One lane roads, two way traffic
Unless you are on a non-tourist visit, you are pretty much required to be on a tour. So you will be in a car or bus with a driver. Local public transportation is not illegal, but the low population density and difficult roads would make it inefficient or difficult with little to gain. The time it takes to go from one place to another is greater than the apparent map distance would suggest. The mountain roads are narrow and often with guard rails so traffic is appropriately very slow. The driver does not have time to enjoy the vistas. Going over the mountains you can expect one hairpin turn after another.
This would not be a pleasure for anyone with susceptibility car motion sickness.Related to:
- Road Trip
Scariest landing in the world?
The old Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong or the runway that is built out over the ocean in Funchal, Madiera were probably two of the scariest landings I have been on until our more recent adventure coming into Paro International Airport in Bhutan. It is the only international airport in the country
The airport is nestled in amongst the foothills (most other places would call them mountains) around Paro, so the glide path to the runway is very much an adventure, as the pilot has to weave in and around the high hills that surround the airport. Apparently, there are only a very limited number of pilots that have qualified to take off and land here. Looking out the window as you are approaching is not for the faint hearted.
Just to make things a bit worse, there was a thunderstorm over the airport when we approached and the pilot had to go into a holding pattern, hoping for the weather to clear. He came on the intercom after a while to inform us that we only had about an hours worth of fuel on board and with night coming in, that could be a problem too. Paro is a visual flight rules airport, so the pilot needs several km / miles of visibility to be permitted to land.
After around 20 minutes of flying the square, the pilot informed us that he was going in for a closer look to see if it would be okay to try to land. A few minutes later he came back on and suggested we might wish to pray for a safe landing.... :(
Needless to say we made it and were just as glad to leave Bhutan via a land crossing into India.
A few things about travel through Bhutan; the average tourist cannot drive. You must be on an organized tour and that means you will be with a guide and driver; the Toyota Landcruiser is the smallest vehicle you are likely to use.
It's probably a good thing that you have a driver. The roads are usually cornice roads; i.e. roads carved out of the sides of the mountains, generally unpaved, full of potholes and only a single lane wide. When two vehicles moving in opposite directions meet; they slow right down and pass eacy other very carefully. Occasionally the vehicle side mirrors have to be collapsed so the two vehicles can pas.
The roads are often little more than interconnected hair-pin turns with a mountain face on one side and a drop of hundreds of meters on the other side. Guard rails are virtually non-exisitant.
The roads can be blocked by landslides or construction, often for hours at a time.
Top speeds of 15 - 20 km/hr are quite common, and even though the country is not that large, getting from place to place can take a lot longer than expected.Related to:
- Road Trip
Aircraft seating - to / from India
The routing from New Delhi to Paro International Airport takes you over Nepal. If the weather cooperates and you are on the left side of the aircraft, it is possible to catch a glimpse of Mt Everest.
The reverse should be true on flights back to Delhi, but window seasts on the right side of the plane would be preferable.
Drukair does not pre-assign seats and has no online seat reservation tools. Get to the airport early if you want a seat on the side of the plane that you want to see the mountains from. The A319 aircraft is a single aisle aircraft with three seats across on either side of the aisle.
No Inter-line agreements with DrukAir
It seems that you cannot directly check your luggage through to Paro, when flying into Bhutan.
DrukAir is a small airline and while it is not a discount airline, it has not set up any inter-line agreements, so you can't check you luggage through to Bhutan. This means you do have to enter the country (customs and immigration) and pick up your baggage and then check in at the DrukAir counter for your flight to Bhutan.
DrukAir is the only airline that flies into Bhutan and operates out of the Paro airport.
You can't buy a DrukAir ticket without a visa, and if you are a tourist, you can't get one of those without having booked and pre-paid for a tour there.
Druk Air: The Royal Bhutan Airlines
The official airline of Bhutan is Druk Air. No other airline can fly to Paro, the only international airport of Bhutan. Druk Air’s symbol is the flag of Bhutan, a dragon with orange and yellow colors. The flight itself was unique, so try to enjoy every moment. I told it in my “Fly to Paro” tip.
As far as I know, no one can buy tickets of Druk Air individually. You need to have an agency to travel there. They arrange the flight, accommodation, travel plan etc. So, don't expect much information from the website.
Our flight was from Kathmandu. This airline also flies to Delhi, Bangkok, Kolkatta, Bodhgaya and Dhaka. Their airplanes are quite comfortable. Airbus A319 is a little bit big for the valley, I think. Their flight attendants were in traditional dress of Bhutan and they were very kind and helpful.
Nepal to Bhutan by Road
The cheapest way to go to Bhutan from Kathmandu will be to follow these steps
1) take an overnight bus from Kathmandu to Kakarbhitta. This city is the border point between Nepal and India. The bus journey is around 600 kms and may take around 14-16 hrs. The journey is peaceful, although back breaking.
2) Crossover the border into India (Indian part of the city is called 'Pani tanki', meaning water tank, after clearing the immigration formalities on both sides. At this place, you will find a lot of cabs (Share taxis/bus) available for Darjeeling/Siliguri.
3) Proceed to Siliguri. This must be around 30-50 kms from Pani Tanki.
4) From Siliguri, there are lot of mini bus/taxi available for Jaigaon (last Indian city, before you enter Bhutan). There are also Bhutan Govt buses available from Siliguri (from Hill Cart Road at 7.30 am and 1.30 pm.)
5) Crossover to Phuntsoling, after completing the immigration formalities. As far as I know, there is no procedure for Visa on arrival for foreigners. Hence you need to procees the visa in advance, unless you are an Indian Citizen. Indians do not require visa.
Crossing over from Jaigaon (last Indian Town) to Phuntsholing(first town in Bhutan) is easy. Just walk over. There is a big gate. Cross the gate and you are in Bhutan
5) Take a bus to Thimphu from PhuntsholingRelated to:
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
Travel agency that will transport you to Lama land
In order to get from the airport to town and to go around the town you will need a travel agency. Contact them ahead of time so they arrange all your transportation needs.
Kuenga the travel agent speaks good english and he is very knowledgable on all the places that are a must see in Bhutan
Call Kuenga or send him an email at
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
What's Beyond the Sky?
Paro is the only airport in Bhutan. If you fly into Bhutan, like I did, from Kathmandu, make sure you get a seat on the left hand side (north side).
Then you will have the wonderful views of Himalayan mountains all along your one hour trip. The added value is much much more than a seat on the right hand side.
If you fail to get one, don't worry, you'll still have the chance when you get out of the country. Then you'll want a right hand side seat.
Wheels on hills
For the budget traveller, the best way to reach Bhutan is by bus. Foreigners other than Indians will probably find it easier to enter Bhutan through the charming airport at Paro. From Paro, Thimpu is a 2 hr journey by car.
From Calcutta, one can catch a bus to Siliguri, (7.30 pm-9 am) and then another bus to Joygaon (another 4-5 hours)
Or, one may take a direct bus to Joygaon from Calcutta, reaching there at about 4 pm. Phuntsoling (Bhutan) is the twin town of Joygaon (India) and one has to obtain travel permits from there. The office closes at 5 pm, so be sure you hurry up and clear your papers in time. Overnight at Joygaon/Ph'ling, the bus for Thimpu ( 8 hrs away) leaves at 6 am. It stops at multiple check points, where you have to get your travel papers stamped.
Once in Thimpu, trust the 6 seater taxis to take you anywhere you want. They are available on a share basis too. The minimum fare is 30/-
Indian Rupees and Bhutanese currency have the same acceptance level in shops, taxis and monasteries/museams.
Paro is 200 rupees away from Thimpu, on a share taxi. Inside Thimpu, one can walk the city across in about an hour and a halfRelated to:
- Budget Travel
From Guwahati in Assam I took...
From Guwahati in Assam I took bus to NewJaipaiguri, After that switched to the bus to Siliguri which has private and public(Bhutan Govt) both. Then get off in Jaigaon in India, this is the town has boader, Bhutanise side is Phunstuoling.
The easiest way to get to...
The easiest way to get to Bhutan is to fly there. The national airline Druk Air is the only company flying there. They have flights among other to Delhi, Kathmandu, Dhaka, and Bangkok. We enter Bhutan by car and left by plane to Dhaka in Bangladesh. We found Druk Air to be a good airline with nice plane and good service.
There are small minibuses going around but our friend Sonam rented a car when we was there. It was a very good way to get around and see the country. But the roads can be very difficult due to the landscape with big mountains etc. I dont remember the cost of renting a car but it was not too expensive. THE PHOTO: ME, SONAM AND THE RENTED CAR.
Druk Air has very good pilots...
Druk Air has very good pilots and it is the only way to get to Bhutan. Flight attendants are not very good at hospitality. They never smile and seem quite peeved all the time. And what is it with these Flight attendants? 'SWEETS!' Just as they are taxing to take off they will come by with a basket of candy and with no smile and pronounce 'SWEETS' with a disgusted expression as if you expect candy before takeoff. I even heard one say in Bhutanese 'I can't stand you,' (Zha Mizhu may) to a German traveler.
These attendants have a great job where they get to meet interesting people from all over the world and they act like they are meant for something better. Not all of them are like this but if they do not like their job they should get other work. I just seem to get the sour ones when I fly.
Druk Air has some of the best mountain pilots in the world! The flight is great! Very scenic and smooth! Hats off to Druk Air
With your guide. It's the only way unless you know someone.
Not easy roads
Roads in Bhutan are narrow, curvy, and the asfalt is not so good also, so it makes the moving around very slow and tiring...it is not intereting to plan long distances in one day.Related to:
- National/State Park
- Road Trip
Near Kuenga Chhoeling Palace Upper Motithang, Thimphu, Bhutan
Good for: Couples
I upgraded one night from the government hotels and was so glad I did. While the government hotels...more
I was there for a week last month. The hotel is 5* hotel in Thimpu. It is a joint venture project by...more
- Great room rates
- Great room rates
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