Bhutan. Is. Amazing.

We arrived in Bhutan yesterday, after spending three nights in Kathmandu. Typically I’d wait until I’ve been at a destination for a few days before sharing my initial thoughts, but Bhutan is unlike any place I’ve ever been. I’m actually sort of in disbelief, as I feel like I’m on a different planet.

Not only is the scenery in Bhutan incredible, but the people are even more amazing. For those of you not familiar with Bhutan, it’s a one-of-a-kind place. It’s supposedly the only carbon negative country in the world. They supposedly don’t kill any animals (though they import meat from other places, including India). Many say that Bhutanese people are the happiest in the world. Simply put, this is the most unspoiled country I’ve been to; I feel so at peace and relaxed.

Bhutan has a ton of temples and other sights, as you’d expect.

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On top of that, the landscape is stunning, Yesterday we drove from Paro to Thimphu, and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the landscape was the entire way.

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Today we had lofty sightseeing goals, though unfortunately it snowed for the first time in a year. It snowed hard, too, which at least made for some beautiful views.

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At first I thought that was a bummer, given our limited time here. Apparently the first day of snow every year is a holiday, so everything was closed.

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Much to my surprise, seemingly everyone was in the streets having snowball fights. Kids, adults, etc. They’d even throw snowballs at cars. I’ve never in my life heard so much laughter.

We visited a nunnery, with dozens of nuns and monks there. As we walked up they were having a snowball fight. Yes, the nuns and the monks. And they hit me right in the face with a snowball and laughed.

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Seriously, I can’t do justice to the spirit of the people in Bhutan. For example, in Thimphu, hundreds of seniors sit outside in a park all day socializing while their kids are at work, and then their kids pick them up when they’re done with work for the day. It’s essentially a self regulated day care for seniors.

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While I can’t say with certainty that Bhutanese people the “happiest” on earth, I don’t ever recall hearing so much laughter and seeing so many smiles in one place.

I truly feel like I’m in some alternative universe that’s completely disconnected from all the bad things going on in the world. Again, I’ve only been here for a day, and I’m sure there are plenty of problems here. But it sure doesn’t feel that way.

What an incredible, incredible place. If it hasn’t been on your list, I’d put it right near the top. It’s even a great destination for points enthusiasts, as there two Le Meridien properties here.

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All that being said, I should mention two challenges of visiting Bhutan:

  • It’s a pain to get to, as Paro Airport is only served by two airlines, and neither are part of any alliance
  • It’s expensive just to be here, as there’s a tourist tariff of $175 per person per night (if traveling as a party of two), which is crazy; on the plus side, this includes a guide and driver who stays with us for the entire stay, so it’s not quite as bad as I was expecting, as you’re getting considerable value out of it.

If you can swing it, visit Bhutan! I can’t wait for the rest of my time here.

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. I’ve been thinking about going to Bhutan for awhile, but your posts prompted me to make it a reality. So I just booked an award ticket to Delhi around Thanksgiving with the intent of spending a few days in India to see the Taj Mahal and then going to Bhutan for some trekking and sightseeing. As a bonus, I added in a long layover in Seoul, so I can get some KBBQ too.

  2. if you stay at the regular hotels the per day cost also covers your lodging and all of your meals. In the end I thought it was a bargain. But I was there solo so it was relatively cheap as I had the same hotel room, vehicle, guide, driver as a couple would have, but they would have essentially paid twice as much.

    A lot of people romanticize Bhutan. As you mention it does have its problems. The solid waste issue was a major, burgeoning thing when I was there several years ago as trash was just piled up everywhere. Hopefully they’ve gotten a handle on that. There’s also the Nepali refugee issue. And the migrant workers from India who build and repair the roads live in pretty shocking conditions. And lots of young people have left the villages to go to Thimphu or Paro looking for jobs which has created some problems.

  3. It’s a very special place. But there is an evil empire just north of it that eyes it and all other peaceful nations close by with a greedy look.

  4. @Lucky, would the Bhutanese culture be OK with me traveling around Bhutan with my 3 year old daughter as my husband is on a business trip to the US? (Married woman, travelling solo with my child?)

  5. Looks like there’s someone above who’s trying to stir up a fight with his hostile rhetoric…

  6. @keitherson ”
    “If you liked Bhutan, you should check out Myanmar. Very similar sights and culture.”

    Do you mean this Myanmar?
    ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
    “Karate and wooden guns: How new insurgent group stoked Myanmar crisis”

    “The emergence of Harakah al Yaqin, the first Rohingya Muslim insurgent group to organize in Myanmar in decades, signals a dangerous new phase in a crisis that is increasingly attracting the attention of extremists in Pakistan and the Middle East.

    Communal tensions have long-festered in northwestern Rakhine State, where 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims live in apartheid-like conditions, often despised by the Buddhist majority. Serious ethnic clashes erupted in 2012, but the recent violence is the first sign of a Rohingya insurgency entrenching itself inside Rakhine since at least the early 1990s.

    On Oct. 9, Harakah al-Yaqin – Arabic for “Faith Movement” – launched three coordinated attacks on separate police border posts, killing nine officers. The group claimed responsibility for the attacks in videos posted online.

    The security operation launched by the military in response has been beset by allegations of mass killings and gang rapes that the United Nations says may constitute crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.”
    ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
    Somehow that doesn’t seem “peaceful and relaxed”, much less the “happiest place on earth”. 😉

    Bhutan, however, does sound wonderful, even though I won’t be going anytime soon because:
    It’s much harder to get there than even the Maldives
    It’s priced like Sardinia’s Costa Porto Cervo in the off season
    Drukair doesn’t serve Krug
    You are liable to get hit in the face by a snowball thrown by a monk

    Other than that, it would be a the top of my bucket list… 😉

  7. No miles redemption when I went. Pricey but people are wonderful. It was the original inspiration for Sangri La.

    The sights are impressive, Eagle Nest. That creek by the airport is awesome.
    Luckily the trashy tourists , who dont appreciate true beauty , are not able to afford this place or simply not interested.

  8. Really? A country with incredible uniformity, incredibly strict border controls and rule of law is a very peaceful and happy place where people respect each other? Who’d have thunk it?

  9. I second raksiam’s comment that a lot of people romanticized Bhutan. A very famous celebrity couple from Hong Kong got married there after dating for more than 15 years.

  10. I love Bhutan as well and though some people disagree with how they handle tourism (via expensive fees per person) I’m ok with it as long as its people are able to retain its culture.

  11. “You are liable to get hit in the face by a snowball thrown by a monk.”

    Too funny. Thanks for the chuckle, @Robert Hanson.

  12. Go to Bangkok/Thailand during Song Kran and you’ll hear just as much laughter. It’ll be in a month from now or so. Basically a giant country wide water fight.

  13. My partner and I went to Bhutan two years ago and loved it. We arranged it through Virtuoso (David O), who actually put us in touch with a partner of theirs who arranged a five-night trip there between Thimpo, Paro, and Punakha (the “big three” that most visitors see if there are time constraints). Frankly I felt it was very easy to set up, logistically, just had to be in Bankgok the night before as the flight from BKK-DAC-PBH left VERY early in the a.m.

    I left with a much more nuanced view of the place – I am in no means saying you are in any way *wrong* with your perceptions, just that mine were more “Lovely place, lovely people, exceptional service at the hotels, and the same challenges all countries/cities have as well” perceptions.

    Would I go back? Maybe. But I certainly wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

  14. I agree that Bhutan is unique; there are no elevators or stop lights, and it has to be the most Buddhist place on earth. Tiger’s Nest is one of the greatest man-made sites on the planet. It’s safe, beautiful, and most interesting. And then, there’s the royal couple…

  15. I was there last June for 11 days, and your post brought back all the previous and cherishable memories I had there. Thank you.

  16. I am very happy to know that you have finally touched down on my beautiful country. I have been following you for the pass two years with my SPG link. People will always have complaints about people country places they visit but for me Bhutan is the best and on top of the world. Do visit again and let me know if I could be of any assistance or if you want to look at Bhutan through the eyes of 66 year old man.

  17. Thank god there’s an SPG presence there, right? Might be a deterrent otherwise to you visiting.

  18. In the 1990s, Bhutan did an ethnic cleansing to rid itself of minority groups (mostly Nepali ethnic groups who tended to be a Hindu). Over 100k Bhutanese were displaced and lived in refugee camps, primarily in Nepal and have not been allowed to return.

  19. i am from Taiwan, and I hope USA does not meddle in the affairs of this country like they have messed up half of the globe, including the breakup of a country like China and Taiwan, North and South Vietnam, North and South Korea, all in the grandiose facade of democracy and freedom of the people in their country.

  20. @Deanna: Buddhism does not dictate personal lives or play any role in public domain. Only in Middle East where women are not allowed to travel solo without male relatives or spouses.

  21. I would be travelling from Bangalore to Bhutan next week via kolkaya, very much excited to visit this place. I wish could play with some snow.

  22. @MFK If you’re planning to go to Delhi around Thanksgiving, I’d suggest it be around the festival of Diwali which is October 19 this year. Its the biggest festival in the country.

  23. Havn’t been to Bhutan but my Dad worked on creating their Tourism plan as part of an Asian Development Bank project 15 years back. The main guiding principle was to keep the backpackers out. Those who would come on budget airlines, stay at shared rooms in dorms and just hike. These folks would not contribute anything to the economy but would introduce harmful influences. The aim of the govt was to get the dollar inflow from a limited number of rich tourists so that maximum benefit to economy could happen with minimum impact on society (Definitely want to avoid becoming the next Dharamshala or the next Bangkok). Initially it was decided to have a strict limit (500 or 1000) on the number of tourist visas issued but later on a black market started to emerge on the visas so it was changed to a fixed amount everyday needs to be spent( a rich tourist would spend that much anyway but it would deter the backpackers).
    Of course the flaw in the plan is that since Bhutan is a protectorate of India, Indians can visit without any restrictions. (In return the Bhutanese dont have to waste money on an army as the Indian Army guards their borders with China.) But it means that low class Indian tourists can come and spoil the culture (I am Indian myself but there is a class of Indian tourists who are embarrassing for all Indians).
    Thankfully Bhutan is not yet popular in India as there are many natural beauty spots more easily reachable in India so the hordes have not turned up.

  24. @Jon No wonder the people in Bhutan are happy, they kicked out all the ethnic and religious minorities that they didn’t like…DT fans must be so jealous.

    @Christine Pham That isn’t true for all the Middle East, sweetie.

  25. Actually, the tariff is more expensive than that, you get a discount because of the starwood hotel rate.

  26. I have found a very similar spirit in Oman, which is my favorite country in the world, excluding mine: very relaxed feeling, people are very soft about time, the pace is slow, the country is in good relations with all the neighbours, the law is not as strict as in the rest of the region, and people have a very active interest in talking with foreigners.

    Regarding sightseeing, Buthan is very nice, but I have yet to find any mountain area with better sights than the Italian Dolomites. Not Himalaya, not the New Zealand Alps… probably only the Torres del Paine, though their beauty is different.

  27. Love, love, love Butan. An incredible country with lovely friendly people. To all the naysayers who complain about the various policies enforced by the Government, that they find offensive, two comments: look to your own domestic policies and secondly, it does appear to be working for Bhutan.

    Thanks you for your mini review. It is not easy, logistically to get to Bhutan, but oh so worth the effort. Go. Just. Go.

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