Journey To Bhutan
Tips For Travellers
THE LAND OF THE THUNDER DRAGON will take you “through the looking glass” over sublimely soaring mountain passes by way of primeval, pristine forests and fiercely protected national parks, past myriad temples and monasteries tattooed with images of the phallus into a land beyond the Sky and Clouds.
Our home in the Himalaya is often seen as the Last Shangri La – offering sanctuary from the craziness of the outside world, a precious opportunity to refocus on what really matters. But don’t just take our word for it come and see for your yourself…
Valley to Valley Highlights
A 10 to 14 day adventure in Bhutan would encompass many highlights, from the spiritual heartland of Bumthang in Central Bhutan peppered with temples and sacred sites; the stunning and strategic dzong in Trongsa; the precious black necked cranes, hiking trails and sweeping vistas of Gangte; the temple of the Divine Madman in the “phallus fantasyland” of Punakha; Wangdue Phodrang’s incense makers and fortress; the only world capital with no traffic lights, Thimphu; Paro’s countless hiking and biking trails and the iconic Tiger’s Nest monastery; then over the highest motorable pass in the Kingdom to the hidden gem of Haa in the far West.
Included In Your Adventure
Every Guides Of Bhutan adventure package is offered on a “Land Only” basis and includes the following elements as standard:
• Bhutanese Government visa fees, taxes & daily royalties
• 10% Government sales tax & service charge at hotels
• Fullboard accommodation, including picnics on excursion days (including mineral water)
• The exclusive services of an english-speaking, licensed, Buddhist, Guide of Bhutan
• Entry to all temples, museums & monasteries listed in the itinerary
• Private transport & driver throughout including airport transfers
• All privately guided tours & activities featured in any proposed itinerary
• An archery demonstration & lesson • Complimentary wireless internet at all luxury lodges
More Ideas For Your Adventure
FLOAT TO THE PALACE OF GREAT HAPPINESS
White Water Raft down the Mo Chhu (Mother river) til it meets the Po Chhu at Punakha Dzong.
WISH ON A WINDHORSE
String your own wish fulfilling prayer flags at a high point or over a river be it Taktsang Monastery, Nyi Mi Zam the bridge over the Paro Chhu river or at a mountain pass.
MAKE A REAL PILGRIMAGE TO THE TIGER’S NEST
Don’t just take your camera to the Tiger’s Nest, bring along offerings of votive lamps, incense and cash as the locals do on their pujas, giving thanks to the local deities for your time in their Kingdom.
The Voluntary Artists’ Studio in Thimpu, provides the opportunity for Bhutanese youth to fulfill their potential artistic talents, develop a sense of social responsibility through community services and also to explore art as a vocation.
IN THE FOOTPRINTS OF A HOLYMAN
In front of the main shrine at the ancient Kyichu Lhakhang, shuffle your feet into the footprints worn by a former caretaker who is said to have made more than 100,000 prostrations on this spot.
RIDE THE THUNDERDRAGON
Book a delicious freewheeling biking descent from a high mountain pass.
FLY WHERE THE RAVEN SOARS
Private chopper charters are becoming popular for mountain flights, heli-supported adventures and transfers between valleys.
YOUR LUCKY STARS BHUTANESE STYLE
Reserve an audience and reading with a Buddhist Astrologer.
A MEDITATION IN SAND
Create a sand mandala with a Buddhist Monk at a local monastery.
Attend a simple Buddhist Blessing (perhaps for Thrisel – Cleansing or Tshewang – Long Life) in a local temple.
A LESSON IN FIERY FOOD
Founding partner Ugyen’s Mum runs Traditional Bhutanese Cookery Classes at her home in Paro.
TAKE THE PLUNGE
A social or family event, a popular form of medication and great for soothing weary muscles. Riverstones are heated until white hot then dropped sizzling into a coffin shaped wooden tub filled with spring water – you then slide in, lay back, relax and enjoy the river views.
DINE ON THE FARM
Join a local farmer and his family for a meal of traditional Bhutanese dishes.
The traditional kira and wonjo for the ladies and a gho for the men. The wrap around gho provides a useful deep pocket or rather pouch for keeping all manner of things in eg a snack, mobile phone, pen, paper, cash etc.
SHOOT SOME ARROWS
Try your hand at the Bhutanese sport of archery with traditional bow and arrows on a local Bha Cho or archery range – if the Tibetans try to invade again you will be ready.
LEARN SOME LOCAL LINGO
This never fails as an ice breaker and who knows where a cheery “Kuzoozampo La!” might get you?
A WILD NIGHT
Camp out in a cozy tent complete with a wood burner and marshmallows.
TRY A DRIVE FLY
If you’re driving all the way to Bumthang why not treat yourself to a seat on the spectacular 35-minute domestic Druk Air flight which flies back along the Himalayan range back to Paro.
TAKE ON THE SNOWMAN
Head off the beaten path on a fully supported camping trek like the infamous 28-day Snowman or 12-day Laya-Gasa or perhaps the 5-day Druk Path Trek.
WASH AWAY ALL YOUR SINS
Witness the masked dances at a festival (tsechu) and walk away cleansed. Every dance has special meaning or a story behind it and invoke tales from as long ago as the 8th century, during the life of Guru Padmasambhava.
Travel To Bhutan
Paro International Airport is serviced by only two carriers (Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines) and Guides Of Bhutan are an Authorised Agent for both (flight costs are not included in the package rate).
Currently the airlines fly routes into Bhutan from Nepal, India, Thailand, Singapore and Bangladesh. Please allow at least 4 hours transit time for connections in case of any delays.
We can also assist with travel into Bhutan overland via any of the country’s three land crossings along the Indian border at Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar.
Bhutan For Families
Bhutan is safe and easy to travel through with kids of any age as both the founding partners of Guides Of Bhutan will attest. With delightful surprises at every turn, friendly fun loving locals to encounter and so many wonderful memories and friends to make along the way, the sometimes long bumpy car journeys are quickly forgotten.
It feels very natural to immerse your family in Bhutan’s unique culture and Buddhist ways as well as the country’s nature with outdoor activities, such as biking, hiking, horseback riding, fishing and archery (the national sport).
Upon request Guides Of Bhutan will arrange kids’ booster or car seats, a visit to a local school, creative classes at a famous art centre in Thimpu and kids camps complete with campcraft activities and marshmallow toasting. And here’s an added plus: depending on age, children receive discounts and fee waivers on the daily government tariff and Druk Air seats.
Located at a similar latitude to Florida, sunny Bhutan is truly a year-round destination for travellers. The varying altitudes of the valleys within the Kingdom make for different microclimates, for example the lower valley of Punakha (1,200m) enjoys a sub-tropical climate whereas the higher Gangte valley (2,900m) experiences freezing temperatures throughout the winter. Best to prepared for diverse weather conditions in one day as you traverse the country.
SPRING & AUTUMN
—March To May & September To November
The ideal seasons for camping treks (freezing temps at high camps) and most festivals. Seasons Warm days & cool nights (max 24ºC : min 2ºC), some chance of rain
—June To August
Perfect for flowers and birdlife, less crowds and reduced charge. Hot days & balmy nights (max 26ºC : min 14ºC), good chance of rain showers
—December To February
Best season for clear skies and mountain views. Crisp, clear sunny days and cold dry nights (max 20ºC : min -4ºC) snowfall likely at altitude
Where To Stay
These days the Kingdom boasts a range of accommodation options from a night under canvas, with a local family at a homestay or even in a monastery through well located, (if rustic) tourist class hotel offerings and very comfortable 3 to 4-star properties right up to the heady heights of fabulous 5-star luxury lodges. One thing they all share is the warm, generous and distinctly Bhutanese welcome travellers will receive.
Armed with the latest accommodations intel, the team at Guides Of Bhutan are well placed to steer our guests through the options, highlighting our preferred lodges of each class in every valley and even our favourite rooms at each.
For luxury lodge options we recommend Uma Paro, Uma Punakha, Taj Tashi in Thimpu, Gangte Goenpa Lodge, Le Meridien Paro and Thimpu, Dhensa Punakha, Zhiwaling Ascent, Thimpu and Zhiwaling Hotel in Paro plus the five Amankora and the five upcoming Six Senses five-star lodges mixing and matching standards of accommodation to suit.
For hotel and lodge reviews please refer to our blog Bhutan Tales.
DRUKAIR DOMESTIC FLIGHTS
The domestic Druk Air service operates an ATR aircraft on two routes. Not only are they spectacular mountain flights, they also mean that travellers to Bumthang and beyond don’t have to repeat the long drive all the way to and from Paro.
Paro–Bumthang (Central Bhutan) $180 one-way and Paro–Gelephu (Southern Bhutan) — Yongfula (Eastern Bhutan) $205 per seat one-way
HELICOPTER CHARTER SERVICE
The Royal Bhutan Helicopter Service operates two Airbus A130 choppers (each with 5 passenger seats and two pilots) as well as providing accident and emergency coverage for the Kingdom. Private charters cost from $4,375.00 per hour for transfers between valleys and/or mountain flights and adventures — Guides of Bhutan are Authorised Agents for RBHSL.
TRANSPORT & ROAD CONDITIONS
Depending on the size of your party, for transfers and tours we use small private executive minibuses or SUVs such as a Land Cruiser or Santa Fe and always with a designated, experienced driver. There is not a single traffic light in the entire country and in general the well-travelled roads around Paro and Thimpu are in good condition – there is even a double lane highway into the capital now.
Away from the main roads in the west you can expect up to 17 bends per kilometre reducing average speeds to between 30 and 50 km/h with deteriorating road surfaces. The extensive road widening and improvement project along the main East-West Highway has reached Gangte with the works now focusing on the section between Gangte and Bumthang which are causing some delays. Your guide will keep informed of any road closures or major delays and take the necessary measures.
Our walks and treks are mostly on established pilgrimage and village trails used by locals and monks, and there are no particularly difficult sections, although some of the trails are steep and rocky and can be muddy and slippery after rain.
Boots with ankle support are recommended and Guides Of Bhutan can supply walking sticks. Any reasonably fit person will thoroughly enjoy the walks we have developed plus riding ponies can sometimes be hired for certain tougher hikes. Your guide carries extra mineral water, snacks and a comprehensive mountain first aid kit at all times.
Guides Of Bhutan offer a range of both on-road sightseeing and off-road biking trips to suit all interests, abilities and time constraints. Our team has pioneered many bike routes encompassing anything from freewheeling down quiet country lanes and wide farm tracks for an afternoon, to epic multi day single-track challenges.
We have a range of KONA mountain bikes, helmets and gloves so if you are interested in biking with us please advise us of your height as soon as possible to secure a bike of your size. Your guide carries extra mineral water, snacks, toolkit, important spares and a comprehensive mountain first aid kit at all times and vehicle support is provided wherever possible.
Driving Distances & Times
PARO I THIMPU v 54km (50min)
PARO I PUNAKHA v 140km (3–4hrs)
PARO I GANGTE v 185km (5–6hrs*)
PARO I HAA v 65km (3–4hrs)
GANGTE I BUMTHANG v 180km (8–9hrs*)
There are no statutory vaccination requirements unless you are arriving from an area designated as infected by cholera or yellow fever. Please consult your doctor for up to date information and if you are on any prescribed medication ensure that you bring a sufficient supply with you. As Bhutan is a remote country we advise that all guests over the age of 60 years or with a pre-existing condition consult their doctor about their travel plans.
The Effects Of Altitude
Though we are in the Himalaya, for the most part our itineraries stay below the altitude where Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) might affect people, however it is still important to: Get in the best possible shape you can before the trip and begin your trip in good health:
• Drink lots of water each day — more than you feel you need to
• Eating regularly is important. Diet should be high in carbohydrates and protein
• Understand acclimatization, take it easy for the first few days and try not to overexert
• Recognize and never ignore the symptoms of altitude illness — do ask you guide for more information and advice. All our itineraries are designed with easy days at the start with some becoming more challenging towards the end, after acclimatization has occurred.
It is a condition for entering Bhutan that you carry proof of travel insurance to cover medical and personal accident risks (including repatriation costs, air ambulance and helicopter rescue services) and that you also take out cancellation insurance. Please note that some policies restrict coverage or do not cover travel to Bhutan and may not cover activities such as trekking and mountain biking.
Dzongkha is Bhutan’s official language and there are countless dialects. Thanks to his Majesty the 4th King’s education policy, English is widely spoken in shops and hotels. but here are a few useful Bhutanese Phrases for you to try:
Hello I Kuzuzangpola
Hi I Kuzoo
Thank you I Kadrinche
Thank you very much I Namid Same Kadrinche
(THANK YOU BEYOND THE SKY & CLOUDS)
Good luck, safe journey, best wishes I Tashi delek
Ok/Yes I Ya ya tub
No I Mengo
What is your name? I Che gi ming ga chi mo?
My name is… I Nga gi ming…
Do sample local specialties like ema datshi, a spicy blend of chili peppers and roasted yak cheese that is sure to warm you on even the coldest Himalayan night. In the highlands, dishes tend to be heavily seasoned hot stews made from yak, pork, or beef with vegetables, lentils, or buckwheat.
Meals are served with Bhutanese red rice which has a rough texture and a subtle nutty taste. Don’t miss the momos, steamed dumplings with a meat or veggie filling, or barthu, fried noodles, plus buckwheat pancakes or noodles.
Vegetarians are well catered for especially in the higher end lodges, a jar of Bumthang Honey makes for a great souvenir as does a string of chugo, the hard yak cheese or gobstopper. Look out for carpets of wild strawberries in spring and in autumn matsutake and chanterelle mushrooms along with swathes of marijuana (only for the pigs!) in the forests.
As for local beverages fancy some suba or salt butter tea? It’s exactly what it sounds like. Or how about a cup of home-distilled spirits called ara with an egg dropped in it? There are a couple of local craft ale breweries now plus the original locally brewed Red Panda Weiss Beer from the Swiss Guesthouse in Bumthang is a good drop – all three offer brewery tours and tasting sessions and Guides Of Bhutan offers classes in Bhutanese cooking.
What To Pack
As you may have gathered, the weather in Bhutan is not as extreme as one might think, even in winter. In addition to your normal daily clothes, for our regular adventures (packing lists for overnight treks and full biking tours available on request), may we suggest the following items to pack:
Small backpack; warm jacket; strong boots or shoes with good soles; waterproof jacket; sunglasses; warm hat; sunhat; sunscreen; long sleeved top for visiting sacred sites; universal plug adaptor; water bottle.
Shorts for cycling and walking; torch; insect repellent; lip balm; wet wipes; inflatable pillow for flights and car journeys; iPod or similar; phone charger; earplugs; personal first aid kit and a sufficient supply of any medication you are taking. It is also advisable to pack some treats from home like muesli bars, gloves and perhaps thermal underwear for winter evenings and a spare battery for your camera. Photographs or postcards of your town, home and family to show guides and locals always go down well.
If you have heard or read about some aspect of Bhutan you would like to explore during your stay, have any special dietary requests, pre-existing medical conditions or phobias plus any special interests or significant events you might like to mark while you are with us please let us know and we’ll do our utmost for you.