This guide is solely meant for backpackers and budget travelers. If you have already booked your trip from any tour agency, you do not have to worry about anything. They must have arranged everything for your comfort. I backpacked in Bhutan for 7 days with one of my friend and this blog is about the difficulties we faced, what we experienced and learnt. Getting to know about backpacking in Bhutan is quite difficult as there are not much detailed information on the internet. So here is from my side so that you will travel smart.
• Every time you reach your destination, go to the nearby bus/taxi stand and inquire about the bus for your next destination. It is very important as buses are not always available to every place. There are limited number of buses, hence seats are often booked already. So according to it, make your itinerary, plan your trip and book your bus tickets in advance. Otherwise you will face a lot of difficulties.
• There are two bus stands in Thimphu, one is the City Bus Stand and another is the Thimphu Bus Stand (RTSA). From City Bus stand, you can get buses to every nearby places where as from the Thimphu Bus stand, you can get buses to major cities of Bhutan.
• City buses are cheap as compared to the taxis. But you need to have a bus ticket to get on the bus. You can not just enter into a bus anywhere you want and pay the money to the conductor, as happens in India. You need to show a valid bus ticket to the conductor. Tickets are available at the City bus stand and a limited number of shops.
• There are limited number of buses from Thimphu to Paro. Two buses of Dhug Transport, one leaves at 9 am and another at 2 pm every day. One or two buses of some other transport agency may be available, so be sure to inquire about them.
• There are two buses of Dawa Transport from Paro to Phuentsholing, one at 9 am and another at 2 pm. There are 3 buses of Meto Transport, at 8:30, at 9 and at 2 pm, but not so sure, ask someone at their office which is in front of Bharat Petroleum Pump.
• There are lots of buses from Thimphu to Phuentsholing though.
• It takes around 5 hours from Phuentsholing to Thimphu. Road is paved and not as sloped as you will find in Himachal Pradesh. It’s quite plane. And you will get beautiful scenery. Seats are generally booked one or two days prior to the day of journey. So try to get the tickets early, do not take risk of booking on the same day of journey.
• For going from Paro to Tiger’s Nest, any cab driver will charge you around 300 to 500 rupees per head. But if you want to save some money and are okay with walking a little bit more, tell the driver to drop you at Tiger’s Nest Junction and he will charge you only 50 rupees per head on shared basis. From there, it’s a 1.5 hr walking on paved road till the starting point of the trek. Road is beautiful and you can get some good pictures. It’s worth walking.
• When going from Phuentsholing to Thimphu, or on the way of returning, the driver keeps your luggage tied to the roof of the bus and covers it with large sheet of polythene to save it from rain. In that case, do not forget to keep the permit always with you as you are required to show it at the check posts on the way. I had kept my permit inside my bag, so I had to climb to the roof, untie the ropes and searched for my bags for the permit. That was an embarrassed situation as the driver had to wait a long just because of me and they are very serious about their schedule. So the driver was a bit angry.
• Getting non-veg food (chicken, beef, pork) in Bhutan is very easy, you can find it in every corner. Finding Vegetarian food also is not a very difficult job, but for finding good veg food, you will need to spend a little bit of time.
• Alcohol is cheap in Bhutan. It is available in every store and shopping malls. It is as common as buying a cake of soap in India. But cigarette and hush is kind of banned here and hence expensive. Try the Red Rice Beer, it’s good.
• One of my friend in Bhutan said India has got 20 kinds of major spices, but Bhutan has got only one, CHILLI. They use it in every dishes. I have seen dishes made with chilli only. That’s also hotter and spicier than the chilli you will find in India. You will know when you eat ;)
• Yes, staying in Bhutan is a bit expensive. But if you really want a budget hotel, you will surely find. You just need to get down to the street and search every corner.
• In Jaigaon, inquire about the Hanuman Temple Dharamshaala. I have heard they provide rooms for as low price as 10 rupees a night. But hard to find a room as they are preoccupied most of the time because they provide their building for marriage ceremonies.
• Also go to Sahu Seva Trust in Jaigaon. Rooms and toilets are clean, and they charged us 300 rupees per night for two persons.
• In Thimphu, I stayed with one of my friend, so I don’t have any information about hotels in Thimphu.
• In Paro, try Hotel Tandin. They charged us 700 rupees per night for a double bed room with a TV also which is a bit less expensive as compared to other hotels in that locality. They also have a restaurant for Indian food.
• Or try the Chef’s Hotel which is behind Hotel Tandin.
• For getting the Permit, you will need (i) Your recent passport size photograph, (ii) Valid Passport and VISA (must for foreign nationals other than Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian) or Voter ID Card, (iii) Copy of hotel confirmation and (iv) Travel Itinerary. This list of documents to be provided is written on the notice board of the Immigration Office. For Itinerary, write date, source and destination in a blank page for all the days you are staying in Bhutan. Make a set by attaching the Permit application with copies of all the documents and a photograph.
• If you are a student, make sure to carry your Student ID card. They may ask you to show it at the Immigration Office. Also, it comes handy when visiting places in Bhutan, as you will get 50% off on entry fees at some places, like the Memorial Chorten.
• You can purchase the government owned B-mobile (Bhutan Telecom) SIM card inside the Immigration office by showing your entry permit. Network coverage is very good, you can find network even at the top of Phajoding Monastery. For this SIM card, you will need to set your APN to use the internet. For this, change the APN to ‘internet’ and APN type to ‘default’. For the Tashi Cell SIM, change the APN to ‘ticlnet’ and you are good to go.
That’s all from me. If you have any query, feel free to ask me.
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