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What to expect
Bhutan is a breathtakingly beautiful country, with dramatic mountain scenery and fascinating monasteries, fortresses and temples. Its isolation has created a unique culture steeped in ancient beliefs, with a strong Tibetan-Buddhist influence evident throughout the country.
Bhutan is a high altitude country, so it is important to allow yourself time to acclimatise to the lower oxygen levels. Visitor facilities and infrastructure may not be what you have experienced in other more visited Asian destinations, and sometimes schedules need to change to accommodate unexpected occurrences, such as local festivities.
Accommodation will be cosy and comfortable, and on par with Western-style accommodation, though with local touches. Road travel may be slow through the mountains, however roads are generally in good condition.
approximately 10 hours
Banks, public offices and some tourist sites will be closed on the holidays listed here. As major holidays are set according to the lunar calendar, dates change every year. Please check with our the UK-based Asia specialists for details.
on the seventh day of the eleventh month of the Tibetan calendar is the winter solstice, celebrated by some Bhutanese like the new year. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
January/February - the Traditional Day of Offering
is marked, where Bhutan's citizens give thanks to the founder of their country. It is celebrated with feasting and participation in traditional sports, like archery. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
February/March - Losar
is the Tibetan new year, a huge 15 day celebration where people clean out their homes and prepare food and drink. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is a holiday celebrating the birthday of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the current head of state. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
April/May - Shabdrung Kurchoe
is held, a national day of mourning for a Tibetan Buddhist lama who unified Bhutan in the 1600s. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is the birth anniversary of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, Bhutan's third king. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is the coronation day of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan's fourth king. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is Parinirvana Day, commemorating the day when Buddha was said to have achieved complete nirvana upon the death of his physical body. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
10 July celebrates the birthday of Guru Rinpoche
the founder of Bhutan. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is a holiday marking Buddha's first sermon. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
September - Blessed Rainy Day
marks the end of the monsoon and beginning of the harvest season. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is a holiday celebrating Dashain, the main Nepalese and Hindu festival, where houses are cleaned and families gather. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
celebrates the coronation of Bhutan's fifth and current king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
marks the birthday of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan's fourth king. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
Lhabab Duchen marks Buddha's return to earth after attaining nirvana. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
is National Day. Celebrations include a public address by the king and a procession. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
Health & Fitness
Travellers to Bhutan should take precautions as they would elsewhere in Asia. Western medical facilities are limited and effectively available only in the capital. In remote areas, medical facilities are basic. Some of the diseases known to exist in Bhutan include hepatitis A and B, typhoid, tuberculosis, Japanese encephalitis, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, rabies and HIV/AIDS.
We recommend you take adequate preventative measures to minimise your risk of exposure to these health risks. You should also consult your doctor with regard to malaria risk. We strongly recommend you consult your preferred doctor for the most up-to-date health advice at least one month prior to travel.
All foreign tourists to Bhutan require a visa. Independent travel is not permitted in Bhutan; you must apply for a tourist visa in advance through a licensed tour operator and receive approval before you travel to Bhutan. Visas are issued only when you arrive in the country, either at Paro airport or (if entering by road) at Phuentsholing.
Please note Bhutanese visa regulations and arrangements are subject to change and it is your responsibility to ensure your visa is in order before you travel. We strongly suggest that you check with the relevant embassies in your country of residence that these guidelines are applicable to you.
Safety and security
Bhutan is a safe country, however petty street crime occasionally occurs. Throughout your stay, always keep a photocopy of your passport, airline tickets and credit card numbers. These documents should be kept in a safe place separate from the originals.
You should leave valuables in hotel safety deposit boxes wherever possible. It is best to wear minimal jewellery and to keep your spending money close to your body in a secure place when out on the street. Read our safety guidelines for further information.
The Raven Crown by Michael Aris
an informative book chronicling the Wangchuck Dynasty, who have ruled Bhutan for over 100 years. It also features over 100 rare historic photographs.
Beyond the Sky and the Earth by Jamie Zeppa
an evocative and spiritual memoir of a young woman's time living and teaching in Bhutan, and falling in love with a local man along the way.
Treasures of the Thunder Dragon by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk
a photographic journey highlighting Bhutan's beauty, from its ancient fortresses to colourful festivals. It features areas of Bhutan seldom seen by Western visitors.
The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden
by the first Bhutanese woman to write a novel in English, this book captures a slice of 1950s Bhutan and the restrictive gender roles found in the country pre-modernisation.
Dreams of the Peaceful Dragon by Katie Hickman
an account of a year travelling in the remote eastern part of Bhutan, including encounters with lamas, hermits and a sorceress.
Bhutan Kingdom of the Dragon by Robert Dompnier
a French photographer's beautiful photos of Bhutan and its people, with a particular emphasis on people going about their everyday lives.
Useful words & phrases
Hello (or hi)
How are you?
Cho Gadebe yo
What is your name?
Cho meng gaci mo
My name is…
Where do you come from?
Cho gati la mo?
I come from...
Can I take a photo
Pa tabney chokar la?
Where is the toilet?
Chapsa gati in-na?
Arrival and departure transfers
Arrival Transfer: If you have booked an arrival transfer for your holiday in Bhutan, you will find your driver waiting for you at Paro International Airport. He or she will be wearing an Insider Journeys t-shirt and carrying an Insider Journeys signboard with your name on it.
Road: Road travel is the only way to get around Bhutan. There is no domestic flight service and no trains. Due to the mountainous terrain, roads in Bhutan are quite winding and not suitable for large buses. Instead, you will travel in comfortable minivans or minibuses. Taxis are available in Thimpu and Paro but not generally in other areas.
Other: Much of your day-to-day exploring in Bhutan will be done on foot. Sturdy, comfortable footwear is advisable as there could be many steps and stone paths.
Internet: Most hotels have a business centre with computer access, and some have WiFi. There are internet cafes throughout Bhutan.
Telephone: Mobile reception is generally good, though you will need to check with your provider to ensure roaming is available. You may prefer to purchase a sim card on arrival in Bhutan. You can make IDD calls from most hotels.
Food & drink
Bhutan's cuisine shares many similarities with those of its Himalayan neighbours. Lentils, rice and vegetables play starring roles, and a lot of dishes feature chilli, sometimes toned down for visitors. Outside larger towns there are limited dining options outside hotels.
Tap water should not be consumed, but bottled water is readily available. Soft drinks and beer can be found for purchase, however wine is considerably expensive in Bhutan. Western snack foods are in limited supply, but most towns have a bakery.
We believe tipping is a great way to show your appreciation for receiving great service, and while it is accepted practice in Asia, it should never feel like an obligation. At the beginning of each trip, your Western tour leader or local guide will ask for a small sum (around 50 cents a day) to cover tips for hotel porters and boat crews throughout the trip.
This helps prevent over tipping and having to always carry small change. We are confident that you will be extremely happy with the service you receive from our guides, drivers and tour leaders, and in many cases will choose to show this through a tip, so we do not include compulsory tipping for any Insider Journeys representatives on any of our trips. The choice to tip is always completely up to you.
Not surprisingly, there are few opportunities for swimming in landlocked Bhutan, and very few hotels have swimming pools. There are some local hot stone baths where stones are used to heat spring water, said to have a therapeutic effect.