A few months back I made a list of my top-ten list of countries I want to visit. The tiny green country of Bhutan did not make the list. Moreover, on ITKT, there are some 5000 stories with exactly ½ story about Bhutan (a single blog entry, sans photo).
For those who have never heard of Bhutan, the country is nothing more than a forested green dot smushed between neighboring super-powers, China and India. Yesterday, I had little information about the place. I could find Bhutan on a map and that the national sport is archer. I also thought it was a complicated and an expensive hassle to visit.
However, tonight changed everything as Bhutan Tourism made its way to Los Angeles on its first leg of a U.S. road show. This means Bhutan Tourism is meeting with the press and travel industry folks across the U.S. (only three stops, so it could be considered more of a mini road show).
During their stop in Los Angeles, I was fortunate enough to trap a couple of Bhutanese dignitaries for some Q and A about tourism and their country. While there are a lot of misconceptions, I found out that the number one foreign visitors to Bhutan come from the US. I also discovered that visa can be applied for online and they are only 20 bucks. There are 40 different cultural festivals held throughout the year. Most visitors leave for the countryside where they will find Matahama Buddhism, traditional culture thriving and 100% English speaking.
The only curious information I came away with is that visitors cannot just show up rent a car and bounce around the Bhutanese countryside on their own and must have a local tour operator confirming a traveler’s stay (although home stays and free time to explore are part of a typical Bhutan visit). If I were to make an educated guess, I would say travel restrictions have to do with maintaining Bhutan’s GNH (Gross National Happiness), strong national identity, unique culture and spiritual outlook on life.
However there are over 100 tour operators in the country and put together packages for interested travelers. I now need to update my top ten list.
For now, it looks like Bhutan will be courting travel agents and tour operators in Los Angeles and New York. So while I was happy to be one of the few journalists attending in Los Angeles, it is unlikely I will get an invite to share thoughts on Bhutan firsthand. Still gears in my head are grinding thinking about making my way to Bhutan one of these days.
For more about Bhutan.
I guess I’ll give some consideration to putting it on my list, too. Nice to learn something new about a place, isn’t it?
Bhutan decided when it opened for tourism, that it did no want to become like Nepal – a country full of backpackers living on $2/day and sitting around getting stoned on the marijuana that grows wild throughout the country. The decisions about who, and how much tourism were very carefully thought out, hence the regulations on having to buy all services through Bhutanese operators. I’ve been there, it is one of my favorite countries…. for many reasons but the top one is that travelers to Bhutan are still treated like people, not like wallets. But as Bhutan is more and more exposed to the outside world, it is changing: highways are being built, large international hotels. Go, and soon, before it changes too much. Oh and in the meantime, watch the movie “Travellers and Magicians”.
Does anyone know if it is true that travelers to Bhutan are all required to spend a minimum of something like $250 per day?
@ Devin Thanks for the shout out. Glad you had a chance to connect.
@Cathy Happiness is contagious.
@Elaine – You nailed it. Thanks.
@Barbara Enjoying your stories from Nepal.Thanks. Thought I already explained earlier to you on facebook. There is no requirement as such in terms of “spend”ing. Solo travelers incur nightly cost of US$240 and that includes pretty much everything except airfare. It is a pampered hassle free all-inclusive tour. And guess what! 35% of the tour cost goes to the government coffers for development projects (feel-good tour). Tour companies manage all the logistics from the balance amount.
Happy Holidays! Cheers from the Himalayas~
I can absolutely understand why Bhutan limits tourism with the US $240 per day price tag – I’m in Laos at the moment and if I hear one more 19 year old backpacker try to argue down the price of their large $0.80 beer I will explode… But it limits far more than the young backpackers set on just getting the cheapest prices. I’m 32, a writer, I tend to be in before 11 pm at night … and given my freelancer status, I could simply not afford their price tag.
Maybe I’m a cynic, but I have trouble believing that the excess really goes directly to feel-good projects. In my experience government bureaucracy is not the best at distributing wealth to where it is most needed.
I would love to go to Bhutan, but until the price tag becomes a bit more flexible and allows travelers to chose different levels of spending (or until I’ve won the travel lottery), it won’t be a place I’ll be able to visit, especially with lovely options in neighboring countries that are much more reasonably priced.
Very interesting. Bhutan is a country that I admittedly know virtually nothing about. Very interesting tourism strategy. I know the price tag would probably keep us from going when there are so many cheaper options in the area, but I’ll be interested to see how it all plays out 5, 10, 15 years from now.
Bhutan has been on my list of top places to visit for a while now. However, like Amy said, it’s a little pricey at $240 per day. I’ll have to wait to see if things change there. It would be awesome if you could get a press trip there!
Its on the top 10 places I’d like to visit but it’s a bit out of my price range. Although I’m not complaining, they are handling tourism well and when I have more money I’ll be making my way there.
Interesting! I climbed “illegally” through the hills of Bhutan and Sikkim many years ago – breathtaking!
Never considered Bhutan before reading this….thanks for the info! 🙂