Because it is not Iceland. Seems that Iceland is on everyone’s list this year. And Colombia and Myanmar. I want to find places that AREN’T on lists. Places like Tasmania, Namibia, Okinawa, Yap, and… Bhutan.
The shopping sucks. Unless you need a new Gho or Kira. There a few tourist shops in the main cities but still far outnumbered by the shops and stalls that the locals need to survive. They haven’t been pushed out yet by the fast food chains and the cheesy souvenirs made in china. Bumthang was the one exception. Because it is the only other airport in Bhutan, tourism has arrived.
You are prone to car sickness. If the Road to Hana in Maui makes you sick, the roads in Bhutan will be brutal. There is a joke that there is only one highway in Bhutan running from West to East. That is highway 1. When you turnaround and come back, it becomes highway 2. The highway is supposed to be 100% paved by 2018 but only a small portion has been completed. The road is in 3 states: being paved, covered by a landslide, removing landslide material to be paved. The roads are the worst I’ve seen in 30 years of travel. You will average somewhere around 12mph. It’s bumpy, muddy, one lane, and with a little rain, that thousand foot drop two feet out your window…will terrify you.
Foodies will be disappointed. Unless you love rice. I mean really love it. I was told that the average person in Bhutan eats over 1 kg (2.2 lb) of rice every single day. If you like food spicy, you will enjoy Ema Datsi! Well, the first or second time… which is what you will get on day 1 of your trip (ema datsi for lunch and dinner). If you like your Thai food with a spice of ‘9’ out of 10, the Bhutanese will laugh at you. That’s more like a 2 to them. There are no coffee shops either. I found one in Bumthang finally, and went there twice as it was always empty and I wanted to try to support the kind woman’s business.
You love full moon parties. Or dance clubs, or all night drinking establishments. In Bhutan, it simply does not exist. Thank you Bhutan.
You self drove all of Africa. Namibia doesn’t count. My mom could self-drive in Namibia. In Bhutan, unless you come from India, you don’t get a choice. You will have a driver and a guide as part of your daily tariff (sometimes they are one and the same). About two or three days into it, you will be content with that.
Luxury traveler? Well, you might stick with Italy, or France. There are Aman Resorts here, one in each of the five major cities in Bhutan. It will add somewhere around USD$1,000 per night to your daily tariff of USD$200-250. There are no fancy restaurants and a fancy car is anything that is 4-wheel drive.
You are a dog lover. Well I know I am. Seeing hundreds of stray dogs on a daily basis is heartbreaking. In a couple of the major towns, they have started to (spay) dogs. It will take several canine generations before you see any progress. There are simply too many. In 18 days of travel, I saw two on leashes and those are considered pets.
They don’t really care about Gross National Happiness. That is marketing fluff for the rest of the world. They don’t need marketing fluff, they just are that damn happy.
You are easily bored. Because Bhutan has a few things going for it but may not fascinate someone of lesser patience.
Almost 75% of Bhutan is covered with trees. You will most likely have never seen anything like that in your life. You will spend somewhere between 4 and 8 hours of driving seeing a few towns, some monasteries on a distant hill, and yes, a whole lots of trees.
The people are incredible. Many tourists descend into Bhutan to catch one of the many festivals, drive a few days and depart saying they’ve ‘done’ the country. It would take many trips, east to west and north to south, to even come close. The joy of having the opportunity to do that would be to spend more time with this stunning people.
Most anyone under the age of 11 or 12 are taught in English in the schools alongside Dzonkha. Taught IN English, not taught English. They love to practice and help their parents with those crazy Westerners. Their smiles are a mile wide. You will be invited to tea and to see where they live. They will tempt you with REAL Bhutanese cooking (yikes, they don’t hold back the heat).
They will still be somewhat shy about having their picture taken, until you show them their picture. They love their King and Queen. Banners with pictures of them are everywhere.
It is so safe, you can leave cameras sitting on the back seat. Or piles of cash. It probably wouldn’t matter. I have never visited another country in the world where I did not worry about such things (Japan is close).
If your only reason for avoiding Bhutan to date is that there is a mandatory daily tariff of USD$200-250 depending on season and whether you travel solo as I did, you would be wise to reconsider. That tariff not only covers a driver and a guide, but your lodging, your meals, your entry fees into monasteries, festivals, museums. Oh, and a large percentage goes to the health and education of those amazing people you will meet.
You should go. Go now before it starts making those annual lists…
Stunning photos and writing. Thank you!
Bhutan has been on my ‘bucket list’ for years and has just moved up!