Conveniently nestled between the two giant neighbors of China and India, the mysterious kingdom of Bhutan is one such country which is blessed with unparalleled natural beauty. This landlocked nation enjoys a scenic location east of the mighty Himalayas, and is often referred to as being the happiest country in the world.
Bhutan backpacking is still in the infancy stage, mainly due to the high expense involved to visit this beautiful country. One needs to set aside at least 200 USD per day for the trip. Having said that, this is money well spent because backpacking is actually the best way to explore the raw and pristine beauty Bhutan is known to possess. So skip the luxury jaunt and instead grab your rucksack and add a new dimension to your life by experiencing the Land of the Dragons like a local.
Table of Content
- Top Places of Interest in Bhutan
- Suggested 9 Day Bhutan Backpacking Itinerary
- DAY ONE- Siliguri/Bagdogra to Phuentsholing (143 km/4 hours)
- DAY TWO- Phuentsholing to Thimphu (175 km/6 hours)
- DAY THREE- Thimphu
- DAY FOUR- Thimphu to Phobjikha Valley (134 km/3 hours)
- DAY FIVE- Phobjikha to Punakha (81 km/3 hours)
- DAY SIX- Punakha
- DAY SEVEN- Punakha to Paro (142 km/4 hours)
- DAY EIGHT- Paro to Taktsang
- DAY NINE- Paro to Phuentsholing (165 km/5 hours)
- Bhutan Visa Process
- Where to Stay in Bhutan
- Tips for Visiting Bhutan
Top Places of Interest in Bhutan
Exploring Bhutan on a budget can be quite tough but let’s first understand the major attractions Tourism Bhutan has to offer so you know what to tick off your list and backpack accordingly.
Your first glimpse at this border town of Bhutan, will give you a clear insight on what to expect in the days ahead.To start with,the town is clean, place is orderly and people are smiling and humble. The principal tourist spot here is the Karbandi monastery, which provides great views of the town and the plains of India far below. Apart from this, there are many shops selling clothes and goods at very affordable prices. Phuentsholing is the best place to change currency because of the good rates offered here. You can catch a bus from the station to take you to the other towns of Bhutan.
A pleasant six hour drive from Phuentsholing will bring you to Thimphu, the capital of the country. The town is a blend of the old and new and has a plethora of special attractions. One can book a cab, use the local bus or simply walk to do the sightseeing. Some top tourist draws here include, Memorial Chorten, Buddha Point, Institute of Traditional Medicine, National Textile Museum, Paper factory and handicraft shops which sell just about anything and everything. Nightlife is quite vibrant, with a number of bars and clubs which open till quite late.
Situated on the confluence of two important rivers of Bhutan namely, Mo and Pho, Punakha is known for the Dzong or the Fort located here. This sturdy citadel served as the capital of Bhutan for nearly 270 years, and is today home of a very holy relic, Rangjung Kharsapani. The beautiful valley attracts hordes of visitors, especially during the festivals of Punakha Tshechu and Drubchen. Punakha can be accessed from Thimphu by local buses or shared cabs and takes around three hours to reach.
Suggested 9 Day Bhutan Backpacking Itinerary
DAY ONE- Siliguri/Bagdogra to Phuentsholing (143 km/4 hours)
You must ensure to reach the immigration office at Phuentsholing by 12 noon if you wish to continue your onward journey to Thimphu on the same day. It is recommended to break the journey for at least one night in order to obtain your permit, do local sightseeing as well as taking rest. Once you have your permits you can visit the important sights of the town.
DAY TWO- Phuentsholing to Thimphu (175 km/6 hours)
Catch the early morning bus to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. The six to seven hours ride meanders through scenic mountain roads before reaching Thimphu by late afternoon. Spend the rest of the day in the market. Overnight in Thimphu.
DAY THREE- Thimphu
Start the day with a trek to the Tango Monastery, passing through quintessential mountain villages and chortens. Spend the afternoon taking a tour of the city and popular sights like, Buddha Point, Takin Reserve and Zilukha Nunnery. Don’t forget to tour the markets to pick up some souvenirs like authentic thangkas, wooden masks and silver jewelry. Overnight at Thimphu
DAY FOUR- Thimphu to Phobjikha Valley (134 km/3 hours)
This lovely place can be accessed by crossing the Dochula Pass, said to be the highest motorable road in the country. After covering roughly 134 km in three hours, you will reach the spectacular U-shaped Gangtey glacial valley.The impressive Gangtey Monastery is the centre of attraction here. Overnight in Phobjikha.
DAY FIVE- Phobjikha to Punakha (81 km/3 hours)
After an early breakfast, it is time to head for Punakha, via the Punakha Dzong. This breathtaking spot lies at the confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. Afternoon options here are either to go river rafting or hike to the Khamsum Yulley Monastery. Overnight at Punakha.
DAY SIX- Punakha
Start the day early, by revisiting the Dzong to admire the early morning views. After spending some time relaxing on the banks of the river, trek to Chimi Lhakhang, which is home to the famous Divine Madman Monastery. Make a visit to the Nunnery on your return, before retiring for the day. Overnight Punakha.
DAY SEVEN- Punakha to Paro (142 km/4 hours)
Depart as early as possible for the long drive to Paro via the Chelela Pass. On reaching Paro, go straight to Paro Dzong, to get a glimpse of the mighty Chomolhari Mountain, said to be the bride of Mount Kanchenjunga, the highest peak in India, before the mist sets in. Next visit the oldest village in Bhutan at Kyichu Lhakhang and where you get the opportunity to interact with the locals. Overnight at Paro.
DAY EIGHT- Paro to Taktsang
They saying that the best things always comes last will hold true today as you embark on the most memorable day of the entire trip. The hike to Taktsang Monastery or Tiger’s Nest, may be a bit of a challenge, but once there, the views are amazing.
The monastery is strategically built on a sheer face of the cliffs at a height of 800 m from the base. One must wear proper gear and good shoes to achieve the ascent to the top.( There are ponies available for those who are otherwise unable to the climb on foot). Overnight at Paro.
DAY NINE- Paro to Phuentsholing (165 km/5 hours)
As you prepare to leave this magical destination with a heavy heart, keep in mind that the trip will surely add a new meaning to life henceforth. Take a bus or a shared cab (Nu 1000/15USD roughly) to Phuentsholing for your return journey back home. Cross the border into India and travel back by train/air as per your convenience.
Bhutan Visa Process
Every visitor to Bhutan, except for citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives require a visa in advance to enter the country. The process however, is not time consuming and a visa can be had quickly by providing a copy of the passport. Flying into the country is relatively simple, as Druk Air operates regular flights from abroad as well as several Indian cities, depending on the season. For those coming by road, the entry point is at Phuentsholing where the immigration office is located. Phuentsholing itself is a four hour drive from the nearest railway station in India, Siliguri/New Jalpaiguri or from the airport at Bagdogra. Private as well as share taxis are available at both places to take you to the border check post by paying roughly 50 USD for the full cab. The entire process at the immigration office is simple and takes around thirty minutes to complete, once all the documents have been submitted. These include:
Copy of ID or passport
Form duly filled in
Hotel booking voucher
Passport size photo
A letter of undertaking (for solo travelers)
Here are some important things to remember. Try and reach Phuentsholing as early as possible to avoid the long lines. This will save you valuable time and also get you to Thimphu or Paro before sunset, as both these destinations are a good six hours drive from the border.
The Tourist Permit you get is good for just three places namely, Thimphu, Paro and Punakha. A separate permit, which is available free of cost, is required to visit other places. If you are utilising the services of a travel company, all permits can be arranged by them without any hassles.
Where to Stay in Bhutan
Once you have your permit, you can start looking for suitable accommodation to suit your budget. Since Bhutan relies heavily on tourism, the hotels can be quite expensive during peak season.The best option for the your Bhutan backpacking trip is to use homestays, a concept which is fast becoming very popular in the country. An average homestay during peak season, from October to February may cost 30 USD, while the same place will offer a night’s stay for roughly 20 USD in the off season and during monsoon.
Tips for Visiting Bhutan
Set aside a minimum budget of 70 USD per day to cover food, travel and accommodation if you are ready for Bhutan backpacking trip and not planning to go overboard.
Hotels in Thimphu are the most expensive among other spots in Bhutan.
Though branded liquor brands are available, it is best to try out the local produce of Arra and Chang.
Use local transport for sightseeing as it will cut down on your budget significantly.
Carry a very good pair of hiking shoes, warm clothes if traveling in winter, motion sickness medicine and a raincoat during the monsoons.
That’s it! Hope you are ready for your epic Bhutan backpacking adventure with the help of this guide.