Bhutan - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Bhutan


Imagine a land hidden from the world for centuries, a pristine natural environment free of pollution and crime, guided by an official policy known as Gross National Happiness.

Welcome to Bhutan, known to its people as Druk Yul- Land of the Thunder Dragon. Situated in the remote Himalayan mountains, with India and China its only neighbours, Bhutan is one of 10 biodiversity hotspots and the only remaining Mahayana Buddhist kingdom.

The scenic majesty of its soaring mountains and pristine valleys, coupled with the vibrancy of its cultural life, makes Bhutan one of the last undiscovered destinations; an adventure to feed the soul and enrich the senses.

Bhutan's iconic sight is Tiger's Nest Monastery, built into a cliff face 2,950 feet (900m) above the ground near Paro, the country's capital city. Another key attraction is Trongsa Dzong, the ancestral home of the royal family. Trekking and mountain biking are popular attractions too, as are the many Buddhist festivals that bring out the extroverted side of these famously friendly people.

It is at times a wonderfully strange place: the walls of many buildings are emblazoned with drawings of giant penises - an invocation of good luck and fertility. All new structures must follow the ancient style and people are obliged by law to wear traditional dress in public. Monks have broadband access, and cigarette sales are illegal. And, uniquely, 70 percent of the land is owned by women as inheritance is matrilineal.

Bhutan remained closed to the outside world until the 1960s when its borders slowly began opening. Tourism is based on a high value, low volume principle in a bid to avoid the destructive effects of mass tourism suffered by Nepal and India. Visitors must spend a minimum of USD250 per day on a pre-determined itinerary, a strong deterrence for budget travellers. Therefore, visiting Bhutan is much easier through a registered tour operator.

Under the guidance of the current monarch, the splendidly named King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, Bhutan is slowly changing, as its economy matures and its fledgling government engages more with the world. Improved communications and widespread Internet access is affecting the younger generation and exposing them to the exciting though uncertain world beyond the borders of this, the last Shangri-La.

Information & Facts


Bhutan's climate is as varied as its landscape: in the southern plains the climate is tropical, while the central valleys are cool. The Himalayas have severe winters and mild summers. The monsoon season is from June to August. In general the best time to visit is spring (March to May), and autumn (late September to late November) when there are many Buddhist festivals.


The international dialling code for Bhutan is +975. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). There is extensive mobile phone coverage, which is more reliable and widespread than the landline network. Internet access is available in all main towns and hotels.


Bhutan is a traditional Buddhist society. Dress conservatively when visiting religious sites, avoid public displays of affection, and never climb or sit on a statue. Do not take photographs within temples unless permission has been granted to do so. Avoid pointing at people or religious icons with your finger; this is considered very rude. Smoking is banned in all public places including restaurants and bars. Betel nut is chewed throughout the day by young and old alike and has become an integral part of Bhutanese society. The royal family is revered and deeply respected; avoid any disparaging remarks or gestures. Mountains are considered to the abode of the gods and hence any recreational activities therein are disallowed.

Duty Free

Travellers to Bhutan may bring with them up to 400 cigarettes/150g pipe tobacco/50 cigars, two litres of liquor, and goods for personal use. Guns and ammunition, narcotics, antiques and wildlife products are prohibited.

Electrical current is 230 volts (50Hz). European round pin attachment plugs and three-pin rectangular plugs are in use.

Ensure you have adequate health insurance that includes the facility for emergency repatriation. The most significant health risks for travellers are water-borne parasites from unclean drinking water and altitude sickness resulting from exposure to high altitudes. Health care standards are relatively high. For locals all health services are free, and both western and traditional medicine is practiced side by side. In 2004 Bhutan became the first country in the world to entirely ban the sale of cigarettes. Hospitals and clinics are located throughout the country, with excellent facilities available in the capital Thimpu.

Dzongkha is the official language, and various Tibetan dialects are spoken. English has recently become the language of instruction in schools but is only spoken fluently by guides and tourist industry professionals.

The local currency is the Ngultrumbut subdivided into 100 Chetrums. The currency is pegged to the Indian rupee on scale of 1:1. The Ngultrumbut was only introduced in 1974 before which the country had no currency, relying on a system of bartering to acquire goods. US Dollars and Travellers Cheques can be exchanged at banks and large hotels. Visa and Mastercard are not widely accepted.

Passport Visa

Bhutan has an unusual but fairly simple process for admitting visitors: Bhutanese embassies abroad cannot issues visas, instead you must apply for your visa in advance through a registered tour operator. The visa takes a minimum of two weeks to be approved at which time your tour operator will confirm with you directly with a faxed or emailed copy of the successful application. The actual visa is then stamped into your passport on arrival. You will need to pay a USD 20 fee and present two passport photographs.

Note that the Government of Bhutan refuses entry to people wishing to visit the country for mountaineering, publicity and other research activities. All visitors are required to book with a registered tour operator in Bhutan, which can be done directly through a travel agent abroad. All visitors must hold confirmed return or onward tickets, all documents required for next destination, and USD 250 per day of stay.


Bhutan is one of the safest destinations on the planet. There is virtually no crime or violence.

Local time is GMT +6 hours.

Tipping is not expected in restaurants as your meal would have been prepaid by your tour agency. On treks it is usual to tip the cook, his assistant and any porters. Ask your guide for advice. If you hire a driver tip him at the end of your trip. Bhutanese tradition is that one typically refuses a tip the first time it is offered but accepts it the second time.

The scenic valley of Bumthang is the most inhabited region in the district known as 'Little Switzerland', with the town of Jakar at its centre. More a cluster of villages than a real town, Jakar has a few points of interest that include the Jakar Dzong(Fortress of the White Bird), Wangdicholing Palace, and half a dozen monasteries. Jakar also hosts a number of colourful festivals between July and December. Visitors to Bumthang Valley (also known as Choekhor Valley), will want to try Red Panda wheat beer, which is brewed locally and is the only beer made in Bhutan.

Known as the 'winter capital of Bhutan', Punakha is only 45 miles (72km) from Thimphu but has a much warmer climate that allows for the patchwork of red and white rice fields that covers the surrounding valleys. The serene atmosphere of the city is personified in the Punakha Dzong, also known as the Palace of Great Happiness, the winter residence of Bhutan's Central Monastic Body and home to several sacred relics. Punakha makes a good base for exploring nearby attractions like the Guru Rinpoche Caves and Koma Tsachu hot springs.

The Taktsang Monastery is considered one of the holiest places in Bhutan. Located in the Paro Valley, the monastery is perched on a cliff 2,950 feet (900m) above the valley floor, a location that earned it its name, which translates to 'Hawk's Nest'. The monastery has been an important site for pilgrimage and meditation in Mahayana Buddhism since it was built in 1692 around a cave believed to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan. Tourists can reach Taktsang Monastery via a 20-minute drive from Paro, or a two-hour hike (or pony ride) from the bottom of the mountain.

The geographic centre of Bhutan, Trongsa is a historical village built around a monastery established in 1543. Small enough to easily explore on foot, Trongsa's main attractions include the Trongsa Dzong and the Thruepang Palace, as well as the markets in the centre of town that sell handmade textiles and traditional carpets for prices lower than those in Thimphu. Trongsa is a popular rest stop on the journey between Thimphu and Bumthang.

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