Get to Know a Different Side of Bhutan For Every Season

Located in a remote, mountainous region between China and India, the country of Bhutan has a reputation for being a mythical, luxurious, and somewhat mysterious destination for adventurous travelers hoping to get off the beaten path. The Bhutanese word for Bhutan, “Druk Yul,” translates to “Land of the Thunder Dragon.” Because of fierce preservation regulations, visitors to Bhutan will now see ancient temples and palaces alongside new structures that have been designed to pay homage to traditional Buddhist architecture.

With diverse landscape and gorgeous flora and fauna, you’ll find natural eye candy all year-round, despite the weather varying greatly from season to season. Depending on how you want to spend your time during your trip, you’ll want to visit Bhutan at specific times of the year. Whether you are a hiker, a cultural buff, a bird watcher, or just looking to see the most popular tourist destinations, you’ll find in Bhutan a unique vacation destination with something for every type of traveler.

Geography of Bhutan II (Tiger's Nest)

How to Get the Most Out of Your Trip to Bhutan

Because Bhutan values cultural preservation, environmental sustainability, and guards its rich traditions closely, visitors to Bhutan must pay a travel tariff of $250 per person per day. However, don’t let this turn you off of a trip to this spectacular country.

Because you must book your trip through a licensed tour operator, the fee covers food and lodging expenses in addition to transportation, activities, and any entrance fees. The fee ensures that your trip to Bhutan is well curated and organized, to create an optimal, stress-free travel experience. In addition, you can rest assured that your trip will be a meaningful experience where you gain a deep appreciation and understanding for the country’s people and culture.

Before you buy trip tickets, decide whether you want to spend time trekking, exploring various Bhutanese festivals, taking in the rich Buddhist cultural heritage, or sifting through gorgeous fabrics and textiles at Bhutanese markets. Once you’ve decided how you want to spend your time, you can find a program that caters to your needs.

What to Expect During Different Seasons

While Bhutan is a gorgeous natural haven all year-round, you may find that certain times of the year are more optimal for travel, depending on your priorities. Truly, though, there is no best time to travel to Bhutan because you can find spectacular hikes and incredible festivals at any time of the year.

Geography fo Bhutan VIII (Midnight)

Spring in Bhutan

With beautiful blooming flowers and mild temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, spring is an excellent time to travel if you are hoping for optimal hiking conditions. Colorful rhododendron forests and the occasional sighting of a rare blue poppy make springtime in Bhutan a magical time to travel.

Bhutan in Summer

Summer’s luscious green landscapes and rainy afternoons make it the perfect season for retreat in Bhutan. Travelers can opt to stay in a luxury hotel with spa amenities and take in the quiet city life during the off season for tourists. Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, often gets less rain than other parts of the country, making it an ideal summer travel destination.

Bhutan - Pungthan Dechen Dzong, Punakha

Fall in Bhutan

Folks visiting Bhutan for the brilliantly colorful festivals and ideal weather often opt to visit in the fall. Some of Bhutan’s largest annual festivals take place during the fall season—like the Thimphu Tsechu festival, which celebrates Buddhist culture in Bhutan through triumphant dances and ornate costumes.

Bhutan in Winter

Winter in Bhutan is another good season for those hoping to hike through remote regions of the Himalayas. Expect to find pristine clear skies, rare wildlife like the endangered black neck crane, and mild to cold temperatures. Small crowds and low precipitation make winter in Bhutan the perfect time of year to explore the more rural regions of this gorgeous country.P1000744

Must-See Cities in Bhutan

Nestled into the western Himalayas, Paro is the perfect city to visit after a few days of trekking during the fall or spring months. Ripe with sacred sights and picturesque monasteries like the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, you’ll find pristine paved roads weaving through ancient fortresses and historical sights. Paro is also home to Paro Tsechu, a nine-day festival which celebrates the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan.

Thimphu is another must-visit city in Bhutan for anyone hoping to gain a cultural understanding of this tiny country. Because Thimphu is located in a valley, it’s a good destination to visit during colder months as temperatures are often warmer in Thimphu than in towns higher in the Himalayas. In Thimphu, you’ll find farmers markets, monastery fortresses, endangered animal preserves, textile museums, and delicious local food.

With seasonal festivals in both cities, any time of year can be the best time to travel to Bhutan. With such rich culture, pristine natural landscapes, and unique activities to enjoy, you’ll have a blast discovering all of the hidden gems in Bhutan. Do you have travel stories from Bhutan? Leave a comment describing your adventures!Prayer wheel by the memorial chorten in Timphu

Photo Credit: All images used under Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) Tiger’s Nest by Aymaan Ahmed; (2) Bhutan by Aymaan Ahmed; (3) Pungthan Dechen Dzong, Punakha by Göran Höglund (4) Bhutan Winter by Deana Zabaldo; (5) Timphu by Richard Weil

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Hong Kong On A Shoestring

hong kong central2

You might remember that when I went to Hong Kong last year I was surprised to learn that the city is actually pretty expensive. I was on a budget, as usual, but I still wanted to splurge on a few of my favorite things: tasty coffee (and yes, the $6 coffee at The Coffee Academics was worth every penny!), fancy cocktails in rooftop bars with a view (even though I skipped Ozone, the highest rooftop bar in the world, on top of the Ritz Carlton, and opted for a cheaper one), tasty pizza (much needed after months of only Asian food, and Motorino, a famous Brooklyn pizza place, hit the spot), speakeasy bars and a nice place to stay.kowloon at night hong kongWith all these things in mind, I tried to do everything else in Hong Kong as cheap as possible, and I think I succeeded. Transportation is very cheap, you can do a lot of sightseeing for free, and you can eat cheaply if you forgo Hong Kong’s fancy eateries (but then there’s still Tim Ho Wan, where you can sample Michelin star cuisine for around $10?).hong kong island skyscrapersSo here are my tips on how you can experience Hong Kong on a shoestring:

Get into Hong Kong on the cheap

You have a variety of options of getting from the airport into Hong Kong. The most expensive one? Taking a cab, obviously. To get from the airport to Central Hong Kong will set you back at HKD250 – 350 (US$32-45!). The airport express train (which is much faster and more comfortable than a taxi, by the way) is slightly cheaper at HK$105/US$13.55 to Kowloon (HK$185/US$24 return) and HK$115/ US$15 (HK$205/US$26.50 return) to Hong Kong Central.hong kong tram

If you’re visiting Hong Kong on the cheap, you have two inexpensive options:

Take a bus into Hong Kong. The buses to the airport leave from Kowloon and cost HKD39 (US$5.02). In Kowloon you can change to the subway, which is HKD5 to 15 (US$0.65 – $1.95), depending on how many stops.

Alternatively, you can take the S1 bus to Tung Chung MTR station (about 15 minutes from the airport, price: HKD3.50 / US$0.45) and change into the subway here – the Tung Chung line will bring you to Kowloon in about thirty minutes (HKD18 / US$2.30)Hong kong on the cheap

Public transportation in Hong Kong

Luckily, Hong Kong’s transportation network is excellent and there is absolutely no need to waste money on taxis. I navigated my way around the city with the help of GoogleMaps ‘Public transport’ option which always showed me the correct buses or subways to use. The cheapest mode of transportation? The tram, which covers parts of Hong Kong Island, and is only HKD2.30 (US$0.30). Like I mentioned above, subway tickets range from about HKD5 to 15 (US$0.65 – $1.95) and buses are even a little bit cheaper.

The Star Ferry, the most scenic way to get from Kowloon to Central or vice versa, is ridiculously cheap: HK$2.50 – US$0.32!

Hong Kong has a card system, the Octopus Card, comparable to London’s Oyster Card, which you credit with money for public transportation, but you can also pay with it in shops like 7-11. You also top up your Octopus Card at a 7-11 stores, or at an MTR (subway) service center. Note that you pay a HK$50/US$6.45 deposit on the card – don’t forget to get it back before leaving Hong Kong.chinese junk boat

Budget accommodation in Hong Kong

Accommodation is without the doubt the most expensive aspect of a trip to Hong Kong. Hotels start at around US$110 for a comfortable 3* hotel, and you can find good hotel deals for less than $200. My tip: do your research beforehand and take advantage of cheaper rates – you can find some incredible hotel deals by booking online.LKF hotel My first trip to Hong Kong was made pretty miserable by the poor accommodation choices I had made (and by not booking anything in advance for the entire duration of my trip, leaving me with very few and very bad hotels to choose from when I had to move hotels). I stayed in Kowloon on my first visit, but enjoyed staying in Central more, which I did during my second visit. I also found the hotels to be nicer in Central.ozo wesley hotel

If you’re visiting Hong Kong on a shoestring, expect to pay US$25 for a dorm bed in a hostel, or US$50 for a private room.

These are the three great hostels in Hong Kong (read: central location, small dorm rooms – not 12 or 18 beds, as is common in Hong Kong, and friendly staff.)

  • AMU Dreamhouse – in Kowloon, less than 10-min walking from the Avenue Of The Stars / 15 mins from the Star Ferry. Dorm bed from US$23; double room / twin room from US$40
  • Hop Inn – located in Kowloon, less than 15-min walking from the Star Ferry terminal. 6-bed dorm from US$20; 4-bed dorm from US$24; single room from US$41; double rooms from US$49
  • The Mahjong – this hostel is located further north in Kowloon, about 20 mins by subway to the Star Ferry Terminal. The hostel is modern and new and has comfortable beds with a privacy curtain. 8-bed dorms from US$27; 10-bed dorms from US$22; double beds (for two) in small 6-bed dorm rooms from US$44.

Sightseeing in Hong Kong on the Cheap

I don’t think I paid anything for sightseeing in Hong Kong – just what it costs to get to a certain place, like the Giant Buddha or the Peak. But even the Peak is free if you, like me, want to combine sightseeing with a little workout and decide to walk up the mountain. It also saves you the HKD40 /US$5.05 for a return ticket for the Peak Tram. To get to the Big Buddha, take the subway to Tung Chung station. From here you can either take the scenic yet pricey cable car (HKD125 round trip /US$16.10) or opt for the bus instead (HKD17.20 /US$2.22). Or hike up the mountain – it’s quite a strenuous hike, but it’s free 🙂view from the peakOther main attractions that are completely free? The Avenue of the Stars, Hong Kong’s answer to LA’s Walk Of Fame, is free, as is the Symphony of Lights, the world’s ‘Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ (according to the Guinness Book Of World Records), which takes place every night at 8pm and is best seen from the Avenue of Stars. Strolling over the markets, such as the Ladies Market or Temple Street Market, is also free (and great for cheap souvenir shopping!), the beaches are free and only cost the ferry tickets to get to them. Also: wandering the streets of Kowloon and Central is an excellent way to get to know Hong Kong, and it doesn’t cost a penny. In Central you can also ride the world’s longest escalator for free and pop into the Chinese temples, which are all worth a visit.hong kong on a shoestringTwo pricey Hong Kong activities you can easily replace with free versions: Instead of visiting the Sky100 observation deck (cheapest ticket is HKD169 /~US$22), visit the sky lobby on the 46th floor of the Central Plaza skyscraper which can be visited for FREE! Instead of taking the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus (tickets start at US$57), take a much cheaper sightseeing tour on a local bus – it’s much better for people watching, too, and it’ll only cost you a couple of bucks. CNN Travel listed the best bus routes to take in Hong Kong.hong kong on the cheap

Cheap food & drinks in Hong Kong

Street food is the least expensive option in Hong Kong – for a proper meal in a restaurant I paid as much in Hong Kong as I’d pay in the U.S. A cup of coffee is around US$3, a latte around US$6 (that’s in a nice coffee shop, not at McDonald’s!). A large americano at Starbucks is HK$27/US$3.48), and if you’re lucky enough to find a cheap meal, it’s going to set you back at around US$10. Whenever I treated myself to a nice meal, I easily spent US$20+ on a main dish and a drink.hong kong on a shoestringCheap local fast food chains are Café de Coral and Maxim’s MK – you can get a meal here for less than US$5 and they have English menus. A meal at McDonald’s starts at around HKD30 (around US$4). A beer in a bar / restaurants starts at US$7, a glass of wine at around US$10. Beer and wine in a 7-11 convenience store or supermarket are much more affordable. Tap water is drinkable, so if you’re visiting Hong Kong on a shoestring, there is no need to spend money on bottled water.hong kong on the cheapHave you been to Hong Kong? If you have any budget tips, feel free to share them in the comments below!

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