Frequently asked questions about Bhutan and the tour.
As an example see this list of hotels in Bhutan from a typical trip.
Below is a continually updated list of questions that I receive about travel to Bhutan. There may be some repeated information so please forgive. I’m simply adding Q&A’s as they come in to me.
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. I do know people who have been able to bring them through with no problem but you may not want to risk it. Even though I do not like to recommend checking bags, if you’re going to bring poles, this may be your only option.
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. Not being a doctor, I’m not comfortable with making a suggestion on what meds you might bring. 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.
I personally do not take malaria medication but this is also a personal decision. I would suggest chatting with your doctor on both of these issues.
Q. I’m trying to keep my day pack as small as possible. I have room for water, snacks & jacket in my camera backpack, but will I need room for my lunch?
A. 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. What are some things you could suggest to do in Kolkata?
A. A few things that come to mind that are worth a peek in Kolkatta include:
Victoria Memorial Building – beautiful grounds and very quiet compared to the rest of the city.
The Howra Bridge and the flower market just underneath it. If you walk to just the start of the bridge, you can look over and see this amazing, colorful market.
Q. I was thinking of buying a digital book reader for the trip, can you recommend one?
A. I’m currently hooked on my Kindle. It’s not completely user-friendly but you can’t beat how easy it is to download books.
I’ve also tested out the Sony eReader. I like the layout of the buttons a lot better. I have the older version, however, and it’s just not as convenient as the Kindle in terms of downloading.
Overall, you might be best with the Kindle…
Q. How should I dress based on the weather for the 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 into the 40’s – and days will be low 70’s tops.
Q. Will I be able to take a yoga class?
A. It’s unlikely that there will be yoga classes available in Bhutan but you might be able to find one in Delhi or Bangkok, depending on which city the trip is starting from.
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 places where the group is staying for more than a night as it will be difficult for your clothes to dry in that climate. Consider clothes from a company like ExOfficio, which will dry quickly.
Q. When I arrive in Bangkok (or Delhi), 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. I’m very curious to hear the language being spoken…..have no idea how it sounds.
A. Try this link to a Dzongka Podcast.
Q. Do I need a walking stick?
A. It depends on your athleticism and your balance.
I’ve only had one gal bring them on a trip and she really did need them – but she knew that about herself in advance. 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 guy 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 (I’ll probably only wear my Teva sandals, by the way), you shouldn’t need to bring one or two walking sticks with you. But, I don’t know you and I’ve been wrong once or twice before 🙂
Q. Can I use my cell phone 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.
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 I wrote about cell phone usage abroad.
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.Â Is that correct?
A. Though there is nothing on the Druk Air website about weight and baggage limits, it appears that they allow 2 checked bags at a weight of 44 pounds each. I’ve never seen them weigh carry-on bags and I’ve never seen anyone charged for overweight bags (though it could be that they just weren’t over the weight limit).
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. 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).
Q. What do you use to write and journal while you’re traveling abroad?
A. I only every bring a journal when I travel abroad. I personally find it too cumbersome to have a laptop.
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. I personally would not recommend malaria prophalaxis (mainly because I’m drug-shy).
Q. Can I bring walking sticks and can I get them through security?
A. Collapsible walking sticks should be easy to pack away in your luggage. You SHOULDN’T have a problem getting them through security but the TSA website is not very clear about this. You can definitely check them in your bag but if you are only taking a carry-on, be prepared to have to check your luggage just to get the walking sticks through.
Q. Are travelers checks viable in Bhutan? India & 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. I suggest that you change a small amount at the airport upon arrival. $50 bills/travelers checks get a better exchange rate than smaller bills. Changing at the airport will give you some money for shopping in Paro and should be enough to get you to Thimphu. You can then exchange more in Thimphu when the bank (note there’s ONE) is open. There are no ATM’s in Bhutan so you’ll want to change cash or travelers checks for the local currency.
Credit cards are only accepted in a couple of shops in Thimphu and the shops charge something like 7% for the transaction fee. You can use them in an emergency, but I wouldn’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 bad 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. I’ve seen people spend maybe a hundred or two while others spend far more 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 orÂ India and ATM’s are everywhere in both 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. I generally do much of my shopping on my return trip through Bangkok or Delhi so will withdraw less on the first part of the trip.
Q. If I bring US dollars, is Bhutan fussy about them being perfect (India is).
A. It’s a good idea to have newer/crisper bills as sometimes the shopkeepers won’t take these.
Q. I have a moneybelt case 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!
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 skirt knees to temples in Bangkok and definitely not in Delhi. They could potentially deny you entrance. Calf-length skirts will be fine. 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, we should have nice weather in Bhutan but we might experience a rain shower or two. A light rain jacket isn’t a bad idea. I’ll have one myself that packs up small. 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. I think all toilets (except for the woods) are western style. We will have a number of outdoor potty breaks but you can grab TP from the hotel for this.
Follow up note to this: You might consider carrying a travel size roll of toilet paper (available at your neighborhood drugstore) just to have it handy. But TP is available everywhere. DO expect to squat in the woods – you won’t always be near a toilet when it’s time to go. I hope you’re not shy 🙂
Q. Can I bring my laptop?
A. Of course, you will have power at all of the hotels. Power outages do happen but not frequently. Personally, I don’t carry a laptop with me when I travel abroad because it’s just another thing for me to have to manage but it might be worth it for some people.
Q. What sort of power adaptor do I need?
A. Bhutan uses the same sort of adaptor as India. I’d recommend buying one from a local travel store and chatting with a salesperson to make sure you’ve got the right one. I’ve heard that some power plugs don’t take the India version but I’ve never experienced it myself and don’t know what the other one is.
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 slightly disrespectful to the locals. You definitely can’t wear them to the monasteries. Capris are preferable and I’ve even heard that some guides bristle at these when going to a festival or monastery.
Q. What should I wear to the temples in Bangkok?
A. Shorts are banned in BKK temples (usually) as are capris. Wear long (light) pants. India is very conservative so if you’re flying through Delhi, cover up.
Q. Do I need any dressy clothes?
Q. What kind of shoes should I hike in?
A. Hiking boots are not necessary. I walked to Tiger’s nest in my Teva sandals and have seen others wear Keen sandals. Sneakers will work well if you need the ankle support.
Q. I have been researching new luggage and took to heart your message of going LIGHT. I loved the look of your existing Victorinox pack (my Eagle Creek piece has a zip-on day pack that I have been using every day for the last five or six years). But Victorinox seems to have done a major re-design on their new E-Motion model that I’m not thrilled about. 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 other than moving it from the van to your room and sometimes there’s even staff to help with that. Generally there’s a sidewalk and you can roll it but sometimes it might be a dirt track. I carry a rolly bag myself and sometimes use one with a convertible backpack.
Victorinox indeed made a mistake on their latest bags. I’ve gone back to Eagle Creek and also have a Timbuk2 Checkpoint which doesn’t have a backpack but seems to be a great bag. Here’s a link to some suggested bags.
Q. Do you usually take your WA 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. I usually bring it just to have it with me, like a security blanket, but you definitely WON’T need it.
Q. Will we be restricted to only one bottle of water a day, or can we assume we can have as much as we like for drinking, brushing teeth, etc. (I know you said earlier I shouldn’t need my Steripen).
A. Oh — they will ply you with tons of water. You’ll need it for the altitude. There’ll be more than enough.
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 but it is subject to change.
Q. Are evacuation and trip insurance the same?
A. Evacuation and trip insurance are separate but sometimes a company will wrap it all together. TravelGuard provides a wide range of travel insurance options. You can get a quote from them here:
Q. Will we have internet access?
A. There are a couple of places where we may have access to email and the internet. There are a couple of internet cafes in Thimphu with reasonable connections but the computers in most hotels are sooooo slooooowww that it’s painful to wait for the page to load. Certainly you’ll be able to regularly check in with family but I’m just setting the expectation that it won’t be like home.
Internet access in Bangkok and Delhi is everywhere…
Q. What about gifts and tips for the guides?
A. I recommended about $5-10/day for the guide and $3-5/day for the drivers (there will likely be 2)). 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 early in the trip when it will be appropriate to give a gift to your guides. I recommend something from your home town. Gifts that people gave in previous years ranged from Maple Candy from Vermont, a baseball cap and shirt 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. 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 perhaps your tour leader. All of this will be provide shortly before your departure.
Q. What about carry on luggage rules?
A. (This answer is from Sue who discovered this while doing some research.) I know you are probably aware of this–and maybe everyone else is but me–but with all my searching and researching of luggage: wheeled, convertible, or backpack–it still doesn’t change the sometimes very limiting requirements that an airline makes for carry-on bags. Cathay Pacific allows one piece of “cabin” baggage, not to exceed 22″x14″x9″ AND not to exceed 15 pounds. While packing light is my new mantra, I don’t think I will be able to pull off the 15 pounds, particularly when the wheeled carry-on luggage weighs 7 pounds empty!
Sue found this on the Rick Steves’ site:
Be Aware: New fees for checked luggage (and fears of lost luggage) are causing many travelers to increase what they carry on board, overwhelming the cabin luggage capacity of some flights. As a result, airline personnel are sometimes rejecting carry-on bags that comply with published regulations. Always check with your airline to confirm carry-on restrictions, and prepare to check your bag if asked.
From Beth – Bottom line is to check with your airline so you know what you’re getting into. EVA allows two 50 lb checked bags at no charge. I would recommend PRINTING OUT the rules for your airline and refer to it if the staff insist on doing something counter to their written rules.