ThimphuTech was the first technology blog in Bhutan. We started writing it in 2009, just as broadband and mobile internet started to take off. (Although internet in Bhutan was launched in 1999, it was either super-slow or super-expensive, and was only used by a selected few).

In the blog, we wrote about technology and food, but also about plenty of other stuff. The blog became popular and influential in Bhutan. A companion bi-weekly column -- Ask Boaz -- was published for many years in the Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper. (The complete Kuensel columns are available as an ebook, Blogging with Dragons).

We stopped updating the blog when we left Bhutan in 2014, but the information within the posts can still prove useful, and thus we decided to keep it online.

We thank all our readers.
Tashi Delek,
Boaz & Galit.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Preventing Virus Infections via Pen Drives

Pen-drives - these ubiquitous and innocent-looking devices carried in pocketbooks and gho pockets around the capital, are a major vector of computer virus infections in Bhutan. Here's how these pen-drive viruses are spread:

You insert your new (and clean) pen-drive into your friend's infected computer. The computer malicously copies the virus to your pen drive (also known as a USB drive or USB stick), thus contaminating it. Then you take your pen drive home and insert it into your own computer. The virus - now on the pen-drive - copies itself to your computer. You're doomed!

Even if you make an effort to keep your computer - and pen drives - clean, friends or family might insert their contaminated pen drives into your computer, thus infecting your computer. To avoid these unintentional infections, here's a Windows XP/Vista utility that disables the pen drives on your computer. First, download the utility to your computer by clicking here. Once you run it, select "Disable USB Drives" and then reboot. Pen drives will no longer be accessible. If you are 100% sure that a pen drive is clean, you can re-enable access by running the utility again, selecting "Enable USB Drives", and then re-booting. Don't forget to disable the pen-drives once you are done.

If you have smart friends, they might find the utility on your hard drive and re-enable access to the pen drives. To prevent that, first add a password to your account: In Windows XP, go to Start->Control Panel->User Accounts. Then pick your account (usually Administrator), and choose Create a Password. The next step is to enable the Guest account, which your friends can use: In Windows XP, go to Start->Control Panel->User Accounts. Then pick the Guest account, and enable it. You now have two accounts on your computer: one for yourself, and another for guests. Don't forget to always log out from your Administrator account after you are finished with the computer.

India Buys 250,000 School Laptops

After the promised "$10 laptop" failed to materialize, the Government of India decided to buy 250,000 XO laptops from One-Laptop-Per-Child. The laptops will be distributed to 1,500 schools. More information about the recent purchase here.
Bureaucrats tend to look for easy solutions to education problems. Throwing money at educational technology is very tempting as it is often seen as a quick fix to the failings of an education system (it also attracts good PR, "we're on the leading edge" etc), but it often fails to deliver the promised results. After all, getting good teachers is a much harder challenge.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Beware of BNB Debit Card Charging Errors

BNB's debit card is a convenient way to withdraw cash at ATM machines. But I recently found out that there is a slight problem in BNB's banking software, which may cause your account to be erroneously charged.
Here's what happened: On Friday I tried to withdraw cash from the ATM machine. After entering the PIN, amount, etc, I waited for some time until finally, the screen displayed a message that the transaction was canceled. No money was spat out. Still, I discovered to my surprise that the whole amount was taken from my account. Apparently, these kind of mistakes may happen when there are network problems between Bhutan and India.

While BNB will make all efforts to reverse the charges in such cases of discrepancy, it is recommended that if you use your ATM, carefully check the account statements. This applies both to cash withdrawals and merchant transactions.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Using the BNB ATM card

The ATM card issued by BNBL is a real upgrade to using checks or cash.

First, it allows withdrawing cash from the ATM machine instead of waiting in line at the bank (up to Nu. 15,000/transaction and maximum of Nu. 30,000/day), as well as when the bank is closed. The two ATM machines in the bank itself are sometimes accessible after hours, and another machine is located in the JOJO building (BNBL claim that there are a total of 10 machines, but I have only located 3).

Second, I use it to pay at various shops, restaurants, and even for paying bills at Bhutan Telecom (main branch). The full list of merchants that accept payment with the BNB ATM card is available on the BNB main page. However, I've encountered at least two places where they claimed that "the machine is not working".

Businesses that want to offer this service can find details here. Another note: although the transaction using the ATM seems immediate, I heard that the money is not automatically transferred into the merchant's account.

For further details on issuing a card see the BNBL webpage.

Druk Air's "Flight Schedule via SMS"

The Druk Air website claims that you can "know flight timing" by sending an SMS message to 2121, with text depending on the day of week:
Monday type INFOMON and send it to 2121,
Tuesday type INFOTUE and send it to 2121,
Wednesday type INFOWED and send it to 2121,
Thrusday type INFOTHU and send it to 2121,
Friday type INFOFRI and send it to 2121,
Saturday type INFOSAT and send it to 2121
Sunday type INFOSUN and send it to 2121.

I tried it from my TashiCell, but received the error message: "Your message sent to 2121 could not be completed. Please try again later." I tried again later and received the same error message.

Has anyone used this service successfully? Any tips appreciated.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

DSL Modems are Out of Stock

If you're thinking of getting a Bhutan Telecom broadband connection, save yourself a trip. BT is out of DSL modems (the modem is the piece of equipment that you install at home - one end connects to the phone line, the other to your computer). In theory, you can bring your own modem, but as far as I know, no shop in Thimphu, P/ling or Jaigaon sells them. When they are available, BT sells them at Nu 1,150, which includes a 1-year warranty. A good deal, especially considering that BT charges Nu 250 if you bring your own modem. So if you're not in a hurry, wait for re-stocking. Expected arrival date of the next shipment of modems: May 10.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Choosing an email provider

(Posted by Galit)

Many people opt for a free webmail account with Yahoo!, Gmail, Hotmail, etc. A webmail account allows you to access your email from any computer that is connected to the Internet. Although Hotmail was the first to offer free webmail accounts, these days the real competition is between Gmail and Yahoo!. Before making your choice, and aside from the look-and-feel which you should check out yourself, here are a few features to consider:
  • Mailbox size (storage): Gmail currently gives a huge space (7GB), and this increases over time. Yahoo! responded by offering "unlimited storage". Hence, you will most likely never reach the limit in either.
  • Ability to forward to another address: Yahoo! requires a paid subscription in order to forward your email to a new address. This means that once you have an email account with them you are "trapped". In contrast, Gmail does allow free forwarding.
  • Mobile phone interface: Gmail has a neat interface for mobile phones. Similarly, Yahoo! has Yahoo! Mobile Services.
  • Attachment type and size limit: If you plan to attach large files, this is something to consider. In Yahoo! the limit is 10MB. In Gmail it is 20MB. Also, Gmail does not allow attaching executable files (such as .exe), to avoid viruses. Both providers scan attachments for viruses.
  • Searching your mailbox: Both providers have search functions to search your email. I've found the Google search to be quite powerful. Yahoo! had a glitch in 2008 where searches were not retrieving any email or only a small subset (this can be fixed by emailing their support -- see this thread)
  • Dormant account: If you will not have any activity in your account for long periods, you should consider the duration before the account will be deleted. In Gmail the duration is around 9 months. Yahoo! (and Hotmail) delete dormant accounts after 4 months.
  • Building up your address book: Gmail automaticlly adds the email addresses of those who you reply to. Yahoo! requires you to enter them yourself.
  • Organizing your emails: Yahoo! uses folders, where you can file an email to a folder. Gmail uses a different system called "labels". You can give an email one or more labels, thereby "filing" it into one or more "folders". These are not really folders although the operation is similar but more flexible.

How to Block your Commercial SMS in B-Mobile

(Posted by Sangay)

Dear friends if you use B Mobile and if you dont want commercial SMS to come in your mobile you can block it. How? Just type COM NO and sent to 75751

Has anyone tried the "bill by email" from Bhutan Telecom?

Bhutan Telecom mentions on its website that bills for a fixed line can be emailed to you. Their "e-billing" webpage reads:
Have your Telephone Bills sent by email. Send your details to 
Has anyone tried this? What are the details that you need to send besides the phone number and your preferred email address? How do they verify that the email indeed belongs to the holder of the account?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bringing a Blackberry from the USA

Last week we had a visitor from the USA who brought along her Blackberry. She has a "world" data plan with T-Mobile (a US mobile provider), which means that she should be able to read email and surf the web around the globe. Although her plan works in Thailand and Vietnam, the data service did not work here in Thimphu. If anyone knows of a Blackberry data plan that does work here in Bhutan, please post.

Optical Fiber Link Fixed

It seems that the fiber link problem announced 10 days ago by Bhutan Telecom was fixed: A few days ago I ran a speed test against a server in the U.S. and got a download speed of about 1.7mbps.

On the BT website, I found no announcement regarding the restoration. Looking at previous Bhutan Telecom news, it seems that only breakages are reported. It would also be useful to know when services are restored. An RSS feed for the BT updates would be a useful addition.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Workshop: Decision Making Using Excel

Following the two successful workshops in Nov 2008 and Mar 2009 and continuing demand, Professor Shmueli will be conducting a third workshop on Apr 29- May 1. This 3-day workshop is intended for top management and decision makers in government, corporate, and private organizations. For more details see To register, please call Rigsum IT&M at 321466.

Where to get online in Thimphu

Here's the list of operating places that I've discovered so far, which offer internet to the public. Please add to this list if you know of more places (by posting a comment):

Wireless only (bring-your-own-computer and connect to the internet):
  • Karma's Coffee (Tashi Rabten building, above Zangthoperli complex): offers free Wifi. Ask for the password. (This is also a great place for coffee!)
  • DIT office complex: Free, no password needed
  • Paro Airport is supposed to have wireless, but I haven't tried it
Computers with internet connection:
  • Public Library (Norzin Lam): Nu. 30/hour. 5 computers available. Printing and photocopying (Nu. 2/ two-sided page) also available. Mon-Sat from around noon to 5.
  • Harmony Village Internet Cafe (in Youth Center): Nu. 30/hour. Around 7 computers. Computer courses for youth. Open every day from around 10 to 5.
  • Internet place near Drasindra computers (Hong Kong Market)

Canceling TashiCell's CRBT Service

I recently purchased a new TashiCell prepaid SIM and noticed that the Caller Ring Back Tone (CRBT) feature was automatically turned on, and so callers were hearing a tune until the call was answered. I didn't really ask for this service, so I inquired at TashiCell's Customer Service about it.

Apparently the company is offering a free month or so of CRBT for new subscribers, but - and here is the catch - they start charging Nu. 1/day after the trial period ends, unless you ask to disable the service. Well, I don't really like this business practice. While it makes perfect sense to offer a free trial period for the CRBT service, it is not OK to start charging for something that a customer did not specifically ask for. I also wouldn't be surprised if many folks out there are not aware of the daily CRBT fee.

Anyway, if you want to cancel CRBT, you can use SMS. Send the message dreg to 9797, and you're done.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

SMS Banking: Take 2

(Posted by Galit)

Following up on my previous post (where I tried BNB's new SMS Banking over the weekend):
On Monday morning I received confirmation emails from BNBL for both the password change and the balance inquiry. It appears as if the service was down (or off?) on the weekend, but it works beautifully now.

Chatting on Your Mobile? Beware of the Risks

A stroll in Thimphu shows the heavy and widespread usage of mobile phones by almost everyone. Although mobile phones have only been around for a relatively short time, recent studies have indicated serious health hazards of using mobile phones. In particular, there has been growing evidence that the electromagnetic radiation causes cancer. The director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute in the USA has issued a warning, suggesting to limit mobile use. More information can be found on ABC News.

The most important points to keep in mind are:
  1. Don't allow children to use mobile phones except for emergencies. Their brains (which are still developing) are very vulnerable to the radiation.
  2. Use a headset or at least a speakerphone, and keep the mobile phone away from your head.
A final note: There have been multiple studies thus far, some indicating health risks and others indicating none. Remember, though, that many years ago the tobacco companies claimed that there are no health risks from smoking...

Don't Forget the www!

Although BBS TV proudly displays its web address - - every evening on the top-left corner of the screen, the specified web address does not work!

You will need to use the longer version with the "www" prefix to access the BBS home page:

This seems to be a common issue with most - if not all - domains in Bhutan. The bt domains are not forgiving in that respect, so remember to always prefix the website address with www.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

SMS Banking: Take 1

(Posted by Galit)

A few days ago I registered for Bhutan National Bank's new SMS banking program. Registration was easy: you fill out aform at the customer service desk, get a Nu. 10 stamp from the next door post office, and submit it back to the customer service desk. I received a colorful brochure and an additional page (also available here) with information on how to perform the different banking operations via SMS.

A day later I received an SMS on my mobile phone from BNBL, confirming "You have been Registered". I was also assigned an initial password. My first mobile banking attempt was to change the password. This is done by sending an SMS to 6070 with the text "Chgp oldpassword newpassword" (replace "oldpassword" with the initial password that BNBL sent you and "newpassword" with your preferred 4-digit password). I waited a while. I waited a day. Nothing happened. Or, at least, I have no idea if my password was changed.

My second attempt was to get my account balance. This is done by sending an SMS to 6070 with the text "Bal password" (replace the word "password" with your 4-digit password). Again, nothing happened.

SMS banking is indeed a great idea. The question is what am I doing wrong? I will follow up when I figure it out.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

BT Broadband: Prepaid or Postpaid?

Bhutan Telecom offers both prepaid and postpaid options for its DSL service. Let's start with the prepaid plans. There are 5 plans, starting at Nu 399 for 2.5GB (the "Personal" package) and going all the way up to Nu 2499 for 15GB (the "Enterprise" package). Much like mobile talk plans, the data quota has a validity of 30 days, but if you renew before expiration - any leftover data quota is carried over.

When it comes to price per GB, there is no advantage to choosing the more expensive plans - they all charge between Nu 160 and Nu 180 per GB (with the 10GB plan being the most expensive). However, the packages differ in their maximum theoretical speeds. The cheapest ones offer 256kb/s, while the most expensive plan offers a theoretical speed of 2Mb/s, or 2048kb/s, which is 8 times speedier than the cheapest package. But again, this is in theory. When the international network is congested, you are out of luck even if you bought the most expensive package.

If you only use the Internet for occasional email, chatting, and browsing, the cheapest package - Nu 399/2.5GB/30 days - will probably suffice. Even if you run out of data, you can always recharge. In fact, even if you download music, I still recommend that you start with the cheapest package. 1GB is equivalent to around 300 typical MP3 songs. If you find that you keep running to the BT One Stop Shop for recharging every week or two, consider upgrading to a more expensive package.

What about the postpaid plans? Again, there are five plans, and they are equivalent in quota and speed to the prepaid ones. They are more expensive than postpaid - between Nu. 190 and 216 per GB, but they do offer a certain convenience - you will never run out of data (you pay Nu 0.19 per extra MB after your quota is finished, which is Nu 195 per GB). I am not in favor of the postpaid plans, especially since the bills keep piling up when you leave town for a few weeks and do not use the service.

Last but not least: You can always check your DSL balance and expiration date here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What happened to my DSL?

For those of us who have become addicted to the fast and affordable broadband Internet in Thimphu, it was quite a shock to wake up yesterday morning. The connection has been frustratingly slow ever since. The reason can be found on the Bhutan Telecom website:
Public Announcement(06-04-09)
BTL would like to inform our valued customers that, Users may experience slow Internet access to international sites as the fiber link running Internet has been damaged.
Restoration is expected to take about 3 days from today(06-04-09).
Inconvinence caused is highly regretted.

Downloading Mantras (and Software) from DrukNet

Although access to international sites is still sluggish (see here), the .bt domains are served locally so they respond pretty quickly.

For example, DrukNet has an FTP server with tons of free stuff, including anti-virus software:

As a bonus, you can also download Sogyal Rinpoche's collection of mantras here:

Inaugurating Thimphu Tech

Welcome to the forum on "Increasing Technological Happiness"!

With the fast flow of technology into Bhutan, many of us have trouble catching up. The goal of this forum is to give news, tips, and interesting bits on all aspects of technology: Internet, mobile communication, where to get tech stuff, how to use it, what technology can do for you, and what to beware of.