“It was a place I’d always dreamed about visiting but it seemed out of reach,” Canada-based travel blogger Brenna Holeman told me, following her trip to Bhutan. Brenna found that visiting the Buddhist country, high in the Himalayas between China and India, wasn’t as difficult as she had thought.
Brenna produces the popular travel blog This Battered Suitcase.
She told me there’s lots of misinformation about how easy it is to visit the tiny, isolated country. For example, she’d heard that the number of visitors was strictly limited, but that’s not true. “There’s no limit to the number of people that can go,” she says. “You just need to apply for a visa and pay a daily fee. It’s $250 in the high season and $50 cheaper in the low season.”
That money includes your hotel, all your food, your transportation, your entrance into every place you visit and it also pays for your private guide. And Brenna said the country was, “worth every dollar.” A lot of that fee will go towards healthcare, education and maintaining Bhutan itself, she told me.
Bhutan has famously started monitoring the country’s ‘gross national happiness’ and Brenna says locals do appear cheerful. “Everyone I met was absolutely lovely. They seem very happy people and hopefully they are enjoying their beautiful country,” she told me.
I was interested to find out what the country looks like. “The mountains are absolutely incredible. I flew from Kathmandu to Bhutan and that was wonderful. When you fly over Mount Everest it’s like nowhere else in the world.”
Bhutan has been cut off from much of Western civilisation for centuries. I asked Brenna whether there was a strong sense of identity.
“Bhutanese people are very proud of their culture and heritage. They still wear traditional clothing. There’s a great focus on Buddhism. Archery is a massive sport and it’s amazing watching some of the competitions. But you’ll still see outside influences – you can eat Thai food and you’ll find Manchester United tops hanging up in bars and restaurants.”
Brenna says she didn’t spend much time in towns but when she ventured into the capital, Thimphu, it was very distinctive. “The towns are so beautiful, with monasteries and nunneries in and around the cities. The buildings are gorgeous with intricate details.”
Some people visit Bhutan seeking enlightenment. Brenna says she was only there for eight days and rushing around, but she did find it calming. And she was grateful to be able to see this country and share the experience with a guide and his family. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been enlightened by a place I’ve gone to but I certainly felt a sense of peace and gratitude to be there,” she told me.
If you want to visit Bhutan, you’ll need to fly for eight hours from London to Delhi and then take a two-and-a-half hour flight from Delhi to Paro, Bhutan’s international airport.
Listen to my chat with Brenna for the Great Destinations Radio Show here: