Table of Contents
Dzongkha, “the language of the dzong”, belongs to the Tibetan linguistic family. Originally spoken only in western Bhutan, Dzongkha is now Bhutan’s national language. English is commonly spoken in the main towns and is the principal medium of instruction in schools throughout the kingdom.
Bhutan time is 6 hours ahead of GMT and there is only one time zone throughout the country.
No vaccinations are currently required for traveling to Bhutan. Before embarking on a trip to Bhutan, please seek advice from your doctor with regard to vaccinations and appropriate medication you should have prior to your travels. As a minimum you should have tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A inoculations.
Bhutan is one of the safest countries in the world however you should still exercise caution when visiting. Please ensure that your belongings especially your passports, cameras, wallets and purses are properly secured. Please refrain from leaving such items within sight in locked vehicles while sightseeing.
Avoid drinking tap water which has not been boiled or ice cubes in drinks at all times as most water sources in Bhutan are untreated. One can easily acquire affordable treated and bottled water. People prone to car sickness should bring appropriate medicine as the winding roads on the mountains have plenty of curves and turns.
Bring any medication you take regularly, or might need to take for a periodically recurring condition, such as asthma.
Travel & Medical Insurance
We strongly advice travellers to get a comprehensive travel & medical insurance before travelling to Bhutan. If you are coming on a trek, your medical/travel insurance must include provision for evacuation by helicopter and repatriation – should this be necessary.
The southern part of Bhutan is tropical, and in general the eastern region of the country is warmer than the central valleys. However, bear in mind that the higher the altitude, the cooler the weather, and that with a brisk wind blowing down off the mountains, even a low-lying valley can become quite chilly.
The central valleys of Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Mongar, Tashigang and Lhuentse enjoy a semi-tropical climate with cool winters, whilst Paro, Thimphu, Tongsa and Bumthang have a much harsher climate, with summer monsoon rains and winter snowfalls which may block passes leading into the central valleys for days at a time.
Winter in Bhutan is from mid-November till mid-March, and at this time of the year the climate is dry and sunny for the most part, temperatures peaking at around 15c. in the daytime and falling below zero at night. The monsoon usually arrives in mid-June, with light rain falling mainly in the afternoons and evenings. At the end of September, after the last of the big rains, autumn suddenly arrives, and is a magnificent season for trekking until November.
The following is the average temperatures in Bhutan (in celcius):
|Paro||-5.8 to 9.4||4.6 to 17.6||14.9 to 26.8||7.4 to 18.7|
|Thimphu||-2.6 to 12.3||7.1 to 20.0||15.6 to 25.9||10.4 to 21.9|
|Punakha||4.3 to 17.0||12.9 to 26.2||20.5 to 30.4||14.7 to 26.1|
|Trongsa||-0.2 to 13.0||6.6 to 20.1||15.3 to 25.3||11.7 to 21.8|
|Bumthang||-5.1 to 10.8||3.9 to 18.7||13.6 to 24.1||5.9 to 19.5|
|Mongar||8.2 to 15.5||14.0 to 22.8||19.8 to 27.1||15.8 to 22.7|
|Trashigang||10.5 to 20.4||17.0 to 28.3||23.1 to 31.5||17.7 to 29.1|
Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (Nu.), with 100 Chetrum = 1 Ngultrum. The Ngultrum is fixed to the value of Indian rupee. Tourists are advised to carry their money in the form of traveler’s checks (preferably American Express) and cash (US dollars would be best), which might be used for incidental purchases/expenses. Daily expenditure varies from person to person, but in general you should allow US$5-10 daily for laundry, drinks, phone calls overseas, small souvenirs, postcards and stamps.
The banks are the only place to change money with the same exchange rates everywhere. There are bank branches in all major towns.
A few hotels and shops may accept payment by credit card, but with a surcharge added. Visas and Master cards are more widely accepted. Bank of Bhutan ATMs in Thimphu & Paro now allows the withdrawal of local currency from Master card & Visa cards (both debit & credit). The maximum amount per withdrawal per day is Nu. 18,000 – Nu. 30,000 (USD 300 -500). A small fee will be charged per withdrawal.
In Bhutan, electricity runs on 220/240 volts, with round hole two-pin and three-pin power outlets. If you bring electrical appliances, also pack appropriate adapter plugs. In Thimphu electrical appliance shops stock adapter plugs, but they are unlikely to be available elsewhere.
You will be able to check your email and make international telephone calls from most towns while touring Bhutan. While Internet cafes are more widespread in the western region, even in the Far East there are public IDD calling booths. IDD calls may be made and received at most accommodations used by Bhutan Hiker.
Bhutan has a comprehensive mobile (cell) phone network with global roaming also assessable. There are two telecom providers: Bhutan Telecom/B-mobile (national network provider) and Tashi Cell (private network provider). Sim cards are available at the Bhutan Telecom/B-mobile and Tashi Cell outlets and authorized dealers.
Most hotels in major towns have free wifi services (either in the room, or lobby or both) and in some hotels it maybe chargeable.
Data Cards for internet (usb/thumb drives) can also be purchased and can be used wherever there is cellular network (B-mobile or Tashi Cell).
Most hotels in Bhutan are in the 2-3 star level and are referred to as Standard Hotels. A few luxury 4 & 5 star accommodations are also available (Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey, Bumthang). The standard accommodations all offer the necessary facilities, and are properly maintained. Generally speaking, hotels in western Bhutan (Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue) are better appointed than the rest of the country. Accommodation establishments are more modest with fewer amenities in the more remote areas of central (Gangtey, Trongsa, Bumthang) and eastern Bhutan (Mongar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Samdrup Jongkhar). Sometimes the best accommodation may be the only accommodation and a very modest one in that area especially in the central and eastern regions.
Bhutanese delicacies are rich with spicy chilies and cheese. The tourist restaurants will normally tone down the chilly for visitors. Chinese, Continental, Bhutanese and Indian cuisine are available in the hotels and local tourist restaurants.
Please give some advance notice of any special dietary requirements so that we can make appropriate arrangements.
The giving of alms to mendicants and holy men in the vicinity of markets and outside temples is an accepted practice. In exchange for your contribution of a small coin, a prayer will be intoned for you. Take your cue from the Bhutanese on such occasions and, when in doubt, ask your guide what would be the appropriate thing to do.
The photographic opportunities on all trips are immense. The natural scenery is superb, and you will also wish to record the local people, their houses and shops etc. Always ask by a gesture if it is ok to do so. Don’t take your destination as a living museum! Also, note that photography in shrine rooms of dzongs, monasteries and religious institutions is generally not permitted. Outdoor photography is usually permitted, but when visiting such places, please check with your guide before taking any photographs.
Hand-woven textiles, carved masks, woven baskets, wooden bowls, handmade paper products, finely crafted metal objects, Thangkha paintings and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps are the items mostly purchased by travelers in Bhutan. Thimphu & Paro has the most extensive range of the handicraft items. It is recommended to carry cash such as Euro, Pounds, US dollars, Japanese Yen and related travelers’ checks for expenses in Bhutan. Credit cards are new to Bhutan and only few shops may accept it.
The buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden. Be cautious when considering the purchase of old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate. The advice of your guide should be sought before committing to such purchases. It is best to buy more expensive items at reputable shops, which provide receipts as proof of purchase.
What to Pack?
Due to the wide range of temperature and climatic conditions it is advisable to dress in layers. For protection against cold, layered clothing is better than one or two thick garments. Clothing should preferably be made from natural materials, which allow the body to breathe.
Bring comfortable sport shoes for light hikes & sightseeing; hiking boots for treks; semi formal shoes for dinners/appointments/functions.
Etiquette For Visits To Dzongs, Monasteries, Temples & Festivals
Clothing & behavior
Dress neatly and modestly and wear full sleeved collared shirts (covered arms, no shorts or short skirts) and remove hats, caps, sunglasses before entering the precincts of Dzongs or religious complexes. Do not smoke. Walk clockwise around Chortens (stupas) and Mani (prayer) walls. If you see a prayer flagpole on the ground waiting to be erected, do not step over it, as this is considered extremely disrespectful, walk around it instead.
Photography is usually permitted in public areas, such as courtyards and dance grounds, but not permitted inside the chapels of religious complexes. Check first with your guide to avoid in advertently giving offence, and at all times take care not to intrude upon the social space of others when taking photographs. NEVER stray onto the dance ground at a festival in search of the perfect shot – this is the height of bad manners and will definitely give offence to all Bhutanese who see you!
Visitors are required to complete a passenger declaration form for checking by concerned officers on arrival. The following articles are exempt from duty:
- Personal articles for day to day use by the visitor
- Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use
- Photographic equipment, video cameras and other electronic goods for personal use
The articles mentioned under (b) & (c) must be declared on the declaration form. If any such items are disposed of in Bhutan by sale or gift, they are liable for customs duty. On departure, visitors are required to surrender their forms to the Customs authorities.
Import/export of the following goods is strictly prohibited:
- Arms, ammunitions and explosives
- All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs
- Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species
Imports of plants, soils etc. are subject to quarantine regulations. These items must be cleared on arrival. Visitors are advised to be cautious in purchasing old and used items, especially of religious or cultural significance, as such items may not be exported without a clearance certificate. The advice of your guide should be sought before committing to such purchases.
Sale of Tobacco products is banned in Bhutan. Import of Tobacco products for personal consumption requires payment of import duty. Kindly bring you own Tobacco products and declare at the Customs counter at the airport in Paro or if traveling by road at the Immigration/Customs check points in Samdrup Jongkar/ Phuntsholing/Gelephu. You will have to carry with you the Customs Receipt (proof of import duty payment) at all times as you may be asked to show the Customs Receipt by the local authorities if seen smoking in public areas.
The permitted amount is 300 sticks of cigarette or 150 grams of tobacco products or 50 pieces of cigars. You will be charged a 200% import duty.