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Travel, Teach, Live in Asia

How to Travel to Bhutan
By:Pamela Ann Ludwig

Bhutan is a small nation in Asia bordering India and China. Long one of the most isolated countries in the world, Bhutan is now open to foreigners. Tourists come to Bhutan to experience intact traditional cultures of South Asia and to view or trek through the famous Himalayas. A 2006 "Business Week" worldwide ranking of the "happiness factor" named the Bhutanese people the eighth happiest in the world. A trip to Bhutan may be an unforgettable experience, but requires some initial planning and considerations.

Decide on a budget. Though cost of living in Bhutan is low, the government requires expensive visas for foreign tourists. You can find a range of prices for accommodation and food while in Bhutan, though adventure trekking and Himalayas tours may be more. Check with a few tour operators for package deals, as this may lower the overall cost of your trip. Because the visas charge for every day that you spend in Bhutan, the longer your trip, the more costly your visa fees will be. Tour packages can help you get as many sightseeing and cultural activities into your trip as possible without spending too much.

Apply for your visa. Citizens of every country, except India and Bangladesh, require visas for travel to and within Bhutan. Independent travel is not allowed, so you must complete your travel through a registered tour operator in Bhutan. You can do this through a foreign travel agency or contact an agent within Bhutan. Regularly check with the website Travel.State.gov (see References) for current details including cost, required documents and a list of authorized tour operators. Apply for your visa at least 60 days before you plan to travel.

Find a tour operator. Depending on the type of travel that you are interested in, you can find a tour operator who caters to what you are looking for. If you are more interested in nature, certain tour operations and companies specialize in trekking and Himalayas adventure tours. Research the must-see destinations that you don't want to miss on your trip and make sure that your tour operator offers the chance to experience these.

Learn some of the local language. The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha, which is related to Tibetan and Chinese. If you are on a tour, you most likely will be accompanied by a translator. Attempt to speak to the locals in their own language. You can find a guide to the Dzongkha script and links to language learning sites on Omniglot.com (linked in the References section). A basic level of conversation and familiarity with the written script will help make your trip more enjoyable. You also will be able to communicate some on your own if you get lost. An attempt to speak the native language will be appreciated by the locals and could result in lower prices when bartering in markets.

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