Welcome to the Kingdom of Bhutan. Also known as The Happiest Country in Asia! Bhutan is one of those countries that even savvy travelers have yet to step foot in. If they do, then it’s on another level of “well traveled”. Why? For one, Bhutanese government focuses on “high quality” travelers, not quantity. The deeply Buddhist nation wants to preserve the purity of their land, so much so that television entered its society in 1999 and the internet merely emerged in 2000. There’s also the tourist daily fee of $250 that controls the “quality” of tourists who enter Bhutan, simply put: if you’re willing to pay $250 a day, you really want to be there. Today, it remains as one of the most expensive places to visit.
But you MUST go and experience this rare gem, especially before mainstream commercialization spreads itself throughout Thimphu – its capital – which has no stoplights! The beauty of Bhutan can be represented by bright and vibrant colors in photos, but can only be profoundly felt in person. Peace, respect, sincerity, kindness. The happiest place in Asia puts less emphasis on GDP but so much more on Gross National Happiness. Every traveler is eventually transformed by such understated beauty. Even if you’re not spiritual, you will bow down to a culture that smiles in the landscapes of humility and modesty.
Adventurists will love Bhutan for the treks, hikes, and mountain trails. The religious will meditate in its profound spirituality. Travelers will find every aspect of Bhutanese culture to be utterly unique. Enjoy your trip, it will be unlike anything you’ve ever encountered. Remember, visiting Bhutan will be the greatest gift you can give to yourself.
For first-time travelers to Bhutan, here’s the 411:
Geography: Bhutan is located in South Asia, landlocked between several countries. China in the north, India in the east and west, Nepal also in the west, and Bangladesh in the South. It is also in the eastern part of the Himalayas.
Economic Resources: Bhutan’s main industries are: agriculture, weaving and tourism. Because the country does not have direct access to any oceans, it relies on India and surrounding countries for import/export products.
Religion: Buddhism is the state religion.
Population: Less than 750,000 inhabitants.
Language: Bhutanese (called Dzongkha by locals) a form of Tibetan family of languages. But travelers can get around speaking English in Bhutan.
5 Fascinating Country Features:
- Happiest country in Asia! Bhutan is one of the few countries in the world that focuses not on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) but on Gross National Happiness. Respect, kindness, peace are all qualities that you will feel when conversing with local Bhutanese.
- No stop lights! Thimphu is probably the only capital in the world that functions without any traffic lights. (There aren’t any McDonald’s either!)
- Because the landscape consists of high mountains, Bhutan is perfect for hikers & adventurists! The capital, Thimphu, is surrounded by gorgeous routes perfect for hiking, river rafting, trekking, camping…and tons of outdoor activities.
- Move over Will and Kate! The Royal Family in Bhutan are rockstars and beautiful. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck became the 5th king in 2008, and was educated abroad at Phillips Academy (Andover, Massachusetts), Wheaton College (Norton, Massachusetts), then University of (Oxford, UK). In 2011, he married the gorgeous queen Jetsun Pema. You will see their portraits on every street corner, inside every building throughout Bhutan.
- Dzongs are not only temples but city halls, government administrative offices. Since Bhutan is a religion-based country, their national politics and spirituality are deeply linked together. You will be visiting a Dzong in every district (there are 20 total in Bhutan).
(Skip to Jetset Times guides for: Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangdue Phodrang)
- Visa: All travelers except Indian residents (or Bangladeshi, Maldivian passport holders) require visa for traveling to Bhutan. In order to process Bhutan visa, you’ll need to prepare: clear readable color copy of passport (page containing passport number and face picture in JPEG or PDF format) at least 20 days prior to date of entry into Bhutan. Remaining validity of passport should be at least 6 months from the date of exit from Bhutan. Visa fee is US$ 40, is typically included in your tour package cost. More details here.
- Tourist daily fee (IMPORTANT): This is unique only for Bhutan. Every traveler is required by Bhutan government law to pay a daily $250 fee. This includes lodging, meals, so most travelers go through tour packages or private groups. In most cities, tour groups are considered cheesy or touristy, but it’s almost a necessity for traveling to Bhutan. They take care of arrangements with a guide, driver and details with tourist daily fee. Please email us at email@example.com for more info or recommendations regarding tour groups. You can read more on the daily $250 fee here.
- Weather: Extreme humidity during summer months, and snow during winter months. Hence the best time to visit is in autumn or spring.
- Electricity: 220 / 240 volts. Similar to Europe.
- Time Difference: BTT (UTC+6) AKA: 6 hours ahead of London, 11 hours ahead of NYC but 2 hours behind Shanghai.
- Money: Bhutanese use both Ngultrum (BTN) and Indian Rupee (INR).
- Airport: Paro Airport (PBH). The only international airport in Bhutan, and only Bhutan’s own international airline, Druk Air is the sole carrier into Paro Airport. You MUST encounter a layover getting into Bhutan, most likely in Bangkok or in India.
- Subway: There are none. You will need a driver, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will refer you to a trustworthy driver who speaks English and will take amazing care of you!
- Food: Red hot chili pepper, and we’re not referring to the rock band! You’ll be eating lots of it here, and see lots of dried chili on rooftops!
- Dress Code: known as Driglam Namzha. On the streets, you’ll witness Bhutanese wearing their traditional clothing. Men wear a heavy knee-length robe tied with a belt, called a gho. Women wear beautifully patterned blouses over which they fold and clasp a large rectangular cloth called a kira, thereby creating an ankle-length dress. A short silk jacket, or toego may be worn over the kira.
- Hello – Kuzoozangpo
- Thank you – Kaadinchhey
- Yes – Ong
- Where is this? – Ga tey?
- How much? – Dilu gadem chi mo?
JST’S BHUTAN LOOKBOOK: