Traveling in Bhutan

All visitors to Bhutan are required to be accompanied by a government-licensed guide, and the visit must be prearranged and prepaid. This process does take some time, thus spontaneous travel to Bhutan is not the norm. Numbers of tourists are restricted, so as to protect both culture and environment, so with this in mind potential visitors need to plan in advance.Bhutan is reached via air on Druk Air, Royal Bhutan Airlines. Druk Air is the only carrier to serve Bhutan and does so with daily flights from Bangkok (via Kolkata or Gaya, India or Dhaka, Bangladesh) and five weekly flights from Delhi, via Kathmandu, Nepal. Druk Air operates a small but modern fleet of Airbus 319 planes. Their pilots are well trained for Himalayan flying, their safety record perfect, and the in-flight service excellent. Tourists may also enter or depart via one of the two Indian border towns, Phuentsholing or Samdrup Jongkhar. Some of our itineraries do arrive or depart by these gateways, though most arrive and depart by air. CHAMPACA JOURNEYS schedules tours during the spring and fall months. These are when the weather is at its finest, temperatures range from 30° to 70°F, the skies are sunny and the chance of rain almost nil. Spring visitors will also enjoy the spectacle of rhododendron forests in full bloom. Custom tours are possible during any month, and while summer rains and infrequent winter snow need to be accounted for, neither need negate a visit.

All visitors require a visa. Visas are only granted to those who are part of a licensed tour. In the months prior to your trip you will be asked to submit bio-data (name, address, date of birth, occupation, nationality, passport number and date of expiry), and upon arrival the visa will be stamped in your passport. Visas are valid only for the intended length of stay in Bhutan.

Hotels in Bhutan range from the humble to the luxurious. CHAMPACA JOURNEYS has chosen to use several very atmospheric and comfortable hotels. These hotels have been chosen for their superb locations, level of comfort, attentiveness of the staff and lovely ambience. In areas where the new luxury hotels have been built, arrangements can be made to use these accommodations.

Almost all Bhutanese speak English, which is taught in schools. Newspapers publish and television broadcast in English. People are extraordinarily friendly and enjoy talking with foreigners. The country is very safe, with little crime. The roads while narrow and winding are in good condition, the drivers cautious and safe, and the countrywide speed limit 35 miles per hour.

For travel to Bhutan there are no required or recommended inoculations. Malaria is absent. Level of health care is very good for a developing country, and free health care extends to foreigners. Nonetheless it is recommended that visitors bring all necessary medications, and purchase trip insurance, which in the very unlikely event of a serious mishap, would provide for evacuation and medical care elsewhere.

The altitude can be initially challenging for some visitors. The airport, located in Paro is at 7,300 feet. Many of the towns are at similar altitudes, and there are passes at over 10,000 feet that are traversed by vehicle. Lower altitude areas, with subtropical climate are visited, where the altitude varies from 4,000 to 5,000 feet. For those prone to altitude discomfort, the prescription drug, DIAMOX is very effective at relieving symptoms.

While traditional Bhutanese food is spicy with an emphasis on red rice, chilies in cheese sauce, stewed pork or beef with vegetables, food for tourists is usually eaten in hotel restaurants or restaurants that have familiarity with foreign palates. Most meals are presented buffet style, with numerous vegetarian and meat options, always with rice and often noodles or lentils. The food is abundant, tasty, fresh, minimally processed, and locally grown.

Local rice wine, beer and hard spirits are produced, while other imported spirits are available. Locally, much black tea is drunk, and coffee is widely available, but generally instant powdered coffee. Familiar and unfamiliar brands of soft drinks are readily found. Tap water should not be consumed, however bottled water is prevalent.

Cigarettes and smoking are banned in Bhutan, making it the world’s only non-smoking country. Visitors are permitted to import one carton of cigarettes. The duty levied on this carton is $US50. It is recommended that foreigners smoke discreetly.

The altitude can be initially challenging for some visitors. The airport, located in Paro is at 7,300 feet. Many of the towns are at similar altitudes, and there are passes at over 10,000 feet that are traversed by vehicle.

The national currency is the NGULTRUM, pronounced NULTRUM. The ngultrum is on par with the Indian rupee, and presently, one US dollar equals 62 ngultrum. When shopping, merchants prefer ngultrum, but some will accept dollars. There are ATM’s in Bhutan, where one can withdraw ngultrums only. Some merchants now accept credit cards (Visa and Mastercard, usually with a 3% surcharge), visitors are encouraged to carry some cash, as ATM's are not always reliable (though more and more reliable with each passing year). Traveler's checks generally are not used in Bhutan.

Tipping is expected for the guides and drivers and need be factored into the budget. The standard rate for the guide is $US10 per day, and for the driver $US 5 per day. Hotel housekeeping staff receive about $US 2-3 per day.

Restaurant staff are not tipped. When visiting monasteries a monk will show visitors the altar, where Bhutanese traditionally leave offerings. Visitors may also leave offerings in the form of money. The equivalent of a dollar is acceptable, though in local currency. The Bhutanese are very humble and gracious when accepting gratuities. CHAMPACA JOURNEYS is happy to address all your Bhutan travel questions. A journey to this most extraordinary country will provide you with a lifetime of favorable memories. Please join us so that you can form your own lasting memories.

TASHI DELEK (may good things come to you), common Bhutanese greeting.