A few months ago, I was asked if I would participate in a feature in Cleo Magazine Malaysia about bloggers who travel. I said, sure, sounds fun! I was specifically asked to write 300 words about my first trip to Bhutan and to submit ten photos and a few destination tips. It was a struggle to condense my experience into 300 words and I'm afraid I went into cliche territory with my descriptions. I hope my travel writing course (starting next week) will help me out in that respect.
The published magazine arrived by post last month. As expected, the 300 words I agonized over were edited to about half that length, and only two heavily cropped photos were used. Still, it was fun to be included and I was in good company: Amber went to Paris, Cheesie went to Japan, Benita went to Samoa, Olivia went to Mexico, Young went to Lisbon and Sarah went to Nepal.
Here's my original submission:
I’ve always had a soft spot for obscure places and a curiosity about traditional cultures: I knew I’d love Bhutan even before I got there. Reading 'Tintin in Tibet' as a kid got me interested in the Himalayas. When I heard Bhutan referred to as ‘unspoiled Asia’, I started dreaming of a visit.
First, the basics. Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom located above India, below China, just a step east of Nepal. Tourists come for the mountain trekking and ancient monasteries although Bhutan is one of the most expensive and isolated holiday destinations on earth. There’s no independent touring here: all travellers must be accompanied by a guide and a driver.
When my guide Kado met me at the airport, he introduced Leki, our driver, and declared, “For two weeks, we are a family.” He was not exaggerating. In a small country like Bhutan, everyone is family, and that includes tourists, too. I was dressed up in a woven kira by somebody’s sister, served home-brewed rice wine at a multistory earthen farmhouse and invited out to a karaoke club by new friends. Even as an experienced traveller, I didn't expect to make such connections with local people. I was charmed.
I toured the main cultural circuit via the only highway across Bhutan. The drive sent my stomach lurching and my heart soaring: the misty forest roads twist upwards to astonishing mountain vistas. We explored spectacular fortresses in Punakha and Trongsa. The wide, gentle Bumthang valley is known as ‘the Switzerland of Asia.’ In off-the-grid Phobjikha valley, I gazed up at the most amazing starry night sky I’ve ever seen. The capital city Thimphu is chaotic and entertaining. In Paro, I paid my respects to Bhutan’s Buddhist saint, Guru Rinpoche, at the cliff-hanging Tiger’s Nest monastery.
I like my travels to take me to take me far away from my regular life in Canada: Bhutan was truly like another planet or another age for me. I felt so inspired by my short trip to Bhutan that I soon returned to work as a volunteer for several months. I recommend visiting Bhutan if you crave a holiday that will refresh your perspectives and your spirit.
Best place to go dancing: Space 34 in JoJo’s Mall, Thimphu
Best place for people watching: Attend a festival for a fashion show of traditional style
Best place to admire the view: Dochu La pass, facing an unforgettable Himalayan vista
Best place to relax: Breathe in fresh, clean air on a hike through the Bumthang valley
How to avoid the tourist crowd: Consider visiting during the summer off-season.
Good to know: Druk Air has frequent flights from Bangkok and will offer direct flights from Singapore to Bhutan from March, 2012