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BHUTAN | THE HAPPIEST COUNTRY?


Unless you are from a select few countries like India, traveling to Bhutan is expensive and not easy at all. However, the rich culture, pristine scenery and fresh mountain air make it worth it. The number of people visiting Bhutan is increasing every year, reflecting the growing interest in the country as a tourist destination.



The government of Bhutan is reserved about allowing visitors into the country. Independent travel to Bhutan is opening up, but it is not something the government encourages. Generally, visitors to Bhutan must be tourists or government guests. The only other options for visiting the country are to receive an invitation from "a citizen of some standing" or a voluntary organization.



With the exception of passport holders from India, Bangladesh and Maldives, all tourists must travel on a pre-planned, pre-paid, guided package or customized travel program.

For other passport holders, visas cost US$40 per day in the country. Visas must be applied for and paid for in advance, from registered tour operators (not embassies), at the same time as booking the remainder of your trip. You should try to organize your trip at least 90 days before your trip to allow time for all formalities to be completed.

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Visas are processed through an online system by tour operators, and are approved by the Bhutan Tourism Board once full payment of the cost of the trip has been received. Tourists receive a visa authorization letter, to be presented at immigration upon arrival at the airport. The visa is then stamped in the passport.



Getting there

Bhutan's only international airport is located in Paro. Currently, two airlines operate flights to Bhutan: Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. Departure points include Bangkok (Thailand), Kathmandu (Nepal), New Delhi and Kolkata (India), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Yangoon (Myanmar) and Singapore.

It is also possible to travel to Bhutan from India by land. The main border is Jaigon-Phuentsholing. There are two others, at Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar.



We went overland on a very tiring journey from Siliguri in India to Bhutan, but when we arrived it was just a party, the Bhutanese seemed to have never seen Brazilians go overland there. The restaurants only had vegan food and the air was really fresh. Our car was rented with an Indian driver who provided a safe and sensational service.



ATM service is not available in Bhutan and credit cards are not widely accepted. The Bhutanese currency is called Ngultrum and its value is linked to the Indian rupee. With the exception of 500 and 2,000 rupee notes, the Indian rupee can be used as legal tender.



Bhutan is changing rapidly with a lot of construction going on, particularly in Thimphu and Paro. As a result, these places have already started to lose their charm and authenticity. Visitors are advised to fly domestically from Paro to Bumthang in the heart of Bhutan in order to experience traditional Bhutan. If you are thinking of visiting Bhutan, it is best to go earlier rather than later!


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