One of my main takeaways from my recent trip to Bhutan and India (Kolkata, Sikkim) is this: Bhutan is a unique and special destination but not for everyone. Independent travel and backpacking is unheard of as tourists require a guide and a driver. There’s also a daily tariff which is high but also all-inclusive and include guides, drivers, daily meals and entrance fees.
Since I traveled with a relatively large group, our itinerary was pretty much fixed. But there was some flexibility to the itinerary if one spoke up. For example, a few us requested to see the Rinpung Dzong in Paro and our “cool dude” guide Jamyang obliged. It was nice tour because along with the tour and typical dzong information , we were able to chat with our guide and got to know him better outside of his day-to-day tour guide responsibilities. For example, he studied in Chennai, India but returned back to Bhutan after university. He’s a musician and a big football (soccer in America) fan. If you travel to Bhutan, I would highly recommend talking to your guides, drivers and locals and learning more about them on a personal level. No doubt the history and cultural facts shared are an integral part of the Bhutanese travel experience. But you can get that information online and in tour books as well. But talking to people and getting to know them on a personal level is something you can’t read about online or in tour guides. I haven’t done a great job with this on past trips but I think I genuinely connected with Bhutanese locals on this trip. We talked about the influence of Indian culture in Bhutan. For example, some Bhutanese people speak Hindi and this can be attributed to the popularity of Indian television channels, serials (soap operas) and films. However note that the actual cinemas in Bhutan only show Bhutanese films to promote their local culture and cinema. Locals claim they are embarrassed by the quality of their films sometimes. Shh don’t tell anyone. Its a secret.
So now back to the trip and itinerary. Main cities and towns I visited were Phuntsholing (border town), Thimphu (capital), Punakha, Bumthang, Phobjikha Valley and Paro. For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip but I did end up getting sick which made one long driving day from Punakha to Bumthang quite miserable for me.
How do you know if Bhutan as a travel destination is for you? Read below for some tips. Obviously things may change in the future which may skew your opinion and thoughts but this is all based on my recent experience in October 2017. To each their own.
Bhutan isn’t for you
If you like relaxing on the beach and taking it real easy, then Bhutan probably isn’t for you.
If you enjoy planning your own itinerary (tours, meals), backpacking or traveling independently, then Bhutan probably isn’t for you.
If you don’t like spending a lot of time in a car/van/bus, then Bhutan probably isn’t for you.
If you like a lot of nightlife and a great party scene, then Bhutan probably isn’t for you. In Thimphu, the main entertainment was a live music venue called Mojo Park. It features one band per night and the music ends around midnight. It was generally nice and casual place and I’d recommend it if you want something to do in the evening. The band playing the night we want was Idiocrazy and they were amazing. Sang a lot of well know and popular tunes as well as some local ones.
If you’re a frugal travel, then Bhutan probably isn’t for you (at least not yet?!)
If you don’t like to ever plan ahead, then Bhutan probably isn’t for you.
Bhutan IS for you
If you love unspoiled nature and the great outdoors, then Bhutan is totally for you.
If you enjoy hiking, trekking, white water rafting and outdoor activities in general, then Bhutan is totally for you.
If you enjoy going with the flow, the Bhutan is totally for you. Things are quite unpredictable (e.g weather) even during the tourist season. Expect itineraries to change in the last-minute. My tip would be to just go with the flow.
If you want to explore a country which isn’t completely dominated by tourism and tourists, then Bhutan is totally for you.
If you appreciate learning about a country’s history, past and present and culture, then Bhutan is totally for you. The entire trip is one huge cultural experience.
If you enjoy staying and interacting with locals, then Bhutan is totally for you. A lot of trips include stays at farmhouses and local homes. For me, this was a great way to learn more about the locals and validate/invalidate some of the stuff you’ve read about in the tour books.
It’s an honor and privilege to visit and explore Bhutan. My trip wasn’t perfect but its the imperfections of travel that create life long memories. I certainly cherish those moments and experiences. I’ll never forget the 13 hour-long drive to Bumthang from Punakha. That moment is fully entrenched in the long-term memory of my mind. At least until another crazy experience that’s the spot:)