Tour operators will book you into hotels approved by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB). Since most visitors effectively pay the same rate across the category, it makes sense to ask for information about the various options when you make your travel arrangements.
- Hotels Tourist-quality hotels range from simple but comfortable pine-clad rooms included in the daily fee to luxurious five-star resorts attracting a premium tariff.
- Local Hotels These hotels tend to be noisier and with firm mattresses and are a last resort only.
- Homestays The only accommodation in some parts of the east and providing unparalleled immersion into local culture.
Accommodation in Bhutan ranges from simple mountain huts to five-star luxury resorts, though most tourists will stay in comfortable midrange tourist hotels equipped with electricity, telephone, TV, private bathroom and hot water. Every hotel has a restaurant that serves buffet meals when a group is in residence and offers à la carte dining at other times. Many hotels in Thimphu and Paro have wi-fi, but internet connectivity diminishes as you head away from these centres.
Larger hotels offer standard, deluxe and suite accommodation, although the difference between standard and deluxe in many hotels is minimal. When you book a trip, you may specify which hotel you wish, but your agent may have a list of hotels with whom they have contracts or relationships. Changes and cancellations will be much simpler and upgrades more likely in these hotels. You'll find that smaller agencies often have a hard time getting guaranteed rooms at hotels owned by larger tour companies. During the low season (December to February, June to August), hotels often discount their rooms by as much as 30% so you may be able to negotiate an upgrade during these months.
During tsechu (dance festival) time, tourist hotels add a hefty surcharge, but they still get booked up and you may well find yourself 'bumped' into budget digs, such as the local hotels used by domestic travellers and Indian traders. Also out east, where there is not an oversupply of hotels, your only choice may be a local hotel. These can still be comfortable, though the mattresses (thin) and toilet facilities (squat or with makeshift plumbing) may not be quite what you're used to.
A confirmed hotel reservation does not always guarantee a booking in hotels as small as those in Bhutan. A large tour group can exert a powerful influence and you may discover that there is an extended negotiation taking place between your guide and the desk clerk when you check-in. Don't worry; something will be arranged.
Bhutan has a growing number of luxury options, including the Uma, Amankora, Zhiwa Ling and Termalinca resorts. For these you will have to pay a substantial supplement on top of the standard tourist tariff. These hotels are marked as 'luxury'. For these luxury hotels you should get at least a 30% discount off the full rate during the low season.
Winter is cold in Bhutan and central heating is rare. In Thimphu and Paro there are small electric heaters, and in Bumthang many hotel rooms are heated by a wood stove called a bukhari, which often has a pile of rocks on the top to retain the heat. These stoves are flued to the outside and should not be at risk of causing carbon monoxide poisoning. Nevertheless, not all flues are 100% sealed and fires do consume oxygen, so some venting, such as opening a window, is recommended. Unless you are trekking, you won't need to carry bedding or a sleeping bag.
If there is an electric water heater (called a geyser) in the room, check that it's turned on when you check in. The better hotels supply bottled drinking water in the rooms, but if you come across an open water flask in your room, don't drink from it.
Indian travellers and resident foreigners often get an automatic 20% or 30% discount on hotel room rates, while Bhutanese may get 50%.
Most hotels offer a dotsho (traditional hot-stone bath), a simple coffin-like wooden box containing water warmed with fire-heated rocks. The red-hot rocks tumble and sizzle into the water behind a grill that protects the bather's skin. More traditional places add natural herbs such as artemisia. You'll need to book a couple of hours in advance for the rocks to heat up; expect to pay around Nu 2000 for the experience, double this in top-end places. Bring a towel and soap in cheaper places.