35 FUN & Interesting Facts About Bhutan

In the heart of the Himalayas lies a kingdom shrouded in mystique and charm. Referred to as the “Land of the Thunder Dragon,” this small nation has captivated the world with its unique blend of tradition, culture, and breathtaking landscapes. As such a unique place, there are plenty of fun facts about Bhutan to learn about.

For instance, there are no traffic lights in the country, just traffic directors, and there is a mythical animal in Bhutan – called the Takin. But perhaps one of the most interesting Bhutan facts is that it has become a shining example of environmental stewardship by declaring itself a carbon-neutral country! Intrigued yet? Let’s dig into more facts about Bhutan then!


Fun Facts About Bhutan


Land of the Thunder Dragon

Land of the Thunder Dragon

Bhutan has a unique nickname: “Land of the Thunder Dragon.” You’ll be able to see evidence of this nickname around the country, including on the nation’s flag! We asked our guide, Dago, why the name and apparently it’s due to the powerful storms that frequently roll in from the Himalayas. This is when all the Bhutanese can hear the roaring thunder.


Not GDP, but Gross National Happiness

friendly-bhutanese

Bhutan is renowned for prioritizing the well-being and happiness of its citizens over economic measures. You have probably heard of Gross domestic product (GDP) pefore, whish is the standard measure of the value added created through the production of goods and services in a country. Hwoever you probably haven’t heard of Gross National Happiness, which is unique to Bhutan.

GNH was introduced in the 1970s, and is the guiding philosophy of the Bhutanese government that is designed to assess the overall happiness and well-being of the population of Bhutan. GNH focuses on psychological well-being, health, education, and cultural diversity. Now this doesn’t mean that everyone is walking around with a giant smile on their face in Bhutan (though the Bhutanese are in general pretty smiley), but it aims to maintain the happiness of the Bhutanese as a nation.


Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy with a King, also known as the Dragon King. King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema of Bhutan are incredibly popular not just in Bhutan but also abroad. While visiting Bhutan we noticed that the Royal Family’s photos were everywhere, literally. At every hotel, at every restaurant, at every fuel station – everywhere. The Bhutanese ardor their king and queen!


They Have Very Distinct Architecture

Bhutanese architecture is characterized by traditional Dzong

Bhutanese architecture is characterized by traditional Dzong (fortress) style buildings, adorned with intricate woodwork and colorful paintings. The architecture is designed to be earthquake-resistant.


There Are No Traffic Lights in Bhutan

There Are No Traffic Lights in Bhutan

There are no traffic lights anywhere in Bhutan. Yes, ANYWHERE in the entire country. However, at the busiest intersection in the capital of Thimphu, there is a stand for traffic police to direct traffic, and they do a pretty great job. We were able to watch them with all their amazing hand gestures one afternoon.

Apparently, the government attempted to put a traffic light in this spot in Thimphu, the Bhutanese just simply wouldn’t have it and preferred the traffic police!


Archery as the National Sport!?

There Are No Traffic Lights in Bhutan

Move over football, there’s another sport in the game in Bhutan. Archery holds a special place in Bhutanese culture and is the national sport. We were in the country for just a short ten days and saw numerous tournaments. Competitions are not only about skill but also include traditional songs, dances, and rituals.


Restricted Tourism in Bhutan

Restricted Tourism in Bhutan

Bhutan has a policy of “high-value, low-impact” tourism. Visitors are required to pay a daily fee, called a Sustainable Development Fee, and this is in addition to regular travel costs like accommodation, meals, transportation, and a sustainable tourism fee. Although, this approach helps in preserving the country’s unique culture, environment, and people, it can make Bhutan a very expensive destination to visit.


Bhutanese Dress

Bhutanese Dress

The traditional Bhutanese attire is known as the “kira” for women and the “gho” for men. These garments hold significant cultural and social importance in Bhutan and are worn on formal occasions, during religious ceremonies, and even daily attire. Yes, the Bhutanese wear their traditional clothes daily, keeping culture alive in an increasingly modern world.


All About Tiger’s Nest Monastery

All About Tiger's Nest Monastery - facts about bhutan

One of Bhutan’s most iconic landmarks is the Taktsang Palphug Monastery, popularly known as Tiger’s Nest. Perched on a cliff at an elevation of over 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), this sacred site is associated with Guru Rinpoche, who is said to have meditated here.


Ever Heard of a Takin?

the takin
At the Motithang Takin Preserve

The national animal of Bhutan is the takin – ever heard of it? Neither had we until we stepped foot in Bhutan. So what the heck is a takin? This is a special mammal with a goat/buffalo/wildebeest-like appearance. Legend has it that the takin was created by the country’s patron saint, Lama Drukpa Kunley. If you want to see one for yourself head to Motithang Takin Preserve just outside of Thimphu.


Cultural Festivals

Cultural Festivals in bhutan - bhutan facts

Bhutan hosts numerous cultural festivals throughout the year, known as “tsechus.” These events include masked dances, traditional music, and religious ceremonies, often attracting both locals and tourists.

Besides the major tsechus, Bhutan celebrates other festivals like Paro Tsechu, Punakha Drubchen, and Haa Summer Festival. These events showcase the vibrant cultural heritage of the country and if you happen to be visiting the country during a festival you should definitely make it a point to attend! Don’t worry – you will be welcomed as a foreigner!


Get Prepared for the Phallus

Get Prepared for the Phallus

While journeying through Bhutan, you are likely to encounter an abundance of…er…phalluses, particularly in Punakha, where the country exhibits a fondness for these symbolic representations.

The prevalence of phalluses, also referred to as “Lingam” or “Phallus symbols,” holds significance within Bhutanese culture, specifically linked to the protective deity known as the “Divine Madman” or “Drukpa Kunley.”

These symbols are revered as sacred, believed to possess the power to ward off malevolent spirits while ushering in good fortune and fertility. They are commonly adorned on houses and structures, and during religious ceremonies, wooden phalluses serve as offerings. For a deeper understanding, ensure your tour includes a visit to Chimi Lhakhang in Punakha.


Bhutanese Postal Service

Bhutanese Postal Service

Bhutan is known for its innovative and creative postage stamps, and if you go to the post office you can even print your own Bhutanese stamps with your own photo on them! The country is also famous for issuing the world’s first 3D postage stamp in 2002.


Television Who?

In 1999, Bhutan became the last nation in the world to turn on television. Yes, you read that right, long after Seinfeld and Friends, the Bhutanese got their first televisions. Some say this wasn’t exactly for the best.


Bhutanese Language

Bhutanese Language

The official language could be called Bhutanese, but more officially it is called Dzongkha. However, English is widely used, and if you travel to Bhutan you will have no trouble getting around. English is taught from early on in school nowadays and is often used for official communication.


A Rare and Treasured Bird

elusive black-necked crane

The elusive black-necked crane holds sacred significance in Bhutan, and the conservation of these endangered species is a matter of utmost importance. Engaging in the act of harming one could even lead to a life sentence.


Education System

bhutanese-children

Bhutan places a strong emphasis on education, and it is even free up to the tenth grade. The country has made significant progress in improving literacy rates and educational infrastructure in recent years!


Bhutan Has Never Been Colonized

Bhutan Has Never Been Colonized

One of the best facts about Bhutan is that it has never been colonized, maintaining its independence throughout history. The country has maintained a policy of cautious engagement with the outside world to preserve its unique culture. Until 1961, Bhutan did not establish any diplomatic relations with any other country. The first Western visitors (for tourism purposes) didn’t step foot in the country until 1974 when Bhutan opened its doors to tourism.


A Monk Party

evening prayer in bhutan

There are just 800,000 people in Bhutan, and one of the most interesting facts about Bhutan is that over 12,000 of those are monks and 5,000 are nuns! Bhutan boasts more than eight significant monasteries alongside around 200 smaller ones, housing this community.


The Hot Stone Bath

hot-stone-bath-in-bhutan

One of the best things to do in Bhutan is enjoy a hot stone bath. Bhutanese people have been enjoying hot stone baths for centuries as a therapeutic remedy for conditions like arthritis, hypertension, joint discomfort, stomach disorders, various persistent pains, and more than 50 skin ailments. It’s said immersing oneself in these baths serves as an effective method to alleviate stress. We tried one in Bhutan, and while it was scorching, it was an amazing and rejuvenating experience.


The Most Forested Country

bhutanese forest

Bhutan is often referred to as the last Shangri La or one of the world’s remaining Edens. At the heart of Bhutan’s philosophy of Gross National Happiness lie four pillars, with a crucial emphasis on environmental conservation, recognizing the significance of nature for the well-being of its people.

The Bhutanese constitution mandates the protection of landscapes, stipulating that a minimum of 60 percent of the country’s land must be forested at all times—a goal consistently achieved, as reported by WWF. Presently, the forest coverage stands at around 70 percent. Impressively, more than 50 percent of Bhutan, equivalent to 5 million acres, is designated as protected land, marking the highest percentage among all Asian countries.

Within these protected boundaries, endangered species such as royal Bengal tigers, red pandas, Musk deer, bears, snow leopards, and elephants thrive. It was surprising to learn from many Bhutanese individuals that encountering tigers is a regular occurrence for them, as if it’s no big deal!


Just How many Fortresses?

fortresses in bhutan

Bhutan is known for its numerous fortresses, also called dzongs, and you’ll see many if you travel around the country. What are dzongs exactly? Dzongs, integral to Bhutanese towns, are fortress-like edifices fulfilling roles as both religious and administrative hubs. They are pivotal elements of Bhutanese architecture and culture, and there are 20 in the country to see!


The Bhutanese like it SPICY

chilis-on-roof-in-bhutan

I thought Indian food was spicy, but once I got to Bhutan I realized I had it all wrong. The Bhutanese really love their spicy food. Chili peppers are a staple ingredient in Bhutanese cooking, and they are used to add heat and flavor to many dishes. The Bhutanese people are known for their high tolerance for spicy food, and when something was burning my mouth off, our Bhutanese guide was saying “more chilis please!”

One of the most iconic dishes in Bhutanese cuisine is “Ema Datshi,” which is a spicy chili and cheese stew, and if you visit there’s no way you won’t be offered it.


First Country to Vaccinate all street dogs

street-dogs-bhutan

The abundance of stray dogs in Bhutan, particularly in Thimphu, took me by surprise. They roam freely, and much like the Greeks with their cats, the Bhutanese have adopted these stray street dogs into their heart. An interesting tidbit about Bhutan is that they are the first country in the world to achieve 100% dog sterilization and vaccination!


The Most Dangerous Airport

seeing-mounta-everest-from-the-flight-from-kathmandu-to-bhutan

A mere 24 pilots are qualified to navigate the challenging runway of Paro, known as one of the world’s most demanding airports. These pilots undergo intensive training to skillfully navigate the mountainous terrain, executing take-offs and landings on a mere 6,562 feet runway. As the pilots maneuver through the narrow Paro Valley, passengers are treated to breathtaking views of the towering Himalayan peaks, verdant landscapes, and tranquil scenery. Secure your seatbelts for an unforgettable experience (we even saw Mount Everest on out flight!)


One of the Largest Buddhas

Buddha Dordenma Statue is just outside of Thimphu.

There’s a lot of big buddhas in the world, and one of the largest can be found in Bhutan! Buddha Dordenma Statue is just outside of Thimphu.

Also known as the Buddha Point, this is a massive bronze and gilded with gold statue of Shakyamuni Buddha located in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park.

Measuring approximately 51.5 meters (169 feet) in height, it is a tall one. If you want more just head inside as there are said to be 120,000 smaller Buddha statues, all of which are enshrined within the main statue.


Bhutan is the highest country in the world

Bhutan is the highest country in the world

In terms of its average elevation above sea level, Bhutan is the highest country in the world. The average elevation of Bhutan is around 3,280 meters (10,761 feet) above sea level. The country’s mountainous terrain contributes to its high average elevation, with many peaks exceeding 7,000 meters (23,000 feet).


It’s also the most mountainous

98.8% of Bhutan is covered by mountains, which also makes it the most mountainous country.


There’s Not Much Mountaineering

Gangkhar Puensum

If you’re a mountaineer you’ll have to visit nearby Nepal to get your fix. In Bhutan, mountains over 6000 meters are considered sacred and it is prohibited to climb them! Gangkhar Puensum, at 7,570 m, is the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.


Take Your Shoes Off

Take Your Shoes Off

When entering religious sites, inside fortresses and dzongs, and monasteries, you must take off your shoes. During our 10 day trip we probably put on and off our shoes at least 15+ times a day! We recommend traveling to Bhutan with easy slip-on shoes because of this!


No photos!

facts about bhutan

In the same nature, it’s forbidden to take photos or video inside a monastery, and parts of dzongs and fortresses. Our guide told us that if you have to take off your shoes, you can bet it also means no photos inside!


No One Knows Their Birthday

No One Knows Their Birthday in bhutan

The conventional practice to observe birthdays is not common in Bhutan and many people (especially the older generation) are actually unaware of their exact birth dates. When we visited, I asked multiple people if they knew their birthday and no one did! In fact, back in the day, when citizenship cards were issued to the Bhutanese everyone was just given the birth date of January 1. Now with modern times, many younger Bhutanese do however celebrate their birthdays. The Bhutanese believe living a happy life is more important than how many years you have lived.


A Ban on Cigs

Bhutan was the first nation in the world to completely ban tobacco. Prior to the pandemic, it was illegal to smoke in public or sell tobacco. Anyone caught violating the rules could be fined the equivalent of one month’s salary. This all changed in 2021, when rules changed that allowed for the sale of tobacco products in an effort to stamp out smuggling during the pandemic. However it is still illegal to smoke in public in Bhutan.


Carbon…Negative?

Carbon Negative

Bhutan stands as the sole nation that absorbs more carbon dioxide than it emits. Bhutan’s constitution mandates that a minimum of two-thirds of its land must be forest-covered, and with over 70% of the land being forested, the Kingdom is able to absorb more carbon dioxide than it produces.


Another World

riding-a-bike-in-bhutan
Riding through the Gangtey Valley

Until the 1950s, Bhutan lacked public hospitals and schools, and it wasn’t until several years later that the country saw the introduction of paper currency, roads, and electricity. I hope these facts about Bhutan showcase just how remarkable a destination this country is. It truly is like stepping into another world, one with a unique culture that seems stuck in the past, but in the best way possible.


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About Natasha Alden

Natasha is the co-founder of The World Pursuit. She is an expert in travel, budgeting, and finding unique experiences. She loves to be outside, hiking in the mountains, playing in the snow on her snowboard, and biking. She has been traveling for over 10 years, across 7 continents, experiencing unique cultures, new food, and meeting fantastic people. She strives to make travel planning and traveling easier for all. Her advice about international travel, outdoor sports, and African safari has been featured on Lonely Planet, Business Insider, and Reader’s Digest.

Learn more about Natasha Alden on The World Pursuit About Us Page.