Henry Kronsten review 17 Apr 2016
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?
The cultural tours are well established and work very well. Architecture and scenery are superb. Visit to Tiger's Nest Monastery was as good as expected, a magical place. Tango Monastery outside Thimpu was lovely too, as you could enjoy the atmosphere without the crowds. Also loved Punakha Monastery which is so beautiful. Plus birds, butterflies and langurs.
2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?
Your chances of seeing tigers or any other large animal are near zero given the forests and steep hills. Manas Park is not set up to try and find animals either. You have one to four armed guards with you because of "miscreants and militants" threat so clearly things are not yet that safe. Plus, in the south the roads are appalling, and the accommodation extremely basic, bed. Yet I still paid premium prices.
So my advice is to go to Northern India where you might actually see some wildlife. It will also be a lot cheaper. Go to Bhutan for the cultural tours and view any wildlife you see (which you will, by the roadside or walking) as a bonus.
3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
Yes, especially in the south where clearly there are very few visitors indeed.
4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?
Culturally excellent - four stars. Wildlife disappointing - two stars. Value for money very poor indeed - no stars. Tour operator charged top dollar and provided most basic of everything.
Read the operator's response here:
In response to your review, which we always appreciate, I would like to make a few comments that may have been lost in translation on the trip. We always pride ourselves on our honest and transparent approach to describing our trip and particularly the chances of seeing wildlife. Via emails and phone conversations we explained in advance that the chances of seeing a tiger were very low (around 5%) as were the chances of seeing leopards and other large endangered mammals. When you spoke to your friends about this trip you mentioned to them that the chances were very low in seeing big cats and that the trip was to be seen as an exploration into a pristine wilderness as opposed as one that will stand or fall on whether a tiger is seen. This is the only way to approach a wildlife tour of Bhutan as tourism is in its infancy here and the wildlife not very habituated to the presence of people and the forests so vast and unbroken that the wildlife still has lots of places to hide and remain out of view.
Regarding the security inside the park, this is not normal. It is a shame that the security measures at the moment means that you have to have 4 armed guards. This is exceptional and out of our control. The extra security is in response to illegal logging and poaching which unfortunately occurs in all protected areas around the world these days. We believe that by increasing eco-tourism in the regions that currently experience high levels of logging and poaching that we will be able to reduce its impact. But when exploring a part of the natural world that is so remote and seldom visited by tourists it is important to be flexible in such matters and remember that all security measures are there for the safety of the wildlife, environment and yourself.
The prices paid towards this trip are influenced by the per person per day tourism tax that is imposed by the government and not ourselves. Despite the level of accommodation in some parts of the country (we explained that getting off the beaten track would involve more basic accommodation than in the cities), the price was the same for the days you spent in the hotels in the first few days as it was for the more basic eco camps in the last few days of the trip. This price is set by the government of Bhutan and we do not have any control over this. I agree it is possibly not the best way of organising tourism as there are differences in the level of accommodation throughout the country; but it is the way Bhutan do it. It is done to limit tourism and so the plus side of this is that you often have large areas of the countryside and national parks to yourself; avoiding the large and noisy crowds in other Asian national parks.
Unfortunately we have no control over the conditions of the roads in rural Bhutan and there is only one route that can be used to get from the central towns to Royal Manas National Park.
As we appreciate that the per person per day tourism tax is relatively expensive we always do our best to provide the best available accommodation, guides, vehicles, food etc throughout the trip. The reality is that in rural Bhutan where so few tourists go, the level of infrastructure is not what it would be in more developed areas. But the government of Bhutan do not take this into account when they set their per person per day tourism tax.
We appreciate your feedback and for your recommendations for future clients. For anyone wishing to explore a very little visited part of the world and combine some of the most exquisite Buddhist cultural sites in the world with the chance to search for wildlife such as tigers, leopards, Asiatic rhinos and elephants in a pristine environment, Bhutan is the country for you.