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Happy with all my Bhutan experience
Kuzu, Sangay! Here’s my written feedback -
Ya lama kheno, Bhutan was spectacular!
I came back from the trip…richer in knowledge and friendships, wiser about life (thanks to all the discussions on Buddhism with my guide), and happier what with all my experiences in Bhutan. My guide, Kezang Wangchuk was just brilliant! Professional, knowledgeable, witty, friendly, patient. And my driver, Tshering Wangchuk was really impressive! Fantastic driving skills, I never felt safer. I was also happy with the itinerary, the sights, the hotels, the flight, the road trips, the vehicle. I think Druk Asia did a great job. Other Druk Asia customers that I met during my 7 days, had nothing but praises for their guide and driver. Thank you! And my online contact for Druk Asia based in Singapore, Sangay Dorji, was just so very helpful and positive. I must commend Druk Asia for their selection and training of staff, guides, drivers.
I have a suggestion. Do present your guests with the option to try real Bhutanese food. The food offered in the hotel, the buffet, are quite tame and made-for-tourists. Am happy that my guide Wangchuk had arranged for me to try real local food. It was delicious! I loved the chili cheese, the momo with the chopped chili, the beef and pork dishes.
Some additional observations:
I was impressed when Tshering played Bhutanese MTV for me during our drive back from Gangtey to Punakha. He also put on a British comedy show for me. While I was quite happy to sit in the car for the 3 hour drive back, looking at the sights and taking pictures (I take a lot), it was enjoyable to sit back and be entertained by a video. I also loved that Tshering and Wangchuk played Bhutanese music for me in the car. I enjoyed immersing myself in Bhutanese culture. Modern and historic. And when I was walking down from Tiger’s Nest, my hike became super fun when Wangchuk played music for me from his mobile phone – turned out he and I like similar artists. Seems to me that the Bhutan experience can please all the 5 senses, and the pleasure of Bhutanese sound / music could be made part of the program.
It might be helpful to your guides and driver, to be advised by Druk Asia, that they need not be so proper or professional, so much so that their service / demeanor is less personal. As the days progressed during my trip, I loved getting to see the individual personalities of my guide and driver, manifest itself, through jokes, quips, comments. The more natural they were, the more at ease I felt. As a solo traveler, my only constant human contact during the trip are with my guide and driver. The less formal they were, the happier I felt.
The only place I felt that the food could be much improved was at Metta Spa. I guess they tried to cater to more Chinese and Singaporean taste. But then, the food was even less Bhutanese; which I preferred. I am also not Chinese or Singaporean.
It might be helpful to your guests, if you advise them before the trip starts, to feel free to invite their guide and driver to join them for lunch and dinner. And the guide and driver should feel free to eat with their hands. All part of the full Bhutan experience. Of course, they could ask their guests beforehand, just in case some guests are less receptive. I had watched the movie, Travelers and Magician, when I got back from Bhutan (I bought the DVD in Paro), I was happy to see how Bhutanese eat with their hands. Very different from the way us Filipinos do. It was a fun fact for me.
I loved how Hotel Norbuling had books to lend its guests. I ended up buying 3 of their books to take with me. And one of them, What makes you not a Buddhist, was such a brilliant find and buy. Am so happy I got exposed to this author. Khyentse is brilliant. I love his perspective. And it turns out he too was the director of the movie I brought home with me. He is awesome.
Am not sure if you had it in your list of things to bring, but a lip balm during the winter season, is a must!
The last thing I will add, is on the matter of tips. I travel a lot and have tapped many tour groups. Your proposed tipping rate is the same as the global standard. But with the other tours I’ve done, the customer base is big (coach tours have 20 to 40 guests). So the guide and driver make good money over a period. But for Bhutan, the tour group size will still be relatively smaller, and many times, the guest will be a solo traveler, like in my case (and there were 3 other solo female travelers when I was in Bhutan). So the guide and driver won’t make good money on weeks they cater to solo travelers. I wonder how Druk Asia could help address this, and help ensure fair distribution of type of guests among the guides and drivers.
Let me end this here to say that I am a very satisfied customer. I have in fact, recommended Druk Asia and given Wangchuk’s name to 2 friends who plan to go to Bhutan this first half of 2015. I have 2 more leads (who may go within 2nd half of 2015), and I will give the same recommendation.
Let me share links to my FB albums. Feel free to use the pics. I love taking pics and so I have lots. I have about 10 more albums to create (coming soon!)