A Bhutan budget trip can be planned and executed effectively if you are willing to chalk out a travel plan ahead of the actual visit. Bhutan is a favourite destination for backpackers from around the world. However, there are certain things that a traveller must know before visiting this beautiful destination.
Bhutan budget trip is planned by backpackers annually across the globe. Bhutan as a travel destination is not only beautiful but also extremely budget friendly. Also, it is one of the most travel-friendly locations in Asia.
Bhutan, also known as the ‘Land of Happy People’ or the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’ is a small landlocked country located between India and China. It is brimming with snow clad mountains, splendid rivers, varied of trees and genuinely warm-hearted people.
Bhutan Budget Trip: An Overview for First Time Visitors
Before I proceed into the details of how to plan and implement a successful Bhutan budget trip, here are a few things that you need to be aware of.
Peak season for Bhutan budget trip
August to February. It is recommended that you plan your Bhutan budget trip in the aforesaid months to make it cost friendly.
Backpacking in Bhutan
As strange as it may sound, Bhutan does not allow backpackers. This implies that you have to book your trip with Bhutanese travel agents beforehand. The agents will help you in everything – planning, customizing itineraries, making reservations and bookings.
Solo travel to Bhutan
Travelling solo to Bhutan will prove more expensive than travelling in a group. If you don’t like company, try collaborating with fellow solo travellers beforehand. This will help you pool and share costs during your Bhutan budget trip. Also, you will have to book your trip in advance.
Surcharge for solo travellers
For solo travellers, there will be a surcharge of about $30 per day. This can be minimized if you travel in a group of 3 or more.
Planning your Bhutan budget trip via a private travel company
It is mandatory for a visitor to arrange for a private tour before landing in Bhutan. Also, the payment has to be made in advance. Only then will you be granted your visa. You should not worry about paying the advance payment because the Bhutanese government monitors each private travel company closely. Make sure the company is approved by the Government.
Daily expenses on your Bhutan budget trip
Daily expenses will include accommodation, food, transportation, entrance fees to various places and a private guide and driver (if you hire one). Good thing is that the cost per day will be less than you expect.
Cost per day
$200. This amount may seem expensive but it is not, because it covers everything – accommodation, transportation, cost of visiting various places, food, personal guide, personal driver.
The $200 cost is not applicable to citizens from India, Bangladesh and Maldives. Citizens from these nations can travel Bhutan on a cost-effective budget of $25 per day.
To be honest, since you’re going to have all your bookings in place before visiting Bhutan, there’s not much you need to worry about once you’re there.
Bhutan as a Travel Destination: Highlights
Before embarking on your Bhutan budget trip, you should know about the land. This becomes even more significant if you’re a first-time visitor. Having knowledge about a place and its essential aspects will help you connect more with the destination.
Most Bhutanese are fluent in English
A permit is given on arrival in Bhutan
Gho for men and Kira for women
|Best Time to Visit|
All year round
Now that you have a brief idea about what the basics of traveling to the land of happiness, let’s move on to the other nitty-gritties.
What’s Special About the Bhutan Budget Trip?
A backpacking trip is different from a normal tourist outing. A Backpacking trip to Bhutan is special because of the multitude of pleasure the country has to offer its visitors. It is a developing country and hence, the costs are mediocre.
Bhutan budget trip is extremely safe for a solo female traveler as well, although slightly more expensive. The distances of the prominent places to visit in a Bhutanese town are less.
There is an efficient public transport available for inter-town transport.
Finally, you cannot withdraw money from ATMs frequently, since they aren’t many. Therefore, you set yourself on a budget automatically.
Why Should a Traveler Pursue the Bhutan Budget Trip?
Bhutan is a country that has easy access to most of the travellers from all countries. It is a cost-effective and travel-friendly country. The rich natural and cultural heritage is worth experiencing.
One of the most important reasons for travelling to Bhutan, is that you can get a visa/ permit on arrival to either Phuentsholing or Paro.
Best Time to Visit Bhutan
The best time to visit would depend on what you wish to explore in Bhutan. Generally, spring and fall seasons (March-May and Sept – Nov) are considered to be the best time to visit Bhutan. However, since these also coincide with the peak tourist season, I would recommend to avoid it for a Bhutan budget trip.
If you are interested in certain specific activities, here’s an overview of what is your best time to visit Bhutan.
April, May, September October
The trails are clear and clear blue skies make the treks even more appealing.
December, January, February
This is a good time to see the endangered black necked crane in Phobjika
Bhutan is a land of festivities. Many festivals are celebrated throughout the year in different towns of Bhutan. Some of the most popular ones are:
Punakha Dromche: 14-17 February 2019 in Panakha
Paro Tshechu – 17-21 March 2019 in Paro
Rhododendron Festival: 19- 21 April 2019 in Thimphu
Haa Summer Festival: 13-14 July 2019 in Haa Valley
Thimphu Tshechu: 8-10 October 2019 in Thimphu
Jambay Lhakhang Drup: 13-16 November 2019 in Bumthang
How to Reach Bhutan from Any International Destination?
Paro International Airport is connected directly with 4 major capital cities – New Delhi, Kathmandu, Singapore City and Bangkok.
|From New Delhi|
Board a plane till New Delhi from your country. Reach New Delhi and head towards Paro in your connecting flight. You will be asked to pay the transit visa fee at New Delhi.
Board a plane till Kathmandu from your country. Reach Kathmandu and head towards Paro via Drukair.
Board a plane till Singapore from your country. Reach Singapore and head towards Paro via Drukair. Your flight will halt at Kolkata for refuelling.
Board a plane till Bangkok from your country. Reach Bangkok and head towards Paro via Drukair.
Out of the 4 airports in Bhutan, Paro Airport is the only International one. It is due to this reason that connectivity (at least for now) is limited.
How to Reach Bhutan from India?
There are 3 major ways to reach Bhutan. One can enter Bhutan from 2 towns – Phuentsholing and Paro.
To enter from Phuentsholing, board a train from the place closest to you and reach Hasimara.
Hasimara is the closest Indian train station to India-Bhutan border.
From Hasimara, one can board a rickshaw, taxi or bus to reach Jaigaon which is the Indian town adjoining Phuentsholing.
|Flight to Bagdogra|
Take a flight to Bagdogra from the airport nearest to you.
Most of the airports have a direct flight to Bagdogra.
From Bagdogra, it is a 3 to 4-hour road journey to Phuentsholing.
|Flight to Paro|
Travel directly to Paro by flight.
The permit is issued at the Phuentsholing as well as Paro immigration office.
Booking your Flights for Bhutan Budget Trip
For your Bhutan budget trip, try booking from any one of the following portals to book flights. The discounts are good and so are the deals.
Wherever you choose to book from, ensure that you make the bookings in advance. Also, always clear cookies before booking. This helps in finding the least possible fares.
Essential Things to Carry on your Bhutan Budget Trip
The following items are a ‘must have’ for your Bhutan budget trip.
|1. Identity proof|
|2. Address proof|
|3. Cash. There are not many ATMs in Bhutan.|
|4. Woolen garments|
|5. Medical kit|
|6. College Id (if you’re a student). It will help you avail discounts.|
In addition, always make sure you check the weather forecast before venturing out. Make sure you pack accordingly. This is very important, because trust me, you want to avoid spending on emergency purchases.
Obtaining Permit and Sim Card
The first thing to do after entering Bhutan is to get a permit from the immigration office. The whole procedure takes around an hour with the help of a local agent, and up to 2 -3 hours without an agent.
A solo traveller, or a group of travellers less than 4 need to give in writing that they will be solely responsible for any accident.
After taking the permit for your Bhutan budget trip, head to a nearby shop where you can buy a sim card of ‘Tashi’ company, with a balance of 200 minutes and a sufficient data plan for 200 INR.
Major Towns to Visit During your Bhutan Budget Trip
Although the whole of Bhutan is beautiful and worth exploring, here are places to visit in Bhutan for first time travellers.
|Town & Places to Visit|
Zangto Pelri Lhakhang
National Museum of Bhutan
National Textile Museum
Folk heritage museum
National Library of Bhutan
Things to do in Phuentsholing
Phuentsholing is the second largest town in the happy kingdom of Bhutan. It is highly commercialized, and serves as the leading trade center of the country. Put it on priority for your Bhutan budget trip.
It is also the entry and exit route between Bhutan and India. Travellers can receive their permits here.
Places to see in around Phuentsholing are –
Zangto Pelri Lhakhang
Zango Pelri Lhakhang is a sanctimonious place for Buddhists and others alike. The architecture of the place is spectacular. Again, a must-visit place on your Bhutan budget trip.
It is home to the exact replica of Guru Rinpoche, with eight life-size idols of different manifestations of the revered Guru. Statues of Bodhisattvas, paintings of Lord Buddha and statues of Avalokiteshvarais are things worth seeing.
This is a beautiful monastery located at a height of 400 meters. It is at a distance of 4 kms from Phuentsholing bus station. One can see the complete Phuentsholing town from Karbandi Monastery.
The prayer flags at the monastery are symbolic of positivity or chi as it is known. The prayer wheels are for the same. Do spin them around and have faith in the goodness of the place around.
It is the official gate at the international boundary between India and Bhutan. The architecture of the Bhutan Gate is very aesthetically pleasing.
The Bhutan Gate is close to the immigration office. You can even buy stuff here owing to a large variety of shops.
Things to do in Paro
Paro is a charming town (a valley in essence) that is popular for its religious sites, historic places and culturally rich vibe.
The territory of Paro extends from the confluence of the Paro Chhu and the Wang Chhu rivers at Chuzom, right up to Mount Jomolhari, which lies at the Tibetan border to its North.
The places to see in and around Paro are –
The famous Tigers Nest monastery or Paro Taktsang, as it is locally known is located in the high mountains. One needs to hike for about 1.5 hours to reach the top. Porters are also available for some cost. Start early as the counter closes at 10 am.
The climb is gentle but continuous. There is only one café on the way up, at around the 50% mark. You need to climb a final of 300 steps to reach the top.
Wear full sleeves with collar and pants to be allowed to enter the monastery. Nothing except a water bottle is permitted in the Monastery.
Main Street in Paro has beautiful traditional wooden structures along its side and hosts a variety of shops as well. You can buy a few native items from here.
Rinchen Pung Dzong or popularly known as Rinpung Dzong, is a fortress. In fact, the name itself means “Fortress on a heap of jewels’ in the native language. It was historically used to defend Paro Valley from foreign invasions.
Chele La Pass separates Haa from Paro valley. The pass lies at an elevation of 3,810 metres and is one of the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. The drive till here from Paro is beautiful. One can see dense green temperate forests all around.
National Museum of Bhutan
This building turned into the National Museum of Bhutan, is in the form of a conch shell. The display here is impressive and is reflective of the rich cultural past o Bhutan. There also happens to be a Natural and Heritage Gallery here.
Things to do in Thimphu
Thimphu is not only the charming capital city of Bhutan, but also its largest city. It is a rich combination of traditional and contemporary culture.
In addition to its traditional attractions, it also hosts cafes, nightclubs and restaurants. Thimphu should certainly be on your Bhutan budget trip itinerary.
Places to see in around Thimphu are –
A place of daily worship for many, the Chorten Memorial is a large Tibetan religious structure. Its richly painted annexes face the cardinal directions. It has mandalas and statues crafted on it.
National Textile Museum
Operated officially by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs, the National Textile Museum displays and promotes the textile industry of Bhutan. The achievements in textiles are also put to the fore.
Folk Heritage Museum
The Folk Heritage Museum gives a traveler an insight into the traditional Bhutanese way of living and culture. In addition to artifacts, it also displays a wide collection of household objects, tools and equipment.
National Library of Bhutan
The National Library of Bhutan preserves the ancient Dzongkha and Tibetan texts. It comprises of a number of ancient books and manuscripts. The architecture of the building is appealing. The National Museum of Bhutan has the world’s largest book.
In the Tashichho Dzong, reside the king and queen of Bhutan. A point to note is that it is open for visitors only after 4.30 pm for 1 hour.
Things to do in Phobjikha
Phobjikha is actually a valley -a glacial valley to be precise. It is extremely beautiful and forms a natural habitat to Black Neck Cranes, deer, leopards, red foxes, etc.
Places to see in around Phobjikha are –
Gangte Goemba is a large monastery that overlooks nature. The premises consist of a central goemba, quarters for monks, a guesthouse and meditation centres.
Nyelung Dechenling is a temple. It is one of the 8 residences of Nyingma Dzogchen master Longchen Rabjam (Longchenpa).
Recommended Food for your Bhutan Backpacking Trip
If you think Bhutanese food is just like Nepalese of Tibetan food, you’re highly mistaken. Bhutan offers a range of authentic Bhutanese food for you try out. Here’s a few:
|Ema Datshi |
Ingredients: Chilly and cheese
Ema Datshi is a national dish of Bhutan, and one of the most famous ones as well.
Ingredients: Potato and cheese
It is a related dish to Ema Datshi where potatoes are substituted for chilly
Ingredients: Red chilies and pork
In this dish, slices of pork are stir-fried with red chilies and vegetables. It can be eaten with rice.
Ingredients: Spicy chicken
It is a great chicken curry with excellent ginger flavour
|Arra/Ara/Arang and Chang/ Chaang|
These are traditional and Local alcoholic drinks
Cost of Eating Meals During your Bhutan Budget Trip
Most travelers have their meals covered in the pre-paid travel plan before entering Bhutan. Once you visit eating places, your guide will sign a receipt to the owner. He will be reimbursed by the Bhutanese Government later on. In case you order something lavish and alcohol, you will have to pay extra.
The Good thing is that food is not very expensive in Bhutan. You can get a decent meal even outside your travel plan for about 100-250 INR or let’s say about $3-$5.
How to Minimize Cost During your Bhutan Budget Trip?
There are various ways to cut down expenses during your Bhutan budget trip. Remember, traveling is about exploration and not spending huge bucks.
|Invest a lot of time in planning your Bhutan budget trip. The more time you devote to planning, the more clarity you’ll have regarding saving money.|
|Use public transport once in Bhutan. It will help you minimize costs effectively.|
|Try booking accommodation places that are near major towns. It will help you save both time and money.|
|Avoid travelling solo. Travel in groups of 4 or more. This will help you cut down on the surcharge on stay.|
|Save money by not consuming exotic beverages and alcohol. Go for local drinks and food items.|
|Avoid shopping too much. Travel isn’t about buying stuff. It’s about exploration.|
Recommended Volunteer Programs in Bhutan
Due to the stringent (although brilliant) travel policy, Bhutan can be a tad bit expensive for backpackers. This is especially true for backpackers from non-SAARC nations.
However, planning the ideal budget Bhutan trip is possible by enrolling for a volunteering program. Bhutan sponsors trips (sometimes even 100%) for skilled volunteers. All you have to make sure is that you contribute to their nation-building and not be a freeloader.
Two of the most recommended volunteer programs for your Bhutan budget trip are –
|Volunteer Program & Details|
|High School Summer Community Service|
Duration: 7 days
Work: Volunteers will work with Bhutanese young children. In addition, environmental and community beautification or construction projects around Thimphu will also be looked after.
|Film Makers Without Borders|
Duration: 1 month
Work: Filmmakers and art educators teach filmmaking, media literacy, and technology skills to budding students in Bhutan.
Bhutan Budget Trip: An Insight to My Expenses
Here’s a little breakdown of the expenses of my Bhutan budget trip. The figures will help you plan your trip and manage costs.
(Mumbai, Lokmanya Tilak Terminals (LTT) to Hasimara (HSA) via Kamakhya Express)
700 INR for sleeper class to 2500 INR for 2 tier AC
25 INR for the public bus. 50 to 100 INR for a rickshaw.
|Accommodation per day|
|Public Transport from Phuentsholing to Paro|
|Public Transport from Paro to Thimphu|
|Public Transport from Thimphu to Phuentsholing|
General Tips for Bhutan Budget Trip
|Carry Cash. ATMs are only in the main towns in Bhutan and these also aren’t completely reliable.|
|Carry some warm clothes regardless of the season you are visiting Bhutan in.|
|Photography might be prohibited in certain areas like Dzongs, monasteries, temples, or any religious institutions. Enquire before you start clicking.|
Bhutan with its rich culture and heritage along with the blend of nature and perfect people makes it a surreal and exotic country for travelling. I’ve undertaken my Bhutan budget trip and explored a new place. You should visit it too.
Happy Wayfaring 🙂