The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, sandwiched between Tibet and India, is famous for all the right reasons. The former king, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, focused on Gross National Happiness during his reign. It is the only nation which states happiness as a goal of governance.
And indeed, for several years, Bhutan was ranked as the happiest nation in the world and continues to be in the top 10.
The people of Bhutan, the majority of them Mahayana Buddhists, believe a simple, sustainable, wholesome approach to living is the key. It is not to be laughed away because, since 2010, hordes of tourists have visited the tiny country to find exactly what makes the populace so content. If you plan to be one of them, be sure to purchase
travel medical insurance or
to keep that happiness from melting away in case of unexpected accidents or illnesses.
Things to Do for Travelers in Bhutan
Apart from finding the why and how of happiness, there is a lot to explore. The landscape is gorgeous, and the weather is pleasant regardless of the time of year.
Your adventure would begin even before you arrive.
The international airport is at Paro and is located at an altitude of 18,000 feet (about 5,500 meters). As the small turbo-prop plane of Druk Air drops out of the sky, banks left sharply to avoid a colossal mountain range, and lines up to the runway with less than half a mile to spare, your heart would be in your throat.
Visit the Tiger's Nest Monastery: Located in Paro, the Tiger's Nest Monastery, known locally as Paro Taktsang, was built at the end of the 17th century. The monastery is not large, but what will take your breath away is that it is perched with not an extra foot to spare on a cliffside, 2,500 feet (about 760 meters) high. The monastery is a few miles from Paro, and no vehicle is capable of the steep climb. You have to hike there, tour the monastery and hike back to Paro. If you are not physically fit enough to make the hike, you can rent a pony.
Watch takins graze: Entirely unknown outside Bhutan, the takin is the national animal. Visit the Takin Reserve in Thimphu, the capital, to watch these antelope-like animals. It was once decided that keeping them captive was cruel, and they were set free. But they refused to leave the reserve's comfort, and now they are there of their own free will. Happiness in Bhutan is clearly not for humans only. Even the animals look supremely content.
Attend a festival: A riot of colors and whirling dances, Bhutanese festivals are traditional, and most of them tell a long dramatic story from mythology. There are at least fifteen of them throughout the year, and you would most probably arrive in time for one, no matter when you visit. Thimphu Tshechu—held to revere Guru Rinpoche in the eighth month of the lunar calendar—is the biggest and draws crowds of 20,000 ever year. The colors and sounds of gongs and cymbals will leave you spellbound.
Play with arrows: Archery is the national pastime of Bhutan. It is not uncommon to see people drop everything and line up to shoot arrows into a thick cork board at the drop of a hat. Tourists are welcome to join. Innocent hazing to distract you from hitting the bull's eye is part of the game. There is no formality. Wherever you see a competition, just make a polite request to join in.
Tour the Punakha Dzong: A Dzong is a small fortress. The most extensive of these is the Punakha Dzong, in the district with the same name. Located at Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers' confluence, the Dzong is an impressive and solid-looking building with thick walls and a lovely courtyard. Do not expect to find anything astonishing. It is, after all, a Buddhist monastery of Kagyu School, besides being a fort. Wander around and take pictures, but try not to make noise or ask too many questions.
Travel Risks for International Travelers in Bhutan
Travel is accompanied by trouble. Not always, but often. It is quite unnatural to fall ill in a faraway place and not communicate adequately with the medical staff. Though Bhutan is a safe place to visit, there are some risks.
Bhutan is located at extreme altitudes above 10,000 feet (more than 3,000 meters). Large parts of your travel would be above 15,000 feet (more than 4,500 meters). It is quite natural to feel some type of altitude sickness and shortness of breath. Carry a liter of oxygen in your backpack at all times.
Hiking up long trails is difficult at the best of times. It is exponentially more difficult in Bhutan due to the rugged topography. Do not hike unless you are extremely fit and have previous experience. These trips are not for the faint-hearted.
Dengue fever is endemic throughout Bhutan. There is no cure and no vaccine. The only way to recover is through long rest and nourishing food. Carry mosquito repellent creams, and wear full-sleeved clothes.
Typhoid is common in Bhutan since there is almost no sewage system outside the capital city, Thimphu. Drink bottled water for safety and health.
The laws of Bhutan are stringent when it comes to the protection of the environment. There are a large number of dos and don'ts. Also, any effusiveness, such as dancing and partying in the streets, is frowned on. It is an exceptionally traditional society, and not maintaining decorum could land you in trouble.
Bhutan Travel Medical Insurance for International Travelers – FAQs
Illness can wreak havoc on your tour itinerary. Bhutan has a quite well-funded public healthcare system, but there is a lack of medical experts with advanced training. If you need sophisticated treatment, you would have to be evacuated to India and depend on private medical care.
Do I need travel medical insurance for Bhutan?
There is no legal requirement to buy travel medical insurance when you visit Bhutan. Nevertheless, given the country’s relative remoteness and lack of extensive healthcare, it is crucial that you have enough coverage to afford treatment in Bhutan or India at private facilities.
Why buy travel medical insurance for Bhutan?
The cost of an illness or injury in a foreign country can be exorbitant. You might fall while on a hike and need to find a well-trained orthopedic surgeon to operate on your ankle. That means getting an air ambulance to India and costly treatment. At all times, buy travel medical insurance and make sure that you are protected.
Bhutan Trip Cancellation Insurance for International Travelers – FAQs
Just before you depart for Bhutan, a near relative falls ill, and you can’t take your trip. It is unfortunate and depressing, but situations like these do happen to tourists all the time. There is the sadness of missed opportunity, but even more than that, there is monetary loss.
Why buy trip cancellation insurance for Bhutan?
Trips to Bhutan have to be through an operator. You can't enjoy a freestyle, pay-as-you-go holiday. This means you have already made most of your payments before you depart. Bhutan travel insurance can provide you with financial compensation if you have to cancel your trip for a covered reason listed in your policy’s certificate wording. Be sure to read your plan’s fine print to understand what would and wouldn’t be covered.
What all is covered under trip cancellation insurance for Bhutan?
Most standard plans provide coverage for all the usual reasons for the postponement, including bad weather and illness or death in the family. There are policies with additional riders that offer you a whole range of factors – from political unrest to being unable to obtain leave from office due to urgent work. Buy travel insurance to reduce financial loss that comes with trip cancellation. Again, every plan is different, so be sure to read your policy.
Before You Travel to Bhutan - Do This
Have fun and find the secret to happiness in Bhutan, but remember these tips:
- Do not lose your passport and visa. Maintain them carefully and keep them in a separate folder either with you or in a secure location.
- The terrain and altitude are unknown and, hence, do not risk exertion.
- Buy adequate travel insurance coverage to protect yourself and your family from illness and other disasters. Compare a variety of plans and select the one that best fits your needs.