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What to expect
Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is a unique destination. This landlocked Himalayan kingdom is devoutly Buddhist, incredibly scenic and wonderfully warm and friendly. Colourful local festivals, ancient monasteries, breathtaking mountain vistas, and welcoming local people are just a taste of what you can expect.
Straddling the Himalayas between Nepal and Tibet, much of Bhutan is at high altitude, so keep this in mind and take it easy your first few days. Travel Indochina guides and tour leaders will give you tips on how to acclimatise. While infrastructure is limited (there is only one main road, the National Highway!), roads are in relatively good condition, and you will find that accommodation is surprisingly comfortable and modern. Schedules can be interrupted by local festivals and weather so some degree of flexibility will serve you well.
approximately 9 hours
approximately 11 hours
From Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane
approximately 12 hours
The Bhutanese love a festival and you are almost certain to encounter one during your travels. Bear in mind that banks, public offices and some tourist sites will be closed and your travel plans may be interrupted. As some holidays are set according to the lunar calendar, dates change every year. Please check with our Australia-based Asia specialists for details.
, Traditional Day of Offering. A day of sport and feasting to give thanks to the country’s founder.
, Losar (lunar new year). This two-week celebration is a time for family, feasting, making offering and cleaning homes in preparation for the year ahead.
, Birthday of the current monarch, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
, Shabdrung Kurchoe. A holiday in memory of the Tibetan lama who unified Bhutan in the 17th Century.
, Birthday of Bhutan’s third monarch, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.
, Coronation of the fourth monarch, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
, Parinirvana Day. Celebrates Buddha’s attainment of nirvana.
, Birthday of Bhutan’s founder, Guru Rinpoche.
, Buddha’s first lecture.
, Blessed Rainy Day. This day marks the beginning of the harvest and the end of the monsoon.
, Dashain. A Hindu festival, celebrating the victory of gods and goddesses over demons. Celebrated with food, dancing and house-cleaning.
, Coronation of current monarch, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.
, Birthday of fourth monarch, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
, Lhabab Duchen. Commemorates Buddha’s return to earth from heaven.
, National Day.
, Winter Solstice.
Health & Fitness
As with travel to other parts of Asia, you need to take a number of health precautions when visiting Bhutan. The following diseases are all known to exist in Bhutan: tetanus, tuberculosis, typhoid, diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, rabies and HIV/AIDS. We strongly recommend you consult your doctor with regards to vaccinations and up-to-date health advice at least a month before you depart.
The best medical facility in Bhutan is in the capital, Thimphu. Treatment is free, even for travellers. In rural areas, it may be difficult to find good medical care. In the even of an emergency, evacuation to Bangkok may be required.
Australian citizens need a visa to travel to Bhutan. Visas are issued on arrival; however, you will need to apply for your visa in advance. Travel Indochina will do this on your behalf once you have booked and paid in full for your Bhutan holiday.
Note: Bhutanese visa regulations are subject to change. We strongly advise that you check with the Indian embassy or consulate closest to you in Australia prior to travel. It is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct visa.
Safety and security
Bhutan is an exceptionally safe country for travellers and incidents of petty theft are rare. Regardless, you should use your common sense as you would anywhere. Make sure your spending money is out of sight and near your body and keep jewellery to a minimum.
While on holiday in Bhutan, always keep a photocopy of your essential documents i.e. passport, airline tickets, credit cards and traveller’s cheques separate from the originals in a safe place. Most hotels have room-safes or deposit boxes at reception where you can store valuables.
If you would like to know more about staying safe when you travel with Travel Indochina, you can read out safety guidelines here.
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 a Travel Indochina t-shirt and carrying a Travel Indochina 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
Bhutanese food has some similarities with Nepalese and Tibetan cuisine, but with a twist. One thing you are sure to notice is that the Bhutanese love chillies – their national dish, emadatse, is basically chilli covered in cheese.
Dishes are predominantly stew-based and feature a range of ingredients. Red meat, poultry, lentils and vegetables are all popular, as is rice – both red and white varieties. Meals are usually served banquet style and vegetarians are generally well catered for.
Suja(salted butter tea) is a popular drink, though it is an acquired taste. The local beer, chang, is popular, as are locally distilled spirits. It’s best to avoid tap water and stick to drinking bottled water instead.
We do believe tipping is a great way to show your appreciation for receiving great service; however, it is a personal matter and should never feel like an obligation.
Tipping is not an ingrained feature of the Bhutanese tourism industry, though it is becoming more accepted. If you are joining a Small Group Tour to Bhutan, your Western tour leader or local guide or will ask for a small sum at the beginning of your stay. This will be used to tip hotel porters and boat crews during your trip. This means that you do not have to worry about having small change on hand, and helps to prevent over-tipping.
Very few hotels in Bhutan have swimming pools. Dotsho, or hot stone baths, are popular and said to have therapeutic benefits. River stones are heated on a fire then used to heat the bath water.