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Trip Report Craig and Jeane Visit the Last Shangri La: Bhutan 2012

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FIRST, SOME BACKGROUND:

Jeane and I are in our mid to late 50’s and have travelled extensively, concentrating on Asia since our first visit to Thailand in the year 2000. Since then we have visited India, Bali, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

We had considered Bhutan as a travel destination on several occasions but were hesitant to commit on account of the mandatory daily minimum cost, the requirement that visitors be accompanied by a guide and the perception that the accommodations in Bhutan were somewhat lacking in quality. A little over a year ago, Jeane and I were debating about where to go next. I remembered that “Robbietravels” had written a very positive trip report on her 2007 journey to Bhutan, India and Thailand. I searched for it on this forum and reread it. In her report, Robbie raved about Snow White Tours and how Kencho, the owner would explain things in detail, go out of her way to accommodate any special requests and make a concerted effort to reserve the best hotel rooms available. I had spent some time with Robbie and her husband, Fred a few years ago at a Fodor’s GTG in Pasadena, California. From that experience, I knew we had similar travel styles and that I did not have to look any further for an agent.

I talked it over with Jeane and she gave me the go-ahead to start my research. I sent an e-mail to Kencho inquiring about an itinerary in late October/early November that would include at least one festival. We went back and forth with some questions and settled on an 11-night cultural tour itinerary which would include some day hikes and 2 festivals. Kencho also informed me that the daily minimum would rise in 2012 to $250 per person per day plus a surcharge of $30 per person per day for a private tour. Airfare from Delhi or Bangkok on Druk Air, the national airline would be extra.

Before making a final commitment to Kencho, we had to secure our flights in business class using miles. Jeane thought it might be nice to say that we had flown around the world so our plan was to fly east to Delhi, continue to Paro, Bhutan for our tour and then depart Paro for Bangkok, continuing east to Hartford. We ended up booking two separate itineraries, both “saver” fares through United using both 330-day windows for advance flight reservations. Our plan was to rent a car, drive to JFK and take Lufthansa to Delhi via Frankfort, spending 2 nights in Delhi before continuing on to Paro. On the return, the plan was to fly Paro to Bangkok, spend the night in Bangkok, then fly to Beijing, Washington Dulles and Hartford, taking a taxi home.

With our overseas flights in place, we were ready to reserve our Druk Air flights with Kencho. We had to wait a while for the flight schedules to be released but once they were, Kencho booked seats in business class for us. As each leg became available, we wired funds to her for payment. The cost for Delhi-Paro was $478 per person and the cost for Paro-Bangkok was $490 per person, a slight premium over the cost of economy class. About 3 months prior to our tour, Kencho sent us an invoice for the full cost of the tour along with a form to fill out so that we could receive our Visa Letter. We wired the funds for the tour and received our Visa Letter via e-mail about a month later. Wiring funds to Bhutan was easy. Kencho provided all of the necessary bank info and confirmed receipt within a day or two of the transfers.

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