11 Things You Must Know Before Going On Bhutan Vacations
Nestled on the eastern edge of the Himalayas, Bhutan is a country that doesn’t show up on most people’s radars when they think of a vacation destination in Asia. Bhutan is the most underrated destination in Asia that offers so many sights to see and things to learn. Bhutan vacations will offer you some of the most memorable experiences of your life and will test your courage, as well as your willpower, to the max.
Being a westerner all your life, traveling to Bhutan for the first time will come to a cultural shock because the traditions and practices in the country are hardly advertised on television. One of the reasons for it is that Bhutan has always been a hidden paradise, away from the coverage of televisions and radio, up until the early 1990s.
For adventure travelers looking for new adventures while exploring the wilderness and soaking up different cultures, Bhutan vacations are the best choice! The leisure travel guides bring you the 11 most interesting facts and important things that you must know before you commence your amazing Bhutan Vacation!
1. You need a Visa to get there
Unless you are from The Maldives, Bangladesh, or India, you will need a visa for your Bhutan Vacation. Citizens of the above-mentioned countries can travel to Bhutan without a visa. However, people from any other part of the world need to have their visas approved by the government before traveling to Bhutan.
2. There is a $250 per day policy
Getting a visa for your Bhutan Vacation will cost you $250 for a day. This may seem a bit expensive but wait till you learn what it actually means. The government of Bhutan is focusing their tourism on a lower volume of tourists while offering a greater value in terms of the overall experience. In a way, this makes your Bhutan vacations that much distinctive.
The $250 per day charge of the visa is not just for entering the country. This cost basically equals all-inclusive luxury Bhutan vacation packages. It includes everything you would need on your trip, such as three-star hotel accommodations, private transport in a 4x4, a travel guide, driver fee, meals, packaged water, as well an entrance fee to most places. In addition to this, $65 out of the visa amount goes directly to the government as a Royal fee for the country’s infrastructure.
However, this fee doesn’t include the cost of any additional drinks you may purchase, such as beers and alcohol. Along with any additional tips, cost of souvenirs, and travelers insurance. However, you have the freedom to upgrade your accommodations to 5-star hotels on your Bhutan Vacations, but you will have to pay the difference if the cost of your hotel goes above $50. In our experience, most 3-star hotels in the city offer satisfactory services for your trip.
3. You can only travel with a Tour Company
In addition to the $250 per day visa fee, there is another factor that may come as a shock to most backpackers and budget travelers out there. You cannot go on your Bhutan vacations without a travel guide. Tourists traveling to Bhutan must hire a tour guide or book a Bhutan vacation package through a travel company.
However, the restriction only applies to travels from one city to another. Although, in our experience, having tour guides on your Bhutan vacations is a good thing, as they help you navigate through the country, offer you insights and information on the history and culture of the regions to enrich your experience.
4. Flights are Limited (watch the Everest from the flight)
Bhutan is quite a small country in terms of area, and most of it is in the form of rocky hills. This is why there is only one airport in the country, in the city of Paro. There are only a few airlines that can fly you into Bhutan, namely, Buddha Air, Druk Air, and Bhutan Airlines. The flights are usually chartered planes and are only available from a handful of places including, Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Nepal. However, you can still take a flight to Assam and enter Bhutan by land transport.
Though, in my personal experience taking a flight to Bhutan is an experience in itself, as the airstrip is nestled in the mountains and under the right weather conditions, you may even catch a glimpse of Mount Everest from your flight.
5. The country is obsessed with phalluses
One of the most shocking revelations which we encountered on one of our Bhutan vacations was the country’s alarming phallic obsession. Throughout your trip, you will encounter multiple paintings, sculpture, and souvenirs in the shape of a penis.
It is not sexual in any way. In fact, it is a part of their culture, and there is even a temple dedicated to it, called Chime Lhakhang. According to our guide, people in Bhutan worship phalluses, as per the teachings of a Buddhist monk known as Drukpa Kunley. Women visit the temple and perform rituals where they cradle a wooden block in the shape of a phallus and walk around the temple in order to pray for a healthy child and to treat infertility.
It comes as no surprise that Bhutan is quite a religious country, and therefore there are many laws and restrictions all over the country to protect the sanctity of sacred places. One important thing to keep in mind while planning your Bhutan vacations is that hiking and trekking in the mountains are only allowed up to an elevation of 6000m. Climbing peaks above the 6000-meter mark are off-limits and restricted as mountains are considered sacred in Bhutan. Bhutanese people consider mountain peaks to be the realm of the divine deities, and entering their territory can bring bad luck in the form of devastating natural calamities. There are, however, many peaks and hills that you can explore under the 6000-meter limit that offer some of the most breathtaking views and can give you quite a workout.
7. Smoking can Land you in a lot of trouble
The sale of tobacco and its products has been banned throughout Bhutan for quite some time. However, tourists are allowed to carry up to 200 cigarettes into the country. Another thing to be kept in mind on your Bhutan vacations is that smoking in public areas can literally land you in jail for up to 3 years. However, there are many designated smoking areas in the cities, bars, and clubs where you can smoke.
In addition to tobacco, smoking marijuana is also a no-go when in Bhutan. Although the cannabis plant grows in abundance throughout the country, there is hardly anyone in Bhutan who uses it for recreational purposes.
8. Don’t disrespect the Royals
Bhutan recently became a constitutional monarchy from a complete monarchy in the late 2000s. What's even more interesting is that people in Bhutan consider the Royal family as reincarnations of god, and disrespecting them can land you in a lot of trouble.
9. Get a local SIM
Bhutan’s infrastructure is still in developing stages, and therefore you may find it a bit hard to get reception from your primary network provider. Instead, you can ask your tour guide to help you out and get yourself a local SIM during your visit so that you can stay connected with your family and friends on your Bhutan vacations.
10. Remember to withdraw some Cash
During your Bhutan Vacation, you may find it a bit difficult to get your hands on some cash as there are not a lot of ATMs, even in the major city. Those that work often have long queues and allow you to withdraw only a certain amount. You can, however, go to a currency exchange as soon as you land in the country and get some cash for your trip.
11. Be mindful of what you wear
No, there is no dress code for traveling through the country. However, when entering sacred places or municipal buildings called ‘dzongs,’ you will only be allowed to enter if you are wearing the appropriate attire. Tourists and locals need to wear full-length pants and shirts along with completely covered footwear before entering the ‘dzongs’ or any monastery.
Our private tours typically range from $500 - $1000 per person/per night depending on chosen hotels and room categories, vehicles used, types of tours, flight cost, time of year and other factors. Make an inquiry for a customized trip quote.