General Information About Bhutan, The Land of The Thunder Dragon

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Visa Information About Bhutan

Valid passports and an entry visa are essential except Indian & Bangladeshi National. Travelers to Bhutan are permitted only as a member of a commercially organized tour group. This can be done directly or through a travel agent abroad.

Visa clearances are issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thimpu and must be obtained before departing for Bhutan. At your port of entry your visa will be stamped in your passport on payment of US$ 20, you will also require two passport photos. Extension of visas, for up to 6 months, can be obtained in Thimpu at a cost of Nu. 510.

Note: Visas cannot be obtained at Bhutanese embassies.

Three copies of original passport size photograph are required on arrival. Visa fee is us$ 20 and us$ 10 as a tourism development must be paid on arrival. Visa can be further extended with an additional fee of us$ 15. We can arrange visa.

To obtain a Bhutanese visa, you need the following:

  • Bhutan visa application form x 3 copies duly filled
  • 2 passport-size photographs
  • Photocopy of the passport for private visitors, a sponsorship certificate form must be filled in by the sponsor
  • A fee of US $70 a day should be paid directly to the Department of Tourism for private visitors, except for family members
  • Visa processing time: 1 month
  • When entering Bhutan, you receive a visa for only 2 weeks from Paro airport. Visa extensions can be granted if you stay longer. Except for SNV employees, the visa extension fee of Nu. 510/- for each passport should be paid.

Bhutan Travel Permit

Application for a Bhutan visa can be processed by a travel/tour agent through the Tourism Authority of Bhutan. Once the visa has been processed you will be sent a visa number (automatically forwarded to all Bhutan’s National Air Carrier: Druk Air).

Without a visa number, you may be denied boarding Druk Air’s planes. A visa is then granted on arrival at Paro Airport for a total of US $30 (with US $10 tax, subject to revision by the Bhutanese government) for 14 days. You can apply for a visa extension for an additional fee.

In order to get a visa for Bhutan, you need to forward your passport details 4 weeks in advance to a local agent. Supply Name (exactly as it appears on your passport), Passport Number, Date of issue, Validity, Occupation, Nationality, Date of Birth and Home Address.

Note: Bhutan’s National Tourism organisation has embarked on a protection campaign to preserve Bhutan’s as the Forbidden Kingdom of lore. The unofficial word is that yearly tourist numbers are limited to 6,000. Agents serving Bhutan are required to qualify tourists by charging a minimum of $200.00 per day for services offered.

Weather in Bhutan

From June to August

Monsoon rains and leeches put an end to most treks, although high-altitude flowers are at their peak.

From December to February

Bhutan has seasonal tariffs so, along with fewer tourists, there are good savings to be made by travelling outside the high season. The weather is still pleasant, though it can be cold in December and January.

In March to May, September to November

The weather is ideal in spring and autumn. Book flights well in advance; accommodation options can be limited. Himalayan views are best in October, while rhododendron blooms peak in March and April.

Weather report Bhutan

Please check the following link for a weather report of Bhutan.

Accommodation in Bhutan

Standard Accommodation

In Bhutan, there is no star categorization of hotels however at all tourist destinations there are accommodation establishments approved by Tourism Council of Bhutan.

The popular destinations such as Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Bumthang, Phuentsholing, have good standard hotels however accommodation is basic at Mongar, Trashigang, Gangtey, Samdrup Jongkhar.

Interestingly all hotels / lodges / guest houses are built in traditional architecture offering good cuisine and reasonably decent, clean, accommodation.

Away from main towns there are purpose built huts on some of principal trekking routes. Otherwise there is nothing like camping out under the clearest skies that you have ever seen. Wherever you spend the night, the warm Bhutanese hospitality will make you feel welcome.

We have carefully selected the list of accommodation units with the best combination of location, ambience and service:

Phuentsholing: Lhaki Hotel, Hotel Druk, Centennial Hotel, Hotel Namgay, Sinchula Hotel & Central Hotel.

Paro: The Village Lodge, Hotel Olathang, Kyichu Resort, Namsey Chholing Resort, Gangtey Palace, Hotel Eye of the Tiger, Janka Resort, Rinchen Ling Lodge, Hotel Silverpine, Hotel Valley View, Hotel Jigmeling, Tashi Namgay Resort, Dechen Cottages, Bhutan Resort, Pelri Hotel, Samdenchholing Resort & Hotel Lhaki Yangchak

Thimphu: Kisa Hotel, Hotel Druk, Hotel River view, Hotel Motithang, Hotel Pedling, Hotel Jumolhari, Hotel Pine Wood, Hotel Wangchuk, Hotel Taktsang, Druk Tshering Guest House, Hotel Kelwang, Bhutan Suites, Wangchuk Resort & Hotel Dragon Roots.

Punakha: Hotel Zangtho Pelri, Hotel Meri Punsum, Y. T Hotel, Puna Tshangchu Cottages, Damchen Resort & Singye Lodge.

Wangduephodrang: Kyichu Resort, Tashiling Lodge & Dragon Nest Resort.

Gagntey: Hotel Dewachen, Theckchenphodrang Lodge, Phuentshochholing Lodge & Gakling Lodge.

Trongsa: Phuenzi Lodge, Norling lodge & Yankhil Resort.

Bumthang: Mountain Lodge, Jakar Village Lodge, Swiss Guest House, Wangdichholing Resort, Wangdichholing hotel, Hotel Home, River Lodge, Gongkhar Lodge, Pelling Hotel, Kaila Lodge, Gadhen Resort, Rinchenling Lodge, Leki Guest House, Udee Guest House & Mepham Guest House

Mongar: Shongar Lodge, Druk Zhongkhar Lodge, Hotel Wangchuk, New Lee Hotel & Samling Hotel.

Trashigang: Kelling Lodge & Hotel Doejung

Samdrup Jongkhar: Hotel Peljorling, Hotel Dekling, Hotel TLT, Friends Hotel & Tashi Longched Trokhang Hotel

Food and drinks in Bhutan

Bhutanese food is rice, generally a local red rice, served with either a little dried meat cooked with very hot chilies or red capsicum onum or a sauce made from chilies and local cheese.

Bhutanese food is generally know for it’s simplicity but in reality it really is quite a specialty to marry the flavours and the spices… not to mention the effort involved in getting and maintaining the ingredients.

Mealtime is typically a relaxed time in Bhutan. It is a social event and family get together; however, the time spent eating may depend as much on how much is put on the table as the need for conversation.

Three meals a day is typical, and it is not unusual for those three meals to all consist of rice and ema datse. At a hotel restaurant the full cutlery ensemble will be provided, but in a local café you may be limited to the option of a spoon or using your right hand and bowl of rice to mop up the meal.

It should be noted that if you are dining out, tipping is not practised in most restaurants. It should also be noted that the food prepared for you in a restaurant will probably be LESS spicy than if you visited someone’s home.

In general terms, chilies are using in almost all Bhutanese dishes. It has been heard that the Bhutanese say “If it doesn’t make you sweat, then why bother to eat it”. In most cases salt and chili is the only spice used though there is some use of saffron and some curry spices.

You need to be able to eat spicy food if you plan on getting on in Bhutan. When you visit someone’s house you will undoutbedly be offered food and it will have a kick to it. Refusing would be an insult… bring pepto or some sort of antacid if you have trouble with spice.

Special dishes (Information about Bhutan)

Ema Datshi or Ema Datse – vegetarian dish made of cheese and chili – a must tryPhak sha laphu – stewed pork with radishYak skin – fried and served as a snackNo Sha huentseu – stewed beef with spinachPhak sha phin tshoem – pork with rice noodlesBja sha maroo – chicken in garlic and butter sauceMomos – yummy dumplings – chicken, pork, or cheeseMushrooms – there are over 400 varieties of edible mushrooms – some of the mushroom flavors are magicCheese – is very common and something the Bhutanese people are very particular of. Cheese is made from cow, goat and yaks milk.Dal bhat – simple rice and lentilsNON SPICY – kewa datse – potatoes with cheese sauceBarthu – fried noodles or noodle soupRed rice – is preferred to white rice though there is a lot of white riceZow – boiled then fried riceBreakfast generally consists of puffed corn or rice soaked in butter tea though porridge is also common.

Vegetarian and Vegan

There is a good variety of vegetarian food available, although much of it is made using a liberal amount of chili and a smothering of cheese sauce.

Ingredients such as nettles, fern fronds, orchids, asparagus, taro and several varieties of mushroom appear in traditional vegetarian dishes. Vegans should ask if a dish contains cheese or eggs when ordering.

It is quite common to see bright red chilies (small peppers) drying on the roof and strips of yak meat or beef hanging out to dry in the sun like a line of washing.

Food Culture and Customs in Bhutan

When invited to a meal: If you are offered food or drink, it is considered polite to decline at first. Your host will not take your refusal too seriously and will continue to offer refreshments. Similarly, if you are entertaining a Bhutanese guest, be more insistent in offering food or drink than you would be in your home country.

Tea is about as common as water… in fact, more tea might be drunk than plain water. When having tea with someone older or in a formal setting, the cup should be held in the hand and not put on the table so as to show your respect. There are two types of tea: suitja which is tea with butter and salt and natja which is tea with milk and sugar.

Chang, a local beer, and ara, a spirit distilled from rice, maize, wheat or barley, depending on which crop is grown in that area, are also popular drinks. In the East, instead of tea, chang or ara may be offered. Again, it is polite to have at least two glasses. If you really dislike it, a few sips will be acceptable.

Sometimes ara is served hot with a raw egg broken into it.The Bhutanese eat with their right hand. The dried cheese, churpi or chugui, which looks like an eraser, is very hard and is chewed between meals as a snack. Doma or betel nut is often offered at the end of a meal.

Guests will often leave as soon as the meal is finished. At an official dinner, the guest of honour will indicate when it is time to leave; normally nobody will leave before s/he does for this is disrespectful.

Drinking in Bhutan

Nonalcoholic Drinks

Indian style sweet milky tea (ngad-ja) is widely available and may be served in a pot. Bhutanese frequently drink sud-ja, Tibetan style tea with salt and butter, which is more like soup than tea, and surprisingly tasty and warming on a cold day.

Filter coffee and espresso is available in the top end hotels and a few restaurants in Thimphu, but elsewhere ‘coffee’ is invariably of the instant variety.

Avoid tap water directly from the tap. Steps to purify water should be taken. The easiest of these is boiling your water. The best chemical purifier is iodine. It should not be used by pregnant women or those with thyroid problems.

Alcoholic Drinks – Information about Bhutan

The only beer brewed in Bhutan is the very good Red Panda, an unfiltered wheat beer bottled in Bumthang.

Throughout the country there’s an ample supply of imported canned beer- Tiger from Singapore and Singha from Thailand, or several brands of Indian beer, which comes in large (650 mL) bottles. The most popular brands are Black Label, Golden Eagle and Dansberg from Sikkim.

There are several brands of whiskey including Special Courier, Black Mountain Whiskey (better known as ‘BMW’), Royal Supreme and Changta, the cheapest. The better brands compare favorably with good Scotch whiskey. There are local rums: XXX Bhutan Rum is the strongest, and gins such as Crystal and Pacham.

The most common local brew is bang chhang, a warm beer-like drink made from wheat. The favourite hard drinks are arra, a spirit distilled from rice, and sinchhang, which is made from millet, wheat or rice.

Culture in Bhutan

Perched on the foothills of Himalayas, Bhutan is a country rich in culture and tradition bordering China and India. The Culture of Bhutan has its roots in ancient beliefs and lifestyle of its original inhabitants.

The Bhutanese has tried utmost to separate their own culture from the Tibetans as most of the Tibetans had migrated to Bhutan and developed a mix culture in this hilly country. Its cultural heritages are preserved now and only after 20th century this Himalayan kingdom is open to foreign visitors.

Bhutanese Culture is also a mix of present and past like other cultures. The two main languages of Bhutan, Dzongkha and Sharchop have a root link with the Tibetans. Though history doesnot tell clearly when the Tibetans invaded Bhutan and settled, it is clear that Bhutanese orginal inhabiatants have their own religious based culture before the cultural integration of Tibetans with Bhutanese people.

Almost three quarters of the population belong to Buddhism. The culture is developed based on tantric Buddhism. Each village has a dzong(fortress) which is the religious and administrative center of the village.

Buddhist teaching is administered at the monasteries by the chief monks to the followers. The national dress code of the Bhutanese people is known as Driglam Namzha . All men and women wear this as a mark of their culture and tradition.

In Bhutanese cultural society, women play a important role than men as women are not suppressed in Bhutanse society. Women have the property rights as they are the land owners.

Matrilinearity is the inheritance of property, if the main owner of the family is unable to run the duty , it is assigned to a sister, daughter or niece. In the villages, men are the homemaker and women do outdoor activities, but now an urban culture has developed where women play the role of homemaker and the men play the role of breadwinner.

In the religious culture of Bhutanese society, both men and women can be monks and the women monk is less in number. The monks have to join the monasteries at the age of 6 to 9 and the monasteries are the teaching centers of Buddhism and religious theology.

The Bhutanese have their own marriage system , the grooms go to the bride’s house after marriage, but the bride or groom can have their own decision regarding their stay after marriage which mostly depends on the needs of labor. Religious festival is a part and parcel of the Bhutanese society and once in a year the Bhutanese people celebrate a grand religious festival and mask dances are performed at the festivals.

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