In October 2006 we cycled around Sikkim (India) and Bhutan. This page contains background info about our Bhutan tour. We cycled from Paro in the west of Bhutan to Luentshe in the east of the country. The trip took two weeks to complete.
Bhutan tourism policy and cycling
Contrary to what a lot of people believe, there is no limit to the number of visitors allowed to enter Bhutan. The tourism policy of Bhutan uses pricing to control the number of visitors to Bhutan. The official rate for visiting Bhutan was, at the time we visited, about US$200 per person per day.
The policy also requires that all foreign tourists to Bhutan organise their visit through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator. The objective of this policy is maximization of foreign revenue from tourism with minimal impacts on the culture and environment.
But you don’t have to travel in a larger group to visit Bhutan. You can cycle on your own, or with your own small group. Every group, however small, do require the services of a guide, a driver and a car.
Although your accommodation will be arranged in advance you’re free to bike where ever you like. Your guide can supply you with road information and lunch. You can even put your bike in or on the car to avoid long climbs etc.
Your guide and driver will go out of their way to make your trip enjoyable. For most guides touring with ‘independent’ cyclists will be a new experience. So be clear on what you expect from them. Do you want to have your support vehicle behind you or can they continue to the next overnight stop? Where should they plan your lunch stop? Etc. etc.
Maps; getting around
The North Eastern India map by Nelles Maps (scale 1: 1.500.000) includes Bhutan and is a reasonable overall map of the country with relief shading.
A Bhutan only map (scale 1: 380.000) is published by International Travel Maps. It has no relief shading nor distances. Many villages do not appear on this map or have different names.
The Lonely Planet on Bhutan gives a detailed description of the complete east west highway, including ascents, descents, restaurants etc.
Along the main road exists some form of signposting. But don’t count on it. Anyway it’s hard to get lost in a country with only one major road.
We used the well-known Lonely Planet travel guide for general travel information. Get the last edition before you leave.
“Beyond the sky and the earth” by Jamie Zeppa. Memoires of a Canadian women who started teaching English in Bhutan in 1988.
The Bhutanese movie Travellers & Magicians is worth a look at. It gives an excellent impression of the countryside on this trip, as many scenes were shot along the east west highway.
Bhutan on the WWW
We searched the web for useful (bike) sites and found these. Links open in a new window.
- Bhutan Mountain Biking Club
- KEA adventures offers a full east west bike trip. Download their detailed dossier. Lots of photos made by two people who did such a trip in november 2006
- Tourreport by Eric Schuyt (nl)
General travel info
Roads and Traffic
The East- West highway is paved. There are some rough sections but all of it can be done on a good touring bike. There is no need to bring a mountain bike.
The main highway is narrow, often just 3 to 4 meters wide. There are on average 17, mostly sharp and often blind, curves in every kilometer. Stay on the left side of the road as oncoming traffic will not expect bicycles. Due to these conditions you won’t encounter any speeding cars: average speed is 30 – 40 km per hour!
The further you travel to the east the fewer cars you will meet on the road. Even in ‘big town’ Thimpu it’s easy to pedal around. Traffic is on the left hand side of the road.
Outside Thimpu not much is available to repair a broken bike. To get the essential part you may have to go a long way.
Food and drinks
Even the smallest village will have a few small shops selling items like cold drinks , bananas and bottled drinking water. Your guide and driver will provide you with a packed (hot) lunch every day.
Climate and weather
We visited Bhutan in October. Most of the days it was clear and sunny with temperatures hovering around 20 degrees Celsius. Nights were pleasantly cool. On some days we had rain and on high passes snow with temperatures just above zero.
Where to stay
As your trip will be organised you don’t have to worry about accommodation. When booking your trip you can make suggestions on where to stay. Hotels are often owned by a tour company, so they won’t always be able (or willing) to book the suggested hotels. On the other hand our guide made a great effort to book us into the new Arya Zamla Resort near Ura, although it was not planned. In every town we stayed in nice hotels.