By Shari Chase

A dream vacation can only be possible in a place that so closely resembles paradise, that it feels almost unreal. The best vacation spots transport their visitors away from the dreary confines of their everyday life, into new and amazing realities. Bhutan does precisely that. 

A remote, idyllic hideaway in South Asia,  it is a true utopia. Also known as the “Land of the Thunderbolt,” Bhutan is a land full of steep mountains, deep valleys, winding rivers, lush forests, and meditative temples. It is a pine-scented paradise full of natural hidden gems, where people live in harmony with nature. But is it the new Shangri-la? It certainly is more than a myth or world of imagination; Bhutan and its people really do exist, in an idealised reality that most countries can only dream of attaining.

What You Should Know Before You Plan Your Trip

This small paradise is nestled in the Himalayas between India and China and is steeped in traditional Buddhist beliefs about nature and peace. Over the years, the religious foundations of the country have evolved into a philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), or the idea that the development of a country means nothing if the people are not truly happy. This holistic and sustainable approach to development has seen them become the world’s only carbon-negative country, with the goal of becoming one of the first fully organic nations in the world. As a result of its GNH philosophy, Bhutan exists as if untouched by the rest of the world. In fact, it is probably the closest that we will ever get to the Garden of Eden. A trip to Bhutan is sure to give any visitor a rare glimpse of authentic, natural beauty. 

Bhutan’s pristine paradise is maintained because of its strict adherence to a “low-impact tourism” policy. Anyone considering it  as their next vacation spot needs to have a plan. Travel to Bhutan requires a special visa, which encompasses a $250 daily foreign tourist’s fee, as well as a pre-planned, comprehensive travel itinerary. Although it may sound expensive and make the country seem remote and exclusive, the charges are actually one more reason to make visiting  a priority. The guidelines in place are an essential part of its sustainability. Some of the money goes towards making sure that the land is taken care of and preserved. Additionally, the travel restrictions require every person to plan their trip with a registered Bhutanese travel agent. This process ensures that every tourist will have a well-rounded vacation, with all of their needs taken care of before they ever set foot in the country. 

Top Experiences To Enjoy In Bhutan 

Travelling to Bhutan sounds almost too good to be true. To tantalise your travel tastebuds further, here is a list of some specific things to look forward to while venturing to this remarkable country. 

  • Make a visit to some of the historical Dzongs which display a range of architectural feats. While there, visitors have the opportunity to learn about cultural traditions, take part in festivals, tour museums, and be awed by the surrounding landscapes. 
  • Try Zow, a buttery, sweet, and crunchy snack made with Bhutanese Red Rice.  Traditionally, red rice is a rare and expensive treat served primarily during celebrations and holiday feasts, so if you can find it, it’s definitely worth sampling.
  • Go on a festival tour to experience a blend of colours, traditional garments, dance, music, food, laughter, and ceremony. Festivals, also known as Tsechu, are held annually in various temples and monasteries throughout the country, to honour the Buddhist master who introduced Tantric Buddhism to the country.
  • Grab some Ema Datshi, which is a classic chilli cheese stew that has also been described as a delicious cheesy curry.
  • Enjoy a hike through the beautiful topography. Hikers report seeing stretches of pastureland, lush green valleys, forestland, snow-capped mountains, and crystal clear lakes. 
  • Board a raft going down the Mo Chu or Po Chu river for a rafting adventure, complete with breathtaking views. 

Not everyone will be able to make a trip to this elusive world, but those that can; should. Whether for a honeymoon, a learning experience, a reconnection with nature, a religious retreat, or just for an adventurous holiday, this Kingdom is worth considering. Bhutan, with its GNH principles, truly is a must-visit place that we can all learn from, and perhaps, find our own Shangri-La.