your Bhutan tour package with Instarem’s amaze card.

 

Amaze Card

 

Pair up with any Mastercard bank cards or top up your amaze wallet and you get to:

  • Fantastic FX rates with every global purchase.
  • Earn InstaPoints on FX spends and redeem them as cashback or discounts on overseas money transfers.

 

Sign up now before your trip kicks off!

 

Before you go…

Are you tired of being part of the rat race and craving a life of peace and Zen? Well, look no further because Bhutan, the land of happiness, awaits you! Travelling to Bhutan will undoubtedly change your outlook on life and help you find inner tranquillity.

 

But let’s face it while being happy is the ultimate goal,  nothing beats sharing that happiness (and your hard-earned cash) with the people that matter the most to you.

 

Enter Instarem, the super convenient and secure solution for sending money back home.

 

With its amazing currency exchange rates, you can save a pretty penny while giving your loved ones a little something extra. And let’s not forget, with Instarem, you can rest easy knowing that your moolah is in safe hands. So go ahead, send that cash back home and spread the love!

 

Try Instarem for your next transfer.

 

Download the app or sign up here.

 

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. All details are accurate at the time of publishing. Instarem has no affiliation or relationship with products or vendors mentioned.

 

 

About Instarem

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