With laws prohibiting smoking, billboards, plastic bags, traffic lights, the support of Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product, Bhutan is unlike any other nation. It’s uniqueness coupled with superb Himalayan trekking, authentic Buddhist culture, and astonishing bio-diversity, it is surprising that Bhutan sees less than 20,000 tourists a year. This is because like all other aspects of the nation, Bhutan has a different way of doing things.
To enter Bhutan there is a 200 USD a day minimum and an extra 40 USD a day if traveling solo. OUCH! This is enough to deter your average budget minded solo traveler but is not simply a fee paid for nothing in return. If you can stomach the tariff, it buys your accommodation, food, driver, guide and all entrance fees to temples/tourists sites or treks you might do. There is a lower rate for travel during the off season as well. All tour companies are roughly the same cost and must be licensed by the government to ensure quality service. Hotels are generally of the three star variety which would suit most backpackers just fine.
During my two weeks in Bhutan I met just one other 20 something traveller. With such a high price tag attached, most travellers are well into their 60′s and sticking to the usual West to Central Bhutan, in the more upscale accommodation options. This leaves vast expanses completely empty of adventurous backpackers and allows for some real exploring to be done if you can live like the locals. Homestays tend to be unfabricated with intimate contact with locals who seem genuinely interested in young foreign travelers. I stayed with 3 families throughout my time and the more remote the farm house the warmer the experience. In the remote Bumthang valley
I stayed with one family who had only met one westerner before myself. Their hospitality will never be forgotten. Most tour companies can easily set up these experiences and you may end up having dinner at your guides relatives home if your lucky.
“What is your favourite Jack Johnson song?”
As a young traveler you will be responsible for endless questions on Western pop culture as well as an ambassador for what’s “cool” in the west. This is amazing way to connect with the youth of Bhutan who will be fascinated by anything you can tell them about your life back home. The older Bhutanese will be just as intrigued as to why a young westerner has ventured into their country.
With Democracy coming to this small nation, the future is uncertain as to what Bhutan will become. While it might not be the place for multiple months of backpacking, it is impossible to put a price tag on visiting a completely unique land different than anything you may have seen.