Our complete and extensive guide to planning your trip to Bhutan.
1) Reserving your air tickets
This is the simplest step among your trip. You can either email us your detail, and we would send you a reservation confirmation that will usually last for 30 days for no fee. Alternatively, if you have chosen a travel agent (detailed below), your travel agent will be able to reserve your ticket for you albeit with some delay.
2) Obtaining Your Visa
On the bright side, you do not have to be concerned with obtaining your Visa to Bhutan. Bhutan does not run any embassy where you can apply for Visa, and your visa can only be applied by a registered travel agent in Bhutan. This means that you don’t have to fill up lengthy forms. Visa for Bhutan can only be released to you after you have made the full payment to Bhutan. Do note that you would need a valid Bhutanese Visa to board Drukair’s flights.
3) Choosing a travel agent
You will be spoilt for choice in choosing a company to travel with. There are more than 1,000 Bhutanese agents to choose from and most high-end travel agencies in your country would also offer travel package to Bhutan. These are a few things that you may want to consider in choosing your agents:
a. Local Bhutanese Travel Agents vs International Agencies
A few of the bigger agents, such ourselves, have representation in India, United Kingdom or Singapore. We would recommend choosing agents with representation overseas especially in countries with the regulated travel industry. This will be of help if you end up in a situation where there is a conflict of disagreement to be resolved.
Alternatively, you may want to consider the local agencies in your countries. They would the middle man between the local Bhutanese agent and yourself. This would the more convenient option for you. The price of the travel package to Bhutan is regulated so you will not usually see much difference between local Bhutan agent price and your agent’s price.
Further reading: Tourism Council of Bhutan
b. Other criteria in choosing a travel agency
Price is one of the most common factors for choosing a travel agent. However, we would high discourage using price as a comparison tool. If you are already spending USD 3,000 on the package, would you choose a lower quality agent simply because it is offering a USD 100 discount? That would risk the remaining USD 2900 invest on trip of a lifetime. Some other criteria that you may be want to look into are:
I. The quality of guides – Of the over 1,000 registered companies in Bhutan, most agencies serve just a few people a year. Close to half may not serve any guest in a particular year. Only about 100 agencies serve more than 10 travelers a year, and less than 30 serve more than 100 travelers a year. This means that most agencies are using freelance guides, and not many of them have permanent guides under their payrolls. This can make a difference in your experience as permanent guides would have more chance and experience in guiding travelers.
II. Choice of Hotels – Bhutan has about 300 hotels at the moment. The new hotels are clean and well designed. Some hotels are older and may not be well maintained. Others may be old but may have historical value. You may also consider upgrading to 5 stars hotels or choosing a homestay. You can read more on hotels at TripAdvisor. Note that not every agency will be updating you with the hotels that you are booked on, so you may not have the chance to choose your hotel.
III. Response time – Regular posters in a forum such as TripAdvisor often post that you should write an email to 10 agencies and choose the one that response to you promptly. This is not wrong but does not show the full picture. Salespersons are motivated to close the sales as soon as possible since their commission and bottom line depend on it. Once you have sent your money for the trip, they may not give a response to you as quickly as before. Read the harrowing travel experience on a travel forum and you would be aware of such pitfall. Unfortunately, there is simply no way to judge how truthful is an agent before your booking.
4) Making your payment
If you have chosen to book via a travel agent domiciled in your own country, making your payment is rather straight forward. If you have chosen to book with an agent in Bhutan, payment may pose a slight problem. The Bank of Bhutan has a direct link with banking institutions of a few countries. This means that payment is wired via a correspondent bank. We are listing the correspondent banks for Bank of Bhutan here.
Note that Visa will only released once you have made a full payment to your travel agency. This payment is kept in an account with Tourism Council of Bhutan and will only be released after you have left the country. The validity of your Visa corresponds to how much your agent has deposited with TCB. If they have deposited USD 1,000, the agent will be able to release a visa that is valid for 4 nights (assuming USD 250 per night and no additional surcharge).
As payment is kept with the government, you can raise your concern to TCB if the agent fails to satisfy the agreed service during purchase. Note that it is rather difficult to prove that an agent has not satisfied their minimum service according to contract. We have not seen much successful cases with the exception of outright fraud on the part of an agent.
|: Standard Chartered Bank (Singapore) Limited
|: USD Account
|: 6, Battery Road, Singapore 049909
5) Important check-list before your trip
The travel date is approaching, and you are finally ready to go! Here are a few items that you must remember to carry before you leave your house; your printed Drukair ticket and your Bhutan visa document.
More update to come!
Planning to travel to Bhutan during a festival?
On popular dates of travel such as during festival time, flight tickets tend to get fully reserved 5 months prior. Due to limited flight and seats available, we recommend you to reserve your ticket as early as possible. You can reserve your ticket for free with us and plan your trip to Bhutan with a peace of mind knowing that you will have a spot on your flight to Bhutan.