The Airport Trap (Bangkok, Thailand)

Suvarnabhumi-airport (Bangkok, Thailand)

Suvarnabhumi-airport (Bangkok, Thailand)

This is another articles that I happen to come across in Kuensel ( National Newspaper in Bhutan) Albeit, the protagonist are the Bhutanese in the articles but this can be served as general notification to all.

Basically, more than 80% of our guests choose to fly from the Bangkok for its convenience to connect directly to Bhutan and in most cases it help to avoid India visa.

If guests exercise general caution and pay heed to notification can add value to overall enjoyment of the trip

 The Airport Trap

For the thousands of Bhutanese travelling to Thailand, the duty free shop at the Bangkok international airport is a favorite place to do last minute shopping, whether to pick up a gift or spend their remaining baht.

But the duty free shop, it seems, is turning out to be a dangerous place to pick up a gift for your loved ones, or to window shop.  There are stories of how departing passengers are detained for allegedly shoplifting and let off after paying huge sums of money.  Airport security officials and even police are alleged to be partnering with those at the shops.

Recently, the BBC carried a story warning tourists travelling to Thailand of the alleged airport scam.  Many newspapers and websites picked it up, as Thailand is a favourite tourist destination.  Following the article, there were many stories shared by victims, most of who paid huge sums of money to get back to their country and avoid the notorious Thai jails.

The number of Bhutanese travelling to Thailand, especially Bangkok, has increased by manifold in recent years.  From only civil servants on official tour in the past, Bhutanese visitors have increased and include business people, students, and families on holiday or for medical reasons.  It is a favourite destination for shopping and a transit route with a request of few days’ stopover.

Although no Bhutanese were reported to have gone through the ordeal, it is important for the travellers to be cautious of the scam.  The joke among some is that Bhutanese will not be targeted, because they don’t carry USD or pound sterling or euros or credit cards to withdraw and pay the officials.  But the average Bhutanese traveller is comparatively naïve, and chances of getting cheated or robbed are higher.  Bhutanese travellers will suffer more than others, because we are not used to this kind of treatment.

Maybe not at the airport, but a good number of Bhutanese have fallen victim to scamsters or conmen while in Bangkok.  Many will not share the story for  fear of being mocked.  But there are instances, where some have lost their entire stipend or shopping money on the day of arrival.  This is made worse by lack of credit card facility, or the habit of carrying wads of cash everywhere we go.

A common incident being letting a stranger, in Arab dress in most cases, see your wallet and exchange currencies.  Because we’re friendly by nature, we are easier prey to such predators.

Unfortunately, there are no stories of anyone getting back their money, even when attempts were made to involve authorities.

The chocolates, watches, alcohol and branded goods at Bangkok airport may be tempting, but it would be wiser to be a little more cautious when on the streets or duty free shops in Bangkok.

Courtesy Kuensel

Add comment July 31st, 2014

Happiness isn’t just a state of mind; it’s a place on earth BY BRYAN FERNANDE

Recently I was browsing the news on Today; I came across a very interesting article by Bryan Fernandez, who visited Bhutan recently. Albeit, he travelled with different Travel Operator in Bhutan. He portray his experiences so vividly in the manner that it makes the reading most exciting and at the same time bringing the true essences, and color of day to day life to the surface in most natural tone.

I felt it would be pity not to provide a larger audience for such an interesting article that captured even locals’ imaginations. Everywords and lines are by Bryan Fernandez and I made an attempt to lend support with general Photos, though it’s hardly require so.

Happiness isn’t just a state of mind; it’s a place on earth  BY  BRYAN FERNANDE 

Happiness Is A Place. At least that’s the official slogan of the Tourism Council of Bhutan; and I was determined to find out if it was merely hype and a clever marketing gimmick or truly a way of life in Bhutan.

As soon as you land at Paro airport, you know you’re in for something completely different. Even the ramp service agent waving the planes off is dressed in a traditional costume — basically everyone is.

Here’s what we know about the country: It is landlocked and located along the eastern end of the Himalayas and flanked by both China and India. It is relatively small in terms of its population (about 750,000) but its land space is roughly 38,000 sq km (about 50 times larger than Singapore). It gets approximately 50,000 international visitors a year (that’s about the number of visitors to Sentosa a day).

Bhutan is also popular for its Gross National Happiness (GNH) policy: It measures the nation’s success not by GDP but by the well-being of its people. Bhutan is sometimes referred to as the last Shangri-La, because it is said to be relatively untouched by modern culture and western influence.

There are some things to note before you fly off to Bhutan for a holiday. Firstly, you have to fly by Druk Air which currently has two flights from Singapore to Paro a week. Secondly, look for a reputable travel agent that specialises in Bhutan: He or she will be able to sort everything out, including getting visas and customising an itinerary. You’ll have to get a prepaid travel package (approximately US$250, or S$309, per person per night) and this includes a hotel room, a dedicated guide and driver, meals and entrance fees to attractions. So it’s kind of like a full board vacation.

Our two weeks there saw us travelling from town to town; through valleys, over mountains and across rivers. There are no malls, McDonalds, Starbucks, cinemas … nothing that defines a modern city. There aren’t even any traffic lights — and hardly any street signs. If you do see one, it would just point you in the general direction of where the next town is. (I asked the locals how they would arrange to meet someone or find their way around. They said they would just describe it, accompany it with a familiar landmark and find their way, no problem.)

SPIRITUAL ENCOUNTERS

To fully understand Bhutan though, you should truly have a basic understanding of Buddhism. It permeates everyday life in Bhutan. The majority of its citizens are Buddhist and it is evident when you look around. Buddhist culture has penetrated into every aspect of their lives. Colourful prayer flags and prayer wheels and stupas (structures containing Buddhist relics) can be seen all around.

The lines between myth and legend are blurred. Listening to some of the stories made me feel like I was travelling through the pages of Journey To The West. One of the first sacred sights we visited was Chimi Lhakhang, or “the temple of the divine madman”. According to legend, Drukpa Kunley, aka the Divine Madman, subdued demons with his phallus — which is why you will see images of giant phalluses adorning the walls of building exteriors all over Bhutan: It is said to drive away evil spirits.

The Divine Madman was also known for his outrageous and often obscene methods of spreading enlightenment to the common man, but he is credited by some for creating the Takin (Bhutan’s national animal) by taking the head of a goat and placing it on a cow’s body. Local women visit the temple to pray for fertility.

As a director/videographer (for digitalcandymedia.com if you must know), I’m always on the lookout for stunning sights. And the one sacred site that no one should miss — even if you don’t care for Buddhist history — is Taktshang Monastery, or the Tiger’s Nest. The sheer beauty and magnificence of this monastery will take your breath away. Built on the side of a cliff overseeing Paro valley, this dramatic and highly venerated religious site was the highlight of the trip. But be warned, there are no roads up this mountain and the Tiger’s Nest is approximately 10,000 feet above sea level. You may find yourself trekking for hours just to get there. Then again, we saw plenty of elderly tourists hoof it without any problems.

Paro Taksang

Paro Taksang

GET DZONG’ED OUT

Next up was Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan. At the centre of it all is Punakha Dzong, a stunning example of Bhutanese architecture. Dzongs once served as fortresses, housing temples and courtyards, and were the district’s social centre. Today, they function as administrative offices and house monks, and tourists come to marvel at the craftsmanship and murals that grace the walls. It is the Bhutanese equivalent of a medieval city. Trongsa Dzong has a watchtower that has been converted into a museum that narrates its history and that of the royal Wangchuck dynasty.

 

Trongsa Dzong

Trongsa Dzong

Of course, festivals or tshechus are a big draw for visitors to Bhutan. Paro Festival in particular, is an annual event that is marked on everyone’s calendar. Thousands join in the celebration, with most, if not all, dressed in traditional outfits — kiras for women and ghos for men. The fancy ones come in intricate patterns and are handmade; but they are generally cheap and can be bought in the shops around town. Even the king and queen grace this event; they are often seen sitting and chatting with the people, be they tourists or locals.

Festival

Festival

The food in Bhutan is pretty delicious and healthy. Just a tip: Look for restaurants where the locals eat. Bhutan hopes to be the world’s first fully organic nation. However, if you’ve been weaned on Big Macs and Cokes, be warned: The Bhutanese like their food really spicy. Hotels pretty much dish out the same fare as restaurants but tame the flavours to suit the tourist palette. Chilli cheese or ema datshi is a staple that I quite enjoyed, although I would skip the “tender” beef — the Bhutanese dry their beef out so much, it feels like leather. If you’re ever in Thimpu, look out for The Zone. It’s the Hard Rock Cafe of Bhutan and they serve a mean yak burger. Yeah, you read that right.

Typical Bhutanese Dishes

Typical Bhutanese Dishes

While Bhutan is a scenic and spiritual destination, I think what really made it an unforgettable journey is the people that we met along the way. The Bhutanese are warm and friendly, and almost everyone speaks English. We were chatting with a local at a festival and he invited us to join his family for lunch — they had a picnic spread and his whole family, from his grandmother to his nieces and nephews, looked on with glee as we sampled their home-cooked food.

Yes, people are indeed happier in Bhutan — happy to lead a simple life and satisfied with what they have but always mindful of their environment and the people around them. It never once cross my mind that the Bhutanese people were backward village folk (even though they only had televisions since 1999). They are as modern a society as any that I can think of (they have iPads and Internet access, and they know their pop culture). They’ve definitely got their priorities right as a society.

So is happiness a place? Yes.

It’s a place where your heart and mind meet to enjoy the simple beauties that this world has to offer.

 

 

Add comment July 30th, 2014

It’s all about Haa

Haa Valley

Haa Valley

In modern time, things and places tend to outlive its relevance in a hurry.  Everything around us is in constant state of change, a change that paves way for other changes where a hot spot destination of today can lose its sheen within the span of few months.

There are only few places on face of earth, where time has come to stand still and has cuddled up cozily, where natures in bountiful flourishes with gay abundance like a merry bee during spring. Haa is one of them.

One guests said “The world is divided into 2, one who have seen Bhutan and one who haven’t. For those who have seen Bhutan, the memories still lingers and resonate like music of symphony long after it’s heard no more. For those who haven’t, the name Bhutan has a ring of some oriental mystical elements”. To add further to it, those who been to Bhutan but not seen HAA?

Located in South West of Paro and covering an area of roughly 1706 sq. km. Haa is the smallest Dzongkhag (District) in the country. This tiny region is one of the most beautiful and isolated areas in the kingdom, adorned with pristine alpine forests and tranquil mountain peaks. This valley remains one of the least visited areas in the country and retains the air of an unspoiled, primeval forest.

Cluster of Traditional Houses in Haa

Cluster of Traditional Houses in Haa

Dobji Dzong- Alcatraz of Bhutan converted into Monastery on the way to Haa

Dobji Dzong- Alcatraz of Bhutan converted into Monastery on the way to Haa

Haa is a quaint hamlet comprising of cluster of houses and providing an impression that hand of clock moves at its own leisurely pace. A visit to Haa is an opportunity to immerse oneself into age old tradition and nomadic lifestyle of Bhutanese herder which has remain unchanged by time and uncorrupted with modernity. Haa is indeed worthy of being considered nature’s veritable paradise on earth. You will definitely experience no small measure of moments of wonderment and awe at the beauty of surreal landscape. Miracles of nature in all its grandeur and unspoilt virginity are more than abundant amidst these luscious trees and bushes and towering, mesmerizing peak that almost touches the heaven.

Equally impressive are the fantastic legends, myths and stories that abound. One can come across the rare White Poppy and relish the Hoentay (a local Haap delicacy in the form of a dumpling) which are endemic to Haa and cannot be found anywhere in the world. Here, change has been minimal, remnant of past are so striking visible and the connection with the natural world has never been as vibrant.

We have recently launched our new products Bhutan village tour http://www.windhorsetours.com/destinations/trip.php?country=bhutan&tourid=255. An attempt is made to provide a trip that highlight and celebrate Bhutan in its authentic form. This tours gives feel of naturalness with the rural setting and Haa is the cynosure of this itinerary which fits the bill. This brief introduction of Haa is with intent to serve as a preface for our Haa trek also which is on the pipeline and should see first ray of light in coming days.

Haa Dzong

Haa Dzong

Add comment July 22nd, 2014

Small Group Journeys of Wind Horse Tours & Treks

Paro festival, Mask Dance, 2013

Paro festival, Mask Dance, 2013

 

There are aspects that are integral to sustenance and pre-design of a company. In the same context, from the outset, Wind Horse envisioned small group journeys. We started with a handful of small group journeys, which in course of time became our signature trip. With time, these group journeys grew in stature and popularity. In the process, it helped us to draw inspirations to spread our wings. We have as much as 10 small group journeys designed to meet the interests and needs of the guests from all walks of life.

Our main objective is to align these group journeys with the festivals and take into consideration the natural factors like weather and to ensure the best time to visit.

Mostly, without exception, the festival dates are based on Buddhist lunar calendar, which have a massive propensity to change. The date hardly stays the same with the previous year. Which actually don’t help our cause to our liking? It’s hardly a stroll in the park to pre-design and prescribed a date and incorporates all these elements to make the group journey see the light of the day every year. This is one reason which makes our tribes to stay away from having a group journey.

One thing that spectacularly stands out or propels us toward it in regards to our small journeys  is the amount of camaraderie it helps to generate among the guests from different nationality and ethnic backgrounds. These group journeys are the melting pot. We have seen being under the same roof, same bus and together for certain stretch of time helps to develop a mere acquaintance into good friends forever.

Bhutan as a destination is not renowned for being less expensive in tourism fraternity. Which is a reasonable reason to denied traveler to visit the land of Gross National Happiness. With these views in mind we make every possible inclusion of cost effective measures to flourish with as much  as less ramification on their purse  while  in pursuance to their desired goal.

In the similar context, we designed our group journey  with maximum strength of 9 to 11 participants. We believe more than that can portray a picture of being overcrowded. It takes two to tango, in our case it’s the minimum number to guarantee the trip. For trek, in some case, it’s even lesser to 6 participants, for instance challenging Snow Man Trek.These group journey can be taken as private tour also but at slightly elevated price.

We have in total 10 small group journeys. And few among them are multi destination small group journey like very popular Three Himalayas Kingdom and Bhutan festival & Sikkim Tour(India).

Furnish below are the name of our small group journey.

1.Drukyul Walking Tour

2. Bhutan Festival Tour

3.Snow Leopard Jhomolari Trek

4. Above the Cloud trek

5. Merak and Sakten Trek

6.Bhutan Traverse from West to East.

7. Dragon Festival

Catering to the different interests, liking and needs of the guests. We have balance proportion of group journey for Cultural Tours as well as for Trekking.

When it comes to organizing a trek and specifically physically demanding Snowman Trek(Lunana), it’s no mean task. We had to forgo for 4 years to organized this trek as the locals of the region, whom we count for their animals to carry trekking gears and other logistic support chooses to collect cordycep, a caterpillar fungus, endemic  to higher Himalayas region, supposedly with high traditional medicinal value and fetches high price in local market  than supply their animals and other supports.

For these group journeys, there are few seats available till now, ostensibly,  one aspect that seems to be unavailable, if not taken care at the earliest is the time. Opportunity as such certainly don’t deserve to let it go begging.

Below are our ongoing group journeys with seat status.

Snow man Trek (Lunana)

Based on numerous inquiries and growing demand, we restarted this trek. There are only few months in a year, these regions stay free from snow. Generally, last week of September till first week of November.

Around September, in these area, it’s invariably a visual treat for one and all, as flowers bloom in technicolor and so are trails paved with wild flowers and carpets and adorns the valleys with its beauty.

Total seat – 6

Filled seats – 4

Available – 2

For comprehensive detail please visit the link below:

http://www.windhorsetours.com/bhutan/snowman_trek_bhutan.php

Three Himalayan Kingdom

Potala Palace  for Three Himalayan Kingdom (Tibet)

Potala Palace for Three Himalayan Kingdom (Tibet)

This is one of the most popular multi – destination small groups Journey.This small group journey highlights the best of three Himalayan countries – Bhutan, Nepal & Tibet.

Date- Sept 25 to Oct 08,2014

Total seats – 9

Filled seats – 5

Available seats- 4

For details, please visit the link below.

http://www.windhorsetours.com/destinations/trip.php?country=bhutan&tourid=72

And also link for further read for your info into Three Himalayan Kingdom

http://windhorsetours.com/blog/?p=1195

Snow Leopard Trek

Peach orange majestic Mt Jhomolari

Peach orange majestic Mt Jhomolari

One of the few trek that offer astounding view of sacred mountain of Bhutan, Mt Jhomolahari with rich bio diversity of flora and fauna on the roll.

Date – Oct,03 to Oct 19,2014

Total seat – 9

Filled seat- 6

Available – 3

For details Please visit

http://www.windhorsetours.com/destinations/trip.php?country=bhutan&tourid=127

 Bhutan Festival Tour (Wangdi Tshechu & Thimphu Tshechhu Festival)

participant of Bhutan festival 2013 and our CEO   presenting Wind Horse Cap

participant of Bhutan festival 2013 and our CEO presenting Wind Horse Cap

To see Bhutan dressed in its festival is such an enriching experience. Moreover, these festival especially Thimphu festival is considered as one of the most important and symbolic in Bhutan. Fun, frolic and gaiety fill the ambiance in striking traditional flavor.

Date Oct, 01 to Oct, 09, 2014

Total seat – 9

Filled seat- 3

Available – 6

For details please visit the link below

http://www.windhorsetours.com/destinations/trip.php?country=bhutan&tourid=238

Drukyul Walking Tour

Drukyul Walking Tour, 2013

Drukyul Walking Tour, 2013 with Takshang Monastery at the backdrop.

This is one of the most popular walking tours, which involve fair amount of moderate hiking thus providing greater opportunity to interact with local people, visiting school, farm house etc.

Date – Nov, 01 to Nov 14, 2014

Total seats – 9

Filled seats – 5

Available – 4

For details, please visit link below

http://www.windhorsetours.com/destinations/trip.php?country=bhutan&tourid=153

Bhutan Festival & Sikkim Tour (Thimphu & Thangbi Festival)

Darjeeling Toy Train

Darjeeling Toy Train

 

This tour is the extension of Bhutan festival into the surrounding Himalayan region in India. After savoring festival in Bhutan, it takes its courses through sub-tropical forests and beautiful tea garden in Daurs to Sikkim state and to queen of hill station, Darjeeling in India.

Date – Oct, 03 to Oct,19, 2014

Total seats – 9

Filled seats – 6

Available – 3

For details, please visit link below

http://www.windhorsetours.com/destinations/trip.php?country=bhutan&tourid=126

Bhutan Festival & Sikkim Tour (Jakar Festival)

108 Chortens at Dochula pass

108 Chortens at Dochula pass

This tour visits another very popular festival in Jakar , Bumthang, cultural heartland of Bhutan in conjunction with unforgettable experiences of Sikkim and Darjeeling in India.

Date – Oct, 27 to Nov, 12, 2014

Total seats – 9

Filled seats – 7

Available -      2

For details, please visit link below

http://www.windhorsetours.com/destinations/trip.php?country=bhutan&tourid=126

As mentioned, these group journeys are aligned with festival, as it pragmatically adds greater value to the trip. However, after having said that, this is also the time when most of tourists wish to visit Bhutan.Hence, infrastructure like hotels, flights etc fill in faster than I could say “Group Journey”. In the same league, our available seats are subject to availability of these factors. In order to avail the seats, its early bird catches the worm basis.

Taktsang Monastery (Paro). The cultural icon and quintessential of Bhutan tour.

Taktsang Monastery (Paro). The cultural icon and quintessential of Bhutan tour.

July 4th, 2014

Progressive Changes and upgrades is a new Axiom at Wind Horse Tours

Revamped interior of Hiace Bus

Revamped interior of Hiace Bus

After the recent upgrade of trekking gears and equipment, it’s now turn for the interior revamp and upgrade for our fleet of transport (Surface). Albeit, it’s a ritual to review every quarterly every quarter of our structural and operational infrastructures.

Rampant online subjective opinions depicts the Bhutan’s transports safety measures and road conditions in poor light, which to a larger extent vindicate guests trepidation and anxiety for their forth coming tours in Bhutan.

One aspects that is most common in all the related inquiries that we received is “Does the vehicle have seat belts”? And the best was if yes, does it work?

Revamped Interior of Hiace Bus

Revamped Interior of Hiace Bus

Bhutan being a mountainous country and the easily available video at You Tube of narrow roads, with frightening turns and twists at every bend, in fact aggravates the guests’ apprehension and anxiety. And it brings forth the credibility of standard of vehicle and driver assigned to maneuver these roads conditions.

As far as road conditions are concern, it larger depends on the mercy of nature, as Bhutan is in direct line of fire of southeast monsoon that originate at Indian oceans, which play havoc with the roads more often than not. After having said this government road maintenance and clearance crews are at standby 24 X 7 for any kind of natural setbacks like land slide and road blocks.

In light of these, and Wind Horse Tours commitments to keep alive the traditions of progressive changes, upgrades add a deeper meaning to most importantly aspects of all – GUESTS’ SAFETY AND COMFORT.

New look interior of Hiace Bus

New look interior of Hiace Bus

June 10th, 2014

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