Expert Travel Tips for your Bhutan Holiday

Visas
Currency
Tipping
Healthcare
Drinking Water
Food & Drink
Clothing
Cameras & Photography
Drivers & Road Transport
Shopping
Language
Social Conventions & Etiquette

Bhutanese visas are only issued on arrival, but tourists must apply in advance through their tour operator and receive visa approval before travelling.

We handle all the Bhutanese visa formalities for our clients, and the official visa fee is included in your quote.

Keep a photocopy of your passport visa pages and flight ticket separate from the originals when travelling.

The Bhutanese currency is the Ngultrum (denoted by the symbol Nu.) which is pegged to the Indian Rupee (₹1 = 1Nu). Indian rupees are accepted in lieu of the local currency throughout Bhutan.

We recommend carrying US Dollars or Indian Rupees into Bhutan, as GBP is not commonly accepted. There are bank branches in all major towns. Major hotels are also able to exchange foreign currency.

When converting foreign currency into Ngultrum, keep the receipts (encashment certificates) as these may come in handy when reconverting leftover currency on departure.

Currency notes in regular circulation are in denominations of Nu.1, Nu.5, Nu.10, Nu.20, Nu.50, Nu.100, Nu.500 and Nu.1000.

Coins are rarely encountered due to their low value.

Our recommendation is to exchange or buy £100-£200 when you arrive, including some notes of low denominations (Nu.10, Nu.20, Nu.50, Nu.100) for small purchases and tips.

Credit Cards and ATMs

 

Credit card use and ATMs is not as prevalent as in India. A few outlets in Thimphu accept credit cards, but may add a surcharge, so it is advisable to carry a reasonable amount of cash to cover daily expenditure. We recommend allowing for around £40 towards daily expenses.

Tipping is not compulsory. Hotels and restaurant bills include service charges and do not expect further tipping.

Tipping is entirely at your discretion; however, our general recommendations are (per couple):

  • Guide - $10 per day
  • Driver- $5 per day
  • Junior trekking staff (cooks etc) - $5-8 per day for a short trek.

Please avoid personally handing out coins for tipping, as they are generally of very low monetary value, and offering them may be considered disrespectful.

If you simply wish to get rid of unwanted change, put them in charity boxes or tip boxes.

 

We advise consulting your GP for health precautions/vaccinations and malaria prophylactics.

We recommend you carry basic medicines like paracetamol, ibuprofen, travel sickness tablets, anti-diarrhoea tablets, insect repellent and sun creams, as it may be tricky to obtain these outside Thimpu and Paro.  

If you are on regular prescription medication, please carry enough supplies to cover your holiday, and carry your prescription (or at least a photo of it on your mobile) in case you have to top up at a local pharmacy, or are asked for it at an airport during bag checks.

Protect yourself from sunburn by using sunscreens with a high sun protection factor (SPF), sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats. Use calamine lotion (available easily) for treating mild sunburn.

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

Please consult your GP about AMS when planning to travel to high altitude areas. AMS affects all age groups and can strike anyone including the physically fit. Acclimatization and gradual altitude gain will greatly reduce risks. Early signs of acute mountain sickness include headache, nausea, loss of appetite and insomnia. It is recommended to rest for a day and descend if the signs persist.

Please avoid drinking tap water. Almost all hotels will be able to provide UV-filtered/UV-treated water, which is a safe alternative to using bottled water if you wish to reduce single use plastic.

We recommend that you use Water-to-go bottles to fill up on your holiday. Using these handy bottles goes a long way in reducing single use plastic, while keeping you safely hydrated no matter where you are in the world.

When taking ice in drinks, check that it is made with UV-filtered water.

Bhutanese food relies heavily on meat, dairy, rice, vegetables and lots of red chillies, which are viewed as vegetables rather than seasoning.

"Emadatse" (chilli and cheese stew) is the national dish, and consists of spicy chillies (ema) and cheese sauce.

In most hotels, you will find set meals, with milder versions of local vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, prepared to suit the western palate. If you are not accustomed to spicy food, we recommend you eat moderately for the first few days to acclimatise. If a dish is spicier than you’d like, consuming plain yoghurt (more commonly called "curd") is more effective in soothing the palate than water or beer. Freshly cut tropical fruits for dessert is a good choice in good hotels and restaurants.

If in doubt about eating peeled fruit, fresh bananas are available everywhere as a safe option for soothing digestion, and oranges are great for keeping yourself hydrated on warm days.

Note: Tobacco sale is not permitted in Bhutan, and smoking in most places is banned.

Tourists can smoke only using the supplies they have bought before entering Bhutan, and only in private.

Most restaurants and hotels, including exclusive ones, do not insist on formal wear and smart casuals are acceptable.

During the day it is best to wear light, comfortable clothes with a pair of good walking shoes and socks. Loosely fitting light clothes that cover your limbs are better in warm weather as they provide protection from sunburn, and come in handy for adhering to regulations for visiting religious monuments and places of worship.

Sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat will also be useful.

At religious monuments/temples/mosques, sleeveless tops, shorts and short skirts are unlikely to be allowed. You will often be asked to remove your shoes, but it is perfectly acceptable to keep your socks on to protect from any dirt, or paving stones which often get uncomfortably hot.

Carry a pair of slippers for indoor use, as not all floors are carpeted.

In wildlife reserves, please wear neutral colours like khaki, green, beige or brown. During monsoons, leeches may be encountered while trekking or nature walks. It is advisable to carry leech socks and rain-gear if trekking during the monsoons.

Winter temperatures in Northern India, Nepal and Bhutan can be quite low and adequate warm clothing is required.

Winter morning safaris in these regions can get bitterly cold. Gloves, caps, and dressing up in layers is recommended. As the day progresses the temperatures rise quickly, and you can remove some layers.

Photography inside religious monuments is strictly forbidden.

Do not take pictures of people without asking permission. Photography within airports, of military installations, bridges and at "sensitive" border areas are not permitted.

Road journeys can be slow due to the mountainous terrain. The East-West Road can be affected by landslides. The spectacular scenery is a great compensation. With your private vehicle and driver, you have complete freedom to stop enroute to stretch your legs, or take photographs.

Our drivers are reliable, careful and trustworthy. They drive sensibly, leaving a bit of extra time for their journeys. They are trained to use discretion while using the horn.

All drivers carry a mobile phone, and if you wish to make a local call, they’ll be happy to let you use their phones. You should always obtain your driver’s mobile phone number; in case you need to contact him out of hours during the trip for any reason.

All our drivers have a good grasp of English and can assist you on your journey and relieve any boredom by helping you understand local customs or sharing snippets from Bhutan’s history.

All our vehicles are in good condition and air-conditioned with saloon-style cars usually provided for couples and minivans for groups of friends or families.

We recommend downloading ‘offline’ maps for your holiday on your phone, if you wish to track your progress along the route.

Our drivers are given a daily allowance for board and lodging for each night of their journey. Some choose to stay in staff accommodation provided by the hotel you are staying in (often a bed in an onsite dormitory), and others prefer finding alternative accommodation nearby.

At the end of each day, it is good practice to discuss meet up times and plans for the next day with your driver, to incorporate any minor changes to the route and ensure there are no surprises or delays.

Every region of the Indian subcontinent is a shopper’s paradise. Fabrics, gemstones, carpets, linen, handicrafts, wood carvings, miniature paintings and much more. If you wish to make big or specific purchases, please talk to us, the tour leader or guides who can advise on where best to buy particular items, or provide a list of recommended shops which offer quality products.

You can also make small ad-hoc purchases at markets, practice your bargaining skills and have fun. Remember to bargain fairly, especially for handcrafted objects and paintings take a lot of skill and time to execute for an artisan who may be earning less than what an average tourist will spend on a holiday.  

Most retailers are happy to package and ship bulky purchases to your home address. When making expensive purchases, check if any import duties are payable on your return.

Bhutan's official language is Dzongkha, but several other languages are also spoken. English is widely understood and spoken by people involved in tourism.

Right across the Indian subcontinent, from modern, confident Indian cities to remote Bhutanese villages, society and attitudes are changing. To those familiar with contemporary scenarios, many of the “Do’s and Don’ts” that fill up pages in fat guide books seem based on archaic assumptions or misinterpretations, or just written with such abundant caution so as to not upset the most sensitive of the orthodox locals.

Our view is that above all else, politeness, courtesy and common sense should guide your interactions. By and large, people across the subcontinent are generous, friendly and forgiving of a tourist’s faux-pas and unfamiliarity with local customs. One shouldn’t worry excessively if one accidentally used the wrong hand to hand over something to someone, asked for a fork in a restaurant where others were using their fingers to eat, forgot to sit cross-legged somewhere, or giggled at the wrong time.

Having said that, it makes sense to be aware of the main social and cultural scenarios where you may need to behave appropriately to conform wherever possible.

  • Greetings – It is uncommon for women to shake hands, but acceptable for you to do so if a lady offers her hand first. Traditional greetings across the subcontinent are with the hands folded upwards in front of the chest, accompanied optionally with the word ‘Namaste’ in India and Nepal, and ‘Ayubowan’ in Sri Lanka.

 

  • Clothing – Dressing modestly will avoid unwanted attention, upsetting local sensitivities, and being prevented from entering religious places. Vests, short skirts, tightly fitting tops are best avoided unless the day’s itinerary is fairly private.

 

  • Visiting places of worship - Follow instructions regarding removal of shoes, dressing modestly (generally implying no bare shoulders, midriff, knees or calves), covering or uncovering your head, removing leather items (wallets, belts), direction of walking (mostly clockwise around Buddhist and Hindu structures) and restrictions on smoking, consuming alcohol and photography.

 

  • Giving alms in religious places - The giving of alms to holy men and the needy in the vicinity of religious places is accepted practice across the subcontinent. Sadly, what was an ancient act of nobility and piety is now tinged with exploitative begging, and harassment of tourists. There is no obligation to give, and giving to one inevitably attracts more seekers. Decline firmly and politely, or just walk away avoiding eye contact. If you find yourself in a situation which is making you uncomfortable, seek assistance from your guide.

 

  • Displays of affection – Everyone, regardless of orientation should exercise discretion. Public displays of affection are not appreciated.

 

  • Conversations – Local people may seem overly inquisitive at times; some may ask what would be considered personal questions in the west. Be open-minded, maintain a sense of humour and deflect politely anything you really don’t wish to share.

 

  • Avoid political and religious debates, or making adverse comments on the monarchy and aspects of local life.

 

  • If you see a prayer flagpole on the ground waiting to be erected, walk around it rather than stepping over it which is considered very disrespectful.

 

  • Don’t stray onto the dance ground at Tsechus (festivals) in search of the perfect spot to sit or take pictures. It is considered very bad form.

Our Accommodation Ratings

Opulent: Exceptional, unashamedly the best of sheer luxury. (£££££)

Luxury: Outstanding levels of 5* comfort, hospitality and facilities. (££££)

Premium: Excellent levels of comfort and hospitality and a wide range of facilities. (£££)

Mid-Range: Good levels of comfort and hospitality, with a reasonable range of facilities. (££)

Simple: Clean and simple, no frills. Often in areas of natural beauty or near wildlife reserves. (£)