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Bhutan 2018 report

Old Apr 19th, 2018, 02:29 AM
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Bhutan 2018 report

I found advice on this forum useful in planning our trip to Bhutan in April 2018. This trip report is honest pay back, and it may be helpful to others in their planning.

Generally I found it hard to get solid info on places in Bhutan. From an American perspective, that is. It is just that many on the reviews, etc., on trip advisor are from Indians who can freely travel to Bhutan as independent tourists. Americans have to use an agent, and I was just unaware until after this trip how critical it to know what is being suggested...read between the words here people!

We used, snow white tours. Kencho was prompt, responsive and wonderful. I would recommend her. Please read on.

Kencho offered classes of hotels, and I asked the agent to pick "something nice" and kind of left it like that. Don't do that! This is my fault. But at the same time you can't trust the reviews online if you want to judge these places by American standards.

At the last month before leaving, on advice of a friend, I upgraded one hotel. So that leaves me in a special place to compare "Bhutan nice" to "high end nice".

I booked our Druk air flight from KTM online. Easy to do and business class was $60 moreso I did it. Nothing special, but it does give you a bag to check. We never check bags though!

I used my Starwood points to buy a room at Le Meridian Thimphu. A great deal, and a truly 5 star hotel by American standards. Since I did this at the last minute (meaning a month before travel, go figure) the agent could not change my other reservation and give any credit. No big deal. I got the room free. I also lost the meals included with,the package, which in Bhutan appear tied to the hotel. But the agent graciously allowed me to eat in town. The breakfast I just got at the hotel on my own...again my "last minute" change cost me that.

Something I don't get about Bhutan. There are restaurants in towns, but I can't figure who eats there. The package deals include meals that are tied to the hotel...and the food ranges from bad to edible. So since I booked this extra hotel on my own and "lost" my package meals I just went into town and picked something. And let me tell you restaurant good is just a little better than nasty hotel food.

Last edited by jannan; Apr 19th, 2018 at 02:31 AM.
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Old Apr 19th, 2018, 02:42 AM
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So I recommend Le Meridian Thimphu, and if you engineer it right with hotel point free nights its a steal. Just don't do this "last minute" and find out from your agent the credit you get booking on your own. The breakfast there was the best on the trip.

The next hotel was in Punakha. Ah, the Meri Puesnem. So at a base every hotel should have: a) a bed, b) running water, and c) a toilet. I've certainly stayed in places that did not meet these standards. The Meri Puesnem did, barely. The bed was a foam pad, my dorm room futon slept better. The water was hot, and the screen windows and flies made it feel like camping! Maybe it was the feces streaks on the side of the toilet (yes, true), but my American standards say this place did not merit the 3.5 stars Meri Puesnem gets on trip advisor.
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Old Apr 19th, 2018, 02:56 AM
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The next hotel was the Metta Resort in Paro. We were slated to stay here 2 nights. Another room just like the Meri Puesnem. Foam bed, flies, nasty bathroom, bhutans's ubiquotous dogs laying in the courtyard. We did it for a night but I promptly got online, and booked a the next night at Le Meridian Paro...again on points. But I would have paid for it. The Metta sports 3 stars on trip advisor. Nope, I disagree.

Look, the staff at these places were fine. The staff at Meridian were exceptional. All of them were Bhutanese, so its not a culture thing.

I read before the trip about how staying at a Bhutanese hotel enhances the cultural experience. I did meet a Bhutanese official at the Metta and we had a nice conversation. I didn't meet any Bhutanese people staying at the other places, so I'm not sure about the culture argument.
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Old Apr 19th, 2018, 03:06 AM
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Le Meridian Paro is a fabulous 5 star hotel by any standard. I would recommend it. And since I left my prearranged hotel, I lost all my package meals. That was a bonus. We ordered a la carte off the menu at Le Meridian and the food was lovely. I am not a foodie. I don't do haute cuisine, or even mid-haute cuisine, or even places that use haute to describe their cuisine. But in Bhutan every hotel meal was red rice, chicken and bones, some vegetables. All buffet style. I will give my agent some major credit. I told her before trip that I had read where the food was bad. So my guide, at each place, asked the kitchen if they could do a la carte rather than buffet. Sometimes this worked. I truly appreciate the effort, but there is a reason people worldwide don't say "lets go out for Bhutanese food tonight"
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Old Apr 19th, 2018, 03:15 AM
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Now the guide we had was good, spoke English well and was approachable. We structured our trip to do a lot of hiking. Each day for 5 days we did anywhere between 6 and 10 miles. Let me tell you, nothing in Bhutan is flat. And they don't really like switchbacks. And for some reason tantric bhuddist monks built monasteries on tops of 10,000 foot mountains. The hiking was tough! Yet every trail was enjoyable. Except for the trail to Tiger's Nest which is covered in horse manure, horses, and full of clearly physically inactive Indian tourists. Start this trail early to beat the crowds. The long loop at Dochlu Pass is particularly nice.
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Old Apr 19th, 2018, 03:23 AM
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Yes I did get to Nepal. More on that later. But as I type this, I remember a question that is posed a lot: Nepal or Bhutan, and Why Bhutan?

In my book, Bhutan is a place to go for the hiking. Sure, there's a few unique Tibetan style monasteries. But for a first experience to a Bhuddist nation, we liked Myanmar or Thailand better. I liked Nepal better...my wife hated Nepal. We both left Bhutan and said, we probably wouldn't have spent the money to do that again. In fact, I just don't get how the whole tourist scheme in Bhutan works. I certainly chaffed at the lack of transparency. I am used to independent travel. I've used guides well...Myanmar, Egypt, etc. Its just that Bhutan failed to deliver anything that left me wanting more.
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Old Apr 19th, 2018, 04:16 AM
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Thanks for sharing, Jannan. I've certainly thought about visiting Bhutan, but the logistics and the requirements have not made it a priority for me.
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Old Apr 19th, 2018, 05:15 AM
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Thanks for the report - we don't get many on Bhutan. I'm sorry you did not have a better experience. It does sound like it was all about the hotels, and that may have been a communication problem. I went to Bhutan all the way back in 2001, but I went with a high end US tour company (Geo Ex - even though I prefer independent travel) and all our hotels were fine, even then. I agree that one would not go for the food, but it was my impression that the Bhutanese did not eat out much, which would explain the hotel meals.

I did very little hiking in Bhutan, and would certainly not agree that it is the only reason to visit.The scenery was magnificent, the culture interesting and the festivals magnificent - in fact I would not recommend visiting unless you would be seeing festivals.Back then, there was so little tourism, that walking a little way away from our minibus I felt I was back at the beginning of the world.

tripplanner001 - maybe my photos might help you decide - https://kwilhelm.smugmug.com/Travel/Asia-2001
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Old Apr 19th, 2018, 05:12 PM
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Yes the festivals. We were planning to go in March but having just returned from Japan in February, I pushed this trip out. In hindsight waiting would have been good. On the other hand we did see some special ceremonies at one monastery which was nice.

Every traveller is different. So my take on temples, etc. After a few temples or monasteries they all start to run together. Same phenomenon in Egypt with ruins or Rome with churches. The hiking added a good balance for this active traveller. My wife says I have no off switch, so take my report with that in mind!
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Old Apr 19th, 2018, 05:48 PM
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We are all different, but I do appreciate you sharing your perspective with us. We have debated going to Bhutan for years, but still haven't gotten there.
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Old Apr 20th, 2018, 03:32 PM
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Thanks for sharing the photos, Thursdaysd. If there are two reasons I would venture to Bhutan, it would definitely be for the temples and the hiking, but I have a long list of places I haven't reached yet that are higher in priority including Burma and India.
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Old Apr 20th, 2018, 11:08 PM
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Our flight from Paro to Kathmandu was delayed 5 hours because a plane ran off the runway in KTM! Funny, the immigration folks in Paro left after 2 hours, and we passed freely in and out of the "out of country" area into the "in country area". Paro airport is more like a bus stop than an international airport.

The downside of the delay is we lost a good half day in Kathmandu. The upside is I had a long chat with a Nepalese engineer leaving Bhutan for work. A great insight into how big construction is handled in Bhutan versus Nepal. There's a lot of marketing in that Gross National Happiness idea...but it appears the Bhutanese are well meaning.

So we "did" Nepal in 24 hours. Staying at the Hyatt was a plus, because if one gets up at 0430, you can walk to the Boudha Stupak and see it come to life. Its really a must go time, and no ticket counters are open that early. I then walked the back way to Pashipatinath temple, getting there by 0645. Another perfect time to be there. Its an easy downhill walk, just follow the stream of worshipers.

As I just shut up and follow the crowd I found myself "accidentally" in the holy temple starring at Nandi's bull backside. Non Hindus aren't supposed to go there, and a curious police officer asked for my ticket. Playing dumb helps. Buying a ticket to Pashipatinath is a waste as you can walk around the side of the temple (where I wasn't supposed to be) and see cremation area and various shrines for free.
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Old Apr 20th, 2018, 11:16 PM
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A quick $4 cab ride back to the Hyatt for the amazing breakfast and on to Swayambhunath. An hour is plenty for me to get too many wonderful photos. A ticket here is worth the price. Some haggling with the taxi guys and we ended up in Patan Durbar as a water/rice festival was taking place. The $10 entry fee is a complete waste here unless you want to go in the museum. One could easily walk around the backside of the Durbar, around the ongoing earthquake repair work, and see it all without a pass. Plus all the festival activity was happening just beside, in the "free" area. Lots of great photos, a quick swing to a golden temple, and back in the cab...45 minutes total.
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Old Apr 20th, 2018, 11:25 PM
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Backing up a moment, our flight did finally arrive from Paro into KTM around 1. We got to the Hyatt around 2, long enough to drop the bags and take the free Hyatt shuttle to Thamel. Now this is where my wife gave up on Kathmandu. The place is insanely crowded, filthy, with air so bad my eyes burn. Dodging motorscooters was too much for her. We followed the Lonley Planet walking tour which was nice, and did a run through in the Durbar. 2 hours was enough to test her limits, so we headed back to the oasis at the Hyatt, which has a top notch restaurant.

So there you have it. It's not for everyone, but that's a way to do some highlights of Kathmandu in 24 hours. For me, I would like to poke around the valley some more. My wife is more,than happy to let me do that myself!
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Old Jun 16th, 2018, 09:28 PM
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Yikes. Thanks for your trip report. I was considering a trip next year, but not so sure about it now. Especially, we are used to independent travel and if we ended up in one of those low-end resorts my less-adventurous wife would never forget it.
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Old Jun 17th, 2018, 08:10 AM
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nhulberg refers to the standard Bhutanese hotel as a "low end resort." Be aware that is the kind of lodging you get for your minimum $300 per day in Bhutan. If you want places that are of a western standard you will pat a lot for them.
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Old Aug 4th, 2018, 04:30 AM
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Hi, Jannan. It's a shame that your tour provider wasn't as transparent with you as I had quite a different experience.

The problem with Bhutan is that the cost of travel is expensive and a lot of tour providers are not transparent (adding high premiums), often not flexible with itineraries (especially those that cater for group tours) and it's simply hard to gage which providers are right for you (I discovered it's not necessarily the big famous tour companies).

I typically travel without guides and am not a fan of joining group tours but in Bhutan it's a requirement to travel with a registered guide (unless you are from India / Maldives / Bangladesh) and the main reason for this is to ensure Bhutan doesn't become another Nepal / Lao where tourism has destroyed parts of the country and beautiful scenery.

In terms of food, I love to try local food and was disappointed with the hotel food / "continental" tourist food restaurants (serving Asian food for the tourist palate) that was initially in my itinerary. I asked our guide to take us to some local places and this was done without any additional cost. For more special meals e.g. yak burgers, we did pay ourselves but we were happy to do that. First of all, I love spicy and I enjoyed the local food but I discovered why I couldn't have local food all the time. The Bhutanese love their chili and 4/5 of their dishes would be very spicy. We did a farmhouse stay and we discovered that for locals, they would have spicy chili food for breakfast.

I think Bhutan is a really special place but just make sure you speak with some providers and choose the right provider. I don't want to be biased but I had quite a different experience and I loved Bhutan so much that I ended up partnering with my tour provider to deliver more genuine travel experiences to Bhutan. I'd be more than happy to answer any questions (as a tour provider or just someone who enjoyed their travels in Bhutan)!
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Old Aug 5th, 2018, 10:28 PM
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It's just a shame that your experience was not so good. I'm from Brazil and already traveled a lot but I'm living in Bhutan for the past 8 months. I can assure you that Bhutan has amazing 3-star hotels also. The problem here is that the 3-star hotels have a huge difference in prices and as they are already included in the daily fee, some travel agencies get the cheapest ones.
Regarding the food, usually, hotels offer continental food and they are not very good in general. I recommend asking your tour operator to book local restaurants (which they can do) and try some Bhutanese food. There will be lots of rice, chilies and cheese but they are very good and way better than hotel food. In case, you want good western food, I recommend you to pay a dinner in a 5-star hotel.
Bhutan has amazing hikes, beautiful monasteries and an incredible people and culture. If you are a traveler interested in this kind of things, I recommend a visit to Bhutan.

In case anyone needs some help here, I would be glad to help, as someone that lives in Bhutan and understands the lack of information regarding this country

Last edited by Moderator3; Aug 6th, 2018 at 04:30 AM.
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