After Vietnam & Cambodia last year, this year I decided to pick Bhutan as my annual save-for-the-whole-year-to-afford-it travel destination
Bhutan is a lot more affordable than a place like Vietnam, just in terms of getting there. If you’re living in West Bengal/Assam it’s like travelling to a neighbouring city. Indians don’t need a visa to travel to Bhutan and are exempt from the $250/day rule imposed on non-SAARC nationals. It’s a beautiful country, with delicious food and unbelievably kind people. What’s not to love??
Bonus attraction: their currency is at the same rate as India’s, and they also accept Indian rupees.
Planning a 9-Day Bhutan Trip:
I like my vacations chilled out & relaxed. I HATE rushing from one place to another, hurriedly dipping in and out of sites and not getting a chance to really soak in the culture of the place.
This itinerary was perfect in terms of giving us enough time in each place and also providing flexibility, in terms of planning the day.
We did plan on making a quick trip to Haa Valley, for the Summer Festival – but all the hotels were booked up and so we decided to do it the next time we travelled to the Dragon Kingdom.
Getting to Bhutan
So we booked a round flight trip from Delhi to Bagdogra which cost only Rs 6,000 per person. Bagdogra is a 3-hour drive from the Bhutanese border city of Pheuntsholing so it’s much, MUCH cheaper than directly flying into Bhutan – which was priced at about Rs 14.000 per person. The money saved on flights was used for food 😀
Another alternative, which I’ve seen on a lot of travel blogs is to take a train from New Delhi to Jalpaiguri, and then taking a cab/taxi to Jaigaon. We didn’t choose the train option because it would take over 24 hours + 4 hour drive – which is time we didn’t have to spare.
When we landed in Bagdogra, West Bengal we took a taxi to Jaigaon which is the town right next to Pheuntsholing. It cost us about Rs 3,000 but you can get it for Rs 2,500 as well. A cheaper alternative would be to take a taxi to Siliguri & then take a bus from there to Jaigoan – costing about Rs 500 per person. But we landed in Bagdogra by 12 pm and were eager to get to Jaigaon before 5 pm so we could apply for our Bhutan permit before the office closes.
It was a comfortable drive from Bagdogra to Siliguri, but heavy traffic slowed us down immensely. With a 20-minute lunch break in between, we managed to reach Jaigaon by 4:45 pm but that was still too late to apply for the permit, as there are long lines at the Immigration office.
We spent the night at Jaigaon and then crossed over to Pheuntsholing by foot the next day (you literally have to just walk 100 metres and cross a giant gate) and then went to the Immigration office. Once we got our permits, we booked a bus to Thimpu at the state bus stand and left by 1 pm.
With a 10-minute break in between for lunch/evening snack we ended up reaching Thimphu by around 8 pm.
Hotels in Bhutan
We booked all of our hotels through AirBnB since MakeMyTrip and the other usual websites were throwing up extremely expensive results. AirBnB is also a great way to connect with locals – we got a lot of great local tips while interacting with the owners/those running the AirBnbs.
Another advantage of AirBnb is that you’re not in typical ‘tourist’ areas. So you get to mingle with locals a lot more and get to try a lot more local food in unexpected places.
I’ll put up a post on some hidden delights we found in terms of food. Subscribe to the blog so you get it delivered straight to your inbox 🙂
It averaged to about Rs 1,000 per person per night and was extremely comfortable & clean. While I’m more of a hostel person, in the absence of any hostels in Bhutan, AirBnB is the next most affordable & comfortable option. I’ll put up a separate post on the places we stayed at so you get a better idea 🙂
Weather in Bhutan/What to Pack:
We travelled in mid-july to Bhutan, which was both a blessing & a problem. So it’s monsoon season which means it’s off-season for tourists. While it’s great because you get good discounts for shopping, and hotels are more easily available – it is a problem because the rains could cause landslides, delaying your trip.
Luckily for us, whenever we went trekking the skies were clear. The only rain we experienced were light drizzles which we avoided by chilling in Bhutan’s many cafes.
It wasn’t too cold, so lightweight sweaters or even t-shirts would be fine. Keep in mind that Bhutan is quite conservative and they won’t let you into temples if you’re wearing shorts and your arms are exposed. So 3/4 sleeve tops/t shirts, jeans and sneakers/boots would be perfect. Carry a shawl just in case as well.
Budget for the Entire Trip:
We planned a trip around a budget of Rs 30,000. We went over by about Rs 1,500 but that’s because we overstepped our souvenirs/gift budget. Otherwise Rs 30,000 is MORE than enough for a comfortable & fun-filled trip to Bhutan.
Here’s the Breakdown:
Stay: Rs 8,000
Food: Rs 4,500
Flight: Rs 6,000
Travel within Bhutan: Rs 6,500
Shopping: Rs 5,000
Saving Money on the Trip
Our biggest expense during the trip was cab fare. We took a cab from Bagdogra to Jaigaon, Thimpu to Punakha, Punakha to Paro and from Paro to Phuentsholing. All of these cab trips which amounted up to Rs, 4,500.
If all of these were bus trips, it would have cost max Rs 1,000. You have to make sure you get to the bus station and book tickets in advance, because there are few buses and they get filled up very quickly. And it’s not possible to stand the entire way (I don’t think they’d allow you to either).
If you’re not a souvenir person and if you take the train from New Delhi, then it’s possible to do this entire trip within Rs 15,000.
I’ve even read blog posts about people who have done a 1-week trip within Rs 3,000. But it looks extremely painful & uncomfortable – and absolutely the polar opposite of what I was looking for, which was a relaxed vacation.
Ultimately it’s about what you’re looking for, your budget and the amount of time you have and the experiences you’re seeking. Have fun on your Bhutan trip! Drop a comment if you have any questions.