Money often presents one of the biggest challenges in preparing for an international trip. Will your credit card work overseas? Can you use your ATM card? Should you carry lots of cash? It's always best to be prepared, so that you don't find yourself in a foreign country without the financial resources you need. You can count on Myths and Mountains to make sure you have all the information you need before you go.
In Bhutan and other Asian countries, things operate very differently than in North America. Just because the ATM in your bank at home works, does not mean that the ATM in Bhutan will accept your card. In fact, it won't. Just because you have a platinum American Express Card does not mean that the antique store in Thimphu will allow you to buy that beautiful basket. In fact, it won't. Bhutan will sometimes accept Visa, but no other credit cards, and travelers cannot use local ATMs. Myanmar does not accept any credit cards and has no ATMs at all. In other countries such as Nepal sometimes the ATM works - but invariably, when you need it most, it doesn't!
For countries such as these, the best thing to do is to bring dollars in cash and change them into the local currency. If you are nervous about carrying a lot of money, break it into two packets and put them in separate parts of your travel gear. Then hope you remember where you put everything!
Ethical Traveler's 13 Tips for the Accidental Ambassador
Travel is most meaningful - and least intrusive - when you approach your destination with openness, respect, and a willingness to adapt and learn. If you behave in an informed, culturally sensitive manner, you'll not only come away with truly memorable people-to-people experiences, but you'll also leave behind a positive impression with your hosts. As guidelines, we present these 13 tips from our friends at Ethical Traveler (www.ethicaltraveler.org).
Be aware of where your money is going. Patronize locally owned inns, restaurants, and shops. Try to keep your cash within the local economy, so the people you are visiting benefit directly from your stay.
Avoid giving gifts directly to children. Give instead to their parents or teachers. When giving gifts- everything from pens to pharmaceuticals - first ask what's needed, and who can best distribute these items in the community.
Learn basic greetings. Learn to say "please," "thank you," and as many numbers as you can. It's astonishing how far a little language goes toward creating a feeling of goodwill
Remember the economic realities of your new currency. A few rupees one way or another is not going to ruin you. Don't get upset if a visitor who earns 100 times a local salary is expected to pay a few cents more for a ferry ride or an egg.
Bargain fairly and respectfully. The final transaction should leave both buyer and seller satisfied and pleased. Haggling is part of many cultures, but it's not a bargain if either person feels exploited or ripped-off.
Learn and respect the traditions and taboos of your host country. Never, for example, pat a Thai child on the head, enter a traditional Brahmin's kitchen, or open an umbrella in a Nepali home!
Curb your anger, and cultivate your sense of humor. Travel can present obstacles and frustrations, but anger is never a good solution. It's perversely satisfying, but won't win respect or defuse a bad situation. A light touch, and a sense of humor, are infinitely more useful.
Arrive with a sense of your host country's social and environmental concerns. Our site will direct you to good profiles of many popular travel destinations. It's also very useful to read the political background section in your guidebook, and the local English-language papers.
Learn to listen. People in other nations often feel underestimated or patronized by travelers from the developed world. This fosters anger and resentment. Be aware that good listening skills and respect help shape the world's view of your country.
Practice conservation. Never be wasteful of local resources - especially food and water. Your efforts at conservation will be noted and respected by your hosts, and will set a good example for your fellow travelers.
"Can you please help me?" This is the most useful phrase travelers can learn. Rarely will another human being refuse a direct request for help. Being of service, and inviting others to express their kindness, is what the phrase "global community" is all about.
Leave your preconceptions about the world at home. The inhabitants of planet Earth will continually amaze you with their generosity, hospitality, and wisdom. Be open to their friendship, and aware of our common humanity, delights, and hardships.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s best line is worth remembering. "Strange travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." Go with the flow, and give free reign to your sense of adventure!
Some brides-to-be dream of walking down the aisle in a white dress, but not Randi Lass. For years she had dreamed of visiting Bhutan, and when she and her fiancé, Patrick Reyes, decided to make the trip, Randi had an idea. Why not make the experience even more memorable by celebrating their wedding in Bhutan? With Patrick's enthusiastic agreement, Randi contacted Myths and Mountains to see if it would be possible to arrange a traditional Bhutanese wedding celebration during a READ Global program in November 2011. The answer was a resounding yes.
The wedding was held at a 350-year-old farmhouse owned by the family of one of Myths and Mountains' Bhutanese partners. In a Bhutanese wedding, the man comes to the woman, so Randi was picked up early in the morning and brought to the farmhouse, where the hosts helped her dress in a kira, the traditional women's garment. The wedding guests, who included Myths and Mountains President Toni Neubauer, fellow trip participants, staff from Myths' Bhutanese partner companies, and relatives of the farmhouse owners, arrived later in a procession with the groom, who was wearing the traditional men's garment known as a gho. After traditional celebrations in the courtyard, the actual marriage ceremony was held in a special prayer room, with lamas conducting the rites in the ancient formal manner. Afterward there was traditional entertainment and lunch at the farmhouse.
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.
With the gradual easing of political tensions in Myanmar, the southeast Asian nation is experiencing increased tourism, leading to new challenges for the country's tourism and hospitality infrastructure. "With the change in attitude of the government, there's a pent-up demand that's been released," says Myths and Mountains President Toni Neubauer. "This is a country that is going to change absolutely, and rapidly."
Due to its political isolation, Myanmar has maintained a variety of cultures and traditions essentially free from outside influence. The country's cultural and natural diversity are strong draws for travelers, as are its impressive archaeological sites such as Bagan.
"Culturally, Myanmar is one of the richest countries in southeast Asia. It's the fourth-largest country in the region and has lots of resources, including gems and oil. It has a varying topography, stretching from the coast to the Himalayan foothills," Neubauer says. "It's also a country that has two Wednesdays, a currency that's based on the number nine, and where people kiss by rubbing noses."
With so much to offer, the tourism industry in Myanmar is sure to develop at a rapid pace now that political tensions have eased somewhat, although it's impossible to predict whether the country will continue along the road toward greater global integration, or whether the government will ultimately revert back to its isolationist tendencies.
One thing is certain, however: Travelers are flocking to Myanmar these days, so anyone who wants to see the country before it changes should visit soon. But with the country's infrastructure so stretched, it's important to allow extra time to make arrangements. Neubauer advises travelers to plan well in advance in order to ensure that they can experience everything that this amazing country has to offer. Contact Myths and Mountains for more information.