In the Land of the Thunder Dragon

CAA Travel Consultant Katrina Khoury ventures to the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

by Mary Wimmer

Tucked away in total isolation from the rest of the world for centuries upon centuries, the tiny kingdom of Bhutan is as far-flung a destination as any that the world has to offer. And when it comes to off-the-beaten path adventures, few places on earth can top this Himalayan nation’s pristine landscapes, fascinating culture and deeply-held traditions.

Tourist Fees

With a government policy that focuses on “high value, low volume” tourism – like charging a minimum fee of $250 USD per visitor, per day – it’s safe to say that few tourists have ever laid eyes on the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” (as the name Bhutan translates to). One lucky visitor who recently toured the country on a 10-day trip this past October was CAA’s own Katrina Khoury, a Travel Consultant at the CAA Travel Store in Nepean, ON.

She says visitors shouldn’t be put off by the tourist fee. “It sounds like a lot but it’s actually not, because that fee includes meals, hotel accommodations, sightseeing tours, and even a guide,” says Katrina, adding that a guide is mandatory for all visitors – there is no going without one as a tourist in Bhutan. Which is just as well; with much so much to see and do, it’s necessary to travel with someone who can explain it all.

Hiking the Himalayas

Hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy this destination the most, as Katrina says visitors can expect the lush greenery of Bhutan’s surrounding forests and stunning panoramic views of the Himalayan Mountains, as well as temples and Buddhist gompas (monasteries).

While it’s possible to do Bhutan without the hiking, Katrina says it’s an experience not to be missed. “One of the highlights of my time there was our seven-hour hike up to Bumdrak Camp in the Himalayas, where we got to camp in the clouds at an elevation of more than 13,000 feet above sea level,” she says.

“Dinner and hot beverages were enjoyed under the cover of a thousand stars in the night sky…it was truly magical, and only to be surpassed by waking up early enough at the camp to catch sunrise, with the clouds all beneath us as we were up so high.”

Other notable experiences for Katrina included a stay at a Himalayan farmhouse with locals and sharing their food, and a farewell dinner that featured a cultural song and dance that she says was the perfect way to end her time there.

Katrina’s Travel Tips

Thinking of visiting Bhutan? Here are Katrina’s top five tips for the destination:

  1. Talk to the locals, English is their second language and they love to practise!
  2. Kick your nicotine habit prior to arrival. Cigarettes are illegal in Bhutan.
  3. Pack for both warm and cold weather when hiking. Physical activity warms you up during the daytime, but at night temperatures drop quickly – especially at higher altitudes.
  4. Plan a visit for spring or late fall. The best time to travel is April into the early weeks of summer or between October and December.
  5. Book early. Only three cities have direct, nonstop flights into Bhutan (Bangkok, Thailand, and Delhi); and with limited flights, seats fill up quickly.

A destination as exotic as Bhutan is definitely one that should not be booked without the help of a qualified travel professional. Be sure to inquire about Bhutan or other far-flung destinations at your neighbourhood CAA Travel Store, or call CAA Travel at (613) 820-1890 or 1-800-267-8713 and one of our agents will be glad to use their travel experience to make your travel dreams reality.

All images courtesy of Katrina Khoury