Travel to Bhutan, The Dragon Kingdom of the Himalayas with it's unspoiled traditional Tibetan-style culture, breathtaking architecture, rich history, outrageous trekking and pristine forests with outstanding flora and fauna... is like no other place on earth.
Based on questions that I have been receiving there seems to be many myths about taking a vacation to Bhutan, which makes sense because few people have been there. So let me clear them up with what we learned on our recent visit.
It is true there is no backpacker-style independent travel because once you arrive in Bhutan you see instantly that would certainly destroy this beautiful, unpopulated and rare country, the last Shangri-La, in very short order. The King and the Tourism Council of Bhutan are much smarter than many countries and plan tourism to honor their Gross National Happiness goals. We think that is a win/win for all, tourists as well as locals.
There is a government mandated minimum $US200 per day fee that makes many people react with surprise. BUT look again, that includes all costs including lodging, driver, transportaion, guides and porters, entrance fees to cultural sites and programs, all food and you can arrange your own itinerary, plus you do not have to travel with a group.
So if you are a backpacker use to ten dollar a night super low budget lodging in Asia and living on street food, Bhutan is going to be too expensive, but for most working folks on a two week vacation, Bhutan can be a pretty good deal and less expensive than a typical vacation in Paris or Tokyo plus it's a much more incomparable experience. There is a reason why Bhutan has become the trendiest and exclusive destination. We've been all over the world and found Bhutan to be one-of-a kind.
"Tourism is a like a fire, you can cook your dinner on it, or it can burn your house down.” Asian proverb
MYTH - It is difficult to get a visa to Bhutan
FACT - We were told by Bhutan's Tourism Board that It is actually very easy to get a visa to Bhutan for most folks and they put no limits on how many visas they issue.
MYTH - You can not get into the Tiger's Nest, it is only open to Buddhist monks
FACT - Our guide said that anyone can go into Tiger's Nest today. It's true you can not take photos inside the Tiger's Nest, the iconic Taktshang Monastery, as it is one of the most sacred places in Bhutan, but you can visit it and take all the photos you want of the spectacular outside. Our ten year old daughter easily did the strenuous, steep trek, but it's not for the mobility challenged like me.
We were sponsored guests of the Tourism Council of Bhutan who invited us via email ( out of the blue) and we were very honored to be the first travel bloggers invited to visit this stunning country. It was on our long term big bucket list, but we were not thinking about doing it just now, yet we're so grateful we got to experience this exqusite country and loving people at this juncture in time and hope to visit again. Like my recent post about Jordan, we also think Bhutan is one of the smartest tourism boards and it is not just because they both invited us.
Travel has become our life, so we pay attention to who is doing it well and we have a special place in our heart for responsible travel and sustainable, eco- friendly living because we want Mozart's generation and her kids and grand kids etc. to enjoy travel and this planet like we have.
Before accepting, we looked at the history of Bhutan tourism and the unique, honorable way the country is run which is really impressive in today's world. Unlike nearby Nepal with it's famous Hippie Trail and Freak Street in Kathmandu where western flower children smoked pot and lived on two dollars a day in the sixties, Bhutan only opened it's doors to tourism in the late seventies and had a total of 250 tourist visa's in 1979.
Tourism is the second largest industry today in Bhutan, but the tourist count is miniscule compared to a place like Thailand and it is very rewarding to be in such splendor, usually with very few or no other tourists around. We admire Bhutan's high-value, low-impact tourism goals that will prevent it from the kind of damage and profoundly altering impact that large amounts of backpackers and very low budget travelers have done to places like Nepal and Thailand.
While many other countries around the world have allowed tourism to compromise and destroy their traditional cultures, Bhutan was smart to realize that protecting it's unique culture and pristine environment, which makes this country so special, was key for its survival.
It's a country of many surprises that is bridging the gap between the past and the future perhaps better than anyone, putting people's happiness and protecting the environment and culture first. Visiting Bhutan is worth it on so many levels, thus I hope you get the opportunity yourself to visit this magical and mysterious place and sort out your own myths and facts.
Please feel free to add anymore questions in the comments!