Photos by Tamara Sanderson
A nation that has long been on many travel bucket lists, Bhutan is a kingdom with many charms. Famous for its approach to tourism as one of ‘low volume, high value’, it means you won’t find any backpacker-style (read: budget) travel. All visitors will need to pay a levy, making it appear as one of the world’s most expensive destinations. However, what you do get for your US$250 a day tariff (US$200 in low season from June to August) includes 3-star hotel accommodation, 3 meals a day, a professional guide and transport. If you’re Thai, the levy for their low season is only US$65 a day. And there is no limit to tourist visas issued.
While Bhutan embraces global develop-ments, which is especially apparent in the rise of uber-luxury accommodations, its foot is firmly planted in its centuries-old traditions and Buddhist culture.
Here you’ll find locals dressed in their national attire (the “gho” for men and the “kira” for women), where colourful ancient monasteries – with their colourful tsechus
(dance festivals) – are part of everyday life, and archery is a national sport where men show off their machismo at traditional tournaments. Bhutan is also a little quirky: their rice is red, they measure economic growth with “Gross National Happiness”, and locals paint colourful giant penises outside their houses as protective charms.
Mountains feature greatly during a trip to Bhutan, and trekking is an excellent way to see the country. For those on a high-end package, a trekking tour involves both camping and 5-star accommodation, with all luggage and camp gear transported by a support crew. Treks range from easy trails (like the easy 3-day Bumthang Cultural Trek) to the 25-day Snowman Trek which takes you to the high altitudes of the Bhutanese Himalayas. No trip to Bhutan is complete without a 2-3 hour trek to the famous Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang Monastery) which is perched precariously on a cliff.
By law, 60% of the country is forested, with mountain meadows resplendent with rhododendron blossom in spring. Bhutan’s gradual approach to development has largely been successful in avoiding the social and environmental destruction wreaked in other developing countries. From its impressive architecture and mountain scenery to its friendly hospitable locals, it’s a destination that even the most seasoned traveller considers a privilege to visit.