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Planning A Trip To Bhutan

Bhutan has long been on my travel bucket list.  Nestled in the foothills of the Himalays, this magical kingdom still remains a mystery to many travellers.  I was first tempted by Bhutan when a friend regaled me of her journey with Druk Air (the Bhutanese national airline) and how it has one of the most dangerous airports in the world to land in.  The runway sits surrounded by mountains up to 18,000 ft and pilots can only fly in during daylight hours with a visual approach.

Cut forward 8 years, when Mr Jetlag was lucky enough to get some time off between jobs, I asked him where he would like to go for a once in a lifetime adventure.  Catching him off guard as he was thinking (probably about a beach in Thailand), I informed him ‘I know where you’ve always wanted to go to, Bhutan – right?’  He vaguely nodded, which was enough to send me into a travel frenzy for the next few hours.  It was only later that I heard him explaining to friends that he wasn’t exactly sure where Bhutan was but knew it would make me happy.  

One of the reasons Bhutan has managed to maintain its air of mystery is that it is an expensive place to visit. The Bhutan Government requests that visitors pay a ‘minimum daily package’ which ranges from USD 200 to 250 per night.  A large part of this can go towards your accommodation, meals, guide etc but essentially USD 65 of this is for the social and physical welfare of Bhutan.  We decided to leave Mesdames Jetlag & Mayhem at home for this one as traveling as a family of four in Bhutan would have made our trip even more expensive plus I knew they would get temple fatigue fairly early on!  

Planning our trip

You aren’t allowed to just book a ticket, pack your Lonely Planet Bhutan guide and wander around Bhutan.  All tourists must be accompanied by a Tour Guide, whether that’s a private or group tour.  Living in Hong Kong, I have access to a fountain of travel knowledge, known as the ‘HK Mums’ Facebook group. Within minutes of posting I had received several replies.  The one that grabbed my attention was a very kind lady who had just returned from a Bhutan trip in February.  She recommended Tharchu Drukpa from Happiness Journey Bhutan, a guide with extensive experience who had recently started his own booking company. I contacted him through Facebook and he was incredibly responsive and helpful. Not only will he act as your guide but he will book your entire trip for you from the flights to the hotels and visa (all tourists excluding Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian passport holders require one).  I originally started with six nights but amended this once I realized we had to spend a night in Bangkok and basically handed over the itinerary planning to him.  

Our trip was not cheap. For six days and five nights, our trip cost approx. USD $6,000.  This included 5 nights accommodation at 5* hotels, airfare, visa, all meals, dedicated English-speaking guide and driver, car, entrance fees, tea & snacks, water and all taxes.  You could certainly make this trip cheaper if you wanted to stay at 3* hotels and also visited during off-season. Apparently airfares don’t fluctuate much and are pretty pricey (USD 600 per person from Bangkok).  

I’m normally an ‘over planner’ (you should see the spreadsheets for our annual US road trips). So it was actually very relaxing to hand over the reigns to Tharchu and wait to be surprised on arrival. The only part I hard to organise were our flights from Hong Kong to Bangkok.  Druk Air has a limited flight schedule departing only from 10 locations, including Bangkok and Singapore (the latter apparently is more expensive and not daily).  We chose to fly via Bangkok and used our Cathay air miles to book flights. It took about 48 hours for Tharchu from Happiness Journey Bhutan to book our entire trip.  Leaving us to get on with the business of planning our relocation to Singapore and counting down the days till our trip to Bhutan.

Packing

Packing was relatively straightforward (it always is when there aren’t kids involved!).  Tharchu advised us the temperature would range from 15 to 28 degrees with a small chance of rain. We also packed hiking boots for the hike up to the Tiger’s Nest but you could do this in trainers with decent grip.  I recommend layers for visiting the temples as you will need to dress modestly (no shorts and arms must be covered).  We also got USD to use for gratuities and souvenirs etc.

 

On the day we left, we kissed our kids goodbye.  ‘Are you climbing Everest?’ my 8 year old asked.  Not quite but we were actually going to be touching the Himalayas.. good enough for me!  And with that we set off for our Bhutan adventure.. stay tuned for more…

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