Note : This article was written in 2007 and could be outdated now.
There are only two of ways to enter Bhutan. One is by taking a flight directly to Paro, which is what all the international tourists do. And the other is by road through the border town of Phuntsholing. Independant travel is discouraged in Bhutan and traveling inside the country is expensive for most tourists. They have to cough up close to 250$ per day for the pleasure of visiting the country, so you don’t get to see independent backpackers there.
This article is mostly intended for the tourists from the Indian sub-continent for whom the above restrictions don’t apply. There are however a few permits to be obtained after which they are free to travel on their own within this magnificent country.
One of the things that i wish the Bhutanese hadn’t borrowed from their Indian brethren is bureaucracy.. lots and lots of it.
In order to travel inside Bhutan, you need to get a grand total of 5 different permits. The first two permits you get in Phuntsholing, a Tourist permit and a Vehicle permit (required if u are driving your own vehicle), which are good for traveling to Thimphu and Paro. No further.
Once you get to Thimphu you have get your Tourist permit and Vehicle permit updated, so that you can travel deeper into the country towards Bumthang, Mongar, Trashigang and beyond. Even if you are not planning on traveling deeper into the country you need to get a cultural permit done from the Ministry of Cultural Affairs in Thimphu. This permit is required to visit the different Lakhangs (temples) and Dzongs (forts) in the country. Be sure to list each and every place that you are remotely interested in, because later you don’t want to be stuck in a situation where you feel like visiting a place but don’t have the permit for it.
Getting all these permits require a lot of running around to the different ministries and a lot of patience. I found that the officials at the border town were very irritable and unfriendly while the officials in Thimphu were very warm and friendly. So don’t let one bad experience turn you off.