So I had a LOT of doubts about the documents required for Bhutanese travel since the rules had changed just a few months before our trip.
While you don’t need a visa to travel to Bhutan, you do need a travel permit. You have to apply for one at the Immigration office at Pheuntsholing in order to be able to travel to Paro & Thimphu. The travel permit is free, you just have to get your documents and line up. The office timings are 9 am to 5 pm and are usually pretty crowded.
Documents you’ll need:
- Copy of your passport
- 2 passport photos
- Printout of your hotel stay in Thimphu
- Copy of your Itinerary (refer this post for a sample)
NOTE: A lot of websites were giving conflicting information about providing the details of hotel stay for EVERY day of your trip. This means that every hotel had to be booked in advance, so there wasn’t much flexibility in your plans. However, at the immigration office, they just asked for the details of the first night at Thimphu.
It doesn’t take too long to get a permit, you have to fill a form and get your biometrics done & you’ll get a sheet that you have to keep VERY VERY carefully. You’ll also have to get it stamped at every check post along the way. You have to return it on your way back.
Public Transport in Bhutan:
You can avail buses from city to city, but not within a city. The inter-city buses need to be booked in advance as they tend to fill up very quickly. And since there aren’t many of them around, you don’t want to be left stranded & have to shell out a bomb for a taxi.
You could take taxis from city to city if you are travelling in a group of 4, because you would be able to travel at your own pace & it wouldn’t be too expensive. But still – bus would cost you Rs 200, while a taxi, even when divided by 4 would cost you Rs 500-700 each.
Within a city, it is cheaper to take ‘shared’ cabs than ‘reserved’ cabs. Shared cabs are basically like e-rickshaws, but taxis, where the taxi driver waits until 4 people fill in a cab and then proceeds to drop people off, one by one. Reserved cabs are where you would pay the fare of all people, regardless if you are 2 or 3 people in total.
Staying in Bhutan:
Unfortunately, there are no youth hostels in Bhutan, but there are affordable options – via AirBnb. Again, you don’t want to get stuck without a place to stay so it’s better you book your stay before you travel. AirBnb was the most affordable option out of MakeMyTrip, ClearTrip, GoiBibo etc and the reviews are pretty spot on. Another advantage to pre-booking hotels means that you don’t have to carry a lot of loose cash with you.
Speaking of which, not many shops have a card machine and it’s cheaper anyway paying in cash – so, CARRY YOUR CASH
What to Wear – Do’s & Don’ts:
Keep in mind that Bhutan is quite conservative and they won’t let you into temples and administrative buildings 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.
Most Bhutanese wear the traditional outfits (gho for men, and kira for women) which is very beautiful & classy. It leaves only their hands and heads uncovered, and it is draped so gracefully & worn so proudly.
So somehow, wearing skimpy or typical ‘vacation’ clothes in Bhutan feels a little disrespectful. And with the weather being quite chilly, it makes more sense to cover up.
Things to Keep in mind:
- Keep your immigration permit with you at all times
- Most places accept Indian currency – but they may not accept notes of Rs 500 and above – so keep your Bhutanese currency handy
- If you smoke, keep in mind that there is a tax levied on cigarettes being brought into the country. Cigarettes are also not sold in Bhutan.
- When you are visiting holy places/administrative place – dress in such a way that your arms & legs are covered