My regular travelogue ended in the previous chapter. This article will sum up some impressions and background information of a more practical character.
My visit was organised like most other itineraries to this somewhat hidden and closed country. After a transit stop in the Indian town of Guwahati we landed in Paro, Bhutan’s only international airport. I was picked up at the airport by an English-speaking guide and a driver who were with me all the time, apart from afternoons and evenings at the hotels.
The case is that every visit to Bhutan has to be on an all-inclusive ticket with hotels, meals, guide and transportation. I had booked a combination tour to Bhutan and Nepal with an agency in Kathmandu called Himalaya Holiday Service. In Bhutan they used a local partner called Raven Tours and Treks. I made one payment and they fixed the visas. I would highly recommend both agencies.
Detail from the Tango Gompa Monastery, near Thimphu
These kind of tour agencies accept small or large groups, and even solo travellers like myself. Their itineraries are flexible and depends on how much time you have available, and what you would like to discover (cultural sights or treks). During the stay the guides will gladly change their suggested program to accommodate for your special interests. Both companies were very attentive in this respect, and I felt particularly satisfied with my own guide and driver.
I have included more detailed information in the previous chapters but there are a few overall elements to consider when you are planning a visit to Bhutan.
- Bhutan is a landlocked country in the Himalayas and most of the mountainous scenery is forested. The roads are horrible – at the time of my visit (autumn 2015) only the 1-2 hour drive between Paro’s international airport and the capital of Thimphu is of a decent standard. The entire road trip illustrated on the map is less than 400 km, but it took ages to get from one point to the other. Fortunately we had a 4WD.
- The country is only recently being opened up to accommodate for more than a few thousand tourists a year and the tourism industry is just starting to learn how to service their customers. You will find WiFi in the hotels, not very high speed but quite alright – if there is no power outage.
- Do not expect a quality cuisine, do not even expect to eat what the locals eat. You will be taken to restaurants serving buffet meals, quite varied and tasty, but basically the same everywhere. The locals eat lots of chillies, but the hot stuff has been removed from the meals you are served.
- There is a beaten tourist track where most visitors are taken, to the presumably most interesting sights. I took it, and I would several times recognise other tourists from places I had been earlier on the trip. I would not have missed any of the attractions I went to, because it was a success. If I was to change anything, it would have been to venture further into the countryside, or go on more treks or hikes – that is, spend more time.
Children playing in the village near the Gangtey Monastery in Phobjikha Valley
I loved Bhutan and found the country and its people very exciting and not least friendly and hospitable. It is a developing country with a bright future, and I hope I have been able to convey my positive impressions in the previous articles.
The map below shows the places I visited and the roads I travelled during my week in Bhutan. You may expand the map into another tab or window, or zoom in and out here and now.
This series from Bhutan consists of the following chapters:
(1) Thimphu and surroundings (days 1-3)
(2) The Dochula Pass and Punakha Valley (days 3-4)
(3) The Phobjikha Valley (days 4-5)
(4) The holy Taktsang Lhakhang (Tiger’s Nest) (day 6)
(5) The city of Paro (days 5-7)
(6) Impressions and advice
PICS – Bhutan (all images from the country in one place)
This article was the sixth from my visit to Bhutan. I flew in from Bangkok, spent seven days in Bhutan and then took a flight to Nepal for another week. The overall schedule is introduced in an article called The outline of a visit to the Himalayas.