Note 1: The travel rules for traveling in Bhutan may change in the aftermath of Covid-19. Please read about latest rules and regulations regarding traveling in Bhutan with Covid safety rules.
Note 2: Before Covid-19 hit, Bhutan was planning to impose a tourist fee of INR 2500 per day per person. The rules may have changed and will be updated in near future.
Before I start sharing my tips about solo traveling in Bhutan, let me explain the two times I couldn’t cross the border and had to come back to India.
Bhutan doesn’t like Indian solo travelers crossing the border by land. If you enter Bhutan by flight then things will still work for you but land border alone is a big issue for them. This has something to do with their control of immigrant workers from India and Bangladesh and I will not go in detail about it.
As an Indian solo traveler in Bhutan, my permissions and timing proved to be wrong when entering by the road. My first attempt failed because I arrived on the day when their annual festival had started and the gates closed. The festival was on a Wednesday and was going to continue till Friday. The border gates are closed on weekends so even if I had spent 3 days in Jaigaon which is already a bad idea, I would have to spend 2 more days to wait for the borders to open.
The second time, when I reached Jaigaon – Phuentsholing, I had acquired a hippie look. The permit office guys didn’t like this because they don’t promote hippie culture. They asked for my hotel bookings and I didn’t have one. They rejected my permit and I had to leave. This happened at a time when online booking options were less and only thing I could find was around INR 3k and you can imagine that a person who looks like a poor hippie has a similar spending capacity.
The third time when I made it to Bhutan, I had made my mind that if they don’t allow me this time I am not coming back ever. So when I reached the permit counter, the official sitting on the other side took some time to cross check my papers. He saw something written in my form that made him suspicious. He went to his senior and then called me to another chamber. They pointed out that my profession mentioned was of a writer and they will not allow me if I was a journalist. I had to spend an hour to convince them that I am not a journalist but a blogger and a freelance SEO writer. It took some time but they approved my permits and I was all set for Bhutan.
Reasons because of which your Bhutan permit can get rejected at Border gate (not at airport) –
- You don’t have hotel bookings
- The permit officials are suspicious about your profession. Don’t tell them that you are a journalist or something similar.
- You arrive on the eve of a national holiday
- You arrive on a weekend
- If one of the following documents are missing or invalid
Valid passport with minimum 6 months of validity or Voter ID card
One recent passport size photo
Itinerary details — Xerox of hotel stay and return flight confirmation ticket (in case arriving by flight)
Authorization letter (especially for solo travellers to declare that you would be responsible of your wellbeing)
One form provided at permit office where one will fill number of days in Bhutan, purpose of visit, hotel names and emergency contact number
Taxi from Phuentsholing to Thimphu
Once your permits are done, you will have to find a taxi to Thimphu. Now, keep in mind that shared taxi stand is at the bus stand and the last one leaves at 2 PM. So try to get your permits done as early as possible or otherwise, try to get your permits and leave for Thimphu the next day. You’ll find a lot of hotels in Jaigaon. The ones in Phuentsholing are costlier.
Hotel booking in Bhutan
It is a must to have advance hotel booking but this has a loophole. You only need hotel for the first destination and first day. If you are booking your hotel through booking.com or any other platform that allows you to pay at the property, you can cancel it the moment your permits are made. Don’t do it before getting your permits, they’ll figure this out. This works better when you plan to leave for Thimphu the next morning.
Bus Booking in Bhutan
Make sure that you book your bus a day in advance. Buses cost a maximum of INR 250 and it leaves on time. Unlike buses in India, Bhutan buses have a limited seating and no standing passenger is allowed.
Cheap hotels in Bhutan
Once you are in Thimphu and have spent a day in the city, you can walk around and look for cheap hotels.
My recommended cheap hotels in Thimphu and Paro –
Hotel AV, Thimphu – INR 600
Hotel Yoesal, Thimphu – INR 700 – 900
Namgay Lodging, Paro – INR 600
Hotels in Haa and Punakha will be costlier because there are only two of them in each place.
Getting permits for Punakha and Haa
The permit that you find in Phuentsholing will only allow you till Thimphu and Paro. To travel further, you’ll have to go to another permit office in Thimphu and get permits for Punakha, Haa and rest of the places made.
The entire process will take a day so don’t plan to leave on the same day. Apply for the permit in the morning, explore Thimphu and collect your permits after the lunch.
Papers required for Punakha permits
- Voter ID or passport xerox copy
- Thimphu or Paro permit xerox copy
- One application stating that you are responsible for your own well being
- Punakha/Haa/Bumthang hotel stay xerox copy
- Permit application form (will be provided by Thimphu immigration authorities)
Are there any backpacker hostels in Bhutan
Bhutan doesn’t promote backpacking culture as tourism is not the primary part of the country’s income. They don’t want low quality tourists in the country and hence they have not allowed any backpacker hostels. I would suggest that instead of looking for hostels in Bhutan, find a group of likeminded solo travellers and share room at a good hotel.
You can find other solo travellers going to Bhutan in backpacking groups such as Indian Solo Travelers on Facebook.
Currency Exchange in Bhutan
Bhutan only accepts Nu which is equal to INR. So if you withdraw 5000 Nu from an ATM, you’ll have to pay INR 5500 with surcharge.
How much would solo traveling in Bhutan will cost ?
On an average a 6 day trip – 2 night Thimphu – 2 nights Paro – 2 Nights Punakha will cost you
- 800 nu for hotels in Thimphu and Paro
- INR 1600 for hotel in Punakha (in case you find other solo travellers then price will reduce)
- INR 250 per bus charge
- INR 500 to 600 Taxi charge
- INR 60 for noodles/fried rice
- INR 40 for coffee
- INR 100 for chicken + rice
- INR 60 for masala dosa
- INR 60 for Daal + Rice
- INR 100 to INR 300 – Monument Entry Fee
- INR 200 Sim card with 1 week validity
I hope that these tips to solo traveling in Bhutan will help you plan your trip in the future. Connect with me on Instagram or Twitter in case of more queries.