Booking a holiday in Bhutan and our itineray.
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We spent 3 weeks in Bhutan in November 2009 and I wrote a general trip report which can be read here.
Bhutan is a tiny mountain kingdom in the foothills of the Himalayas between India and China to the west of Nepal. It was an absolute monarchy until 2008 when the King decided it was time it became a democracy. It has only been open to tourists for a few years and is still very much a medieval society – although that is beginning to change. We think we got there just in time as in a few years it will have changed forever.
This article gives more detailed information about how we planned and booked the holiday with details of our itinerary.
Booking a holiday in Bhutan is very different. Tourism is carefully controlled by the Government so as not to have a negative impact on the culture and life of the Bhutanese.
Unless you are an Indian national, you are only allowed to enter if you have a prepaid and pre planned itinerary with a Bhutanese Tour Company. A driver and guide accompany you throughout your time in Bhutan.
You pay a set tariff per day, which covers cost of car, driver, guide, accommodation and all meals. If you are trekking it also includes horses, porters, camping equipment and cooks. From 2012 prices are $250 per person per day. There is a surcharge of $30 per person for groups of two. This sounds expensive but once in Bhutan all you need is spending money for postcards, gifts and drinks.
You have to fly at least one way – a way of controlling tourist numbers. The main airport is at Paro, in the west of Bhutan, although there are plans to open smaller regional airstrips.
By road, you can enter or leave at Phuentsholing in the south or at Samdrup Jonkar in the far east.
It is possible to book direct with a local agent in Bhutan. However many of these are small and email contact can be slow if they are out guiding, or if there is a local festival when all work stops.
We booked through Audley Travel in UK who we use for all our tailor made trips. www.audleytravel.com/
They use Druk Executive Travel in Thimphu. www.drukexecutivetravel.com/
You need visas to enter Bhutan. Local agents arrange these and sent to you a few days before you are due to travel.
We decided to fly into Bhutan from Delhi, drive across Bhutan and then drive out at Samdrup Jonkar into India to Guwahati where we would catch the train back to Delhi.
There is only one road across Bhutan so the itinerary is fairly fixed. We did travel along some of the side roads off the main road and found them very rewarding. The main road is narrow with many bends and often cut on a ledge across the side of the mountain with a steep drop into the valley below. Journey times are long.
We welcomed the opportunity to get out and walk along the road to see what was growing in the fields, enjoy the views and explore some of the tiny settlements off the road.
We wanted to travel slowly and allow ourselves plenty of time to see the countryside
Accommodation is more basic than in other countries and gets more basic the further east you travel, unless you pay extra (and I mean serious money – $1400 per night for a double room ) to stop in 5-star resorts like Aman Kora. Apart from Mongar we enjoyed all our accommodation and the staff more than made up for lack of facilities. We had en suite bathrooms (some very basic in the east) and all accommodation was very clean and beds were comfortable.
Our basic itinerary is listed below.
Fly from Delhi to Paro
PARO: 4 nights, spending a day round Paro itself, a day exploring the Paro valley and a day visiting Haa.
THIMPHU: 3 nights for some of the major attractions around Thimphu.
PUNAKA: 2 nights.
JAKAR: 3 nights, spent visiting the Bumthang Valley and day visiting the small villages of Shingkar and Ura
MONGAR: 1 night
TASHIGANG: 3 nights visiting Tashi Yangsi and Rajung and Radi.
To Sandrup Jonkar to Guwahati for 1 night before catching the train back to Delhi.
I have written a series of more detailed reports covering our trip which can be found by typing Bhutan in the search box.
The website with pictures of our holiday is here.
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