Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Money in Bhutan

The currency used in Bhutan is the Ngultrum. Right now, $1 US is worth about 45 Ngultrum. Only paper money is in circulation with note denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1000. These notes depict iconic structures in Bhutan (all but one is a dzong). I went round and took photos of these buildings and their money portraits. Sadly, the set is not complete...

1 Ngultrum note and Semtokha Dzong, south end of Thimphu City

5 Ngultrum note
5 Ngultrum note at Taktsang Goemba (Tiger's Nest monastary) in Paro

10 Ngultrum note and Paro Dzong
10 Ngultrum note and Paro (Rinpung) Dzong, in Paro Town

 Missing: 50 Ngultrum note and fabulous Trongsa Dzong
Update: THANK YOU Korice Moir for taking and sending the above pic of Trongsa Dzong and the 50 bill!

100 Ngultrum note and Tashichhoe Dzong, at the north end of Thimphu City

Missing: 500 Ngultrum note and Punakha Dzong
Update: THANK YOU Korice Moir for taking and sending the above pic of Punakha Dzong and the 500 bill!

1000 Ngultrum note and Tashichhoe Dzong
1000 Ngultrum note and a different angle of Tashichhoe Dzong. The 1000 is a somewhat rarer bill and I could only get a hold of this crumpled one!

Incomplete sets are so very unsatisfying. I didn't get back to Trongsa or Punakha after I had the idea to do this photo series so I'm left with only 5 out of 7. But, perhaps you can help? If you are in Bhutan and you can take the 50 or 500 Ngultrum photos in this style, send them along so we can finish the set!

Bonus pics!

old 5 Ngultrum note and Paro Dzong
Here's the older 5 Ngultrum note and Paro Dzong. I think is the best of the photos.

antique Bhutanese coins
Coins are now out of circulation in Bhutan but here are two that a friend collected.

Bonus advice! Money tips for travelers to Bhutan:

- For bringing money in, cash is the way to go. You can change your cash into Ngultrum at the airport exchange counter in the same room where you'll pick up your luggage. Do it then to save a trip to a bank later. Bills in the major currencies will be accepted (US, Euros, Pounds Sterling, Canadian dollars, Australian dollars, Hong Kong dollars, Singapore dollars, Rupees and such). You will get a better rate for larger bills (i.e. $50 and $100 notes). Ask to get some smaller bills in your bundle from the exchange counter.
- Despite contradictory information being given out by the banks themselves, only American dollar travelers' cheques can be cashed at major bank branches without a huge amount of commotion and  trouble. Take it from someone who knows. Even Lonely Planet got this wrong.
- As of late 2010, there is an ATM in Thimphu which takes MasterCard. There have been some technical problems, though, so if the machine is out of order on the one day you're in Thimphu, you're out of luck. Don't rely on using your MasterCard.
- Some of the bigger souvenir stores take Visa cards. Again, don't assume that you'll be able to make all purchases with credit cards. Also, you'll probably get a better price if you pay with Ngultrum.
- Regular escorted tourists will only need enough cash for extras like souvenirs, booze and tips. However, if disaster strikes, or if you see a work of art you cannot live without, you could make use of the Western Union money transfer service through Bhutan Post.
- If you've arrived via India, you'll be fine using Rupee notes for everything. The Rupee and Ngultrum are at par. 
- Nobody actually says 'Ngultrum' or writes it on a price tag or a menu.  People say 'Nu' instead. In fact, when you ask the price of things, you will most often be told the value in Rupees even though you pay in Ngultrum.
- Try to keep a few lower denomination notes aside (10s, 50s, 100s) to leave as offerings at the altar or in a donation box whenever you visit a shrine or a temple. They can really use your contributions.


Lara said...

Foreign money is so beautiful. I think currency issues make me more nervous than anything about traveling abroad. I'm terrified of getting confused and ripped off.

Kayla said...

This is such a great idea! I love that you made the connection between the money and historic places and knew where they were. I probably would have just looked at the money and kept travelling!

PaSsu said...

Very interesting post. It never occurred to me but I think I will try and help you complete your set in few years time lol

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