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Flying To Bhutan

Flying to Bhutan is no easy feat.  The country has two airlines, the national carrier Royal Bhutan Airlines, aka Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines, the latter being a relatively new privately operated carrier.  If you are considering a trip to Bhutan, you must factor in the cost of this extra airfare, unless you are lucky enough to be flying in direct from Bangkok, Singapore, Kathmandu or a few places in India (check out the Druk Air schedule here).  Prices aren’t cheap and it costs us USD 600 per person to fly the 4 hours from Bangkok to Paro (Bhutan’s sole international airport).  We chose Bangkok as it was the most convenient and cheapest access point for us from Hong Kong.  We booked our initial Hong Kong to Bangkok leg using airmiles through Cathay Pacific.  Our amazing guide Tharchu from Happiness Journey Bhutan booked our Druk Air flights for us. Flights can get booked up quickly in peak season so try to book in advance (although we only booked our trip about 2 weeks prior to traveling).

Flying to Paro, Bhutan via Bangkok (Druk Air KB 141)

We arrived at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong at around 11.30pm. I had naively assumed that we would collect our bags, find a Priority Pass lounge we could lounge about in and grab some zzzzz.  Firstly Suvarnabhumi is enormous. If you land here with young-ish kids, you must remember to take your stroller onboard, even if you have a confident walker.  Secondly there were enormous queues at immigration. I was quite surprised by this on a random Wednesday evening but perhaps this is always the case. We then scooped our luggage, exited and then entered back in to Departures. Only to find the Druk Air counter does not open till 2:15am for our 4:30am departure!  I transported myself back to the good old backpacking days, trying to bed down for the night on the benches by check-in!  We may possibly have been able to skip this staff if we’d had no check-in luggage and could transfer through. However, I’m not sure if Druk Air has a representative on the transfer desk as it’s such a small airline.

Shortly after 2am, there was a rush of monks and Bhutanese checking in with the enormous TVs they’d purchased in Bangkok.  I joined the queue with the my eyes half-open and we eventually checked in.  If you love flying, make sure you ask for a window seat as the scenery coming in to land at Paro is spectacular. Here I broke the news to my husband that it wasn’t quite a direct flight.  This is not something Druk Air are always forthcoming about, in fact our ticket made no mention of it.  At the gate, our flight was signed for ‘Guwahati/Paro’ and that’s when we realised we’d also get to visit India (sort of) enroute.

Druk Air operates three A319 Airbus jets for their international routes.  The seats are comfortable, service friendly and food decent. There’s zero inflight entertainment so remember to bring your own! Luckily on the outbound flight we were all so tired that we barely registered our initial landing in India.  We were delayed on the ground for a while. The captain announced ‘a problem with the computer’ and that they were driving someone in from Guwahati to fix it. Not exactly reassuring words for a nervous flyer but by this point I was too tired to care.  We we eventually got moving, it was only another 40 minutes to Paro, Bhutan.

Aviation enthusiasts love the approach to Paro, Bhutan’s sole international airport.  Only highly trained Bhutanese pilots are allowed to fly there and must use a visual approach. Aviation Week has a brilliant article about operation into one of the world’s most challenging airports.  Despite my nerves, it is an incredible experience, weaving through the mountains on a big jet and landing in Paro.  Once you’re in Paro, you can even spend some time plane-spotting, there’s a handy ‘birds eye view point’ just off the highway.  Make sure you check out the timetable in advance though as there aren’t many planes departing and arriving!

For my plane spotter friends, I have uploaded a few videos we took on YouTube:

Flying from Paro, Bhutan to Bangkok (Druk Air KB140)

Our return flight departed at 4.30pm. We had wanted to get on an earlier flight but there was no availability at the time. On the day however, it appeared Druk Air had put on an extra flight several hours earlier. So it’s worth staying on top of the flight schedule, in case your original flight is not exactly what you wanted. Paro Airport has a few cafes and souvenir shops but no need to get there more than 90 minutes before your flight.

We were back on the A319 in the economy 3-3 configuration. I had a sneak peek at the Business Class. Large, roomy seats although I’m not sure how much extra $$ it is.  This time we stepped at Calcutta and spent approx. 40 mins on the ground before the next 3 hours to Bangkok.  On the short part of the leg they handed out snack boxes and then on the longer part, dinner was fairly edible!

Overall I really enjoyed flying with Druk Air. I will never forget our approach into Paro- even a nervous flyer should unpeel the palms from over their eyes and admire the Himalayas, almost in touching distance!  Just remember to bring your own entertainment, snacks and ask for that window seat.

 

For more about how we planned our amazing trip to Bhutan, check out ‘Planning A Trip To Bhutan‘.  Thanks again to the amazing Tharchu from Happiness Journey Bhutan for organising our trip.

 

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