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A Backpacking Trip to Bhutan: The Land of Happy People

Bhutan Budget Trip

Bhutan budget trip is planned by backpackers annually across the globe. Bhutan as a travel destination is not only beautiful but extremely budget friendly. Also, it is one of the most travel friendly locations in Asia. 

Bhutan also known as the ‘Land of Happy People’ or the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’ is a small landlocked country located between India and China. It is brimming with snow clad mountains, splendid rivers, varied of trees and genuinely warm hearted people

Bhutan is the only existing ‘Vajrayana’ Buddhist kingdom in the world. It is one of the few countries in Asia that was never colonized.The happy land is famous in the world as a ‘Carbon Negative Country.’ Also, Bhutan is known for measuring its success in terms of “Gross Happiness Index” in contrast to the “Gross Domestic Product” which is usually the norm.

Bhutan has an incredible travel policy of  ‘high value, low volume.’  The number of visitors to the happy nation are limited and regulated each year. The nation firmly holds the opinion that it is better to allow less but value adding travelers each year than opening its territories for everyone. This policy helps preserve its traditions, cultural heritage and natural resources.

bhutan budget trip

Bhutan is popularly known as the ‘Land if the Thunder Dragon.’ The land is positive. Photography by Sherin Wong

Bhutan Budget Trip: An Overview for First Time Visitors

Peak season for Bhutan budget trip August to February. It is recommended that you plan your Bhutan budget trip in the aforesaid months to make it cost friendly.
 Backpacking in Bhutan As strange as it may sound, Bhutan does not allow backpackers. This implies that you have to book your trip with Bhutanese travel agents before hand. The agents will help you in everything  – planning, customizing itineraries, making reservations and bookings.
Solo travel to Bhutan Traveling solo to Bhutan will prove more expensive than traveling in a group. If you don’t like company, try collaborating with fellow solo travelers before hand. This will help you pool and share costs during your Bhutan budget trip. Also you will have to book your trip in advance.
Surcharge for solo travelers For solo travelers, there will be a surcharge of about $30 per day. This can be minimized if you travel in a group of 3 or more.
Planning your Bhutan budget trip via a private travel company It is mandatory for a visitor to arrange for an private tour before landing in Bhutan. Also, the payment has to be made in advance. Only then will you be granted your visa. You should not worry about paying the advance payment because the Bhutanese government monitors each private travel company closely. Make sure the company is approved by the Government.
 Daily expenses on your Bhutan budget trip  Daily expenses will include accommodation, food , transportation, entrance fees to various places and a private guide and driver (if you hire one). Good thing is that the cost per day will be less than you expect.
 Cost per day $200. This amount may seem expensive but it is not because it is covering everything – accommodation, transportation, cost of visiting various places, food, personal guide, personal driver.

The $200 cost is not applicable to citizens from India, Bangladesh and Maldives. Citizens from these nations can travel Bhutan on a cost effective budget of $25 per day.

Note: For viewing the complete list of approved private travel companies in Bhutan – click here

bhutan budget trip

Bhutanese people are known for religiously celebrating each festival. Photography by Doctor Bobster

Before embarking on your Bhutan budget trip, you should know about the land. This becomes even more significant if you’re a first time visitor. Having knowledge about a place and its essential aspects will help you connect more with the destination.

Bhutan as a Travel Destination: Highlights

Location South Asia
Official language DzongKha.
Population 797,765
Currency Ngultrum
Safety Extremely Safe
Visa Permit is given on arrival in Bhutan
Official Dress Gho for men and Kira for women
Best Time to Visit All year round
bhutan budget trip

The entry to Buddha Point, Thimphu. Photography by Kathani P

What is Special about the Bhutan Budget Trip ?

A backpacking trip is different from a normal tourist outing. 

A Backpacking trip to Bhutan is special because of the multitude of pleasure the country has to offer its visitors. It is a developing country and hence the costs are mediocre.

Bhutan budget trip is extremely safe for a solo female traveler as well, although slightly more expensive. The distances of the prominent places to visit in a Bhutanese town are less.

There is an efficient public transport available for inter town transport.

Finally, you cannot withdraw money from ATMs frequently since they aren’t many. Therefore, you set yourself on a budget automatically.

bhutan budget trip

Bhutan is uncanny, beautiful and inspiring. This is a picture from outside the National museum. Photography by Sirikanya Asawachai

Why Should a Traveler Pursue the Bhutan Budget Trip ?

Bhutan is a country that has an easy access to most of the travelers from all countries. It is a cost effective and travel friendly country. The rich natural and cultural heritage is worth experiencing.

One of the most important reasons of travelling to Bhutan is that you can get a visa/ permit on arrival to either Phuentsholing or Paro.

bhutan budget trip

The reasons to visit Bhutan are countless. Its a culturally rich land. Photography by Dipanwita Dass

How to Reach Bhutan from Any International Destination ?

Paro International Airport is connected directly with 4 major capital cities – New Delhi, Kathmandu, Singapore City and Bangkok.

From New Delhi Board a plane till New Delhi from your country. Reach New Delhi and head towards Paro in your connecting flight. You will be asked to pay the transit visa fee at New Delhi.
From Kathmandu Board a plane till Kathmandu from your country. Reach Kathmandu and head towards Paro via Drukair.
From Singapore Board a plane till Singapore  from your country. Reach Singapore and head towards Paro via Drukair.  Your flight will halt at Kolkata for re-fueling. 
From Bangkok Board a plane till Bangkok from your country. Reach Bangkok and head towards Paro via Drukair.
bhutan budget trip

Paro International Airport in aerial view. Photography by Ugyen Dexter

How to Reach Bhutan from India ?

There are 3 major ways to reach Bhutan. One can enter Bhutan from 2 towns – Phuentsholing and Paro.

Train To enter from Phuentsholing, board a train from the place closest to you and reach Hasimara.

Hasimara is the closest Indian train station to India-Bhutan border.

From Hasimara, one can board a rickshaw, taxi or bus to reach Jaigaon which is the Indian town adjoining Phuentsholing.

Flight to Bagdogra

 

Take a flight to Bagdogra from the airport nearest to you.

Most of the airports have a direct flight to Bagdogra.

From Bagdogra, it is a 3 to 4-hour road journey to Phuentsholing.

Flight to Paro Travel directly to Paro by flight.

The permit is issued at the Phuentsholing as well as Paro immigration office.

bhutan budget trip

The aerial snow clad view of peaks in Bhutan just before landing. Photography by Sue Tanian

Booking your Flights for Bhutan Budget Trip

For your Bhutan budget trip, try booking from any one of the following portals. The discounts are good and so are the deals.

Agoda Book flights here
Booking.com Book flights here
Expedia Book flights here

Essential Things to Carry on your Bhutan Budget Trip

The following items are a ‘must have’ for your Bhutan budget trip.

1. Identity proof
2. Address proof
3. Cash. There are not many ATMs in Bhutan.
4. Woolen garments
5. Medical kit
6. College Id (if you’re a student). It will help you avail discounts.
bhutan budget trip

Bhutan stands for everything unique. This is a picture from Buddha Point, Thimphu. Photography by Ryoko Sha

Obtaining Permit and Sim Card

The first thing to do after entering Bhutan is to get a permit from the immigration office. The whole procedure takes around an hour with the help of a local agent and can take upto 2 -3 hours without an agent.

A solo traveler, or a group of travelers less than 4 need to give in writing that they will be solely responsible for any accident.

After taking the permit for your Bhutan budget trip, head to a nearby shop where you can buy a sim card of ‘Tashi’ company with a balance of 200 minutes and a sufficient data plan for 200 INR. 

bhutan budget trip

While in Bhutan, make sure to obtain a valid SIM card to stay connected. Photography by Jewel Sangpang

Recommended Volunteer Programs in Bhutan

Due to the stringent (although brilliant) travel policy, Bhutan can be a tad bit expensive for backpackers. This is especially true for backpackers from non-SAARC nations. 

However, planning the ideal budget Bhutan trip is possible by enrolling for a volunteering program. Bhutan sponsors trips (sometimes even 100%) for skilled volunteers. All you have to make sure is that you contribute in their nation building and not be a free loader.

Two of the most recommended volunteer programs for your Bhutan budget trip are

Volunteer Program Details
High School Summer Community Service Location: Thimphu

Duration: 7 days

Work: Volunteers will work with Bhutanese young children. In addition, environmental  and community beautification or construction projects around Thimphu will also be looked after.

Film Makers Without Borders Location: Thimphu

Duration: 1 month

Work: Filmmakers and art educators teach filmmaking, media literacy, and technology skills to budding students in Bhutan.

Major Towns to Visit During your Bhutan Budget Trip

Town Places to Visit
Phuentsholing Zangto Pelri Lhakhang

Karbandi Monastery

Bhutan Gate

 Paro  Paro Takstang

Main Street

RinpungDzong

Chele la 

National Museum of Bhutan

 Thimphu Chorten Memorial

National textile Museum

Folk heritage museum

National Library of Bhutan

Tashichho Dzong

 Phobjikha Gangte Goemba

Nyelung Dechenling

Phuentsholing

Phuentsholing is the second largest town of the happy kingdom of Bhutan. It is highly commercialized and serves as the leading trade center of the country. Put it on priority for your Bhutan budget trip.

It is also the entry and exit route between Bhutan and India. The travelers can receive their permits here. 

bhutan budget trip

A monastery at Phuentsholing. Photography by Jenes Surin

The places to see in around Phuentsholing are –

Zangto Pelri Lhakhang

Zango Pelri Lhakhang is a sanctimonious place for Buddhists and others alike. The architecture of the place is spectacular. Again a must visit place on your Bhutan budget trip.

It is home to the exact replica of Guru Rinpoche, with eight life-size idols of different manifestations of the revered Guru. Statues of Bodhisattvas, paintings of Lord Buddha and statues of Avalokiteshvarais are things worth seeing.

bhutan budget trip

Inside Zangto Pelri Lhakhang. Photography by Nishan

Karbandi Monastery

A beautiful monastery located at a height of 400 meters. It is at a distance of 4 kms from Phuentsholing bus station. One can see the complete Phuentsholing town from Karbandi Monastery.

The prayer flags at the monastery are symbolic of positivity or chi as it is known. The prayer wheels are for the same. Do spin them around and have faith in the goodness of the place around.

bhutan budget trip

Karbandi Monastery. Photography by Sri Hemand

Bhutan Gate

It is the official gate at the international boundary between India and Bhutan. The architecture of the Bhutan Gate is very aesthetically pleasing.

The Bhutan Gate is close to the immigration office. You can even buy stuff here owing to a large variety of shops.

bhutan budget trip

The Bhutan Gate as seen from the India side of the international border. Photography by Anosh K.S.

Paro

Paro is a charming town ( a valley in essence) that is popular for its religious sites, historic places and culturally rich vibe. 

The territory of Paro extends from the confluence of the Paro Chhu and the Wang Chhu rivers at Chuzom right up till Mount Jomolhari which lies at the Tibetan border to its North. 

bhutan budget trip

The city of Paro from afar. Photography by Adil Afsar

The places to see in around Paro are –

Paro Taktsang

The famous Tigers Nest monastery or Paro Taktsang as it is locally known is located in the high mountains. One needs to hike for about 1.5 hours to reach the top. Porters are also available for some cost.Start early as the counter closes as 10 am.

The climb is gentle but continuous. There is only one café on the way up at around the 50% mark. You need to climb a final of 300 steps to reach the top.

Wear full sleeves with collar and pants to be allowed to enter the monastery. Nothing except a water bottle is permitted in the Monastery.

bhutan budget trip

The magnificent Tiger Nest Monastery standing tall on a cliff. Photography by Nishant Shekhar

Main Street

The Main Street in Paro has beautiful traditional wooden structures along its side and hosts a variety of shops as well. You can buy a few native items from here.

bhutan budget trip

The Main Street at Paro. Photography by Ameya Sirsat

Rinpung Dzong

Rinchen Pung Dzong or popularly known as Rinpung Dzong is a fortress. In fact the name itself means, “Fortress on a heap of jewels’ in the native language. Historically used to defend Paro Valley from foreign invasions.

bhutan budget trip

Inside the premises of Rinchen Pung Dzong. Photography by Milica Grujic

Chele la 

Chele La Pass separates Haa from Paro valley. The pass lies at an elevation of 3810 metres and is one of the highest motor able pass in Bhutan. The drive till here is beautiful from Paro. One can see the dense green temperate forests all around. 

bhutan budget trip

Chela La Pass. Photography by Saran Baskar

National Museum of Bhutan

The building turned into the National Museum of Bhutan is in the form of a conch shell. The display here is impressive and is reflective of the rich cultural past o Bhutan. There also happens to be a Natural and Heritage Gallery here.

bhutan budget trip

National Museum of Bhutan. Photography by Kunal Dhane Sha

Thimphu

 Thimphu is not only the charming capital city of Bhutan but also its largest city. It is a rich combination of a traditional and a contemporary culture.

In addition to its traditional attractions, it also hosts cafes, nightclubs and restaurants. Thimphu should certainly be on your Bhutan budget trip itinerary. 

bhutan budget trip

The city of Thimphu from a distance. Photography by Anwesha Dey

The places to see in around Thimphu are –

Chorten Memorial

A place of daily worship for many, the Chorten Memorial is a large Tibetan religious structure. Its richly painted annexes face the cardinal directions. It has mandalas and statues crafted on it. 

bhutan budget trip

Chorten Memorial. Photography by Gakey Namgyel

National Textile Museum

Operated officially by the National Commission for Cultural Affairs, the National Textile Museum displays and promotes the textile industry of Bhutan. The achievements in textiles are also put to the fore.

bhutan budget trip

A unique fabric and pattern displayed at the National Textile Museum. Photography by Jimpth

Folk Heritage Museum

The Folk Heritage Museum gives a traveler an insight into the traditional Bhutanese way of living and culture. In addition to artifacts, it also displays an wide collection of  household objects, tools and equipment.

bhutan budget trip

Enrance to the Folk Heritage Museum. Photography by Gautam Rajan

National Library of Bhutan

The National Library of Bhutan preserves the ancient Dzongkha and Tibetan texts. It comprises of a number of ancient books and manuscripts. The architecture of the building is appealing. The National museum of Bhutan has the world’s largest book.

bhutan budget trip

The National Library of Bhutan. Photography by Ame Heureuse

Tashichho Dzong

In the Tashichho Dzong,  the king and queen of Bhutan live. A point to note is that, it is open for visitors only after 4.30 pm for 1 hour.

bhutan budget trip

A beautiful Buddha figure inside the Tashichho Dzong. Photography by Lucino Hert

Phobjikha

Phobjikha is actually a valley. Glacial valley to be precise. It is extremely beautiful and forms a a natural habitat to Black Neck Cranes, deers, leopards, red foxes etc.

bhutan budget trip

Black Neck Cranes flying high in Phobjikha Valley. Photography by Kanai Das Thakur

The places to see in around Phobjikha are –

Gangte Goemba

Gangte Goemba is a large monastery that overlooks nature. The premises consists of a central goemba, quarters for monks, a guesthouse and meditation centres. 

bhutan budget trip

A masked dancer at Gangte Koemba. Photography by Shiv

Nyelung Dechenling

Nyelung Dechenling is a temple. It is one of the 8 residences of Nyingma Dzogchen master Longchen Rabjam (Longchenpa). 

bhutan budget trip

Aesthetic inscription of Longchenpa. Photography by Rigpa

Recommended Food for your Bhutan Backpacking Trip 

Ema Datshi – Chilly and cheese

Kewa Datshi – Potato and cheese

Phaksha Paa – Red chillies and pork

Jasha Maru – Spicy chicken

Arra and Chang – Local drinks

bhutan budget trip

Ema Datshi. Photography by Chotsho

 

bhutan budget trip

Kewa Datshi. Photography by Shweta Gujaran

 

bhutan budget trip

Phaksha Paa. Photography by Emy Casaletti

 

Jasha Maru. Photography by Taichi Kamu

 

bhutan budget trip

Ema Datshi. Photography by Chotsho

Cost of Eating Meals During your Bhutan Budget Trip

Most travelers have their meals covered in the pre-paid travel plan before entering Bhutan. Once you visit eating places, your guide will sign a receipt to the owner. He will be reimbursed by the Bhutanese Government later on. In case you order something lavish and alcohol, you will have to pay extra.

Good thing is that food is not quite expensive in Bhutan. You can get a decent meal even outside your travel plan for about 100-250 INR or lets say about $3-$5.

bhutan budget trip

Bhutan will become one of the first nations in the world to produce 100% organic vegetables. Photography by Risa

 How to Minimize Cost During your Bhutan Budget Trip ?

There are various ways to cut down expenses during your Bhutan budget trip. Remember traveling is about exploration and not spending huge bucks.

Invest a lot of time in planning your Bhutan budget trip. The more time you devote towards planing, the more clarity you’ll have regarding saving money.
Use public transport once in Bhutan. It will help you minimize costs effectively.
Try booking accommodation places that are near major towns. It will help you save both time and money.
Avoid traveling solo. Travel in groups of 4 or more. This will help you cut down on the surcharge on stay.
 Save money by not consuming exotic beverages and alcohol. Go for local drinks and food items.
 Avoid shopping too much. Travel isn’t about buying stuff. It’s about exploration.
bhutan budget trip

The Door of Memories at Tiger Nest. Create special memories in Bhutan. Photography by Kamal Tanwani

Bhutan Budget Trip: An Insight to My Expenses

Here’s a little break down of my expenses of my Bhutan budget trip. The figures will help you plan your trip and manage costs.

Train Journey

(Mumbai, Lokmanya Tilak Terminals (LTT) to Hasimara (HSA) via Kamakhya Express)

700 INR for sleeper class to 2500 INR for 2 tier AC

 

Internal transport 25 INR for public bus. 50 to 100 INR for rickshaw.
Accomodation per day 1000 INR
Breakfast 300 INR
Lunch 250 INR
Dinner 250 INR
Snacks 300 INR
Public Transport from Phuentsholing to Paro 250 INR
Public Transport from Paro to Thimphu 50 INR
Public Transport from Thimphu to Phuentsholing 250 INR

Bhutan with its rich culture and heritage along with the blend of nature and perfect people makes it a surreal and exotic country for travelling. I’ve undertook my Bhutan budget trip and explored a new place. You should visit it too.

Happy Wayfaring 🙂

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

bhutan budget trip

Nihar Sabnis

Nihar Sabnis is a passionate Travel Blogger, an innovator and also an astronomer. He is an ardent trekker having completed 4 challenging Himalayan treks. One of the feats achieved was reigning supreme on a high altitude trek. A travel enthusiast and philanthropist, Nihar pursued a solo backpacking budget venture to Bhutan during which he had 108 intense conversations. In addition to being a backpacker, Nihar also happens to be a cyclist and a professional badminton player . He is also the Founder of ‘Bigger Infinities’ – A creative collaboration Platform. All in all, he os a peaceful and happy soul.

bhutan budget trip bhutan budget trip

 

THIS POST ENTITLED ‘A BACKPACKING TRIP TO BHUTAN: THE LAND OF HAPPY PEOPLE’ IS AN EXCLUSIVE PROPERTY OF BUDGET WAYFARERS. ANY INDIVIDUAL OR ASSOCIATION INDULGING IN PLAGIARISM WILL BE DEALT WITH STRICTLY. IF YOU WANT TO USE INFORMATION FROM THE ARTICLE ABOVE, KINDLY QUOTE THE SOURCE.