Complete Guide to Bhutan Family Holidays

If you love travelling to exotic and extraordinary places which are not widely visited, then Bhutan is just the place for you. Known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, Bhutan is a Travelers Paradise. Nestled in the Himalayas, this country is almost hidden. It opened up to tourism only in the 1970’s. It may not be touristy, but its pristine beauty, amazing landscape and amiable people make it worth visiting at least once if not more.

It’s a country of mountains and valleys. The journey to this beautiful place starts with the incredible views of snow peaked Himalayas as the plane touches Bhutan. This country so full of beauty and tranquility where the people are happy, there is zero pollution, landscape is stunning that, it is so easy to forget the pressures of city life and disconnect yourself from the clutches of modernization and reconnect with your inner self.


Complete Guide to Bhutan Family Holidays


What makes Bhutan Special


It is the Happiest Country in the world! Bhutan’s constitution follows Gross National Happiness. It’s the only country which emphasizes on Gross National Happiness than Gross National Product. Bhutan focuses on development with value which means the spiritual and personal development of the people along with commercialization.

72% percent of Bhutan is under forest cover and a carbon neutral country. It’s a biodiversity hot-spot. The valleys covered with Rhododendrons are a sight to behold. In fact the Takin – National animal is also very rare and linked to legendary stories.

The people of Bhutan though hidden away in the Himalayas are slowly opening up to modernization. But they still celebrate their art and culture and their wish to preserve it is of utmost importance.

Bhutan Palace

Bhutan Weather


The weather in Bhutan changes according to the altitude of the place. High altitude regions in North Bhutan are chilly and freezing whereas the areas in south Bhutan are warm and humid. The center region enjoys sub tropical climate. The rains are heavy too. So its difficult to generalize.

Winter: December, January, February

Spring: March, April, May

Summer: June, July, August

Autumn: September, October, November

Best Time to Visit Bhutan


The best thing about Bhutan is that it can be visited all year round. Each season has something to look forward to. In spring, the rich vegetation is at its best with colorful flowers blossoming everywhere. This is also the time for festivals. The Autumn is great for visiting too when the skies are clear, the air is crisp and the mountain peaks are clearly visible. This time is good for trekking. Winter is the best time to visit Dochula Pass and western Bhutan regions of Thimphu, Paro, Wangdue and Punakha.

Pro Tip: Even if you travel in summer make sure to carry some warm clothing.

Culture and Language


Bhutan has a rich culture. The government still stresses on following the cultures and traditions which is clear in Bhutanese attire, architecture and day-to-day living. They follow Driglam Namzha, which is a way of life that includes what and how to wear, what to eat, how to bow etc. This is for preserving their culture. Wherever you go in Bhutan you will see the locals only in their traditional clothes. The men wear the Gho and women wear the Kera.

Buddhism reflects everywhere in this country. The Stupas, monasteries, fluttering prayer flags, Djongs, prayer wheels, temples, red robed Buddhist monks are almost a part of the landscape of this beautiful country and so are the sound of chants, chimes and gongs.

The national language is Dzongkha. However, in the more touristy areas English is widely spoken. Due to Bollywood many locals have learnt some Hindi too.

Pro Tip: It’s mandatory for everyone to wear clothing that cover the knees and shoulders while visiting the important places and temples so pack accordingly.

Visas and Permits


You need a passport that is valid for at-least six months for visiting Bhutan. However, for Indians a valid Voters Identity Card can also be used instead of a passport. Citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives do not need a Visa prior to entering Bhutan. They can get a visa at the point of entry.

Citizens of all other countries need a Visa prior to their arrival in Bhutan. They can get a visa only through a certified Bhutan Travel Operator. In addition to the visa fees, there is also a Minimum Charge Per Day that is charged by Bhutan government. This amount depends on the season of visit and is levied to regulate and control the number of tourists.

The Minimum Charge per Day is as follows:

USD 200 per person per night in the months of December, January, February, June, July, August

USD 250 per person per night in the months of March, April, May, September, October

Currency


The local currency is Ngultrum (Nu) and the coins are Chetrum. Currency is easily exchanged at the airport, bank or hotel. Indian currency in the denomination of 100 is widely accepted can be easily used even in local markets. However, the change will always be given in Nu.

How to Reach Bhutan


Flights


There are four airports in Bhutan. Out of these, the only International Airport is in Paro which is almost 1.5 hour drive from Thimphu. This airport is the “most challenging commercial airport in the world”, due to its Himalayan terrain. Druk Air, Buddha Air and Bhutan Airline have regular flights from Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Ahmedabad, Gaya, Mumbai and Bagdogra. Also from Kathmandu, Bangkok and Dhaka. The Paro airport is at a height of 7500 feet surrounded by 16000 feet high mountains. The flying experience is out of the world as you get to witness some of the highest mountain peaks like the Kanchenjunga and Mt. Everest. The landing is equally exciting. It is one of the most beautiful airports in the world.

The airplane schedule largely depends on the ever-changing Himalayan climate and hence subjected to frequent delays.

Read also: How to Book Cheap Flights – 7 Insights


By Road


Before the airports came into being, Bhutan was accessible only by foot. but now there are three entry points to enter Bhutan.

You can reach Bhutan by land via Phuentsholing, in southwest Bhutan. It is almost 170 kms from Bagdogra. But from Phuentsholing, it’s a treacherous 10 hour drive to reach Thimphu.

The second entry point is Samdrup Jongkhar, about 150 kms from Guwahati, Assam. This place is 700 kms from Thimphu.

Gelephu, is the third entry point. It takes you through the sub tropical areas before reaching the alpine regions of Bhutan. It is about 10 hours drive from Thimphu.

Travelling by road will take you to some breathtaking locations and will be an experience of a lifetime but with kids its better to go by air as the roads are full of hair-pin curves and the high altitudes can create an unpleasant experience.

Getting Around


There are no trains or domestic flights in Bhutan. So the only way to travel within Bhutan is by bus or car. There is a good network of roads here but owing to the hilly terrain its advisable to travel only during day time. There are very affordable public buses that connect all major cities. However, there is always an option of tourist vehicle too.

Sim Card


You will find good internet connectivity at all the hotels you stay but in case you need more, then a local sim is easily available at any market. Your tour operator can help you with this and get you one on arrival.


Also Read: Complete Guide to Singapore Family Holiday


Trongsa Dzong

Places to Visit in Bhutan


Thimphu


Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and hence it is the commercial and government center. Thimphu is also modernized as compared to other parts of Bhutan with banks, ATMs, restaurants and cafes lining the streets. The only traffic signal in Bhutan is in Thimphu. In-spite of all this, the culture and traditions are reflected in the people living here. Their main festival is the Tshechu, which is a four-day festival where masked dancers perform. 

Paro


The historical city of Paro lies in the western part of Bhutan. Paro lies in the confluence of Paro Chhu and Wang Chhu rivers. The beautiful green landscape of Paro is dotted with traditionally built houses. It is scattered with heritage monuments and many religious sites. The main street is lined with shops and restaurants built in the traditional architectural style. This is the city that is best covered by foot. There are many attractions in Paro like The Tiger’s Nest and the Paro Dzong or the Rinpung Dzong.

Punakha


Punakha is the most beautiful city in Bhutan. It lies at the confluence of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan till 1955. This is where the King’s Coronation ceremony takes place and where the present king got married. The first National Assembly was also held here. Punakha houses the most iconic Dzong in Bhutan called the Punakha Dzongkhag. Punakha is warm and sunny compared to other parts of Bhutan. The valley is fertile and you can see vast rice fields making a beautiful landscape. Do not forget to try out River Rafting here.

Bumthang


Bumthang means “Beautiful Fields”.  Bumthang lies in central Bhutan. This is the most historical district in Bhutan. It has many ancient religious sites and temples. It comprises of four major valleys Chokhor, Tang, Ura and Chhume. Chokhor Valley has all the major Dzongs and temples and it is the largest one so it’s also called Bumthang Valley. The scenic glaciers and amazing landscape ensures many visitors.

Major Attractions in Bhutan


Tigers Nest Temple


This is the landmark of Bhutan. Paro Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest is a sacred Monastery perched 900 meters above the ground on a cliff in the upper Paro Valley. This place is so stunning that no trip to Bhutan will ever be complete without a visit here. Built in 1692, it still functions as a monastery and a Himalayan Buddhist temple. According to the legend, in the 7th century, Guru Rinpoche, rode to this cave from Tibet atop a tigress and meditated here for 3 years, 3 months and 3 days to defeat the demon that was living within the cave.

Trekking to the Tiger’s Nest is one of the most sought after attractions in Bhutan. It is an average level trek. The trek is about 4.5 kms long and takes about 5 – 7 hours to complete. There is a cafeteria midway if you want to catch a few breaths. The awesome view of the temple from the top is definitely worth the effort.

Dordenma Buddha


Atop a hill in Thimphu sits this 169 feet gigantic Buddha statue. In fact it is the first thing that catches your eye when you reach Thimphu. What’s more surprising is that is houses more than 125000 small Buddha statues inside. Dordenma Buddha statue was constructed to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Bhutan’s fourth King. Its made up of bronze with gold plating.

Dochula Pass


This place is engulfed in misty Himalayas about 20 kms from Timphu. The Dochula Pass, located at an elevation of 3100 meters is surrounded by snow covered Himalayan peaks. Apart from the location what makes this place stunning is the 108 memorials or stupas built in the memory of the Bhutanese soldiers. This place is usually covered on the way to Punakha. Since it is located at high altitude, this place is usually foggy and chilly.

Kyichu Lhakhang


Kyichu Lhakhang is one of the important Buddha temples in Bhutan. according to the legend, there was a demon who was hindering the spread of Buddhism in the Himalayan region. So temples were built on specific points of the demons body to slain it. This temple was constructed in the 7th century and is believed to be one of the oldest and most sacred temples in Bhutan. There are two orange trees in the courtyard of this temple which are always laden with fruits all year round. Another striking feature about this temple is the number of prayer wheels in the yard.

Motithang Takin Preserve


Takin (Budorcas taxicolor), is an exotic animal that is found only in Bhutan. It is their National animal. The origin of Takin is linked to many 15th century year old legendary stories about a Lama also called the divine mad man. The Motithang Preserve is where you can see these gorgeous animal feeding and resting in their natural habitat.

Rinpung Dzong


Paro Dzong or the Rinpung Dzong means a “Fortress on a heap of jewels”. This Dzong or Fort is the best example of Bhutanese architecture. This massive fortress rises high above the city and is easily visible from anywhere in Paro. It was built in 1644, on the orders of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It was initially the meeting hall for the National assembly but it’s now used by the religious and as well as by the local government bodies. The main chambers of this fort are closed for tourists but still its a great place to experience the beautiful architecture and stunning views of Paro from here.

Chimi Lhakhang


Chimi Lhakhang is the fertility temple of Bhutan. Lama Kunley or the Mad Saint had a different way of spreading Buddhism. He used songs and humor which was considered bizarre. Something even more bizarre was that he used a wooden phallus to bless people. He got this phallus from Tibet and it is still preserved inside the temple. Phallus, then became a symbol of fertility and people today keep it inside their homes or adorn their houses walls with paintings of it. People come to this temple to pray for fertility and are still blessed with a wooden or ivory phallus.

Shopping in Bhutan


Bhutan market

The Market at Thimphu

Bhutan may not be a shoppers paradise but there are many interesting artifacts and handicrafts that can be taken as souvenirs. The people here value their natural resources hence they have mastered the art of weaving cane, bamboo products and textiles. The textiles here are unique can can make a very good gift. The national costume or shawls and stoles are very appealing.

Food in Bhutan


Bhutan does not believe in pesticides and chemicals hence all the food here is homegrown and organic. Chilies are integral to Bhutanese cuisine. In fact their national dish – Ema Datshi is a cheesy gravy loaded with big green chilies. Rice is the staple diet of Bhutan and is widely available everywhere. Another must try is the Suja or salted butter tea. which is really interesting.

Places to Stay in Bhutan


Bhutan has a huge variety of staying options available that suit all budgets. Right from the super luxurious Amankora Lodges in Punakha or Le Meridien Paro Riverfront in Paro to Taj Tashi in Thimphu.

Check out the prices of Hotels and resorts in Bhutan here.


Book Your Stay in Bhutan


Also Read: 10 Reasons to make Bhutan your next Holiday Destination


Hope you find this blog post on Bhutan of use to you. Do let me know if you have already visited Bhutan or if I am missing something, please contact us or comment below and I will update this blog post soon. Your comments and/or feedback are most welcome.

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About Manish Samtani

Namaste! A passionate traveller at heart and now a blogger as well. Thanks to my sailing career, travelling has always been an integral part of my professional life. Eternally fascinated by the World of Travelling be it either meeting new people, learning new cultures, experiencing their customs or just trying out some new cuisines. Off late, I’ve been exploring places with my family where my job has not taken me. Mail me at manishsamtani@laidbacktraveller.com

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