Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together.
This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you as we shelter in place.
June 17th, 2020
Today we depart Punakha for Phobjikha Valley. Before we leave, here’s a quick look at Meri Puensum Resort. Perched on the hillside with a bright red prayer wheel out front, it’s hard to beat such a charming retreat for less than $40 USD per night.
If you’ve looked into visiting Bhutan, you may already know its reputation as one of the world’s most expensive places to visit. Bhutan is not cheap, but I think its reputation is inaccurate and here’s why. Booking my seven-day trip directly through Bridge to Bhutan cost approximately $1,800 USD ~ an average of $257 per day. The trip cost included all meals, hotels, a guide and a driver for the whole trip. And there were only two people in my tour group. There are certainly more than a few places in the world where meals, hotels, a guide and a driver would cost more than $257 per day.
It’s important to note too that unless you are from India (a neighboring country), Bhutan mandates that you book your visit through a local company so that your dollars are shared with its citizens working in tourism. Your trip cost also includes a 35% Welfare Levy that pays for education and health care in Bhutan (what a concept; the US could sure learn a lot from this). This approach ensures that you connect with and learn from citizens of Bhutan. You cannot just bring a guide book and explore on your own. For some, that’s probably where Bhutan loses its appeal but as many of you have said in your comments, it’s the people we connect with while traveling who often enrich our experiences beyond measure.
Further, I would note that booking directly with a Bhutanese company eliminates the “middle man,” as we say in the US. There are infinite “middle man” companies not based in Bhutan that are very willing to help you get there – for a fee. This is where the rubber hits the road for Bhutan being one of the most expensive places to visit. Doing a quick check for trips to Bhutan with a few well known mid-range to luxury travel companies (I won’t name names) produces the following results (per person):
7 days: $2,600 USD ($371 per day)
8 days: $7,099 USD ($887 per day)
10 days: 3,999 USD ($399 per day)
10 days: 4,300 USD ($430 per day)
11 days: $8,495 USD ($772 per day)
These “middle man” companies simply but significantly mark up the cost of the trips that are ultimately provided by tour companies in Bhutan (as required by the government, as noted above). For these inflated prices, your accommodations might be better but no amount of extra money makes the dirt road easier to drive or the view of Tiger’s Nest more beautiful. These companies are literally banking on the fact that tourists are just more likely to book with a company they know and trust in their own country (for far more money) than do some research and book directly with a cheaper company they’ve never heard of in Bhutan ~ especially for the trip of a lifetime, as Bhutan seems to be for many people.
So … keep this in mind if you plan a trip. It’s also important to think about airfare. I visited Bhutan while living in Singapore which made the airfare much cheaper than if I’d been traveling from the US. If possible, try to add Bhutan to other destinations you want to visit, or trips you have planned, in the region.
I’ll leave you with a view of the Phobjhika Valley.