Bhutan?

Discussion in 'Asia Pacific' started by Fishnbiker, Dec 20, 2017.

  1. Fishnbiker

    Fishnbiker Tire smuddy, hook swet

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,835
    Location:
    Campbell River, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
    Anyone out there ever visited Bhutan? Looking for info on things to see & best riding season, places to pick up a ride , & foods. I understand there is a minimum $250 per day spending requirement. Would this include bike rental & maybe a guide, hotels, meals, etc. ?
    Thanks.
    #1
  2. gperkins

    gperkins graeme

    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2012
    Oddometer:
    1,431
    Location:
    NSW, far south coast.
    We traversed SE Asia last year and didn't enter Bhutan simply because of the cost. Buuuuuuut an Indian friend of ours did ( we crossed from Darwin to Dili and Myanmar with our friend ). The one comment i will never forget, was him saying that it was the scariest 10 days riding he'd ever done. Seeing as he spent the first 27 years of his life growing up in India and riding from a very young age there, I took this comment on board, as meaning the locals are genuinely appalling behind the wheel. Your've been warned!
    #2
  3. Fishnbiker

    Fishnbiker Tire smuddy, hook swet

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,835
    Location:
    Campbell River, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
    Duly noted. Likely can't be much worse than Chinese in Beijjing or Moroccans.
    #3
  4. Mark Manley

    Mark Manley Long timer

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2010
    Oddometer:
    1,672
    Location:
    Travelling a large country on a small bike
    I am fairly certain you need to go on an organised tour to ride in Bhutan unless you are an Indian citizen. An Indian friend of mine rode there last year taking in an Indian registered Enfield and had a great ride through spectacular scenery meeting friendly people he loved the place.
    #4
  5. Fishnbiker

    Fishnbiker Tire smuddy, hook swet

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,835
    Location:
    Campbell River, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
    Thanks, I understand those limitations & am OK with that idea. It's more the cultural, food, & terrain I'm questioning. Lots of experience with travel in other areas but this country has always fascinated me.
    #5
  6. 2wheelgrplr

    2wheelgrplr Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2013
    Oddometer:
    27
    Hi guys, I've now been living in Bhutan the past several years, and ride here all the time as well. After riding/driving in India (I'm originally from across the hills - former Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim, now a state of India), you'll find Bhutan a refreshing change. Traffic density drops immediately, drivers are usually polite and respect road rules, people are friendly and welcoming, the countryside is spectacular pristine mountain vistas that has not suffered the swathes of deforestation and over construction - yes, the few urban centres, like the capital city Thimphu and some others have some areas of multi-storey buildings, but these are more than balanced by the large numbers of old temples, fortresses, village houses, etc that can be found everywhere and maintained as they were centuries ago. The very rich and colourful festivals, culture, etc are still genuinely old-school, authentic and minimally touched by tourism or outside influences - after all the country only got out of the Medieval ages a generation or so ago. The food is a bit different and distinct, even by the standards of related Himalayan regional people - lots of cheese and hot chillies (not "masala" spicy as in India, but levels of mild to red-hot burn, lol!), red rice unique to this region, potatoes & various vegetables, meat ranging from dried yak to cured pork ... some visitors do find the cuisine a little challenging. Local people regularly chew a particularly odorous combination of betel leaf and nuts (doma) that leaves your mouth stained red - similar to Indian paan but smells worse!

    There are a few major highways in the country. The main east-west highway has been going through widening process the last few years, which has left many sections in bad, broken down condition, but the sections completed are smooth and wide (enough). Drop off from the highways and very soon the roads heading towards out of the way villages turn into narrow, steep dirt/gravel roads. Further out the remote regions are still only accessible by foot or horses/yak.

    The country is a Buddhist Kingdom - now a constitutional monarchy, with His Majesty still lending a benign and welcoming presence everywhere. The Kings, Queens and the Royal Family are highly revered and hugely popular figures. The Buddhism is a sect of Vajrayana Buddhism (the version followed in Tibet and the wider Himalayan region). The people are predominantly of Tibetan ethnic stock with a mix of southeast-Asian-origin Tibeto-Burman blood in the eastern region. The lower foothills southern regions have a good mix of people of Nepalese ethnicity as well. The official language is Dzongkha, which is related to Tibetan, with lots of dialects amongst the various provinces, some quite distinctly different. In the eastern provinces people speak Sharchop (also known as Tshangla) a totally different language which has roots somewhere further southeast instead of Tibet. In the southern districts the people of Nepalese ethnicity speak Nepalese along with Dzongkha.

    As for motorcycle riding, there has been a huge uptick in the recent past. A few guys have big ADV bikes - Tigers, GS, Africa Twin - several more have Harleys and Bonnevilles, but for the most part its Royal Enfield, the usual Bullet and Classic as well as the newer Himalayan. A growing number of motorcycle-specific tour operators offer bikes on hire for guided tours, again mostly Enfields. A friend of mine also has a small fleet of now-long-in-the-tooth KTM Enduro 640s for hire. Bikes and cars with India-number-plates don't have a problem entering the country, although the tourism authorities are trying to crack down on the sudden rise in India-number-plate biker groups entering the country by themselves riding, camping and dirtying everywhere - as of a few days ago Indian motorcyclists are only allowed in a few provinces and not further inside the country, this might change though if the Bhutanese tour operators can convince the authorities to amend this rule. Non-Indian motorcyclists, however, can only enter and ride the country through a Bhutanese tour operator.

    Now for the $250 daily fee - its a bit misleading as this includes your government fees, lodging in a 3-star-level hotel, three meals a day, basic transportation (tour bus, van), guides, and a few other miscellaneous expenses. If you were to break these expenses down you'd come to more or less this same per-day-cost anyway. Of course, if you want to stay in a luxury hotel, you pay more. The country is not keen on super-budget backpacking crowd, and the prices everywhere reflect this. I'm not sure about guided motorcycle tours, but I think there's a little extra cost for hiring the bikes. If you want more information look for my buddy's motorcycle outfit, TUSK Motorcycles. He can tweak his tours as per client wish - from comfortable leisurely rides to more difficult offroad-focused adventures. Last week we took my British and American guests on a fun, comfortable 3-day ride to Phobjikha Valley. Right now he is taking some Russian guests somewhere up some remote mountain dirt roads.

    Thats all for now, hope this is helpful. I'll try and share more info down the road.
    #6
  7. 2wheelgrplr

    2wheelgrplr Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2013
    Oddometer:
    27
    9CA482D7-206D-4A17-81FB-F339FE092B85.jpeg 6CA42AE7-7D22-45A6-BBFE-8C1DEC801139.jpeg 909265A7-CB55-4CE1-B214-DC333D27A6A3.jpeg

    Above pics - last week self and friends with guests in Phobjikha Valley, Central Bhutan.
    #7
  8. 2wheelgrplr

    2wheelgrplr Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2013
    Oddometer:
    27
    402C381C-1FD6-4426-B3F2-CDCF32F15B8D.jpeg
    28457E4A-762C-400F-A43D-4B19F6E2EF5B.jpeg

    The historical fortress of Punakha in the beautiful Punakha Valley, western Bhutan.

    410351E7-FC08-4363-8B44-CF014359F701.jpeg

    Outside the home-stay we spent the previous night in Punakha.

    D3BBE88D-FE74-4387-8653-218EE727D1F4.jpeg

    Suspension bridge over the Phochu River, Punakha.
    #8
    PoundSand likes this.
  9. 2wheelgrplr

    2wheelgrplr Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2013
    Oddometer:
    27
    6EB95B90-3822-477F-8D88-E820F797CC1A.jpeg
    408B435D-30FD-4CBC-8BB6-6B634D388DF4.jpeg

    Along the Thimphu - Phuentsholing highway.
    #9
    PoundSand likes this.
  10. 2wheelgrplr

    2wheelgrplr Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2013
    Oddometer:
    27
    99B516E9-3703-4BBA-BD69-B50A5F797B95.jpeg

    The old fortress of Semtokha Dzong behind me, guarding the entry to Thimphu Valley.

    173EB5F6-E9CC-4D04-A448-67F035D94646.jpeg

    Thimphu Valley on a snowy winter day. Snowfall in the valleys are fairly uncommon as the snow line is much higher here in the eastern Himalayas than in the western Himalayan areas like Kashmir & Himachal in India.

    6892F7EA-DDB9-4074-992A-2F4F64DEAE04.jpeg
    3F4A6C6B-5B44-4C92-AAAD-353265039457.jpeg

    The fortress and watchtower (now museum) of Rinpung Dzong in Paro.
    #10
  11. 2wheelgrplr

    2wheelgrplr Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2013
    Oddometer:
    27
    As for must-visit places my own personal preferences are: Paro, Punakha, Bumthang and Phobjikha Valley. Then, time permitting you can visit the western region of Haa or far eastern Tashigang and Tashiyangtse, or southern Tsirang district. Some of these are restricted to outsiders, rules have been changing recently. You'll have to go with a tour operator, so they'll be able to help you best.

    Besides my buddy at Bhutan TUSK Motorcycle Tours, also check out another motorcyclist friend and his agency - Let's Travel Bhutan.
    #11
  12. Fishnbiker

    Fishnbiker Tire smuddy, hook swet

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2005
    Oddometer:
    1,835
    Location:
    Campbell River, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
    Wow! Thanks for all the photos & suggestions. Within reason, the money is not an issue. Will keep searching details. Still working on this trip but getting delayed as I am now planning a ride in Morocco with my son for Sept. this year. I have been there 5 times but never for Junior.

    Any suggestions on timing for best weather options or festivals?
    #12
  13. 2wheelgrplr

    2wheelgrplr Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2013
    Oddometer:
    27
    Best weather is usually Spring and Fall (of course!) but you can push into early Winter or portions of Summer months as the heaviest monsoon rains in most parts of Bhutan are usually in late Summer, I've found. Winter is coldest for a month or two, mid-December to February, but for a lot of folks from northern climes it isn't a deal breaker most times as often day times are cold but sunny, with only nights being freezing cold. Snow line is at a higher altitude as the eastern Himalayan belt where Bhutan lies is further south than the western Himalayan regions of Kashmir (Ladakh) and Himachal, thus snowfall is mostly on higher peaks. Heights of winter the roads passing through higher mountain passes will have snow and ice, but usually not for prolonged periods. Heavy rains during peak Monsoon (July to sometime in mid-September) and the consequent washed away roads, landslides, etc are more of a hassle.

    Festivals (Tshechu) are scattered throughout the months in different provinces, but the big ones are the Paro and Punakha ones in Spring (late Feb - March) and the Thimphu Tshechu in the Fall (September). Exact dates vary year by year as they go by the Lunar calendar. These are well worth the visit, especially for those keen on a rich, authentic, genuine, cultural experience. Prepare in advance though, infrastructure is still low and during festival times the hotels, home-stays, etc get filled to the brim.
    #13
    Fishnbiker likes this.
  14. Syanur

    Syanur Been here awhile

    Joined:
    May 11, 2012
    Oddometer:
    125
    No way.... this is not true, even not close.

    Anyway, Bhutan is not letting foreigners to come along like the other countries. Coming with travel agency and "all included package" is mandatory. Disturbing policy from a very nice country, sad....
    #14