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Why carry an IDP while driving in Bhutan?

Your IDP is a valid form of identification in more than 150 countries worldwide and contains your name, photo and driver information in the 12 most widely spoken languages in the world – it is understandable to most of the local officials and authorities of the countries you visit.

It translates your identification information into 12 languages — so it speaks the language even if you don’t. Bhutan highly recommends an International Driving Permit.

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Bhutan, figuratively called The Land of the Thunder Dragon, is a bucket list destination because of its unique landscape and impeccable commitment to environmental conservation. Pollution does not exist in Bhutan since people are mandated to plant trees. There is also legislation that more than 50% of the land should remain forested, and it absorbs more carbon than it produces — this is what you call a model country for the future!

Top Destinations in Bhutan

Bhutan is nestled within the southern slopes of the Himalayan Mountain Range. The terrain is mostly rugged, with wide, fertile valleys that support numerous thriving communities of humans, plants, and animal wildlife. If you’re planning on traveling to Bhutan soon, here are some sites that you can check out and explore:

Tiger’s Nest Monastery

The Tiger’s Nest Monastery, locally known as Paro Taktsang, is one of the unique temples in Bhutan. Not only was it constructed in a cave opening, but it’s also perched on the edge of a very high, steep cliff. Visiting the monastery is both cultural and nature exploration. This is because apart from touring the inside of the monastery, you’ll have to hike up a good two and a half hours to reach the area.

Nevertheless, the stunning views up the monastery will make you forget about any possible physical exhaustion, apart from the fact that the slope isn’t that difficult, except for the stairs right before reaching Paro Taktsang.

Where is the Tiger’s Nest Monastery Located?

The Tiger’s Nest Monastery is located in Paro. Paro is the district where the international airport is located. If you’re staying in Paro, you can just drive a short 16 km route to reach the jump-off area.

Is an International Driving Permit in Bhutan Needed at the Tiger’s Nest Monastery?

When driving to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, make sure that you have with you your native driver’s license, your international driver’s license for the Bhutan zip code, and your temporary Bhutanese driving license. An international driver’s permit (IDP) is not mandatory in Bhutan but is highly recommended. In some cases, you won’t need to secure a temporary driving license if you have a valid IDP.

You can obtain an international driver’s license for Bhutan through the website of the International Driver’s Association (IDA). You’ll find the portal very easy to navigate, and it would only take less than 20 minutes to finish the application.

Haa Valley

Suppose you want to experience and see the most traditional Bhutanese customs and way of life, head on over to the countryside. The Haa Valley is one of the popular areas for a more relaxed hike. Apart from hiking, you can also go biking. You can even camp out under the stars in designated open areas.

Where Is the Haa Valley Located?

The Haa Valley is located within the Haa district of Paro. If you are coming in from Thimphu, you’ll need to drive for about 3 hours through the mountain-perched Bondey-Haa Highway. The road going to Haa is generally paved and safe.

The challenge for drivers, especially first-timers, only is that the Bondey-Haa Highway has plenty of sharp curves. You’ll need to take utmost caution when driving on this highway. A bonus, though, is that you can stopover at the Chele La Pass lookout!

What Should I Remember When Going to Haa Valley?

Haa is quite a secluded area within the Paro Region. However, you may still chance upon immigration checkpoints even in these areas. Make sure that you have with you all the valid driving license documents, including your IDP. At present, an IDP is not required in Bhutan. Nonetheless, you can check for any international driver’s license - Bhutan updates online to make sure,

If you don’t have an IDP yet, the international driver’s license for Bhutan requirements for the application are fairly simple. If you apply through the IDA, you just need to present your valid native driving license, be at least 18 years old and have a passport-sized photo on hand.

Dagala Thousand Lakes

To see the Dagala Thousand Lakes, you’ll need to go through a multi-day trek, at least six days, according to the Tourism of Council of Bhutan. The Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek has been considered as one of the greatest and most challenging treks in Bhutan. You’ll be hiking through the rich alpine forests of northern Bhutan with breathtaking views of Mount Everest and other majestic mountains.

The lakes are also home to various species of trout, and you can go fishing on the lakes when you set up camp. The catch, however, the catch is that you’ll have to secure a license/permit to go fishing. Lastly, you’ll also come across native Bhutanese villages that herd mountain yaks. You can stop by to learn about the culture of highland communities during this trek.

Where Is the Dagala Thousand Lakes Located?

The most popular jump-off point of the Dagala Thousand Lakes Trek is just located within the capital of Thimphu. You’ll need to head on over to the Gynekha Village, accompanied, of course, by your official tour guide.

What Should I Remember When Going to the Dagala Thousand Lakes?

Since the jump-off point to the Dagala Thousand Lakes is located in the bustling capital, you should expect more traffic enforcers that randomly check driving permits. With this, do not forget to prepare yours before heading out on the road.

Regarding the IDP, there is no international driver’s license office in Bhutan where you can apply physically. This is because the country never participated in any of the road traffic conventions that initiated the international driving license. With this, to secure your international driver’s permit for the Bhutan zip code, go to the homepage of the IDA website and click on “Start My Application.” Apart from your international driver’s license, a Bhutan license specifically for tourists is required as well.

Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory

Are you familiar with those specially-crafted papers that are usually used to wrap bouquets, gifts, and scrapbooks? In Bhutan, these are commonly called Deh-sho, and these are handmade to be written and/or printed on. Bhutan is among the very few countries that still use the traditional way of papermaking to produce paper commercially. You can try your hand in the process and maybe bring the resulting products in as souvenirs or gifts!

Where is the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory Located?

The Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory is located within Thimphu. It is on the eastern side of the Dechhen Lam Highway near Khujug Lam Road. The factory is open from Mondays to Saturdays, 8:30 am - 5:00 pm.

Is an International Driving Permit in Bhutan Needed to Drive to the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory?

An International Driving Permit is very beneficial wherever you go in Bhutan. Even if the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory is just located within the center, you’ll need to have your IDP in your pocket or your phone if you have the digital IDP. Apart from being able to use it for driving, your government-issued IDP is generally a valid form of identification that you can use to enter establishments.

Chele La Pass

Chele La Pass is probably the most popular lookout on the northwestern side of Bhutan. This is a road section located about 13,083 feet above sea level, and it provides you with the most stunning panoramic views of various Himalayan Peaks. Whether you visit the pass in the winter or in the summer, you’re sure to find beautiful sceneries. Don’t forget to wear layers during the winter as it becomes freezing in Chele La Pass.

Where Is Chele La Pass Located?

Chele La Pass is part of the Bondey-Haa Highway within the Region of Paro. It will take you about two hours to drive from Thimphu to Chele La Pass and about an hour if you’ll be coming in from the Paro International Airport.

What Should I Remember When Going to Chele La Pass?

Before driving to Chele La Pass, do not forget your IDP. Aside from serving as a valid driving license in Bhutan for selected countries, the IDP also serves as a valid identification card. If you haven’t secured one (1) yet, you can find the requirements for the international driver’s permit in Bhutan online at the IDA website.

A benefit of getting your IDP from the IDA is that you are eligible for a free replacement service if ever you lose your IDP the first time. You just need to provide the IDA representative your international driver’s license - Bhutan number and name.

Punakha Dzong

If you want to spend an afternoon at a quiet and serene place, minus the physical effort of hiking, visit this historical monastery. Punakha Dzong is a popular site for coronation ceremonies, weddings, and the final resting place of Bhutan’s most prominent figures. You can take a rest at either of the three (3) courtyards and spend a quiet moment with the gushing sounds of both the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu Rivers.

Where is the Punakha Dzong Located?

Punakha Dzong is located on the site where the Pho Chhu (male river) and Mo Chhu (female river) Rivers meet. The fastest route towards Punakha Dzong is via the Thimphu-Wangdue Phodrang Highway, and it will take you about 2 hours to reach the site.

Is An International Driving Permit in Bhutan Needed at Punakha Dzong?

When you drive to Punakha Dzong, you will be passing through an immigration checkpoint situated within the Thimphu-Wangdue Highway. You should be able to present your 14-day temporary driving license for tourists and your route permit. If you were allowed not to get the 14-day license, you should present a valid international driving permit.

To obtain an IDP, you can access the international driver’s permit for Bhutan form at the IDA website to start your application. If you want your IDP to be shipped in Bhutan, you need to provide the correct Bhutan address on the international driver’s license shipment details page.

Jigme Dorji National Park

The Jigme Dorji National Park is a hiker’s paradise. You can pick from various trails and see some of the country’s most significant wildlife, including the Bengal tiger, the takin, the snow leopard, and many more! The Jigme Dorji National Park was the first area that allowed the Bengal tiger and snow leopard to cohabitate in relatively high-altitudes. It is also home to many native flora species, so you should expect to have a learning-filled trek should you wish to proceed.

Where Is the Jigme Dorji National Park Located?

The Jigme Dorji National Park is about 4 hours away from the capital of Thimphu. You’ll need to take the same route as going to the Punakha Dzong. You’ll find the entrance to the park a couple of kilometers after Punakha.

What Should I Remember When Going to the Jigme Dorji National Park?

Before traveling to the Jigme Dorji National Park, double-check that you have your IDP with you. It will only take you a few minutes to apply for an IDP. Once you’ve filled the forms, you will have to pay for the application. The international driver’s license - Bhutan fees will depend on the package and validity you chose when you started your application.

It is beneficial to have an international driver’s license in Bhutan. Exemptions are sometimes extended to selected nationals such that they wouldn’t have to apply anymore for the 14-day temporary driving license if they have an IDP.

Most Important Road Rules in Bhutan

Before going to the different sites, it is important that you familiarize yourself with some fundamental road rules in Bhutan. These have been put in place to maintain peace on the roads and avoid untoward accidents. Besides, you wouldn’t want to come into an accident, especially because built-up areas and emergency response services are quite distant. Nevertheless, if you already have a driving license, remembering the rules wouldn’t really be much of a difficulty.

Drive On the Left Side of the Road

Like Australia, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and some former British colonies, Bhutanese drive on the left side of the road. A quick fact: Did you know that only 30% of the world’s countries drive on the left side of the road?

If you hail from a country that drives on the right side of the road, you may need to ease down a bit in driving long distances in Bhutan. The steep roads and sharp curves may pose a challenge and a risk, so it is recommended to only drive on these road sections when you are really confident with your driving skills already.

Drive Within the Speed Limit

Overspeeding is never a safe activity. If you’re caught driving beyond the speed limit, you’ll have to pay a fine of at least Nu 5,000 and risk confiscation of your license, including your International Driving Permit in Bhutan. The speed limits in Bhutan are as follows:

  • Built-up areas : 30km/hr
  • Outside Built-up areas: 50km/hr (light vehicles and two-wheelers); 35km/hr (medium and heavy vehicles)

Do Not Drive Outside Thimphu and Paro Without a Route Permit

Standard tourist entry permits only allow the holders to go around the districts of Thimphu and Paro. For you to visit other dzongkhags (districts), you’ll need to secure a Route Permit or Special Area Permit from the Immigration Office. You can apply for one together with your application for a standard tourist entry permit.

This shouldn’t be overlooked because immigration checkpoints are situated around the country. The good news is that your tour operator can help you apply for the Route Permit since you’ll have to present your itinerary also.

Do Not Drink and Drive

Drunk-driving has been one of the major causes of road mortalities in Bhutan. A lot of these cases stem from drivers who come from evening parties. This is why the government has been pushing for the amendment of the RSTA Act of 1999, intensifying the penalties for drunk-driving beyond the limit. At present, the maximum allowable blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 grams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood.

To learn more on what routes to take when visiting the destinations, check out the Driving Guide for Bhutan. There you will also find more tips and tricks when traveling to Bhutan, including travel protocols, driving etiquette, renting a car, three (3) other bonus destinations, and many more!

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