Tips on travelling to Bhutan from Kinlay Dorji
How well do you know Bhutan?
I was born in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, and I've spent my entire life here, apart from the three years I spent studying in India. However, after I established my company, I got to travel extensively in and around Bhutan. I enjoy learning new things about my country while sharing my knowledge with visitors.
What is the appeal of Bhutan for travellers?
Bhutan is a very small country of about 774,830 people and it is often dwarfed in fame by its neighbours, India and China. But what makes Bhutan appealing is its setting, against the majestic Himalayas. It's also largely untouched by mass tourism; Bhutan is authentically itself and there are so many new experiences in store for visitors to our country.
The countryâ€™s natural beauty is unparalleled, with almost 70 percent of Bhutan covered in forest, and in order to preserve it we have become the world's first carbon negative country.
We also have a rich history of rule by Buddhist monarchs, and the country has a mystical and profoundly peaceful atmosphere. This is best experienced in our mountaintop monasteries which overlook forests and valleys. Bhutan is known by many as The Last Shangrila, paradise on earth.
When is the best time to visit the country?
The best time to visit Bhutan is from March to May or September to November, when it is neither too hot nor too cold and the humidity is low. This is the high season for visitors. However, the low season can be a good time to visit to avoid the crowds. However, temperatures from June to August are high and the monsoon season sets in, while January and February are particularly cold months.
Anything special I should pack for travel to Bhutan?
There is nothing special to be packed other than clothing appropriate for the season . However, as a word of advice, bring an external hard drive as you will be taking a lot of memories with you.
What's the best way to get around?
Bhutan is a landlocked country so visitors will need to fly in . Visitors can make their entry from Thailand, Singapore, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal. All international flights from these countries will arrive and depart from Paro International airport in Bhutan.Travellers who wish to enter over land can fly into Bagdora Airport in India and travel by road across the border into Bhutan.
What are your top three attractions?
Taktsang Monastery is built over half a mile above ground, and clings to cliffs of a Himalayan mountainside. Padmasambhava, a Buddhist saint, is said to have flown to the site on the back of a tiger, bringing with him the Buddhist teachings of dharma.
The second attraction is Kuensel Phodrang, in the capital city. It is home to the tallest sitting Buddha statue in the world, which was constructed with the help of foreign aid.
Lastly, I would recommend Punakha Dzong, also known as the â€˜Palace of Great Happiness'. It lies on an island between the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, which mean male and female, respectively. Bhutan's present king and queen were married at Punakha Dzong.
Anything or anywhere travellers should avoid in Bhutan?
Smoking is very frowned upon in Bhutan and tourists will not be able to buy tobacco products in the country. They can bring in their own supply if they pay a 200 percent tax when they arrive, but they should not smoke in public spaces.
Anything I should be aware of as a visitor in terms of local customs/traditions?
As such there is nothing important to be worried about concerning local customs/traditions. The Bhutanese are friendly people, which means guests are treated very well.
How safe is Bhutan? What safety measures would you advise visitors take?
Bhutan takes pride in being a happy country, therefore, visitors do not have to worry about safety.
Would you recommend it as a destination for families travelling with kids?
Bhutan is definitely a country where visitors should bring their families. They will feel the presence of Mother Nature and learn about its value. Sleeping under the starry sky every night, breathing the fresh air, and tasting the sweet spring waters will rejuvenate their souls. Mingling with locals will help them discover the importance of a happy life.
What are your favourite restaurants in Bhutan?
Bhutanese people love chillies and love to eat spicy foods. Our national dish is red rice served with chilli and cheese curry. Tourists need not worry as all the hotels and restaurants cater to visitors and serve them our national dish with less chillies and spices. In fact, many past visitors often find themselves missing our country's flavours. My favourite restaurants are Folk Heritage Restaurant, and the Babesa Village Restaurant which I would recommend to every tourist visiting Bhutan because they will be served a wide variety of Bhutanese cuisine.
What are the best souvenirs to buy in Bhutan?
There are plenty of souvenirs to buy in Bhutan. Starting from the colourful, traditional, hand-made paper cards to antiques and art. However, when buying antiques it is always safer to seek advice from your tour representative as Bhutan has strict laws concerning antiques. All shops that sell these items accept Mastercard and Visa cards so that tourists do not have to carry cash.
Is it an expensive city?
Bhutan is not an expensive country. However, the more you pay, the better the service that you will encounter.
Is there anything else about Bhutan you think travellers should know?
Bhutanâ€™s Primary motto for tourism is 'High Value, Low Impact Tourism'. If a visitor wishes to visit Bhutan, they must get in touch with a local tour operator to get their visa.
The tourist tariff rates are all set by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and local tour operators cannot manipulate the rates. During the High Season the rate set by the TCB is USD 250 per person, and during the low season the rate is USD 200 per person. These rates include all meals, refreshments, trekking equipments, hotel and internal travel (by road), along with an English speaking guide. Tour guides in Bhutan can provide visitors with more detailed information.
Lastly, tourists should take note that Bhutanese Embassies do not issue visas for visiting Bhutan.