A cultural tour in Bhutan is a challenge for a traveller with physical disabilities, but is possible with some planning. The Bhutanese are eager to help, and one could arrange a strong companion to assist with moving about and getting in and out of vehicles. The roads are rough and pavements, where they exist, often have holes and sometimes steps. Hotels and public buildings rarely have wheelchair access or lifts, and only the newest will have bathrooms designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
Bargaining is not a Bhutanese tradition, and you won't get very far with your haggling skills here, except with trail-side vendors on the hike to Taktshang and in the local handicrafts section of the Thimphu Weekend Market.
Dangers & Annoyances
Bhutan is a remarkably safe destination, almost completely devoid of the scams, begging and theft that affects its neighbours. There are a couple of things to look out for, though.
- Altitude It's unlikely you will have any problems with altitude unless you are trekking. Most of the places tourists visit lie below 3000m and the maximum elevation you can reach by road is around 3800m.
- Aggressive dogs: Those scruffy dogs that sleep silently during the day turn into barking monsters at night. Bring earplugs. There is little danger of dog bites, but occasional rabies outbreaks occur in rural Bhutan, so be wary of big dogs guarding properties, especially if trekking.
- Bad weather: Inclement weather can obscure the mountain views that you made such an effort to see and can affect Druk Air flights. Snow sometimes blocks the road temporarily on high passes in winter. In the monsoon season, heavy rain can turn trails and roads into a sea of mud and can wash away bridges.
- Carsickness: If you venture east of Thimphu, you will spend hours driving on rough, winding roads and carsickness is common. Anti-motion medication such as Dramamine can help, but bring the anti-drowsy versions or you'll spend most of the spectacular drives snoring in the back seat.
- Crime: Theft is still minimal in Bhutan, but as elsewhere it is growing along with the population, so you should be just as careful as you are in your home country.
Embassies & Consulates
Visas are not available from Bhutanese embassies abroad. All tourist visas must be channelled through a tour company and the TCB in Thimphu, and from there through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Embassies & Consulates in Bhutan
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Bhutan's country code||975|
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Entry procedures are generally simple because your tour guide will meet you on arrival. Be sure to carry your visa authorisation form from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
You will receive a baggage declaration form to complete when you arrive in Bhutan. For tourists, the main purpose of this form is to ensure that you re-export anything you bring into the country. List any expensive equipment that you are carrying, such as cameras and laptops. Don't lose the form as you must return it when you leave the country.
Duty-free allowances include 1L of liquor. You can bring in only one carton (300) of cigarettes and these attract a 200% duty upon arrival. A packet or two is normally allowed in gratis. There are no restrictions on other personal effects, including trekking gear, brought into the country.
Departure formalities are straightforward, but you'll need to produce the form that you completed on arrival and may need to show all of the items listed on it. A lost form means complications and delays. If you lose the form, let your guide know as soon as possible so that special arrangements can be made to avoid any inconvenience.
The export of antiques and wildlife products is prohibited. If you wish to purchase a souvenir that looks old, have your guide clear it as a nonantique item with the Division of Cultural Properties, part of the Department of Culture inside the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs. Customs authorities pay special attention to religious statues. It would be prudent to have any such statue cleared, old or not.
Visas are arranged by your tour company and issued on arrival only to those on a prepaid all-inclusive tour.
Obtaining a Bhutan Visa
Unlike in most countries, where visas are issued from embassies abroad and stamped into your passport before you travel, visas for Bhutan are issued only when you arrive in the country, either at Paro airport or (if entering by road) at Phuentsholing, Gelephu or Samdrup Jongkhar. You must apply in advance through a tour operator and receive visa approval before you travel to Bhutan.
All applications for tourist visas must be initialised by a Bhutanese tour operator and are approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Thimphu. The operator submits an online visa application with a copy of the photo page of your passport to the Tourism Council of Bhutan in Thimphu. It, in turn, checks that you have completely paid for your trip (including the US$40 visa fee) and then issues an approval letter to the tour operator. With this approval in hand, the tour operator then makes a final application to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which takes up to three days to process the visa.
It's not necessary to fill in a special visa application form. Just send a scan of your passport photo and your passport information pages to your tour operator/local travel agent. You may also need to provide your permanent address and occupation.
When the visa clearance is issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it sends a visa confirmation number to the tour operator and to Druk Air/Bhutan Airlines. The airline will not issue your tickets to Paro until it receives this confirmation number and then rechecks the visa information when you check in for the flight.
The actual visa endorsement is stamped in your passport when you arrive at one of the ports of entry for tourists. You will receive a visa for the exact period you have arranged to be in Bhutan. You will normally have already paid the visa fee of US$40 directly to your tour company. If some unusual event requires that you obtain a visa extension, your tour operator will arrange it.
It's surprisingly efficient considering all the time, distance and various levels of bureaucracy involved. When you arrive in Bhutan, the visa officer will invariably be able to produce your approval form from the file and the visa will be issued on the spot. It's very helpful to have a printout of the scanned visa authority to aid the immigration officials and airline to find your information quickly.
Indian Travellers in Bhutan
Indian nationals are allowed to travel on their own in Bhutan, with or without the services of a tour operator. If they choose to liaise with an operator, they are currently charged a minimum daily fee of US$135 per person (US$175 for teams of three people or less).
Indians don't require a visa to enter Bhutan, and are given a seven-day entry-cum-stay permit at the immigration offices upon presentation of a passport or government-issued ID such as a voter's registration card. This permit allows travel only within Phuentsholing, Thimphu and Paro, and can be extended at the Immigration Office in Thimphu for successive periods of three weeks each. Bring at least one passport photo. One can also request a route permit here to travel beyond the three above-mentioned towns. If you are driving yourself, you will need a route permit from the Royal Safety Transport Authority (RSTA) at the bus station at Phuentsholing.
Indians without stay permits can wander freely in Phuentsholing and go five kilometres into Bhutan during the day, but must return to India before 10pm.
Visas for Neighbouring Countries
Nationals of most countries need a visa to visit India. If you are travelling overland to or from Bhutan via the border post in Phuentsholing, Gelephu or Samdrup Jongkhar, you will need an Indian visa.
The government of India strongly prefers that you obtain your Indian visa in the country that issued your passport. It's usually a simple task to get your Indian visa before you leave home, but it's complicated to get one if overseas. It is possible to obtain a three-day transit visa overseas if you have confirmed flights in and out of India and can produce the appropriate tickets. Otherwise, you must pay a fee to the overseas embassy to send a fax to the Indian embassy in your own country and wait up to a week for a reply.
Tourist visas are generally issued for six months, are multiple entry, and are valid from the date of issue of the visa, not the date you enter India. This means that if you first enter India five months after the visa was issued, it will be valid for one month.
Visas for Nepal are available on arrival at Kathmandu airport or at land border crossings, including Kakarbhitta, the road crossing nearest to Bhutan. You will need one passport photo to fill out a visa form manually. However, if arriving at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan airport you can insert your electronic passport into a visa registration machine, which will take your photo and fill out your form. If you are making a side trip to Bhutan from Kathmandu, you can get a multiple-entry visa the first time you arrive in Nepal. However, you can also simply get another visa on arrival when you return to Nepal. You can also obtain a visa for Nepal in advance from embassies abroad or from the Nepali embassy or consulate in the gateway cities of Bangkok, Delhi, Dhaka or Kolkata.
If you are simply transiting through Kathmandu, you can get a 24-hour transit visa for US$5.
All of Bhutan outside of the Paro and Thimphu valleys is classified as a restricted area. Tour operators obtain a 'road permit' for the places on your itinerary, and this permit is checked and endorsed by the police at immigration checkpoints strategically located at important road junctions. The tour operator must return the permit to the government at the completion of the tour, and it is scrutinised for major deviations from the authorised program. In general you won't be aware that any of this is going on in the background.
There are immigration checkpoints in Hongtsho (east of Thimphu), Chhukha (between Thimphu and Phuentsholing), Rinchending (above Phuentsholing), Wangdue Phodrang, Chazam (near Trashigang), Wamrong (between Trashigang and Samdrup Jongkhar) and in Samdrup Jongkhar. All are open from 5am to 9pm daily.
Permits to Enter Temples
During times when there aren't festivals, tourists are allowed to visit the courtyards of dzongs and, where feasible, the tshokhang (assembly hall) and one designated lhakhang in each dzong, but only when accompanied by a licensed Bhutanese guide. This provision is subject to certain restrictions, including visiting hours, dress standards and other rules that vary by district.
The TCB has a small list of places tourists cannot visit, with the assumption that all other places can be visited. You can generally visit any lhakhang that is private or village run. Dzongs are open to all during the time of a tsechu, when you may visit the courtyard, but not the lhakhangs. Your tour company will deal with all the necessary paperwork, so let them know in advance if there are specific goembas or chapels you wish to visit.
If you are a practising Buddhist, you may apply for a permit to visit certain dzongs and religious institutions usually off-limits. The credibility of your application will be enhanced if you include a letter of reference from a recognised Buddhist organisation in your home country.
If your passport has less than six months of validity left, get a new one before setting off, because many countries in this region will not issue visas to persons whose passports are about to expire.
Keep your passport safe. No country other than India has the facility for issuing a replacement passport in Bhutan. If you lose your passport, you must travel 'stateless' to another country to get it replaced. You should carry some additional form of identification and a photocopy of your passport to help in such an event.
Indian and Bangladeshi travellers do not need a passport to visit Bhutan, but will need some form of (photographic) identification, such as a voter's registration card.
A travel insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is always highly recommended. Most policies will cover costs if you are forced to cancel your tour because of flight cancellation, illness, injury or the death of a close relative. This can protect you from major losses due to Bhutan's prepayment conditions and hefty cancellation charges.
Some policies specifically exclude 'dangerous activities', and these can include motorcycling, rafting and even trekking. Read your policy carefully to be sure it covers ambulance rides or an emergency helicopter airlift out of a remote region, or an emergency flight home. Many travel-insurance policies include repatriation and evacuation through the worldwide network of International SOS Assistance. Keep in mind that if you can't afford travel insurance, you certainly won't be able to afford to deal with a medical emergency overseas.
You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later. If you have to claim later, make sure you keep all documentation. Some insurance companies ask you to call them (they suggest reversing the charges, an impossibility from Bhutan) at a centre in your home country, where an immediate assessment of your problem is made.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
There are very few internet cafes in towns. Bhutan Telecom and Tashi Cell offer 3G and 4G networks that are constantly expanding, and most tourist hotels offer free wi-fi (though this may be limited to the lobby and restaurant and not the rooms).
Although you will probably notice cannabis growing in any bit of spare dirt, even in the towns, there is not a tradition of use and possession is illegal.
Smoking in public places is prohibited. Bring all the cigarettes you think you'll need but be prepared to be taxed 200% at customs. Don't sell any cigarettes brought into the country as this is illegal.
Like most Asians, the Bhutanese believe that what one does in private is strictly a personal matter, and they would prefer not to discuss such issues. Public displays of affection are not appreciated, though, and everyone, regardless of orientation, should exercise discretion. Officially, male homosexuality is illegal.
A good map can be hard to source outside the country. Bookshops in Kathmandu are the best bet for finding a map. International Travel Maps (www.itmb.com) produces a 1:345,000 Bhutan & Northern India, and Nepa Maps produces a 1:380,000 Bhutan, and Bhutan Himalaya Trekking Routes.
In Bhutan, bookshops sell Thimphu and Paro city maps as well as country maps produced by the Survey of Bhutan for the National Land Commission (www.nlcs.gov.bt). The Survey publishes a large 1:250,000 satellite country map overlaid with roads and major towns and district boundaries, as well as several specialised maps showing historical places and points of interest.
- Newspapers Kuensel (www.kuenselonline.com) is the daily (except Sunday) national newspaper of Bhutan. Private newspapers include: Bhutan Today (www.bhutantoday.net, biweekly); Bhutan Times (www.bhutantimes.com, Sunday); Bhutan Observer (www.bhutanobserver.bt, Friday); The Journalist (www.bhutanjournalist.com, Sunday); The Bhutanese (www.thebhutanese.bt, Saturday); and Business Bhutan (www.businessbhutan.bt, Saturday).
- Magazines Glossy magazines published by newspapers come and go, but the most successful magazine in Bhutan is Yeewong (www.yeewongmagazine.com) aimed at Bhutanese women.
- Radio Bhutan Broadcasting Service (www.bbs.com.bt) broadcasts English news at 11am and 2pm on 96FM. Kuzoo FM 105 (www.kuzoo.net) is a private English- and Dzongkha-language station with a mix of music and chat, or try Radio Valley at 99.9FM.
- TV BBS TV broadcasts evening news in English. Satellite channels such as BBC World and CNN are widespread.
Tours are prepaid so you'll only need money for drinks, laundry, souvenirs and tips; for this, bring cash. There are ATMs in most main towns, but it would be wise not to rely entirely on being able to use plastic. Credit cards are accepted in some hotels and souvenir shops, but only in major cities or well-touristed areas.
The unit of currency is the ngultrum (Nu), which is pegged to the Indian rupee. The ngultrum is further divided into 100 chetrum. There are coins to the value of 25 and 50 chetrum and Nu 1, and notes of Nu 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000. The Nu 1 coin depicts the eight auspicious symbols called Tashi Tagye, while each note depicts a different dzong.
Indian rupees may be used freely anywhere in Bhutan (don't be surprised if you get change in rupees). Officially 500 and 1000 Indian rupee notes are not accepted due to large amounts of counterfeit notes; however, in practice 500s are usually accepted. Ngultrums cannot be used in India.
It is OK with the Bhutanese if you bring a reasonable amount of Indian currency into Bhutan, though Indian regulations prohibit currency export.
Bank of Bhutan (BoB), Bhutan National Bank and Druk PNB Bank ATMs usually accept foreign credit cards; however, it would be prudent to get your cash in Thimphu or Paro before heading out into the countryside, particularly the far east. Transactions are limited to Nu 10,000 or Nu15,000.
If you plan to make a major purchase, for example textiles or art, consider bringing US dollars in cash. Most shops will accept this, and it can save you the hassle of exchanging a large quantity of money in advance and then attempting to change it back if you don't find the exact piece you were looking for.
Cards are accepted at major handicraft stores and some of the larger hotels in Thimphu and towns that get many tourists, but you will often be charged a surcharge of up to 5% to cover the fees levied by the credit-card companies. PINs have to be four digits.
Tourist trips are fully prepaid, so you could in theory manage in Bhutan without any local money at all, though you'll probably want to change at least US$50 to US$100 to pay for laundry and drinks, plus whatever you need for souvenirs and tips.
The exchange counters at the airport, larger hotels and the banks in Thimphu and Phuentsholing can change all major currencies, and sometimes Scandinavian currencies. If you are heading to central and eastern Bhutan, you will do better sticking to US dollars. In smaller towns, foreign-currency exchange may be an unusual transaction so be prepared for delays. You'll often get a slightly lower rate (10% lower) if changing US-dollar bills in denominations less than US$100. US-dollar bills that are pre-1993 are generally not accepted.
You may change your unused ngultrums back to foreign currency (though usually only into US dollars) on departure from Thimphu or Paro. Travellers departing via Samdrup Jongkhar didn't have this facility at the time of research. You may need to produce your original exchange receipts. Ngultrums are useless outside of Bhutan (except as a curiosity).
Bhutan has two major banks, the Bank of Bhutan (www.bob.bt) and the Bhutan National Bank (www.bnb.bt), each with branches throughout the country. Both change cash with no commission and charge 1% for travellers cheques. The Bank of Bhutan's main branches are generally open 9am to 1pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 11am on Saturday, though the branches in Trongsa, Trashigang and Mongar are open on Sunday and closed Tuesday. It also has a branch in Thimphu that stays open later. Newer banks with forex include the Tashi Group's T-Bank and Druk PNB with limited but expanding branches.
For those paying their own way, most hotels charge 10% Bhutan Sales Tax (BST) and either 5% or 10% service charge, which are included in the rates shown. Most restaurants will charge the same, especially if you want a receipt.
- Tour guides You will usually be accompanied throughout your visit to Bhutan by the same tour guide and probably the same driver. Though it's against the official TCB policy, these people expect a tip at the end of the trip. Many leaders on group tours take up a collection at the conclusion of the trip and hand it over in one packet. With a large group this can be a substantial amount and the practice has created high expectations on the part of Bhutanese guides. If arranging tips yourself, hand them over in individual envelopes the evening before you leave, as things get rushed and easily forgotten on the day of departure.
- Trekking guides If you've been trekking, it's appropriate to tip the guide, cook and waiter. Horsemen also expect tips, but this can be minimal if they are the owners of the horses or yaks and are making money by hiring out their animals. The stakes go up, however, if they have been especially helpful with camp chores and on the trail.
You can cash travellers cheques at any bank, most hotels and the foreign-exchange counter at the airport. There are bank charges of 1% for cheque encashment. You should carry only well-known brands such as American Express. There is no replacement facility for lost travellers cheques in Bhutan.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Reviews mention business hours only if different from these standards.
Government offices 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm in summer, until 4pm in winter, Monday to Friday
Banks 9am to 4pm (3pm winter) Monday to Friday, 9am to noon (11am in winter) Saturday
Shops 8am to 8pm or 9pm
Clubs Generally close at midnight most weekdays, and at around 2am or 3am on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
Bars Close at 11pm on weekdays and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Closed Tuesday – the national 'dry' day.
Memory cards are available in Thimphu and you will have no problem finding an internet cafe in Thimphu or Paro that can burn digital images to a CD. There are colour-printing facilities in Thimphu and Phuentsholing.
Many of the dzongs and mountain peaks are best photographed at a distance with a telephoto lens. Bear in mind also that there will be little or no opportunity for photography inside buildings, so you don't need to organise a flash attachment and tripod for that purpose. Be sure to carry spare batteries, as these are hard to find when in rural Bhutan.
Grab a copy of Lonely Planet's Travel Photography for more tips and advice.
Photography enthusiasts should check out the expert-guided itineraries of Rainbow Photo Tours.
Bhutan is generally liberal about photography by tourists. There are a few places, though, with signs prohibiting photography, such as the telecommunication tower above Thimphu, and it would also be prudent to refrain from taking pictures of military installations.
There are no restrictions on photographing the outside of dzongs (fort-monasteries) and goembas (monasteries), but photography is strictly prohibited inside goembas and lhakhangs (temples). There are several reasons for this. One is that in the past tourists have completely disrupted holy places with their picture taking. Another is the fear that photos of treasured statues will become a catalogue of items for art thieves to steal. And thirdly, some early tourists made photographs of religious statues into postcards that were then sold, which is unacceptable to the Bhutanese religious community.
During festivals you can photograph from the dzong courtyard where the dances take place. Remember, however, that this is a religious observance and that you should behave accordingly. Don't photograph a member of the royal family, even if you happen to be at a festival or gathering where they are present.
There is an extensive set of rules and restrictions, including payment of additional royalties for commercial movie making within Bhutan.
The mail service from Bhutan is reliable, and no special procedures are necessary.
Bhutan Post (www.bhutanpost.bt) offers both outgoing and incoming Expedited Mail Service (EMS), which is a reliable and fast international mail delivery facility that is cheaper than courier services. It also has a Local Urgent Mail (LUM) service for delivery within Thimphu.
If you have made a purchase and want to send it home, it's easiest to have the shop make arrangements for you. Keep the receipt and let your guide know what you are doing so they can follow up in case the package does not arrive. Send all parcels by air; sea mail, via Kolkata (Calcutta), takes months.
DHL has an office in Thimphu. A 500g package of documents costs around US$85 to the USA and UK, or US$78 to Australia. There are several smaller courier companies that specialise in service to India.
Airmail letter Rates Letters up to 20g cost Nu 15 domestic, Nu 25 for Nepal, India and Bangladesh, Nu 30 most foreign countries.
EMS Rates 500g documents cost Nu 910 to India, and Nu 1725/2290/2015 to Australia/USA/UK.
Public holidays follow both the Gregorian and lunar calendars and are decided by the Royal Civil Service Commission (www.rcsc.gov.bt) – dates are posted on their website.
Birthday of the Gyaltse (crown prince) 5 February
Birthday of Fifth King 21, 22 & 23 February
Birthday of Third King 2 May
Coronation of Fourth King 2 June; also marked as 'Social Forest Day'
Coronation of Druk Gyalpo 1 November
Constitution Day/Fourth King's Birthday 11 November
National Day 17 December; the date of the establishment of the monarchy in 1907
The following holidays are set by the traditional lunar calendar and so vary in Gregorian dates:
Losar January/February, New Year
Zhabdrung Kuchoe April/May; death of Zhabdrung
Buddha Paranirvana/Saga Dawa May/June; enlightenment and death of Buddha
Birthday of Guru Rinpoche June/July
First sermon of Buddha July
Dashain October; Hindu celebration
Several major festivals are considered local public holidays, including September's Thimphu dromchoe and tsechu. Note that dates for festivals can vary by several weeks each year, especially if they are adjusted to conform to auspicious dates. Before you schedule a trip around a specific festival, check with a tour operator or the Tourism Council of Bhutan for the correct dates.
In the Bhutanese lunar system, months have 30 days, with the full moon on the 15th. The eighth, 15th and 30th days of the month are auspicious and you'll notice increased activity and prayers in monasteries across the country.
Bhutan's festival dates are fixed according to the lunar calendar and so the Western date varies every year. Check www.tourism.gov.bt for the latest dates.
Public call offices (PCOs) are becoming rarer throughout the country, as the mobile service is generally excellent. Most hotels can arrange local and international calls for a premium, though few have in-room direct-dial facilities.
Local calls cost around Nu 1 per minute, or Nu 2 per minute long distance. International calls cost Nu 18 to Nu 50 per minute, or Nu 7.5 to India.
A useful number:
1600 Domestic and International directory inquiries
As long as your phone is unlocked you can buy a B-Mobile or Tashi Cell SIM card for both local and international use and top it up with prepaid cards.
Bhutanese Mobile Phone Companies
A B-Mobile SIM card for tourists is available at any telecom shop in Thimphu for Nu 100, which includes talk time worth Nu 100 and is valid for one month. Your passport must be shown at the time of purchase. Further top-ups are available in multiples of Nu 100. B- Mobile (www.druknet.bt) has the best coverage; its numbers start with 17. Tashi Cell (www.tashicell.com) has similar rates but more limited coverage; its numbers start with 77.
Local call charges vary from Nu 0.40 to Nu 0.70 per 15 seconds, depending on the time of day and network called. Text messages are Nu 0.70. ISD charges are Nu 4 per minute for India and from Nu 18 to Nu 50 per minute for the rest of the world.
Bhutan Telecom provides satellite phones using the Thuria system, which allows direct dialling from anywhere in the country, even on a trek. Some tour operators have these phones or they can rent them, though the charges are higher than for normal calls.
Bhutan time is GMT/UTC plus six hours; there is only one time zone throughout the country. The time in Bhutan is 30 minutes later than in India, 15 minutes later than Nepal, and one hour earlier than Thailand. When it is noon in Bhutan, standard time is 6am in London, 4pm in Sydney, 1am in New York and 10pm the previous day in San Francisco.
Most hotels provide Western toilets and toilet paper, though there are some exceptions, particularly in local hotels in eastern Bhutan. There are very few public toilets, so take full advantage of hotel and restaurant facilities before that long drive. Most public toilets are of the Asian squat variety and toilet paper isn't available, though a container of water should be present.
The Tourism Council of Bhutan has a comprehensive website and it can refer you to tour operators who can assist with arrangements to visit Bhutan. There is no official government tourist office outside Bhutan.
Most of the big travel companies in Bhutan have good general information on Bhutan on their websites.
Travel with Children
Children aged under five are exempt from the minimum daily tariff and five-to-12-year-olds get a 50% discount, so it needn't break the bank if you bring kids along. Kids may become bored with long, monotonous drives, limited availability of TV and the internet, and little other entertainment available. On the other hand, they will be immediately accepted by local kids and their families, and they could make many new friends. Lonely Planet's Travel with Children has lots of useful advice and suggestions.
Bhutan Land of the Thunder Dragon, by Freda Ferne, is a children's book on Bhutan; see www.bhutan-an-introduction.co.uk if you want more info or wish to buy.
Bhutan is selective about the type of projects it wants in the country and so the opportunities for volunteer work in Bhutan are limited. Lonely Planet does not endorse any organisations we do not work with directly, but the UN has numerous programs in Bhutan, all coordinated through the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and many different agencies feed into the program.
Other agencies that operate programs in Bhutan include ACB (Austria), Danida (Denmark), GTZ (Germany), Helvetas (Switzerland), JOCV & JICA (Japan), Save the Children, SNV (Netherlands) and VSA (New Zealand).
Volunteers are not subject to the normal rules for tourists and the agency employing you will arrange your visa. Volunteers are allowed two visitors a year; the visitors must be close relatives and are not subject to the tourist tariff.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used throughout the country. In villages, rice is sometimes measured in a round measure called a gasekhorlo. There is a scale called a sang that is used for butter and meat.
Women, both foreign and Bhutanese, are not usually subject to harassment and do not need to take any special precautions. Men have a reasonably liberated attitude towards their relations with women. There are several opportunities for misunderstanding if you don't make your intentions clear from the very outset, however. Female travellers should be aware that romantic liaisons between tourists and Bhutanese guides are quite common. You might also be invited to a 'party' at the home of a Bhutanese male and discover too late that you are the only guest.
Women are generally not allowed to enter the goenkhang (protector chapel) of a monastery or lhakhang.
The popular Teach in Bhutan programme (www.teachinbhutan.org) is run by the Bhutan-Canada Foundation (www.bhutancanada.org). Note this programme is not limited to Canadian citizens and English-speaking, qualified teachers from other countries can apply. Salaries are paid by the Bhutanese government.