THE BEST WAY TO BHUTAN
From LAX, travelers to Bhutan must connect in another city to Royal Drukair, Bhutan's national airline and only regular carrier, which has flights to the airport in Paro, Bhutan's only airport. You can fly into Bangkok, Thailand, on Thai or take a connecting flight (change of plane) on JAL, Korean, United, All Nippon, Air China, Asiana, Singapore, China, Eva and Cathay Pacific. Including the flight to Paro, restricted round-trip fares begin at $1,721, excluding taxes and fees. You also can fly into Delhi, India, using connecting service from LAX on KLM, American, Lufthansa, Continental, United, Turkish, Emirates, China and British. With airfare to Paro, restricted round-trip fares begin at $1,342, excluding taxes and fees.
There is no public transit for visitors, and no typical car rental agencies. Cabs are available in Thimphu and Paro.
To call the numbers below from the US, dial 011 (the international dialing code), 975 (the country code for Bhutan) and the single-digit area code and local number.
Credit cards are not accepted at most stores, restaurants and hotels. That may change, but for now, work out payments with your tour operator and bring cash and traveler's checks. Guides can help with changing foreign currencies at banks, and there are some ATM machines in Paro and Thimphu.
Travel in Bhutan must be arranged by a sponsoring Bhutanese organization or tour operator. They can help obtain visas and arrange Drukair flights, accommodations, drivers, guides and itineraries.
Bridge to Bhutan, P.O. Box 245, Changangkha, Thimphu; 2-331766, http://www.bridgetobhutan.bt. Offers set itineraries as well as custom trips.
The Tourism Council lists tour operators with contact information and links: http://www.tourism.gov.bt/bhutan/tour-operators
WHERE TO STAY
The daily tourist tariff covers comfortable standard accommodations. Most places have lovely views and friendly staff. Most resorts and upscale hotels require additional payments.
Dragon's Nest Resort/Hotel, Wangdue Phodrang; 2-480521 / 480522, http://www.dragonsnesthotel.com/the-hotel
Hotel Peling, Bumthang, 3-632020, http://www.hotelpeling.com.bt
Hotel Dewachen, Phobjika, Wangdue Phodrang; 2-442550, http://www.dewachenhotel.com. Located in the Phobjikha Valley, home of the rare black-necked crane.
Pamtsho, P.O. Box 598, Pamtsho, Thimphu; 2-326266. A family-run B&B on a river several miles from downtown Thimphu.
Taj Tashi, Thimphu; (866) 969-1825 (U.S.), http://www.tajhotels.com. A modern landmark in Thimphu. Part of the upscale Taj Hotels, Resorts & Palaces chain.
Zhiwa Ling Hotel, Satsam Chorten, Paro; 8-271277, http://www.zhiwaling.com. Years were dedicated to the remarkable Bhutanese artwork in the interiors.
Umo Paro Resort, P.O. Box 222, Paro; 8-271597, http://www.uma.paro.como.bz. Part of the upscale Como Hotels & Resorts group.
WHERE TO EAT
Many accommodations and restaurants have buffet-style food with Bhutanese, Indian, Chinese and continental offerings. Local food is often spicy.
WHAT TO DO
National Museum of Bhutan, Paro; 8-271511, http://www.nationalmuseum.gov.bt. This unique museum is housed in a watch tower built in 1641 as a lookout to ward off invaders. It now invites visitors to look in and spiral around six floors of the country's largest collection of historic artifacts.
The tshechus, or religious festivals, are social events based on ceremonial dances that represent Buddhist morality tales. Each city or region has its own annual tshechu. The five-day Paro festival is easily accessible, but smaller ones in more remote areas will be even more intimate, and your group may be the only tourists. Dates are based on the lunar cycles, so are different each year. Check schedules online at http://www.tourism.gov.bt/what-to-do/tshechu-and-festival and bridgetobhutan.bt/index.php/bhutan-festivals.
TO LEARN MORE
Tourism Council of Bhutan, http://www.tourism.gov.bt.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun