Ten Tips to Have the Holiday of a Lifetime in Bhutan

by Keshav Gurung.

So you have decided to visit the tiny Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. And, sure, you may be willing to pay the hefty government imposed high season tariff of US$ 250 per tourist per day to visit Bhutan, but can you make sure the trip will be worth every penny? Here are ten tips to make your dream come true.

1. Choose the Type of Holiday. This may seem obvious but there are a lot of factors involved. Are you the relaxed type who would just love a luxurious car and an English speaking guide at your service? Or are you the adventurous, sportsman type who would just love to take on any challenge the Himalayan trekking routes can throw at you? Or is it local festivals you wish to partake in? Whichever takes your fancy, this decision is primary.

2. Pick a 'Credible' Tour Operator: The travel agent you pick (especially as it is mandatory to have a travel agent and a package itinerary before reaching Bhutan) is crucial to how your holiday goes. You may find an agent through a friend's personal recommendation, a travel review online or simply through a Google search. Check his credentials. Does he have many Google+ followers, Google likes or any other social media such as Facebook and Twitter followers? Is the agent allowing himself to be visible? Is his picture there, does he have Google authorship? If he does, then this should mean that yes, the agent, through the website, is reliable and known to many other users.

3. Study Your Operator through your Email Correspondence: Your first inkling of the travel operator's qualities comes from the emails you would begin exchanging to decide your holiday details.
Is your agent prompt in responding to your emails?
Is he personal or detached and answering for the sake of answering you
Does he take your personal needs into question?
Does he seem honest about all costs that will be incurred on this trip? After all you are already paying US$ 250 (or US$ 200 low season) per day per person on this trip. Ask him about student discounts, large group concessions, and any other similar benefits you could get. Including on airfares. You may be surprised to learn that there are a lot of discounts that may apply to you such as 1 person free (including airfare) for a group more than 15 persons.
Ask about the guide and driver you will be provided with. After all it is the guide who will be with you throughout the entire duration of the trip and can make or break your holiday.

4. Do Some Online Research: Find out more about Bhutan, from the eyes of travelers who have been there. There may be some who love the place, yet others who were not so satisfied. Check out some travel websites like Trip Advisor and feel free to ask questions from travel lovers who would simply love to answer your queries. Read articles online, decide which part of the travel experiences you wish to include as your own when you get to Bhutan. Possibly, some festivals are exactly the type you would enjoy observing, one example could be the Gom Kora festival where young girls meet potential life partners while circumambulating a Buddhist chorten in the late hours of the night. Or, it might also be you would like to tackle what has been called by some the "world's most difficult trek"- the Snow Man Trek which goes to the very base of the Himalayas.

5. Choose your ports of entry to Bhutan: This includes choosing where you wish to board the Druk Air flight to Bhutan and also when you leave Bhutan where you wish to land. The choices available to you include Bangkok, New Delhi, Kolkota and Kathmandu. This may be relevant to you should you wish to follow the holiday in Bhutan by stopping in Nepal, India or Thailand for more vacation time or simply for shopping purposes. Many Bhutanese travel agents can arrange tours, accommodation, guide and transport in these countries as well through their partners there. You should ask your operator if you do have such plans as just mentioned.

6. Plan Your Itinerary Well: If you have been to Bhutan before then you most probably will know whether you wish to go to new places you have not been or go to the same places you had so much fun before. More likely, this may be your first time. Then, having gone through step 4 above, this is the time either you choose a readymade package on your agent's website or tailor-make one based on your wishes and your agent's advice. Some may not just be feasible yet your agent might make it for you. By not feasible here I mean that it would be just too hectic an itinerary, jumping from sight to sight, place to place. It just would not be worth it if you are so tired that all you're looking forward to at the end of the day is getting into bed. Your holiday should offer you the joys and sights of Bhutan but not at the cost of your enthusiasm.

7. Begin your pre-holiday measures: Bhutan is a very safe, hygienic place but one can never be sorry for taking precautions. What locals may be immune to, you may not be. You did not come to Bhutan to check out her hospitals. Unless you're a visiting doctor. So take any shots that are recommended by your agent or doctor and update your medical insurance. Altitude sickness does happen (even Thimphu is 2300 at 300 meters altitude) but not common.

8. Keep Documents Ready: Bhutan is a country where the rules dictate that not even the visa can be processed until the payment for the entire trip has come through. The tour also has to be booked through a local Bhutanese agent. The payment is in fact withheld by the government's Tourism Council of Bhutan and released to the operator only after the guest has left the country, happily satisfied and without any complaints. Thus, soon after you pay for your holiday, your agent would email you your visa and Druk Air ticket for whichever port of entry you have chosen to leave for Bhutan. Keep these documents safe and ready though they are replaceable being electronic versions. Better to have these documents all available to you online so all you would need in terms of emergency is internet access.

9. What about Money?: Your holiday being all paid up for you would still require money for small expenses or large, depending on your shopping urges. Once you land in Paro, Bhutan (only international airport in Bhutan) your guide and vehicle will be waiting to welcome you to Bhutan. In Bhutan, the only expenses would be on alcohol, and souvenirs and gifts that you purchase and possibly a small tip at the end of your stay that you feel the guide and driver may deserve. The three star certified hotels (the only type you will be put in as made sure by the Tourism Council) all accept the major credit cards and travelers checks are available, not because of high instances of crime but anyone can lose money through sheer accident. You could keep a reasonable amount of ready cash on your body at any time such as 2000 Ngultrums (US$ 30) which will more than cover any basic eventuality.

10. Ready? You have your tickets ready, your visa on hand and you are at the counter and soon are about to board the Druk Air flight to Bhutan. Even before you view the magnificent Himalayas and possibly even Mt. Everest first hand, remember to do the following:
Leave your worries behind you, put on a big smile, take a deep breath, and get ready to enter the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon. Welcome to Bhutan!!

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