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My husband and I had an amazing journey in the country during the cold of January
Our 06 days and 05 nights in Bhutan cannot be described as just a holiday on a bucket list, since, in general, my husband and I had an amazing journey in the country during the cold of January.
First of all, let me register that choosing Druk Asia was an output of a really long selection process. My husband and I are complete control freaks, and we contacted several different companies and talked to many friends who had already visited the country before making our choice. We even prepared a spreadsheet comparing all assets from the different companies available and concluded that Druk Asia was in fact our best choice – which was proven right.
The contact with DrukAsia’s representative, Inez Bratahalim, in their Singapore Office, was generally smooth. She was always very helpful and polite. My husband and I are from Brazil but live in Jakarta, Indonesia and the entire enquiry and booking process with DrukAsia was through exchange of e-mails with Inez and she was very attentive and efficient every time. From arranging visas, booking the air tickets, upgrading us to business class, advising on hotel booking options and even recommending which side of the plane we should sit to get the best views of the Himalayan range, she ensured the trip began and ended without any anxieties.
We did have two problems, however. First, regarding our hotels in Thimphu and Punakha: we requested two specific hotels in both these cities and we were told that it would be ok to book them, just to receive a message, weeks later, saying that those two hotels were unavailable, which was not great (they could have told us this from the start).
The second problem is because we had specifically asked the office in Singapore to tell our guide in Bhutan that we would like to (1) wear the traditional outfit; (2) take a hot stone bath; and (3) participate in a cooking class. Those requests were promptly accepted and it was said that our guide would be aware of them, which did not happen. It seemed like a problem of communication and coordination from the office in Singapore and the office in Thimphu. However, we were able to talk to our guide upon our arrival in the country and arrange to do almost everything we wanted in the first place, including hoisting flags in the Tiger Nest’s mountain.
That is why, taking into consideration the general experience, the problems I mentioned were small and did not affect the positive feeling we have from the trip. In fact, Inez always sent us great spirited messages, and to have her kind e-mail informing us about our visa approval right before the holidays of the end of the year seemed like a Christmas gift!
Then we arrived in Paro airport, with a mix of good and bad overwhelming feelings – both by the magnificent view from the left side of the plane (as recommended) and the terrifying (for me, a bad flyer) landing among the range of mountains, when the pilot had to show off all his flying skills. As combined, we were greeted by Thai, our guide, and Jimmy, the driver. From the start, Thai dealt with all our queries with great courtesy and promptly and he made us experience wonderful kindness and feel like welcomed guests throughout our stay.
For 06 days, Thai introduced us to Bhutan and its gentle and friendly people. We experienced warm hospitality, patience, good humour and great depth of knowledge on Bhutanese history, culture and religion. During our daily car trips, Thai and us debated some interesting topics (such as politics, drugs, gender issues, sexuality, Western and Eastern cultures), discussed several issues both in Buthan and in Brazil and he was even interested in learning some words in Portuguese. He was extremely open minded about us being gay and flexible enough when we had to change to a bigger car to accommodate all the luggage we had (which only increased during our stay, due to our several shoppings) – and from that day on we said goodbye to Jimmy, the driver, and hello to Pasam, the other driver, who also did a phenomenal job not only as a fearless and competent driver (thank God, since cars in Bhutan usually do not always have seat belts because of their legislation, which scared me to death!) but also as a photographer (seriously, his photos of us were so great that he should think about getting a job on that area).
With the help of Thai, Jimmy (for the first two days) and Pasam (for the last four days), we managed to do everything we wanted in the country, without having to sacrifice or skipping other planned activity in the itinerary. During our stay, we’ve enjoyed not only our regular activities (and I couldn’t mention one in particular, since everything, from the hot stone bath to the temples and the hiking to the Tiger’s Nest, was so special) but we’ve also been blessed with majestic views of dense green forests with towering junipers and pines, gushing waterfalls, unexpected wildlife (including a rare white monkey whose sight appears to bring luck to people – yay!), thick snow covering stupas and grass, jaw dropping valleys, temples and dzongs nestled in slopes, clouds rolling over the mountain tops, ever present dogs (which might be the friendliest I’ve seen – and they particularly liked hanging around Thai, “the dog whisperer”), and dry rice fields on the mountainsides – a testament to the Bhutanese winter, which we particularly enjoyed over several cups of tea and hot chocolate anywhere we went to. What more could we ask for?
All the hotels we stayed in Thimphu (Namgay Heritage), Punakha (Zhingkham) and Paro (Zhiwa Ling) were clean and had good service. Zhiwa Ling was clearly the one we loved the most (we felt extremely welcomed after arriving in our warm room and seeing, from the veranda, the lights of the Tiger’s Nest, the mountain we had spent the day fearlessly climbing), and Namgay Heritage was our least favorite (we did not have hot water for the first day) but overall all of our stays were problem free and in all of them we were able to enjoy a delicious Buthanese dish comprised of potatoes, called Qewa Datshi (we even got the recipe to try to do it at home!). The hotels may be missing the sophistication and glitz of big city hotels, but I wouldn’t compare them to hotels in Madrid, Rio or Amsterdam. Besides, it was more than made up for by the gentle spirit of hospitality – Bhutanese people are very friendly. And I can’t stress enough how this can really make a difference.
As if the trip was not formidable enough, we were treated to a special event on the flight home. No other than the King of Buthan himself boarded the airplane, accompanied by his wife, the Queen, his soon, the Prince, and a small security team. We were all flabbergasted in the business class of the Druk Air flight to Bangkok, as the King actually approached our seats and talked to us! I have the chills just thinking about it and at that time it was difficult to say something, as I was so nervous to talk to a royal. Fortunately, I was able to tell him what a great country Bhutan is and what a fabulous experience we had in his nation. We landed in Bangkok sad, because the trip was over, but deeply touched by what we’ve had seen and done.
To Thai, Pasam, Jimmy, Inez and all who made this trip so unforgettable: kadrin chhey, thank you, obrigado!! We will always treasure emotional memories of the near perfect days we had in Bhutan! It was simply magical! We are more than satisfied with Druk Asia and looking forward to go back to this magical country at some point in the future.