Bhutan – Land of the Thunder Dragon
In addition to the incredible scenery, the friendliness of the people and the historical sights of Bhutan, perhaps the most intriguing aspect to travel to this land locked country is its isolation. As late as the early 1960’s, Bhutan was accessible only by foot; through Tibet in the north and India from the South.
While there are a few more options for getting there now, the Royal Government of Bhutan remains committed to minimizing the impact of foreign travelers on the country and its people.
Travelers are not allowed to wander around on-their-own; they must book an organized all-inclusive tour, which includes all hotels, meals, guides and internal travel either with a local Bhutan travel service or an international travel agent working through a local Bhutan service.
Tour prices are set by the government. As a result, tour bargains are few and far between. The minimum cost for a group of 3-10 ranges from $200 (low season) to $250 (high season) per person per day. For a group of less than 3, an additional surcharge is added. Discounts are available for full time students and for groups of 11 or more. In reality, the best value you will be able to find for travel in Bhutan will be in joining a tour group of 11 or more people.
This booking requirement is the centerpiece of a low impact tourism strategy developed by the Royal government of Bhutan that is known as Gross National Happiness. The concept is that tourists are happier because they get a chance to sample “real life” in Bhutan. They aren’t run through a series of staged events and they are less likely to run into hordes of other tourists destroying the tranquility of the experience.
The strategy allows the environment of Bhutan to avoid the destructive effect of mass numbers of (low budget) travelers while attracting “high value, low-impact” tourists. And from the government’s perspective, the people of Bhutan are kept happy and less likely to be disturbed and/or tainted by the worst of the corrupting influences of travelers from foreign lands.
A visa must be obtained through your tour operator prior to arriving in Bhutan. In fact, the visa must be obtained prior to booking a flight into the country. Upon entry, 2 passport sized photos and $20 USD will get you an entry stamp on your visa that will allow a 15-day stay in the country.
As in the past, it is still possible to enter Bhutan overland through India but most travelers’ arrive by air into Paro (PBH) the only international airport in Bhutan. Flights are currently only available on Drukair, the National airline of Bhutan. Non-stop flights into Paro are available from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), Kathmandu (KTM) and from Kolkata, India (CCU). Drukair flights connecting to those flights originate in Singapore and several airports across India. While we’ve never taken it, the flight from Kathmandu over the Himalayas is reputably worth the price of admission.
Equipment used on these Drukair international flights is the Airbus A319.
At this writing, construction has begun in Gelephu on what was originally designated to be a 2nd international airport but it was recently downgraded to domestic status.
You can reach the official Bhutan government travel resource by clicking on this link
The Bhutan section that you’ll find here was authored by our Australian friend Margot, who describes herself as “Just a 60 something wannabe blogger. Cut my teeth a year or so back travel blogging on a different site. Now trying something different.”
We’ve traveled to more than a few interesting places in both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres with Margot, her husband Ross and sister Gerry and we’ve found that her recommendations are typically spot on.
You can read reports of the Bhutan travels of Margot and Ross in the pages following on this web-site or at her own blog