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Bhutan or Nepal Which Is Better? 9 Differences and 1 Reason to Visit Both

August,25 2023 BY Sonam Tenphel 0 COMMENTS

Nepal and Bhutan are two of the most popular destinations for international tourists heading to the Himalayas for climbing, trekking, and sightseeing. both Nepal and Bhutan are excellent places in which to spend your time. As they both lie on the southern side of the Himalayas, their climates and geography are very similar, with high mountains in the north and lowland plains and sub-tropical jungles in the south.

However, despite their similarities, they are very different countries, with vastly differing religions, cultures, and ways of life. Nepal is mainly Hindu, with a small Buddhist population, while Bhutan is a devout Buddhist nation where religion and culture are intertwined. Each country has its own unique beauty and culture, and while they may differ in their tourist resources, both are worth visiting as two of the last Himalayan kingdoms in the world.

Here are the top differences between Nepal and Bhutan, showing you the reason to visit both for your trip to the Himalayas.

Difference 1: Bhutan Cherishes its Culture in Tourism, while Nepal Embraces Diverse Cultures

Bhutan has a very different view on tourism, and promotes its unique form of environmental tourism in the kingdom. This is because they want to limit the environmental damage to their country and preserve their unique culture and landscapes for future generations of Bhutanese children. The Bhutanese culture is one of the most unique in the world, and still retains its Royal Family, its traditional costumes and work dress, and maintains the customs and traditions that have maintained this rich Himalayan kingdom’s culture throughout the ages.

Visit Bhutan ThimphuBhutan is very cherishes its culture in tourism.

In contrast, Nepal is a melting pot of different cultures, incorporating all of the many and varied cultures from its different “tribes” into one vast multi-cultural enigma that is both confusing and amazing at the same time. And yet, these varied cultures meld together into one seamlessly, effortlessly, so that it is hard to know where one culture ends and another begins.

Difference 2: Religious Significance in Bhutan and Nepal are Different

Bhutan is a devoutly Buddhist nation, and the proliferation of Buddhism has made it the national religion of the kingdom for more than 1,200 years. First introduced into the kingdom in the 8th century by the Buddhist master, Padmasambhava, known locally as Guru Rinpoche, a name given to him in Tibet, Buddhism is prevalent throughout the kingdom, and is incorporated into their everyday lives in much the same way as it is in Tibet. Everything the people of Bhutan do is ruled by their Buddhist beliefs, from the moment they get up in the morning to the minute their eyes close at night.

Bhutan is also famous for its Buddhist monasteries, with stunning temples and shrines nestled in mountains and valleys. Tiger's Nest Monastery is a famous example, perched on a cliff above Paro Valley. Other notable monasteries include Punakha Dzong and Paro Dzong.

Nepal is a mainly Hindu country, adopting the religion from its neighbors in India. Hinduism is said to have been brought to Nepal by a Hindu sage by the name of Ne, who traveled to the country from India in prehistoric times, stopping in the Kathmandu Valley to bring his religion to the local people. According to Nepali legends, Ne selected a devout herdsman to be the first king of Nepal, and began the Gopala Dynasty, which ruled the country for more than 500 years.

While Hinduism is the main religion in Nepal, there is also a small percentage of Buddhists in the country as well, leading to a blend of the two religions over time. Tibetan Buddhism influenced hill tribes, shaping both religions. Rituals and ceremonies share common elements. Hindus sometimes worship in Buddhist temples, and vice versa. This "dual-faith" practice creates a multi-religious atmosphere in Nepal. The Kathmandu Valley is a prime example, with Buddhist and Hindu temples coexisting harmoniously in architecture and design.

Difference 3: It is Easier to Get to Nepal than to Bhutan

Nepal is easy to reach from all around the world. Even though it has just one international airport in Kathmandu, it's a crucial hub for travel in South Asia. Nepal has many international flights, which is unusual for the Himalayan region. This makes Nepal a great starting point for travelers who want to explore nearby places.

However, getting to Bhutan is trickier. There aren't many direct international flights to Bhutan. Only five countries offer them: Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Singapore.

Difference 4: The Necessary Travel Documents for Visiting Bhutan and Nepal are Different

Nepal has a simple policy on tourist visas and entry requirements, to further promote international tourism in the country. You just need to get a Nepal visa to visit, available at the embassy or border through Visa on Arrival. All you need are a valid passport, a photo, and the visa fee.

Nepal Visa on ArrivalIt is convenient to get Nepal Visa on Arrival with a valid passport and a photo.

Bhutan has stricter rules for paperwork. First, you'll find a tour operator to plan your Bhutan tour They create a fixed itinerary based on where you want to go and what you want to see. You can't really change this plan because it's registered with the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB).

Once the itinerary is set and you pay for the tour, the operator applies for your Bhutan Visa and permits. You need permits to travel to different areas in Bhutan, and the TCB gives them to the tour operator.

Bhutan Entry VisaVisas for Bhutan are required to be arranged by tour operators.

At this point, you don't get the visa in your passport. Instead, you get a Letter of Invitation from the immigration office. This letter is your proof of the booked tour. You need to book flights to Bhutan and show it at the immigration desk at Paro International Airport when you arrive. Then, they stamp the visa in your passport and give you the permits.

Please Note:
Only Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines can fly to Paro International Airport, and you need the Letter of Invitation to book a flight with them. Without it, you can't even reserve tickets.

Difference 5: The Travel Restrictions in Bhutan and Nepal are Different

Bhutan strictly controls tourism for everyone except Indians. This is to protect the environment and preserve Bhutan's culture. To visit Bhutan, you must book a guided tour through a travel agency. The itinerary is fixed and can't be changed. Only Indian citizens can travel freely in Bhutan.

In contrast, Nepal is more open to tourists. Anyone who can pay the visa fee can explore Nepal without many restrictions. The entire country is open for travel, though some places require permits, especially for high mountain treks.

Difference 6: The Cost of Travel in Nepal Can be More Budget-friendly Compared to Bhutan

Nepal has long been known for being a cheap place to visit, and in the ‘70s and ‘80s, backpacking in Nepal was the only way to travel. There may be fewer backpackers now than before, but Nepal remains a cheap country to visit, with low-cost accommodation in the form of hostels with multi-bed dormitories, inexpensive food costs, low entry visa fees, and cheap basic public transport. Even the cost of the trekking gear that you can buy or rent in Thamel, in Kathmandu, is low, making it cheaper to buy the gear there than to bring it from home.

Nepal trekking tourNepal been known for being a cheap place to visit.

Bhutan, on the other hand, is noted for being one of the most expensive places to visit in Asia. As a traveler to Bhutan, you are required to pay the Daily Minimum Fee of 250 US dollars (200 US dollars in the low season) , which is part of the cost of a Bhutan tour. No matter what tour you take, the minimum amount per day will not be lower than the Daily Minimum Fee. Set by the government, the tariff is designed to keep tourism at its prime, and Bhutan is really aiming at the higher end of the tourist market, rather than the cheap, budget tours that can be found elsewhere.

Nepal may be the more affordable option, with its cheap hostels, simple and inexpensive travel costs, low-cost food, and stunning Himalayan treks, but you cannot beat Bhutan for the quality of service that you get for your money. When it comes to how much “bang for your buck” you get, Bhutan is definitely on top.

Difference 7: The Environmental Policies in Bhutan and Nepal are Different

Nepal has almost no environmental policies, which can be clearly seen by the amount of trash that is strewn along the trekking trails and on the slopes of the mountains. It is only in recent years that cleanup operations have been put in place, but there is still no regulation of the environment to protect the natural landscapes that are the very bread and butter of Nepali tourism.

On the other hand, Bhutan has strict environmental rules, a major reason for tightly controlled tours. Bhutan's policy safeguards landscapes, aiming for at least 65% natural forests or grasslands. Trees can only be cut with special permission, and trekking is restricted to specific trails, ensuring wilderness preservation.

Bhutan Dochula PassBhutan has strict environmental rules, a major reason for tightly controlled tours.

Air quality in Bhutan is notably better than in Nepal. Nepal's numerous vehicles cause smog, while Bhutan has emission tests annually. Vehicles exceeding limits are stopped until fixed. Remarkably, Bhutan boasts a "negative" carbon footprint—emissions are lower than oxygen produced by trees. This makes Bhutan's air among the world's freshest.

Difference 8: The Trekking Experiences in Bhutan and Nepal are Different

Trekking is one of the most popular activities in both Bhutan and Nepal, and their locations on the southern side of the Himalayas mean that there is a wealth of Himalayan trekking routes in both countries.

There are some awesome trekking trails in Bhutan, especially in the Jhomolhari and Bumthang regions of the kingdom. Trekking in Bhutan is very different, and the commercialization of the tourist industry around the trekking hotspots has not occurred in Bhutan thanks to its policy of Gross National Happiness. There is definitely something to be said for an entire nation that puts its people’s happiness above commercial profit.

Bhutan trekking tourBhutan trekking tour.

Most treks in Bhutan include a unique cultural experience, interacting with traditional locals who live the same lifestyles as their ancestors, and taking you through some of the most outstanding natural scenery the Himalayas has to offer.

Nepal is definitely ahead of Bhutan in mountain trekking. The tourist trekking industry in Nepal has a few things that Bhutan doesn't, the main one being Mount Everest. Having Everest on its northern border gives Nepal a big advantage. The trek to Everest Base Camp (EBC) is the world's most popular hike and draws millions of tourists annually.

Moreover, Nepal boasts ten of the world's highest mountains, while Bhutan's highest, Gangkar Puensum, is around 7,570 meters. Nepal is the clear leader in high-altitude trekking. Alongside Everest, there's a range of options from the stunning Annapurna Range to Mount Manaslu, Mount Cho Oyu, and many more beautiful trekking areas.

Difference 9: Outdoor Activities are different in Bhutan and Nepal

Besides trekking, Nepal is a top destination for adventure sports in Asia. Popular for trekking, the trails are also used for mountain biking, especially around Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara area.

Nepal's fast-flowing rivers offer great opportunities for white-water rafting. Trishuli River is a favorite spot, flowing into Kathmandu Valley. You'll find various similar adventurous outdoor activities in Nepal, like bungee jumping, paragliding, base jumping, and abseiling.

White Water Rafting in NepalWhite water rafting has become very popular in Nepal.

In Bhutan, the focus is more on gentle activities. The kingdom offers leisurely options that won't tire you out. Many people enjoy visiting tshachus, the hot springs, believed to have healing powers. They've been used for centuries to alleviate aches and sinus issues.

Apart from trekking and exploring dzongs, Bhutan is a prime spot for fishing. The country is perfect for catching snow trout and brown trout. While you need a permit, the policy is "catch and release". Fishing in Bhutan is a truly relaxing experience.

Other Slight Differences between Bhutan and Nepal

When it comes to additional benefits of touring Nepal or Bhutan, it should be noted that Wi-Fi in Bhutan is a relatively new thing, and there are still plenty of places where you cannot get Wi-Fi. However, that does make for a more relaxing and rural holiday.

In contrast, Nepal now has good signals for Wi-Fi and cellphones across the country, which is useful when trekking, but not so great if you are looking to get away from it all.

Nepal tourNepal's tourism industry is more developed.

Another difference is the amount of English spoken in the two countries. While you may be able to be understood by those in the tourist industry in Nepal, outside that, few people speak any English, and most foreign tourists will have trouble getting by without someone to translate.

However, Bhutan has around 96% of its population that speak English relatively well, as English is the language of teaching in Bhutanese schools, not to mention the fact that all government documents, laws, and road signs are written in both English and Dzongkha, the Bhutanese language. This makes the country easier to navigate for international tourists, as English is the most widely spoken language outside China.

With Similar Best Travel Times, Why not Consider Exploring both Nepal and Bhutan?

October to December are the best time to visit Nepal and Bhutan together. It makes them the perfect pairing for a combined tour in the Himalayas. During these months, the skies are generally clear and there is little chance of rain in either Nepal or Bhutan.

January and February in Nepal and Bhutan can be quite cold, and trekking in the depths of winter is not advisable. March to May is the spring shoulder season, when the weather is good, but getting slowly hotter and more humid. May sees the start of the hotter and more humid weather, increasing into June and the start of the monsoon season, the low season in Bhutan tourism. The monsoons last until late September, and by October, the weather has dried up and it is cooling down ready for the peak tourist season again.

So it is highly recommended to plan a Nepal and Bhutan tour, as a combined tour is one of the most exciting adventures showing the similarities and differences of the two Himalayan kingdoms in more detail.

Sonam Tenphel

About the Author - Sonam Tenphel

Energetic, responsible and reliable, Sonam is a guide with more than seven years experience informing visitors about heritage sites and attractions places in Tibet.

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