Any country that takes their ‘Gross National Happiness‘ seriously, should be high on your travel bucket list. Bhutan, a Kingdom nestled in the Himalayas was one of the most magical places I have ever visited. It is not an ‘easy holiday’ as it can become pricey and depending on your location, tricky to access. Here are my top tips on how to plan a trip to Bhutan and what you need when you get there
Your guide is important
You aren’t allowed to wander around Bhutan unaccompanied, you must have an official tour guide. You can join a group tour or pay more for a private guide. I was lucky enough to be referred to an amazing Bhutanese guide, Tharchu Drukpa from Happiness Journey Bhutan. He had set up his own agency, meaning there was no middleman, he booked all the activities and hotels directly for me. I highly recommend him, not only did he provide easy direction, adapted the trip for my needs and gave sound advice, he was also great company on our journey to Bhutan. We chose to do a five night adventure but you could do it in as small as four nights if you were in a rush. I felt we had the perfect itinerary and we covered off the main highlights during our five days . You can contact Tharchu through either his Facebook page or website.
Factor in price $$
Visiting Bhutan isn’t cheap as you need to pay a tourist tax. This can be deducted off the cost of your hotel etc but at the end of the day you are still paying at least USD 60 per day extra for the privilege of being allowed in Bhutan.
In terms of currency, we brought in USD. Make sure to bring small denomination so you can tip. You should also factor in tip money for your guide and driver at the end of the trip.
Book in advance
You can only access Bhutan by flying with either Druk Air or Bhutan Airlines from 6 or 7 cities (Bangkok, Singapore, Kathmandu, several in India). This means that flights can get booked up in peak periods. Same goes for hotels. We booked our trip last-minute (about 3 weeks prior to leaving) which meant that we didn’t always have first choice of hotels.
When to go to Bhutan?
The peak tourist seasons are Spring: March – May and Fall: September – November. In particular, March, April, October and November are especially busy. If you’re considering visiting during these months, it’s best to book your tour package and flight tickets at least 3 months ahead to ensure your reservation.
Monsoon season is July to August and the best months for trekking are April, May, September and October.
Tourism Council of Bhutan has a useful planning list including public holidays and precautions. You may also want to time your visit with one of the numerous festivals, which will showcase colourful dances etc.
What to pack?
It’s all about the layers as when you visit the dzongs and temples, you will need to dress modestly (covering arms and legs). Don’t pack complicated shoes that take ages to remove as you’ll also have to take these off when you step inside the temples.
We visited during May and the weather got quite hot. Don’t forget to pack your hat and suntan lotion.
On the whole we found the toilets to be clean but it’s always worth packing hand sanitiser and tissues.
For the hikes you may need proper walking shoes. For the Tiger’s Nest climb you can get away with regular trainers.
If you get travel sick, you may want to bring medication as there are some winding roads e.g between Thimphu and Punakha. Also the more remote you go, the worse the condition of the roads. Where we travelled (Paro/Thimphu/Punakha) the roads were all excellent. However beyond that in the words of our guide, ‘be prepared for a bumpy massage’.
Be upfront with your guide
If you are on a private tour, make the most of your visit to Bhutan. Share your needs and interests with the guide and they will adapt accordingly. If you are bored with visiting temples then speak up!
How’s the food?
We loved the food! According to our guide, some tourists are put off as they think Bhutanese food is too spicy. I thought the food was excellent and not spicy at all (aside from the odd curry). We had excellent meals, a highlight being the local momo (dumpling). Your guide will have a series of pre-arranged meals at hotels and tourist restaurants. If you want to go off the beaten track and try more local food, just tell him to arrange that for you.
What should I see in Bhutan?
Here’s the beauty of Jetlag & Mayhem, why not copy my itinerary from Happiness Journey Bhutan and see what tickles your fancy?