Bhutan – Getting Around
Bhutan is a small country situated in the middle of two giant nations: India and China. As India and China work overtime to be the best and most industrialised country, Bhutan is the opposite. It’s a nation that gives utmost importance to preserve its religion, tradition, and nature, which is why until now, only a limited number of tourists are allowed to enter at any given time. It’s also a government that measures the growth of the economy in a holistic approach of well-being rather than the gross product.
With all these things to consider, visiting and getting in and around Bhutan is pretty straightforward as there are not a lot of commute options to consider. Choices are still limited as the country is not as developed yet and high-end transportation like trains and subways are still unavailable. But here are a few tips on how to get around Bhutan to help you prepare for your holiday in this remarkable country.
Getting to Bhutan:
Prices vary depending on the season. The peak season falls on March to May and September to November. Airfare to Bhutan is also at its peak during this season. Book your ticket around 3 months in advance since they tend to sell fast.
International and Domestic Flights:
The national airline and the only airlines that cater to domestic flights in the country are Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines/Tashi Air. And you’ll likely land in the Paro International Airport as it’s the only way to enter Bhutan by plane. Even if Druk Air is Bhutan’s national flag carrier, it only flies four planes and only to the following cities: Bangkok, Delhi, Kalkota, Gaya, Bagdogra, Guwahati (India), Kathmandu (Nepal), and Dhaka (Bangladesh).
Domestic flights around Bhutan may be limited, rescheduled, or canceled, but there are available flights via Tashi Air. There is also a domestic airport in Gelephu.
If you are working with a travel agency when it comes to your daily tariff, you most likely have a designated driver throughout your stay. But if you wanted to be on your own and explore a little, your local guide can provide you with safety instructions.
Bhutan’s buses are Toyota Coasters, single-decker minibuses that charge the cheapest price. As the locals prefer this because of affordability, tickets go a lot faster than expected. Book 24 hours before your travel date for a single seat. Book 3-4 days in advance if you want to save for a special seat. The fare is around BTN 1 (USD 0.014) per kilometre.
For shorter travel distances, a shared taxi is a much-preferred option than a bus. Some examples of cars you can expect as taxis include Hyundai Santro, Maruti Alto, and Maruti Wagon R. These cars can service 4 people at the same time, excluding the driver. The fare depends on the distance. If you’re traveling from Phuntsoling to Thimpu, it usually costs USD 9, Thimpu to Paro costs USD 2, USD 3.50 from Thimpu to Punakha, and almost USD7 from Trongsa to Bumthang. Shared taxis cost higher than coaster buses but are definitely faster.
Depending on your budget, you can actually hire a taxi instead of riding a bus or a shared taxi. If you have a small group, an SUV or a hatchback might be good for you. Larger groups, on the other hand, can hire an entire coaster and the prices for these are solely based on the negotiation with the driver or the tour operator.
The good news is the drivers in Bhutan don’t usually overcharge and a majority follow the government-set prices. They are also helpful and dependable.
Also, mountainous areas and winding paths are common in Bhutan and as such, might take hours to navigate. So, if you’re prone to motion sickness, be sure to carry and take appropriate medications before traveling.