Travelling to Bhutan from Kathmandu

Posted on 15/June/2020

Table of Content

Overview about Bhutan

1. Exploring Nepal and Bhutan

1.1 Top things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal

2. How to travel to Bhutan from Kathmandu

2.1 Travelling to Bhutan from Kathmandu, Nepal

2.2 Drukair baggage allowance

3. How to apply for Bhutan visa departing from Kathmandu, Nepal

4. How much does it cost to travel to Bhutan from Kathmandu, Nepal

5. What are some popular attractions in Bhutan

6. What is the temperature and climate in Bhutan and Nepal

7. When is the best time to travel to Bhutan and Nepal

8. What are some tour packages that I can select

9. About Tsechus (Festivals) in Bhutan

10. Bhutanese food and cuisine

11. What are some tips for travelling to Bhutan

11.1 Bhutan currency exchange, ATM withdrawal and credit card usage

11.2 Where can I get a SIM card in Bhutan

11.3 Is the wifi and internet in Bhutan reliable

11.4 What should I wear in Bhutan

11.5 Where can I go shopping in Bhutan

11.5.1 The Craft Gallery

11.5.2 Bhutan Natural

11.6 Photography in Bhutan

12. Basic conversational phrases in Bhutanese language (Dzongkha)

 

Overview about Bhutan

Bhutan, officially known as Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country in South Asia. Located in the Eastern Himalayas, it is bordered by the Tibet Autonomous Region of China in the north, the Sikkim state of India and the Chumbi Valley of Tibet in the west, the Arunachal Pradesh state of India in the east, and the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal in the south.

Bhutan also known as Druk Yul - Land of Thunder Dragon is listed as Best in Travel 2020 by Lonely Planet. This small Himalayan nation has much to offer to travellers, after all, it is the birthplace of the popular Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy. Spirituality and Buddhism is an integral part of the Bhutanese life, and even all the government policies and plans have to be aligned with the key tenets of Gross National Happiness.

There are plenty of things to see in Bhutan that caters to the different types of travellers. Whether you’re a cultural buff, a foodie, shopaholic, an avid trekker, nature lover or simply a city dweller looking for an escapade - there will definitely be something in Bhutan for you to indulge yourself in.

Just talk to our Druk Asia travel specialists about your preference and they will be able to provide the best recommendations in Bhutan for you!

Tashichho Dzong. Photo credit: Kencho Wangdi

1. Exploring Nepal and Bhutan

A combination of visiting Nepal and Bhutan will give you the best tour of South Asia.

While some parts of Nepal and Bhutan share similar mountainous landscapes due to both being landlocked Himalayan nations, there are huge differences in terms of culture and experience. Nepal is a secular nation while Bhutan is a Buddhist country. Nepal is a Hindu majority nation with minority Muslim and Buddhist population and Bhutan is a Buddhist majority nation. Furthermore, Nepal is 3.8 times bigger than Bhutan in land size and the population is about 30 times more than Bhutan. Thus, you can expect a lot more crowd in the bustling Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal as compared to the calm and tranquil Thimphu, capital of Bhutan. Both countries also have very distinct cuisines and languages. The official language in Nepal is Nepali and Dzongkha for Bhutan. Most Bhutanese can also speak English as their medium of instruction in schools is in English. However, you shouldn’t be surprised that many Bhutanese can actually speak Nepali too as historically, there were many migrants with Nepal origins known as Lhotsampa who reside in Bhutan.

Experiencing Bhutan’s ancient religions, culture and traditions will be a great complement for those who are keen on trekking the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest at 8,848m, exploring the Everest Base Camp (EBC) or Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal. Both Nepal and Bhutan are truly the gems of South Asia that offer the best of both worlds to travellers! The charm of Bhutan is definitely not one to be missed if you are planning to visit Nepal as Bhutan is just an hour flight away from Kathmandu, Nepal.

If hiking is not your cup of tea, you can also engage in other activities around Kathmandu valley.

1.1 Top things to do in Kathmandu, Nepal

  • Head to the top of Swayambhu Temple (also popularly known as Monkey Temple) to get an incredible panorama view of the Kathmandu valley.

  • Visit the Boudhanath Stupa for some instagrammable shots. You can also find little shops and cafes around the stupa.

  • Strolling along Thamel street, a popular tourist quarter where you can find souvenir shops, tea shops, pashmina shops, and outdoor equipment shops.

  • Checking out the Bhaktapur Durbar Square and Patan Durbar Square, albeit it being heavily destroyed during the 2015 major earthquake, but these UNESCO Heritage sites still have a very rustic charm to it.

  • Trying out the local dish, momo - one of the Nepalese favourite dishes with a cup of lassi (a drink made of yoghurt).

  • Head to Nagarkot for an amazing sunrise experience.

  • Explore the Chitwan National Park - home to one of the last populations of single-horned Asiatic rhinoceros and the Bengal tigers.

  • Do a white-water rafting tour in Trishuli River, the river that connects Kathmandu to Pokhara.

If you have more nights to spare, you can also take a bus ride to Pokhara that is approximately 7 hours away. Pokhara is also the gateway for the Annapurna Circuit. It’s less crowded than Kathmandu and offers a stunning view of the Fewa Lake, Nepal’s most beautiful lake.

Bonus Tips: Always explore Nepal first before exploring Bhutan. Nepal definitely has a lot more tourists as tourism in Nepal was opened up way ahead of Bhutan. Our travellers shared with us that it’s best to save Bhutan as the last stop for the Asia leg!

2. How to travel to Bhutan from Kathmandu

Getting to Bhutan is relatively easy via Kathmandu. Drukair (Royal Bhutan Airlines) has daily direct flights from Kathmandu (KTM), Nepal to Paro International Airport in Bhutan. Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) is a popular transit hub for travellers who want to explore the western Himalayan region. It connects Nepal to more than 40 destinations in 17 countries including Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Qatar, Netherlands, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, China, Malaysia, Dubai and of course, Bhutan!

2.1 Travelling to Bhutan from Kathmandu, Nepal

Drukair operates daily flights to Bhutan from Kathmandu, Nepal. The flight schedule from Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM) to Paro International Airport (PBH) may differ for the different months.

Remember to head to the airport early in Kathmandu as it can be quite a squeeze at the airport during peak season. There is little entertainment and food outlets so it's best to prepare your own!

Check the latest Drukair schedule here - www.Drukair.com.sg.

Total flight duration from Kathmandu, Nepal to Bhutan is about 1 hour. To have a view of the gorgeous Himalayan range, you can try to request for a left seat of the aircraft.

A round trip from Kathmandu, Nepal to Bhutan is approximately *SGD 590 (USD 425) per pax as of June 2020.

However, airfare and taxes are subjected to change. Please check with our friendly travel consultants at Druk Asia for the latest information.

2.2 Drukair baggage allowance

Drukair provides a standard baggage allowance of 30kg for economy class and 40kg for business class travellers. The carry-on bag allowance is 7kg.

Bhutan has one of the most stunning descents through the gorgeous Himalayan mountain ranges prior to landing at Paro International Airport. Only certified pilots are allowed to land at Paro International Airport.

3.How to apply for Bhutan visa departing from Kathmandu, Nepal

All tourists aside from citizens from Bangladesh, Maldives and India are required to apply for a visa. You are required to book your visa and trip to Bhutan through a licensed tour operator. Speak to the friendly travel consultants at Druk Asia and we will be able to assist you with your visa application.

You are required to produce a scanned copy of your passport with minimum six month validity. Bhutan visa application costs USD40 per person.

We will email you a copy of your e-visa clearance upon approval and you are required to produce this at the check-in counter and to the immigration officer when you land in Bhutan. The actual visa will be stamped on your passport at the port of entry once you complete all the immigration formalities.

Trongsa Dzong. Photo credit: Lester V Ledesma

4. How much does it cost to travel to Bhutan from Kathmandu, Nepal

Bhutan adheres to a strict “High Value, Low Impact” tourism policy to avoid the effects of mass tourism. As such, the government has implemented a daily tariff for all tourists visiting the country except for citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives*.  The charges of the daily tariff depends on the season that you are planning to visit.

High Season: March, April, May, September, October, and November

  • $250 per person per night, for a group of three or more people.

  • $280 per person per night, for a group of two people.

  • $290 per night for single individuals.

Low Season: January, February, June, July, August, and December

  • $200 per person per day, for a group of three or more people.

  • $230 per person per day, for a group of two people.

  • $240 per day for single individuals.

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
Season Low Low High High High Low Low Low High High High Low

The tariff covers the following cost and services:

  • All internal taxes and charges
  • USD65 sustainable development fee used by government to provide free education, healthcare and building infrastructure
  • 3 meals a day
  • A licensed English speaking Bhutanese tour guide throughout your trip
  • All transport on the ground including driver (excluding internal flights)
  • A minimum 3 star accommodation (4 & 5 star will require additional premium)
  • Entrance fees to tourists attractions
  • Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours (if applicable)
  • *A set of traditional costume for loan (to be returned at the end of the trip) 

*Druk Asia guests only

*Sustainable Development Fee for regional tourists

In light of the increasing regional tourists and its effects on Bhutan’s ecology, the government has implemented a daily levy on regional tourists from India, Bangladesh from July 2020. Regional tourists are now required to pay a Sustainable Development Fee of ₹1,200 (approx. USD17) per day. Children between the ages of 6 to 12 years old will pay a daily fee of ₹600. You will be provided the same services mentioned above and are required to book your trip through a licensed tour operator.

If you are an Indian, Maldivian, Bangladeshi expat working outside your country, the regional tourist SDF will apply to you. Do remember to mention to Druk Asia’s travel consultant that you are holding an India, Maldives, or Bangladesh passport before you book your trip. You will be eligible for SAARC fare on Drukair flights.

 
Bumdra Trek, one of the most beautiful short treks in Bhutan. Photo credit: Kencho Wangdi

5. What are some popular attractions in Bhutan

Taktsang Monastery, popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest, the national icon of Bhutan is definitely a must-see when you are in the Kingdom! The majestic sacred Buddhist monastery perched on the cliff top, 2950m above sea level provides an unforgettable hiking experience with awe-inspiring sceneries to all travellers. Other places of attractions include Buddha Dordenma, Memorial Chorten, Tashichho Dzong, Punakha Dzong, Punakha Suspension Bridge, Chimi Lhakang, Kyichu Lhakang, Dochula Pass, Bumthang valley, Gangtey (Phobjikha valley) and many more.

Click here for more information about some of these places of attraction. 

6. What is the temperature and climate in Bhutan and Nepal

Due to its location, Bhutan’s weather and climate are heavily influenced by its altitudes and terrains. Western Bhutan has heavier monsoon rains while southern Bhutan has a hot and humid subtropical climate with a monsoon season that is consistent throughout the year. The southern region also receives a significant amount of rain in a year and heavy rainfall can sometimes cause landslides and render roads impassable. Central Bhutan, where the major towns and tourist attractions are located has a more seasonal climate with warm summers before the monsoon. The winters are usually cool and dry with clear blue skies. In the far northern region, the weather has a harsher climate and is much colder during winter. Mountain peaks are perpetually covered in snow and lower-lying areas are cool in summer. 

  Celcius Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Paro(West) Max 9.4 13.4 14.5 17.6 23.5 25.4 26.8 25.3 23.4 18.7 13.9 11.2
Min -5.8 1.5 0.6 4.6 10.6 13.1 14.9 14.7 11.7 7.4 1.4 -1.7
Thimphu(West) Max 12.3 14.4 16.4 20.0 22.5 24.4 18.9 25.0 23.1 29.1 17.9 14.5
Min 2.6 0.6 3.9 7.1 13.1 15.2 13.4 15.8 15.0 10.4 0.5 -1.1
Punakha(West) Max 16.1 19.6 21.2 24.4 27.2 31.2 32.0 31.4 29.9 27.8 22.3 15.0
Min 4.2 5.3 9.2 11.9 14.8 19.5 21.6 19.8 20.0 18.9 13.0 7.9
Wangdue(West) Max 17.0 19.0 22.8 26.2 29.9 29.2 18.4 29.1 27.5 26.1 22.6 19.1
Min 4.3 7.8 10.4 12.9 17.7 20.1 16.2 20.0 19.1 14.7 9.6 6.3
Trongsa(Central) Max 13.0 13.9 16.7 20.1 21.0 22.2 25.3 23.8 22.6 21.8 19.8 18.2
Min -0.2 0.4 4.4 6.6 11.6 13.6 15.3 15.0 14.2 11.7 6.4 2.5
Bumthang(Central) Max 10.8 10.0 16.2 18.7 21.3 22.5 14.1 23.0 21.6 19.5 16.1 12.3
Min -5.1 -1.4 3.5 3.9 9.5 13.5 10.9 13.7 12.1 5.9 -0.5 -2.3
Mongar(East) Max 15.5 15.9 20.0 22.8 25.1 26.1 27.1 25.4 24.7 22.7 19.9 17.7
Min 8.2 8.3 11.6 14.0 17.4 19.5 19.8 19.6 19.4 15.8 11.2 9.5
Trashigang(east) Max 20.4 21.7 24.8 28.3 30 30.7 31.5 30.2 30.0 29.1 26.1 23.0
Min 10.5 11.5 4.4 17.0 22.6 22.6 23.1 22.7 21.9 17.7 13.6 11.6

Climate in Nepal is pretty similar to Bhutan where it’s largely influenced by elevation. In Kathmandu Valley, average temperatures can range from 50° F (10° C) in January to 78° F (26° C) in July, and the lowest and highest temperatures recorded have been 27° and 99° F (-3° and 37° C)

7. When is the best time to travel to Bhutan and Nepal

Both Bhutan and Nepal are all year round travel destinations. Generally, the best times to visit Bhutan and Nepal are during the spring (Mar - May) and autumn season (Sep - Nov) as the weather is ideal and it’s an excellent time for trekking. The temperature is also at optimum for both countries for sightseeing. Both countries share similar climates with four seasons throughout the year. Aside from the perfect trekking conditions, spring and autumn are also the popular festival seasons in Bhutan. Hence, these are the peak seasons in Bhutan and Nepal where you are encouraged to book and plan your trip in advance.

During winter (Dec - Feb), both countries will have cold weather and snowfalls in the higher altitude region, especially in the eastern parts of Bhutan. Whereas, summer (Jun - Aug) is usually the monsoon season in Bhutan and Nepal. Trekkings may be discouraged due to the dangerous and slippery trails. However, there are still plenty of things to do during the off-peak seasons in both countries. You will also have a more authentic travel experience due to the lower footfall and save up to 20% of your daily tariff due to the lower charges in the non-peak season for Bhutan.

8. What are some tour packages that I can select

Below are some popular Druk Asia tour packages that you can choose from:-  

Trekking tour

9 Day Druk Path trek

9 Day Dagala Thousand trek

11 Day Jomolhari Trek

Cultural tour

7 Day tour in Thimphu, Punakha and Paro

10 Day tour in Thimphu, Punakha, Bumthang, Gangtey and Paro

Meditation tour

7 Day Neykor tour

Depending on your personal preference, we will be able to customise your itinerary accordingly. After all, our aim is to ensure that you have the most memorable trip in Bhutan!

Druk Asia also offers special interests tours such as photography and sketching tours. Aside from that, we also organise pre-wedding photography trips. 

For other tours and itineraries, check out the different packages at www.drukasia.com

9. About Tsechus (Festivals) in Bhutan

Tshechu or the Mask Dance Festival is the most important religious festival in Bhutan. It is held annually in the monasteries and dzongs from all the 20 districts in the different months of the year to honour Guru Rinpoche who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century.  A Tshechu typically lasts for four or five days. It is celebrated on the tenth day of Tibetan lunar calendar corresponding to the birthday of Guru Rinpoche. Hence, the exact dates of the Tshechu in the different districts varies from year to year. 

Dancers usually wear wooden masks that represent animals, fearsome deities, and various manifestations of Guru Rinpoche. According to legends, Guru Rinpoche has eight manifestations, each with a different name and appearance. The most distinctive mask represents the wrathful manifestation of Guru Rinpoche which he transformed to tame harmful deities.

The most popular Tshechus for tourists are in Paro, as well as in Punakha, and Thimphu where thousands of locals will turn up in their best attire to enjoy the festival.

  • Punakha Dromchoe and Tshechu (February)
  • Paro Tshechu (April)
  • Thimphu Tshechu (September)

Thimphu Tsechu Masked Dance Festival. Photo credit: Kencho Wangdi

10. Bhutanese food and cuisine

The Bhutanese diet is rich in meat, cereals - particularly rice - vegetables and herbs. A common ingredient that runs through all of Bhutanese food is the use of chili peppers. It is common to see these bright red peppers along with strips of meats drying on roofs in the sun. Yak meat is a staple diet for the highlander, and chicken and mutton are commonly eaten in the south. Bhutanese also enjoy eating plant based food such as wild mushrooms, tender bamboo shoots, fiddlehead ferns, nettle flowers and orchid flower buds.

Spicy lovers can rejoice as you can expect to be served with some ema datshi (chilli cheese), Bhutan’s national dish or ezay (chilli condiment) during your meals.

Butter tea is often served on all social occasions alongside some zaw (roasted rice). Arra, a spirit distilled from rice, maize, wheat or barley, are also Bhutanese’s favourite beverages. Bhutanese also often offer Doma (betel nut with a dash of slaked lime) as a customary greeting and polite social gesture.

As Bhutan is a predominantly Buddhist country, you can also find vegetarian food easily.

Bhutanese food. Photo credit: Kencho Wangdi

11. What are some tips for travelling to Bhutan

11.1 Bhutan currency exchange, ATM withdrawal and credit card usage

  • The Bhutanese currency, the Bhutanese ngultrum (Nu.), is at par with the Indian rupee. Thus, Indian rupees are commonly accepted in Bhutan. However, old indian rupees as well as 500 and 1000 rupees are not accepted in Bhutan.
  • You may not always be able to withdraw any money from the local ATMs. It is advisable for you to bring along cash for out of pocket expenses.
  • Aside from the Paro International Airport, you can also exchange for the Bhutanese currency (Ngultrum) at Bank of Bhutan in Thimphu and Paro. However, they only accept 10 major currencies: U.S. Dollar, Pound Sterling, Euro, Japanese Yen, Swiss Franc, Hong Kong Dollar, Canadian Dollar, Danish Kroner, Australian Dollar and Singapore Dollars. 
  • The exchange rate varies according to your currency denomination. You are encouraged to bring larger denominations for the exchange as larger bills will give you a higher exchange rate.
  • USD 100 bills issued before year 2000 are not accepted for exchange.
  • Credit cards are not commonly accepted in Bhutan yet. It is still advisable that you bring along cash for payment. Most places might accept payment in the 10 major foreign currencies.
  • For the daily foreign exchange rate of the different banks in Bhutan, check out www.dailybhutan.com/FX

11.2 Where can I get a SIM card in Bhutan

  • There are two mobile operators in Bhutan - B-mobile and Tashi Cell. 
  • You can purchase a tourist SIM card from the airport, mobile operator office or from any authorised dealer in larger towns like Paro and Thimphu. 
  • You will need your passport copy and 200 Ngultrum (Nu) (approx. USD 2.70). You might want to get some extra few hundred Ngultrum for the beginning, especially if you want to call abroad or use the internet. You can load your balance by buying recharge vouchers, which comes in 50 Nu to 500 Nu value
  • From our experience, a top up of 300 Nu (USD 4.20) should suffice for a week’s trip.
  • *To help you skip the queue and cut down the hassle of getting a SIM card on your own, a SIM card will be ready for you upon your arrival if you travel with Druk Asia.


Druk Asia guests only

11.3 Is the wifi and internet in Bhutan reliable

  • Most of the hotels offer free wifi but some may be limited to the lobby area. Internet connection is generally good in bigger towns like Thimphu, Paro, Trongsa and Bumthang. Some remote valleys may have intermittent connectivity. It is advisable for travellers to purchase a SIM card upon arrival in Bhutan.

11.4 What should I wear in Bhutan

  • Generally, there are no attire restrictions in Bhutan except for official occasions like entering government offices, dzongs, temples, or monasteries.

  • Travellers should dress modestly such as long sleeve shirts, full length pants and shoes when visiting government offices, dzongs, temples, or monasteries.

  • Do note that you are also required to remove your shoes and headgear prior to entering the above places.

  • As a general tip, it would be wise to always have a jacket when travelling in Bhutan regardless of the seasons as you will experience huge changes in elevation, with certain valleys being colder than others.

11.5 Where can I go shopping in Bhutan

For the shopaholics, you can quench your shopping thirst by visiting the Paro Town, or Bhutan Natural and The Craft Gallery located in Thimphu town for a range of high quality products from the local artisans.

11.5.1 The Craft Gallery

Norzin Lam 3 (opposite Bhutan Development Bank)

Opening hour : Mon - Sat 9am - 5pm

*9am - 4pm (during winter)

11.5.2 Bhutan Natural

Norzin Lam (opposite Hotel Gakyil near the clock tower)

Opening hour: Mon - Sun 9am - 5pm

11.6 Photography in Bhutan

The charm of Bhutan from its unique architecture to stunning landscapes is definitely a photography haven for photographers. You are encouraged to check with your guide if photography is permitted especially when visiting dzongs, temples or monasteries.

As our photographer friend Lester Lesdema  said “You can’t take a bad photo in Bhutan”

https://www.drukasia.com/bhutan-travel/adventure/phototreks/

12. Basic conversational phrases in Bhutanese language (Dzongkha)

The official language of Bhutan in dzongkha - the language of the fort. However, most Bhutanese can also speak English as English has been the medium of instruction in schools since modern education began in the country in 1907.

You will probably hear a lot of ‘la’ at the end of sentences when a Bhutanese speaks. The ‘la’ in Bhutan is not the same as the ‘lah’ in the Singaporean slang. Using ‘la’ at the end of a sentence is a sign of respect in Bhutan.

Hello: Kuzuzangpo la སྐུ་གཟུགས་བཟང་པོ་ལགས།

Goodbye: Log jay gay ལོག་མཇལ་གེ་ལགས།

Thank you:  Kadinchey la བཀའ་དྲིན་ཆེ་ལགས།

What is your name?: Ming ga chi mo? ཁྱོད་ཀྱི་མིང་ག་ཅི་སྨོ?

My name is ____ : Nga gi ming _____ in ངེས་ཀྱི་མིང་་་་་་་་་་ཨིན།

Where are you from?: Chhoey ga te lay mo? ཁྱོད་ག་ཏེ་ལས་སྨོ?

How old are you?: Kay lo gadem chi ya si? (formal) སྐྱེ་ལོ་ག་དེམ་ཅིག་ཡར་སོང་ཡི? 

Chey gi lo gadem chi mo (informal)  ཁྱོད་ལོ་ག་དེ་ཅིག་སྨོ? 

Where is the toilet?: Chhabsa gathey mo? ཆབ་གསང་ག་ཏེ་སྨོ?

I’m ill: Nga nau may ང་ནཝ་མས།

Where is the hospital?: Menkhang ga tey in na? སྨན་ཁང་ག་ཏེ་ཨིན་ན?

What is this?: Ani ga chi mo? ཨ་ནི་ག་ཅི་སྨོ?

How much is it?: Teru ga they chi mo? ཏི་རུ་ག་དེ་ཅི་སྨོ?

That’s too expensive: Gong bom mayགོང་མཐོ་བས།

Greetings for congratulations/cheers/good luck: Tashi delek བཀྲ་ཤིས་བདེ་ལེགས།

 

Planning to travel to Bhutan during a festival?

On popular dates of travel such as during festival time, flight tickets tend to get fully reserved 5 months prior. Due to limited flight and seats available, we recommend you to reserve your ticket as early as possible. You can reserve your ticket for free with us and plan your trip to Bhutan with a peace of mind knowing that you will have a spot on your flight to Bhutan.


 

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