Bhutan FAQ

Frequently asked questions about Bhutan and our tours to Bhutan.

Q. Do I need to secure my own visa for Bhutan?
A. No we handle that at WanderTours and it’s included in the cost of your tour.

Q. Will bottled water be readily available?
A. Yes it will. However, we strongly urge our tour participants to carry their own reusable water bottle and bring a water purifier, such as a SteriPen, so as to cut down on the number of plastic water bottles that get thrown out daily in the country.

Q. Do I need insurance for this tour?
A. 
Although we don’t require trip insurance, we definitely think it’s a great idea – not just for unexpected cancellations, but also for health issues and medical evacuation while you’re abroad.We highly recommend evacuation insurance for this and all international WanderTours. We recommend Insure My Trip. They have a wide range of options, good customer service, an easy to navigate website and they offer numerous affordable options including travel, medical and evacuation insurance.

Q. Do you know if I can bring hiking poles in my carry-on bag?
A.
It seems as though security at the airport does not like hiking poles in your carry-on. We do know people who have been able to bring them through with no problem but you may not want to risk it. Even though we do not recommend checking bags, if you’re going to bring poles, this may be your only option.

Q. Do I need a walking stick?
A. 
It depends on your athleticism and your balance.

Usually only those on the treks have a need for walking sticks but you might decide you want one for the day hikes. If you’re in generally good shape, one would be good but we could always find you a sturdy stick along the way. There’s usually a man at the base of the Tiger’s Nest hike that “rents” them and sometimes the hotels have them.

If you’re relatively steady and have good walking shoes, you may not need to bring one or two walking sticks with you.

Q. I was wondering if there is a need for altitude or malaria meds? I’m assuming that we will be at an altitude over 8,000 feet for a short enough period that it won’t be a problem but just wanted to ask and make sure.
A
. We’re not comfortable with making a suggestion on what meds you might bring. However, on occasion people have had an issue with the altitude but it’s such a personal thing that it’s hard to tell who it’s going to be a problem for.

We suggest chatting with your doctor on both of these issues.

Q. For the treks over multiple days, I’m trying to keep my day pack as small as possible. I have room for water, snacks and jacket in my camera backpack, but will I need room for my lunch?
A.
On the treks, lunch will be carried by the porters, so you don’t need to worry about that. Just a daybag with your personal items and perhaps some snacks like protein bars.

Q. I was thinking of buying a digital book reader for the trip, can you recommend one?
A.
It seems that both the Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook are popular options. Both are pretty user-friendly. The Kindle is easier when it comes to downloading books.

The Sony eReader is another option.

Q. How should I dress based on the weather in the spring or fall?
A.
You might consider either a fleece and/or light rain jacket for your outer layer. Then a button up shirt underneath and a t-shirt as a bottom layer.

Evenings will be cool – possibly freezing – and days will can get up to the low 70’s if it’s sunny.

Q. Will I be able to take a yoga class?
A.
Depending on the tour, there may be the opportunity to take a yoga class.

Q. Will the hotels have a laundry service so that I can pack light?
A.
They definitely have laundry service at a reasonable rate. You’ll want to consider having it done at one of the hotels where the group is staying for more than one night as it will be difficult for your clothes to dry in that climate. Also, be sure that you bring quick-drying clothes made for this purpose.

Q. When I arrive in Bangkok (or Delhi) before the tour, do you think a print-out of the hotel’s name and address, in English, will be sufficient for the taxi driver?
A.
In all likelihood the taxi driver will speak English and he’ll understand but having it on paper is a great idea.

Q. Can I use my cell phone/iPad in Bhutan?
A.
It depends. First, your cell phone must have GSM technology in order to tap into the local network. If you plan on bringing the phone that you use on a daily basis at home, CHECK WITH YOUR PROVIDER to determine what they will charge for both calls and texts – both outgoing and incoming – and for calls within Bhutan and for international calls. These calls can be exorbitant. AT&T charges something like $4.99/minute for roaming in Bhutan.

Consider carrying an old phone that is “unlocked” – one that you’re currently not using and doesn’t have a call plan attached to it. Remember that it has to have GSM technology in order to tap into the Bhutan network. When you arrive in Bhutan, you can purchase a SIM card for that phone and then be able to tap into the local network. Domestic and international calls will likely be far cheaper than using your own phone on your current plan. When you add the new SIM card, this phone will be assigned a phone number that you can then share with your family at home and they can call you directly (sometimes you’re not charged for incoming calls).

Here’s a blog post about cell phone usage abroad.

The above also applies to iPads with 3G. If you are under contract to an internet provider at home you will probably not be able to change out the SIM card in your iPad. The iPad must be “unlocked” in order to use the 3G capabilities without paying huge roaming fees. Please check with your provider before leaving home. You might also consider signing up for Skype and putting money on your account so that you can call home using this technology.

Q. I did a bit of research on Druk Air and it appears that the FREE baggage allowance is 20 kilo (44 lbs) for check-in and 5 kilo (11lbs) for carry-on, with a $5.00 charge for every 2 pound above that. Is that correct?
A.
Druk Air allows 2 checked bags at a weight of 44 pounds each. However, as of this writing, we’ve never seen anyone charged for overweight bags.

Q. Can I bring my 22″ carry-on bag on our Druk Air flight?
A. The cabin space is too small to accommodate large carry-on bags so this will need to be checked.

Q. Shall I bring rupees to Bhutan?
A.
You can if you want to but it isn’t necessary. They are accepted and interchangeable with ngultrum, the local currency, but shops will not take 500 rupee notes and larger due to counterfeit currency. Most transactions with foreigners are done in US dollars. Travelers checks are accepted in only a few places and credit/debit cards in even few places (with high surcharges imposed). As of 2012 there are rumors that ATM’s are coming but they may or may not be working when you are there.

Q. What do you use to write and journal while you’re traveling abroad?
A.
A journal is great because you don’t have to plug it in. But you might consider carrying a small netbook or iPad-like device with a keyboard. Something like the Asus Eee Slider would be great.

Q. Do I need to worry about mosquitoes and/or malaria in Bhutan?
A
. While you may encounter a stray mosquito or 2, malaria and Japanese encephalitis are not found in the areas you’ll be visiting in Bhutan.

Q. Are travelers checks viable in Bhutan? India and Thailand? Are ATM’s available in Bhutan? Do vendors usually take credit cards or do small vendors not have the equipment?
A.
Travelers checks can be used at the airport and in Thimphu and only occasionally will a shop accept a travelers check – please don’t count on it. In Bhutan, we suggest that you change your money upon arrival. $50 bills/travelers checks get a better exchange rate than smaller bills. You can then exchange more in Thimphu at the bank (note there’s ONE).

Credit cards are only accepted in a couple of shops in Thimphu and one shop in Bumthang. And, theses shops charge something like 7% for the transaction fee. You can use them in an emergency, but we don’t recommend it.

Q. How much US dollars in cash might you recommend bringing? What is the preferred method(s) of getting local currency? I would imagine there would be little theft in Bhutan?
A.
Remember that most everything will be covered during your time in Bhutan – hotel, food, transportation and water. If you want soft drinks or alcohol (beer is widely available as is wine) these will be extra. The most common souvenir purchases include tapestries and thangkas (wall hangings). They CAN be expensive but range from about $20 upwards (easily into the hundreds, and even over a thousand, dollars). Prepare for this if you plan to bring home some nice souvenirs. There are plenty of inexpensive souvenirs you can pick up as well. Recommended amount in Bhutan? It just depends on your habits. We’ve seen people spend maybe a hundred or two while others spend far more than that on the tapestries.

Don’t forget to bring tip money in cash for the guides/drivers.

Bhutan is an incredibly safe country. No need to worry about theft.

You’ll likely be starting your journey in Thailand or India and ATM’s are everywhere in both countries. If you need local currency in these countries, you might visit an ATM at the airport to get you started and then withdraw additional cash when you arrive in the city. This amount will just depend on your eating/spending habits. Consider doing your souvenir shopping on your return trip through Bangkok or Delhi so you won’t have to withdraw so much during the first part of the trip.

Q. If I bring US dollars, is Bhutan fussy about them being perfect.
A.
It’s a good idea to have newer/crisper bills as sometimes the shopkeepers won’t take bills that are wrinkled or torn.

Q. I have a moneybelt that goes under my pants or skirt in which I carry my passport. Do you recommend getting a case-hardened steel chained passport holder?
A.
I think that’s overkill and it sounds uncomfortable! Bhutan is very safe.

Q. Are short skirts (slightly above the knee) acceptable in the temples? How about calf-length skirts? Just pants?
A.
It’s best not to wear above the knee skirts to temples. They could potentially deny you entrance. Calf-length skirts will be fine. Shorts and short skirts really aren’t appropriate in Bhutan.

Q. Would you recommend taking a rain coat? Something more than one of those flimsy “emergency” ponchos? I’d like to be out walking when we can be–and making the climb up to Tigers Nest.
A.
The vast majority of the time, you should have nice weather in Bhutan but you might experience a rain shower or two. A light rain jacket isn’t a bad idea. Remember to dress in layers, too, so that when the sun’s out, it’ll be easy to layer down into lighter clothes.

Q. Should we bring our own toilet paper? Do they have the “squatty potties” of China fame?
A.
No need to bring toilet paper as it will be available at all hotels. All toilets (except for the woods) are western style. There may be a number of outdoor potty breaks but you can grab TP from the hotel for this.

DO expect to squat in the woods – you won’t always be near a toilet when it’s time to go. We hope you’re not shy :-)

Q. Can I bring my laptop?
Power Plug India A. Of course, you will have power at all of the hotels. Power outages do happen but not frequently.

Q. What sort of power adaptor do I need?
A.
Bhutan uses the same sort of adaptor as India (see photo right). Buy one from a local travel store and chat with a salesperson to make sure you’ve got the right one. Some power plugs at hotels actually accept the US-style of power plug, too.

Q. Are there hair dryers at the hotels?
A.
Sometimes but don’t count on it. As mentioned above, there will be power at all hotels. Just remember that no one’s going to be looking their finest, so if you don’t have to have the hair dryer, consider leaving it at home :-)

Q. Will I need a swimsuit?
A.
No swimsuit for Bhutan but your hotel in Bangkok or Delhi might have a small pool – check their website (and the weather) to determine whether you should bring a swimsuit.

Q. Can I wear shorts?
A.
It’s not recommended to wear them in Bhutan as it’s disrespectful to the locals. You definitely can’t wear them to the monasteries. Capris are preferable and we’ve even heard that some guides bristle at these when going to a festival or monastery.

Q. Do I need any dressy clothes?
A.
Nope.

Q. What kind of shoes should I hike in?
A.
It depends on how much ankle support you need. Hiking boots may not be necessary, unless you are doing one of the treks. Consider light hikers or even something like Keen or Teva sandals that have a grip on the bottom.

Q. I have been researching new luggage and took to heart your message of going LIGHT.  With the caveat to go light not matter what, I’m looking at carry-on wheeled options. Is it safe to assume we are going to be responsible for moving our luggage around every day, and also that in Bhutan we may be needing to pick it up more than wheel it, due to fairly uneven and unpaved terrain?
A.
You’ll have very little interaction with your luggage as the guides and hotel staff help with moving it from the van/bus to your room. You might consider a small rolly bag that is carry-on size (under 22″).

Q. Do you recommend taking a drivers license with you on trips where you aren’t planning on driving? Or just rely on your passport, or get an International Drivers License as another form of ID?
A.
You definitely won’t need your drivers license but if you feel more comfortable carrying it, by all means, do. Your passport is really the most important ID you’ll need.

Q. Will you be sending an updated itinerary with our overnight accommodations so we can leave it with folks at home?
A.
You’ll receive the hotel information 1 or 2 weeks before departure.

Q. Will we have internet access?
A.
As of 2012, hotels are now required to provide either WiFi service or computers to guests. Sometimes the service is free, sometimes it’s not. Note that some computers can very extremely slow, infected with a virus or just not working. Having said that, it’s likely that you’ll have access to the internet in most locations (except when trekking) but know that there will be times when it goes down in the whole country.

Q. What is the WanderTours Giving Program?
A. This is a program we have developed for all of our international tours, where a portion of your tour cost goes towards supporting a project or non-profit organization in the country where the tour is taking place. Read our blog post on this topic.

Q. What about gifts and tips for the guides?
A.
We recommended about $5-10/day for the guide and $3-5/day for the driver(s). Your tour leader will collect all the tips (US dollars are preferred) and put them in one envelope so they are given as one tip.

You will likely have a dinner at the end of the trip when it will be appropriate to give a gift to your guides. We recommend something from your home town. Gifts that people have given on previous tours range from Maple Candy from Vermont, baseball caps and shirts from the NY Mets and vacuum-packed salmon from Seattle. These are meant to be small gifts of appreciation so please don’t spend a bundle on these.

Q. Do you recommend bringing small gifts for the children we will encounter?
A. 
No, it’s best not to bring gifts such as candy, chocolate etc. If you want to interact with the children you could consider bringing a bottle of bubble liquid and you can entertain them by blowing bubbles for them. Remember to put in your checked luggage, though.

Q. What’s the emergency contact info that I can give my family?
A. 
You will be given a cell phone number for your guide, the hotels and your tour leader. All of this will be provide shortly before departure.

Q. What tricks do you use to fit all that stuff into a carry-on? And still have room somewhere for souvenirs?
A.
It’s true that if you pack light, you’ll have to do more laundry. But I’d rather live with rinsing out some clothes every 4 or 5 nights than lugging around a big bag. Check out this article I wrote on my secrets to packing light.