Bhutan?

Old Dec 7th, 2003, 06:46 PM
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Bhutan?

I'm very interested in going to Bhutan next year. I've read the info on the Kingdom of Bhutan website, and have sent an email to the travel agency listed there (used to be government-owned). I don't like group travel, so am interested in a customized trip for two, with a focus on cultural experiences.

I know several of you on this site have been to Bhutan, what can you tell me about starting the planning process? What travel agency did you use?

Thanks for any information you can offer.
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Old Dec 8th, 2003, 09:05 AM
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We took a trip to Bhutan in May 2002 and had a tremendous experience. Not wanting to join a group either, we asked Geographic Expeditions to create a custom trip for two. GeoEx has very strong relationships in Bhutan, and they were able to arrange a guide and driver to accompany us for our two week trip. We even had a mini-trek in the Bumthang (4 days) arranged for the two of us. It was a very intimate way to see the country, particularly as our guide was a Buddhist lama -- his insights and impressions made the trip very special.

Bhutan is not an inexpensive place to travel, given the hefty per day fee on visitors imposed by the government. That said, it is worth every penny. The fee keeps the number of visitors down. We went for multiple days without seeing other westerners (granted, this was in the year after 9/11, when travel was down). Visiting Bhutan was almost like time travel -- it really felt as though we were visiting another era.

The key in a place like Bhutan is a good guide who is focused on the things of most interest to you. When you talk with an operator, be sure to explain exactly what type of cultural experiences you are looking for, so that they can choose a guide whose expertise is appropriate.

If your interest in cultural experiences extends to interacting with local people in their own environment, I would highly recommend that you include Bumthang on your itinerary. We stayed at the Yangphel Guesthouse near Jakar, which we loved. Our trek took us through the central region near there; we hiked through remote villages and had the chance to see the people doing what they do (not catering to visitors). It was a magical place.

In any case, my best advice in terms of starting the planning process would be to call Brent Olsen at Geographic Expeditions (contact info on their website).

Bhutan is a phenomenal experience -- truly the trip of a lifetime.
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Old Dec 9th, 2003, 07:04 AM
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Kathie--

You might also contact Far Fung Places in S.F.--they specialize in Bhutan travel.

Pete
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Old Dec 10th, 2003, 05:59 AM
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Thanks for the recommendations. I knew about Far Fung Places but thought they only did group tours. I'll check their website again.
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Old Dec 10th, 2003, 08:31 PM
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Kathie, I wish I had some personal insite to share, but hopefully sometime next year I will. In the meantime, I've been pouring over every bit of material I can find with the hopes of doing the same sort of customized trip for 2 or 3.

This site may be one you've already found but if not, you may find it useful. It's the official tourism site for Bhutan. The page is specifically a list of every authorized guide/tour company in Bhutan.

http://www.tourism.gov.bt/tourco.html

What I'm finding is that most of these make mention of a flat $200 per person per day fee, plus a surcharge of $30 per person per day for groups of 3 or less.

All other companies, US based, India based, etc will ultimately pass you over to one of the in-country companies on this list. When I've look at some of the Western tour companies land only prices and divide by days in the itinerary, I've seen some pretty healthy markups.

I think we'll probably deal direct ourselves but I suppose if the US group tour outfit working as an agency can provide some recourse in case something goes awry, then that might be an advantage in their favor.

Still so much to figure out.
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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 05:06 AM
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Author: Ben
Date: 12/11/2003, 08:59 am
Message: We will be traveling to Bhutan in a couple of weeks. We made our arrangements directly with the Bhutanese operator, Exotic Destinations. So far, our contact has been very accommodating with our requests, and he was highly recommended to us. The email is [email protected]. We are paying $165 per person for the low season rate, for our family of four. This is a customized trip for our family.



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Old Dec 11th, 2003, 05:58 AM
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Ben, I will be most interested to hear about your trip when you return.

My thought had been to go with a Bhutanese company, so I'll check out exotic destinations.

Clifton, I've also been doing some research, and have found the same standard prices as you have. I have heard that there are some "extra charges" depending on exactly where you want to go and what you want to do. If anyone has more info on this, I'd be interested.
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Old Dec 19th, 2003, 01:51 PM
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I am going to Bhutan April '04. We are using Insiders' Bhutan (highly recommended by authors of the book "Blessings of Bhutan"). They have been flexible working with our requests and are helping arrange our flights afterwards to Kathmandu and New Delhi, too. Travel in Bhutan must be via a registered tour co. found on the website http://www.tourism.gov.bt/tourco.html. Other (non-Bhutanese) tour co's must use the same official co's so you may as well go straight to the source. We formed our own travel group of 3-4 people and our 11 day trip includes the 5 day Druk Path Trek. Peak (least rainy) travel seasons are Spring and Fall. If you plan to travel in the Spring, you should contact a tour company soon to make your flight arrangements into Paro via Druk Air. It is the only airline with only limited schedules. Good luck! We've been busy doing research for our own trip. EJ
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Old Dec 19th, 2003, 05:12 PM
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Thanks. I'm thinking of Bhutan for November, so am well on my way with research. I do have the list of Bhutan tour companies, as well as the Lonely Planet guide. I'll be interested to hear of peopel's experiences with the various Bhutanese companies. If we go, we'll fly in from Bangkok, one of Druk Air's stops.
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Old May 31st, 2004, 07:04 AM
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Thanks to everyone (especially WinterTravel) for the great tips offered in this thread. My husband and I have had Bhutan or Nepal near the top of our trip list for awhile.

- Sharon
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Old Jun 1st, 2004, 04:24 PM
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I was in Bhutan in 1996 and it remains my very favorite place. At the time we booked through the "official" agency called Bhutan Travel in NYC. The in-country agency was called Etho Metho and they were very good. If you contact them directly, you can probably arrange for independent travel. If not, I can give you the name of our guide who, I'm sure, would be happy to help you out. He was great! If you'd like more info, please let me know.

Nov should be a perfect time to go. Their Teschus are remarkable and a once in a lifetime memory!
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Old Jun 2nd, 2004, 07:54 AM
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We went to Bhutan at the very beginning of January, using Exotic Destinations. We had a private tour with just our family of four, so we were able to plan our own itinerary. We had a bit of a mix-up with our visa clearance with Druk Air (we had to stay a few extra days in Kathmandu - not really a big deal, but some added hassle). We traveled to the festival in Trongsa, which was wonderful. Unlike the larger festivals in the spring in Paro and Thimphu, the Trongsa festival in January is attended by no more than a handful of tourists (about half a dozen while we were there). I would advise limiting the time in Thimphu (the least interesting part of our trip) and focus on other locations. We thought that January was a great time to visit because there were so few tourists (we saw no more than a dozen during our week long trip in Bhutan) and many of the dzongs were more "open" to us than is generally the case in the spring and fall. Also, the best views of the Himalayas are in December and January - breathtaking! The only downside is that the hotels and guesthouses do not have heat, and hot water is intermittent at best. Daytime temperatures are pleasant, but the nights are quite cold.
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Old Jun 14th, 2005, 04:54 AM
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Ben, I'm thinking of going to the Trongsa festival this year. If you're still around, can I ask you some questions about it? Thanks.
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