The Kingdom of Bhutan is one of the most unreachable countries in the world, but at the same time it is not. Perhaps a better term than “unreachable” would be “exclusive”. The exclusivity of Bhutan derives from the fact that individual tourism is not allowed there. As such, if you are a backpacker on your journey around the world, Bhutan could be vastly off your limits. That also includes frugal travellers. If you’re on a budget, visiting Bhutan will be a bit tough. I’ve decided to have a page dedicated to Bhutan Tourism Information on this blog as each traveller considering a visit to Bhutan is faces with plethora of questions that need answers. So let’s answer them.
The only way to visit Bhutan as a tourist is by paying for an organized tour purchased through an authorised travel agency. Upon payment, the official tour operator will take care of your visa and will make all arrangements which include lodging, food, tour guide, transport, porters, shows and whatever else is available or needed. If you require special arrangements such as five star hotel accommodation or a single room lodging, it can all be taken care of, but will be more expensive. Regular Bhutan tours which will take you through most popular tourist sites (will likely incude visits to Paro, including the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Punakha, Thimphu, Jakar and Wangdue) will cost you $200 per day plus airfare and $20 for visa. This makes Bhutan a truly expensive destination that budget travellers and backpackers may not be able to afford, but it also makes Bhutan organized and gives you room to enjoy the sights unhindered by crowds of irresponsible tourists.
Unlike with most tourist destinations, the daily tariff for visit to Bhutan is set by the Bhutanese Department of Tourism and is fixed – non negotiable. That means that you either pay what they ask for per day or you don’t get to visit Bhutan. Drukair is the only airline with services to Bhutan and they will not board any foreigner (other than citizens of India or Bangladesh) without valid visa issued by the Bhutanese Department of Tourism, which is issued upon payment of all proceeds as per current daily tariffs.
High Quality Tourism in Bhutan
By restricting access to their country, the government of Bhutan does an amazing job preserving and protecting both their unspoiled environment as well as unique culture, while at the same time both remain promoted on a worldwide scale and bring foreign revenue. This a near perfect tourism model: the country is open to international tourism, but government controlled pricing for tour packages makes the country unreachable for an average tourist. As a result, pristine nature remains untrampled by boots of countless tourists, crime remains well under control, environment remains perfectly sustainable, society remains perfectly harmonious and original culture remains unspoiled.
Tourist Visa to Bhutan
The Bhutanese tourist visa is valid for 14 days and can be renewed once. You must apply for visa at least 30 days in advance through your tour operator who will process it for you. All tour operators authorized to sell tour packages in Bhutan are licensed by the Bhutanese Department of Tourism and are your sole means to obtaining tourist visa to Bhutan. The requirement is to purchase a tour which will run at a minimum of $200 per day, but includes most essentials of your stay. There is no such thing as visa on arrival in Bhutan. The only exception to Bhutanese visa requirements are the citizens of India and Bangladesh.
Getting to Bhutan
In order to get to Bhutan you will be flying in. There is only one carrier that flies to Bhutan, which is their own, Royal Bhutanese Airline called DrukAir. The service is offered between Bhutanese Paro Airport (PBH) and Bangkok, Delhi, Dhaka, Kolkata, Gaya, Kathmandu, Siliguri and Yangon. If flying from abroad, make sure you also have transit visa for the connecting country (mostly applicable for India, as Thailand and Nepal do offer visa on arrival).
If you are already in India, you may be able to enter Bhutan overland. Bus service from Kolkata and Siliguri can take you to the Bhutanese border town of Phuentsholing, which is also Bhutan’s second largest town, after capital Thimphu. While in India, it is also possible to take a train to Hasimara, which is only about 30 minutes (17 kilometres) by bus to Phuentsholing, but the railway tracks are being built to extend the train service all the way to Phuentsholing. There is no train service in Bhutan. Only buses and cars.
It is possible to combine an air travel with overland border crossing when booking your trip to Bhutan, but keep in mind that you will also need Indian visa which can take two weeks to process.
Bhutan Safety Information
Crime in Bhutan is virtually nonexistent making the country one of the safest spot on the planet. There are no official warnings for Bhutan issued by the Government of Canada or the US Department of State. Population of Bhutan is low and access for tourists is strictly regulated which makes for near complete elimination of random crime. One still needs to remain vigilant and aware of their surroundings as petty crime may occur (such as pick pocketing or purse snatching) but overall a visit to Bhutan is likely to be a safe and enjoyable one. I always cover safety information of places I refer to in Vacation Ideas and in case of Bhutan you really have little or nothing to worry about. If you can afford it, you will enjoy it.
Bhutan is also free from beggars and other annoyance of the sort. Even though on a global scale the average incomes are low, people are well provided for and don’t experience draught or other similar disasters. Education is available free to all citizens and so is health care. Smoking of tobacco is a crime and a punishable offense so be careful if you are a smoker.
The King of Bhutan
Bhutan is one of the most pristine places on the planet. The emphasis is put on Gross National Happiness and schools teach children to live in peace and harmony. While men struggle, or even kill for power in other parts of the world, in Bhutan the king Jigme Singye Wangchuck voluntarily stepped down to give room to the young blood to lead the country and his son Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan became the king. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck doesn’t have bank accounts in Switzerland and doesn’t own several jets. He lives in a log cabin and humbly meets with his people to listen to their needs. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck volunterily gave up his absolute power in 2008 to bring democracy to his people.
Videos from Bhutan
This video is a trailer for a movie about Bhutan and a journey of Bhutanese King to deliver happiness for his people. It talks about Bhutan being a country that’s committed to people’s happiness. It talks about Bhutan being a place where nature is sacred. It talks about Bhutanese people whose identity is rooted in their culture. The video also contains commentary from the king and other important Bhutanese people.
This second video was filmed by Bhutanese people and is a nice introduction to beauty of Bhutan. It is narrated by the Bhutanese:
Bhutan is an adventure like no other. Vast exclusivity makes it a dream destination for all avid travellers, passionate trekkers will find Bhutan pure paradise and environmentalists will have their dreams come true surrounded by Bhutan’s pristine nature that’s home to some of world’s rarest flora and fauna. Bhutan is unique and their uniqueness is well preserved by limiting the access to only high quality tourists. Bhutan is spiritual and mystical. It’s a place where ancient culture and tradition are still very much alive. Welcome to Bhutan, the land of the thunder dragon.