TripAdvisor: How to select a tour operator from 150 Govt. recognized oper
It all started with my decision to visit Bhutan from India. It was a challenge to find advise at one place. It took me nearly 1 month to finalize the trip where I was working full time on it! Here is how I did it. We were 6 adults travelling who wanted to cover Bhutan in 10-12 days from West to East and back.
I approached Makemytrip and Thomas cook but they had fixed packages for 6 days showing only Thimphu, Paro and Punakha. When I checked the map, these are all in the west and very close to each other! Moreover it was quite expensive. I started reading and realized that one can pick Tour operators from Bhutan directly and there is a list of operators recognized by Govt. of Bhutan. In case you have any issues with the operator, then the govt. can be approached and they will help only if it is a govt. recognized tour operator.
I picked about 6 tour operators from the published list of operators and wrote to them about the trip that I wanted – a tour for 10-12 days where I can see the country from West to East and back. Only one operator responded promptly – Heavenly Bhutan. There were responses by two other operators coming about 48 hours later! Quotes came from all the three operators but the quote by this prompt operator was the lowest of the three. More than anything else, the owner of this company called me and he sounded he knew his job as he could answer all my questions and also provided me guidance of what to do and what not to do. After finalizing the itinerary with all the three operators, I started negotiating for prices where I picked the Delux Hotels option where a vehicle will be provide with a driver and tour guide for all the 11 days of our stay. I picked Heavenly Bhutan based on the cost quoted. Hotel names at various locations was provided but I asked for a change in hotels at various locations which they obliged. I was quite concerned about the cleanliness of the bathrooms and linen after reading reviews on Tripadvisor where the Foreign travelers paid USD 250/- per day! Indian Travelers get much lower rates compared to US or European travelers. In fact when I wanted to go for Delux rooms (NOTE) which is different from Delux hotels!! The operator suggested that we should not opt for Delux rooms as there was not much difference from Standard rooms – the only difference being larger rooms! What impressed me was that despite being able to make more money, I was told not to go for it which I realized was a good advise and I would have wasted money for no gain. All I was looking for a comfortable hotel with clean bath rooms and clean linen and simple vegetarian food. I was quite skeptical till we reached each destination! We arrived in Paro, visited Thimpu (2 nights), Punakha (1 night), Thongsa (2 nights), Bhumthang (2 nights), Phukibja (1 night), Paro (3 nights). The hotels at each of these locations was better than what we expected – in Punakha, Thongsa, Bumthang and Paro the location and quality of the hotels was par excellence. The food in Thongsa was the best as it was at par with any 5 star hotel. The hotel at Thimpu was Amodhara and in Paro was Dewachen Resort. The room and location at Dewachen was excellent but at both these hotels somehow they treated us as if food was being served to us without our paying for it – the treatment was poor and below dignity for these hotels especially at Dewachen (it was terrible) – they need to be watchful of their reputation else nobody will choose them.
Heavenly Bhutan suggested that they would take us out to any other place which we choose to eat in. This was the saving grace. The vehicle which we got was Toyota Hiace but it was old with bad shock absorbers. The driver was very slow in his driving where it took him double the quoted time to travel from one location to another. It was supposed to take 5 hours to go from Punakha to Tongsa but it took us about 9 1/2 hours!
Both the guide Mr. Ganga and Driver Kado were fine people and very helpful. The people in Bhutan in general are very helpful and peace loving but very laid back. They tend to get shaken if you speak to them loudly or rudely. Being gentle helps.
Mr. Raju rai of Heavenly Bhutan tours was extremely responsive, open to suggestions, knew his job, provided suggestions where we lacked information, accommodative to change requested.
We travelled in June and it was not at all cold contrary to what we had read on the internet! Only at high altitudes, warm clothes were required else normal clothes will do.
Bumthang and areas around that place is just like Switzerland with local Houses and roads! Pukhibja was fantastic and very different from the rest of the places – the trek there was like walking in Scotland which overlooks the okawango river basin of Africa (in a much smaller scale)! These are a must visit places.
I found the trip to be too long for what we saw. So instead of 11 day tour, it can be shorted if one choose to fly from Paro to Bumthang and then start travelling back to Paro on road. The cost of air travel can be compensated as you will save on the number of days.
Food was not a problem as we found simple but fairly good food in almost all places. In Bumthang and Phukibja it was a little disappointing but not bad. Curd is not part of the meal in Bhutan but you get to buy it at almost all places!
There is nothing to buy in Bhutan as most of the stuff is from outside of Bhutan and is very expensive. Especially for an Indian traveler, everything is available in India at much lower costs.