Local Insight: 5 Things a Traveler to Bhutan Needs to Know

May 13th, 2012 by

Sangay Wangchuk, the general manager of our Bhutan office, is full of useful insights for visitors to his country. Here are his thoughts and advice for anyone traveling to Bhutan.

Bhutanese time is not like Western time. When watches first came to Bhutan, the gadget was more jewelry than timepiece. Even today the Bhutanese relationship with time is an issue. For a Bhutanese it is always acceptable when someone walks in late. In fact, the Bhutanese joke that “Bhutan Standard Time” should really be called “Bhutan Stretchable Time.” People working in tourism are trying their best to be punctual, but it is always wise to be aware of the country’s stretchable time.

Responsible travelers are more appreciated than misguidedly generous ones. The Bhutanese treat tourists as guests and would lay down their lives to protect them. Yet this custom can become diluted over time unless tourists take care to act responsibly. Being a responsible tourist is not difficult. Small acts and thoughts can help preserve Bhutanese culture. For example, it is wise not to flaunt wealth by giving items or money publicly. It is always better to have travelers as guests rather than as walking – albeit compassionate – banks.

Gross National Happiness is at the core of Bhutanese development. Gross National Happiness is the development philosophy coined by the fourth King of Bhutan, H.M. Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the 1980s. To create happiness one must first create a good environment. Creating a good environment requires good policies that create equal socioeconomic opportunities and safeguard citizens’ cultural heritage and rights. Finally, it means taking good care of our natural heritage and using it sustainably. That’s Gross National Happiness in a nutshell.

Personal relationships are more important than money. For most Bhutanese interpersonal connections are more important than money. Using the power of money to get things done in Bhutan is the wrong idea. People are willing to offer services to travelers because they are guests of the country. There is no expectation of remuneration attached.

An open, inquiring mind is key to understanding Bhutan. Bhutan is still an unexplored destination. There are many new discoveries in this small kingdom, and you need to ask questions to explore it. Bhutanese guides tend to be quite reticient and generally do not volunteer answers unbidden, but this is simply a matter of culture. If you have a question, please ask, and your guides will always do their best to answer.

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