Updated 23 July 2014.
1. When is the best time to go?
Don’t believe everything the major guide books tell you. Less is best in Bhutan and there’s more to Bhutan than the peak seasons and festivals crowded with tourists. We personally visit every year and live & breath Bhutan daily so we know best!
If you are prepared to travel outside of the peak season periods (APR-MAY and mid SEP-NOV) there are fewer tourist visitors; you will save money & you will enjoy a far more rewarding experience. We especially recommend June–early July (Summer) and December-February (Winter). However if you are trekking you will need to generally travel in the peak season months for the most suitable conditions.
2. Why is it so expensive to visit Bhutan?
Sure Bhutan is more expensive than 3 star India or Nepal however lets put this into perspective! Because the Bhutanese Government has imposed an ‘all inclusive’ nightly tariff structure, for all tourist visitors, Bhutan tours can ‘appear’ to be expensive. In our 12 years+ experience with Bhutan we regularly receive comments from returning visitors on how great the ‘value for money’ genuinely is. Considering every visitor has access to a private guide, driver, private vehicle and a land package including all meals, accommodation, sightseeing, entry fees, transfers, taxes, Govt Royalties & visa fees it is indeed excellent value for money. And….Bhutan is such a privilege to visit!
3. Can I travel totally independently in Bhutan?
YES….and no! It is not possible to gain an entry visa for Bhutan unless you pre-pay for a pre-arranged land tour itinerary with a licensed & approved inbound operator and pay the appropriate nightly all-inclusive set Government tourist tariff.
Bhutan prohibits independent backpacker style visitors to maintain its strict cultural and ecological values. However please be aware you can enjoy a high degree of flexibility during each day to hike, visit markets & villages and interact with locals as you wish. You can take your own private tour and you do NOT have to join a group tour....it just must be pre-arranged and pre-paid.
4. What currency do I take?
The major banks now have ATM’s and you can withdraw local currency via Visa & MasterCard credit & debit cards & Cirrus/Maestro endorsed bank debit cards. The ATM’s do not always work and usually you’ll only be able to draw at small amounts in any single transaction, so back up cash in USD on Indian Rupees is advisable.
The local currency called Ngultrum (Nu for short) is pegged to the Indian Rupee which is also accepted throughout the Kingdom (except for 500 & 1000 rupee notes which are not accepted). As a more convenient alternativeI to taking in Indian Rupees we strongly encourage visitors to take in USD cash and/or travellers cheques which we recommend as a back-up in case ATM’s are not working. Take low denomination USD to cover any small daily purchases and use higher denomination USD for exchanging into Nu at local banks and also for guide/driver tips at the end of the journey.
As at July 2014, and due to the strength of the Australian dollar, major banks in Paro & Thimphu will also exchange Australian cash (no coins) for Bhutanese Nu.
Credit Cards are becoming more widely accepted too. Most hotels and many handicraft shops, except in central/eastern Bhutan, will now accept Visa & MasterCard and in some cases Amex. Please do note merchant fee surcharges on credit card purchases can be as high as 7% so it is wise to check this first before you use your card.
5. What do we tip?
Our tipping guideline for your guide and driver is detailed on our website under General Information and also in our pre-departure kit which we send to each traveller after they have paid their initial deposit. The website tipping guide will always be up to date. Guides & drivers expect their tip on the afternoon before you depart the Kingdom or the morning of your departure.
Trekking crew and motorcycle support crew have a slightly different tipping regime so please check your pre-departure information kit carefully or call Bhutan & Beyond for an update.
Otherwise personal tipping is generally discouraged except occasionally for for hotel porters who go beyond the call of duty and US$50c-1.00 per bag would suffice.
6. Is their internet available?
Most of the standard tourist class hotels now have WiFi….plus have a business centre where you can use the hotel PCs . Generally speaking WiFi is free for at least a few hours use. All of the luxury resorts & lodges offer a wireless internet facility however not necessarily in guest rooms.
Some more remote valleys, like Phobjikha, have intermittant pwer and internet supply so please factor in for some inconsistency as you travel.
Purchasing a local SIM card for your smart phone or iPad will give you wifi most of the way through the Kingdom for those who need more conncetivity.
7. Will my mobile phone work?
Currently a Telstra & an Optus sim card mobile phone will work in Bhutan. Smart phones are starting to work well although you may need to switch between local telco providers before yours will work. We recommend you contact your Telco in Australia for up to date advice. Beware of prepaid phone cards which have been recommended from Australia as in our personal experience they do not work in Bhutan.
A local Bhutan sim card with prepaid call credits can easily be purchased on arrival and is perfect for roaming whilst in the Kingdom and great for iPads.
8. What do I pack to wear?
Please refer to our General Information section on our website, which is kept up to date, and again this information will be sent to those travellers who have paid their initial deposit by way of our Pre-Departure Kit.
9. What will the weather be like?
Bhutan, like many countries in the world, is experiencing some climate change. Broadly speaking Summers (June-mid-September) are warm, humid and wetter and Winters (Dec-early March) cooler and dry. Winter nights are cold however the days are often clear, sunny and surprisingly mild in the valleys. The western valleys only average 2 snow falls per annum. The wettest period is August/early September. You will find a climate chart on our website and also one is sent in our Pre-Departure Kit.
Don’t let a little rain or cold nights put you off. Bhutan is no beach destination so a little rain doesn’t matter. In our humble opinion these periods are the best times to visit. Beat the crowds!!
10. What gifts can we take for the local children?
The Bhutanese wish to discourage gifts of any kind be given to individual children to avoid promoting a culture of begging. A gift of coloured pens/pencils etc given to a local schoolteacher is appropriate. Even better is a gift such as an oral hygiene kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and mouthwash) or donate some warm clothing/shoes when you leave. By purchasing a Bhutan travel package from Bhutan & Beyond a contribution of 1% of our revenue is made on your behalf, to the charity motorcycle club ‘The Dragon Riders’, who schedule 3-4 charity rides per year to support remote villagers with donations of food, fuel, blankets and clothes. You can find more information on The Dragon Riders charity group here.