Public buses are crowded and rattly, and Bhutan’s winding roads make them doubly uncomfortable. The government’s Bhutan Post Express and other companies’ minibuses have earned the nickname ‘vomit comets’ as so many passengers suffer from motion sickness when traveling in them. Private operators such as Dhug, Metho and Sernya use more comfortable Toyota Coasters that cost about 50% more than the minibus fare.
Buses run at least once daily from Thimphu to Phuentsholing, Haa, Paro and Punakha. Long-distance buses run between one and three times weekly from Thimphu to Zhemgang, Samtse, Trashi Yangtse, Mongar, Phobjika and Trashigang. Fares are cheap.
A public bus service operates throughout Thimphu from Chang Lam, including to Dechenchoeling in the north and Simtokha and Babesa to the south. Routes, fares and timetables are available at www.bhutanpost.bt
Taxis are available all over Bhutan. Taxis may have meters, but drivers rarely use them. For long-distance trips they operate on a flat rate that is rarely open to negotiation.
You should expect to pay Nu 60 for a local trip within Thimphu, Nu 800 for a full day, and Nu 650 a seat to Nu 2600 (sole use) from Thimphu to Phuentsholing. If you are traveling between Thimphu and Phuentsholing, look for a taxi that is from the place to which you want to go (vehicles with BT-2 number plates are from Phuentsholing and those with BT-1 number plates are from Thimphu or Paro) – you may be able to negotiate a lower price.
Car & Motorcycle
Since all transport is provided by tour operators, you normally do not have to concern yourself with driving. If for some reason you are arranging your own transport, you are still far better off using the services of a hired car and driver or a taxi. Driving in Bhutan is a harrowing experience. Roads are narrow and trucks roar around hairpin bends, appearing suddenly and forcing oncoming vehicles to the side. Because most roads are only about 3.5m wide, passing any oncoming vehicle involves one, or both, moving onto the verge.
Motorcycle trips in Bhutan can be arranged through World Tour Plan who will be able to offer advice for bikers tackling Bhutan’s roads.
Your Own Vehicle
If you drive a vehicle into Bhutan, you can get a 14-day permit at the Phuentsholing border. You will need the help of a tour operator to handle the paperwork. If you are driving a vehicle that is registered overseas, you will need a carnet in order to get through India.
Indian visitors may travel throughout most of Bhutan in their own vehicle, upon getting all relevant documents such as registration papers, insurance policies, emission and fitness certificates and individual driving license endorsed by the Road Safety and Transport Authority at the border. Traffic regulations are the same as in India and are strictly enforced.
NGO staff and volunteers who insist on driving in Bhutan should obtain a driving license issued by the Road Safety and Transport Authority. Bhutanese licenses are also valid throughout India.
An International Driving Permit is not valid in Bhutan. An Indian driving license is valid in Bhutan, and it’s possible for Indian nationals to drive in Bhutan; but unless you are an accomplished rally driver or are from a hill station such as Darjeeling and have experience in motoring in the mountains, it’s safer with a professional driver.
Traffic keeps to the left and is much more orderly than in most other south Asian countries. Speeds are low in towns and on rural roads; you will be lucky to average more than 30km/h on the roads in the hills.
As is the case throughout Asia, it is important that the police establish who was at fault in any traffic accident. This means that the police must arrive and make the decision before any of the vehicles can be moved, even if the vehicles are blocking a narrow road. A relatively minor accident can block the road for hours while everyone waits patiently for the police to arrive from the nearest town.
Getting around by air
Bhutan has ambitious plans for domestic air services. Airports have been developed in Yongphula (south of Trashigang in the far east), Gelephu (in southern Bhutan, near the border with India) and Bathpalathang/Jakar (Bumthang, central Bhutan).