Bhutan Travel Guide

VISITING BHUTAN: 

Climate: 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 valleys of Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Mongar, Trashigang, and Lhuentse enjoy a semi-tropical climate with cool winters, whilst Paro, Thimphu, Trongsa, 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 (mid-November till mid-March) is dry and sunny for the most part with daytime temperatures of 16-18C (60-65F). The spring season (mid-March to mid-June) offers warmer temperatures gradually warming to 27-29C (80-84F). 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. 

Language: 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.

Time: Bhutan time is 6 hours ahead of GMT and there is only one-time zone throughout the

country.

Health

Inoculations: No vaccinations are currently required for traveling to Bhutan. However, it is advisable to have tetanus, typhoid, and hepatitis A shots. 

Precautions: Avoid drinking unboiled water or ice cubes, amoebae and Giardia are quite common. People prone to car sickness should bring appropriate medicine as the winding roads on the mountains have plenty of curves and turns. Anti-malarial medication is also recommended for all travelers who will be visiting rural areas of districts bordering India.

Tobacco/Smoking: Buying and selling of tobacco products are banned in Bhutan. Visitors may bring in 200 cigarettes for their own use, on payment of import duty of 200%.

Travel/Medical Insurance: All visitors are advised to get their own medical/travel or any other relevant insurance before visiting Bhutan as we do not have this facility here. We strongly advise travelers to get a comprehensive travel & medical insurance if you are coming on a trek. Your medical/travel insurance must include provision for evacuation by helicopter and repatriation - should this be necessary.

Money: 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. 

image3Credit cards are accepted in some places. Visa and American Express credit cards are more widely accepted than MasterCard. There are bank branches in all major towns. Bank of Bhutan Limited (BOBL) ATMs now allows withdrawal of local currency from Mastercard and Visa (both debit & credit). This service is available only in Paro and Thimphu.

Electricity: In Bhutan, electricity runs on 220/240 volts, with round hole two-pin and three- pin power outlets. In Thimphu, electrical appliance shops stock adapter plugs, but they are unlikely to be available elsewhere.

Communications: IDD calls may be made and received at most accommodations used by Bhutan, and at least in Thimphu, hotel internet access is assured. 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 is public IDD calling booths.  We guides carry satellite phones on the Laya and Lunana treks, where groups are away from regular means of communication for extended periods of time.

GPRS service is available in all 20 Dzongkhag/districts headquarters, some major towns and where ever there is a B-mobile network (national network provider). 

EDGE service is available in all 20 Dzongkhag /districts headquarters and some major towns. 

3G service is available only in Thimphu. 

GSM 1800-900 service is available in all 20 Dzongkhag /districts and major towns (other GSM bandwidths not available in Bhutan)

The average speed for 3G/GPRS & EDGE are as follows:

* For GPRS data service, the data speed range is from 30kbps to 40kbps

* For EDGE data service, the data speed range is from 100kbps to 130 kbps

* For 3G data service, the data speed range is from 550kbps to 1mbps

Accommodation: Most hotels in Bhutan are 2-3 star and a few are luxury five-star resorts (available at Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey, Bumthang). The standard accommodations all offer the necessary facilities and are properly maintained. Generally speaking, hotels in western Bhutan are better appointed, while accommodation establishments in the central and eastern part of the country are more modest, with fewer amenities. 

We had carefully selected the list of accommodation units with the best of location, service, and ambiance. Away from the towns and villages, there are purpose-built cabins on some of the principal trekking routes. But there is nothing like camping out in the forest or at the foot of a mountain! Wherever you spend the night, the warm Bhutanese hospitality will make you feel welcome.

Food: Bhutanese delicacies are rich with spicy chilies and cheese. All hotels and lodges on we selected list of accommodations offer delicious Chinese, Continental, Bhutanese and Indian cuisine.

For trekking groups, we own trained cooks will prepare dishes suitable to western taste in the above range, and every effort will be made to accommodate the individual dietary preferences of your clients. Please give some advance notice of any special dietary requirements so that we can make appropriate arrangements when the catering team assembles provisions.

What to pack:

Clothing: 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. You will be offending people if you walk around in skimpy or tight fitting clothes. Shorts are not welcomed and women are advised to wear below the knee skirts or fairly loose trousers. Do not wear sleeveless T shirts (singlets, vests) as outer garments. Dress modestly and respectfully for visits to monasteries, dzongs and other religious institutions. Hats, caps etc. should be removed before entering the premises.

Shoes: Bring comfortable sports shoes for light hikes & sightseeing; hiking boots for treks; semi formal shoes for dinners/appointments/functions.

Others: Sunglasses/spare glasses, knife, hat, umbrella, camera, films and accessories (including spare camera batteries), insect repellent, hand cream, small sewing kit & safety pins, flash light (w/spare batteries), mirror, scissors, sun cream, sun burn relief cream, lip salve, soluble aspirin, antiseptic cream, antihistamine cream, anti-diarrhoea pills, altitude & car sickness medicine and any medication you take regularly, or might need to take for a periodically recurring condition, such as asthma.

Trekkers: Bring the sleeping bag and Thermarest; comfortable trekking boots which have already been broken in and plenty of socks (woolen socks dry quicker than cotton ones). Also bring a water bottle, rain/wind proof jacket and plastic bags for packing clothes while on trek (plastic bags are banned in Bhutan). Duffle bags or bags without wheels or trolleys should be brought to pack you belongs while on treks (this is much easier for the ponies to carry).

Customs

Visitors are required to complete a passenger declaration form for checking by concerned officers on arrival. The following articles are exempt from duty: 

(a)  Personal articles for day to day use by the visitor

(b)  Instruments, apparatus or appliances for professional use

(c)  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 restrictions of the following goods are strictly prohibited:

(a)  Arms, ammunitions, and explosives

image14(b)  All narcotics and drugs except medically prescribed drugs

(c)  Wildlife products, especially those of endangered species

(d)  Antiques

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. Amen Bhutan’s advice 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 and Phuntsholing. 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 200 sticks of the cigarette/1 carton and you will be charged a 200% import duty. Failing to declare tobacco products will result in a fine or

imprisonment.  You are allowed 1 liter of Alcohol which must be declared and a 100% import duty will be charged at the airport in Paro or if traveling by road at the Immigration/Customs check points in Samdrup Jongkar and Phuntsholing. 

Photography: The photographic opportunities on all trips are immense. Outdoor photography is usually permitted, but photography is generally not permitted when visiting shrine rooms of Dzongs, monasteries and religious institutions. Please check with your guide before taking any photographs. You will also wish to record the local people, their houses, and shops etc., always ask by a gesture if it is alright to do so. Don’t take your destination as a living museum!

ETIQUETTE FOR VISITS TO DZONGS, MONASTERIES, TEMPLES & FESTIVALS

Clothing & behavior Dress neatly and modestly (covered arms, no shorts or short skirts) and do not wear a hat in 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

Shopping: Hand-woven textiles, carved masks, woven baskets, wooden bowls, handmade paper products, finely crafted metal objects, Thangka paintings and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps are the items mostly purchased by travelers in Bhutan. The buying and selling of antiques is strictly forbidden

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