Bhutan

Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, is a fascinating country to visit, with the most spectacular scenery of any of the countries I have visited.

Although it is a developing country, poverty is not in your face compared with many other adjacent countries.

Politically

Less than 10 years ago the country was an absolute monarchy under King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

In 2008 the King, as part of his desire to reform Bhutan, transferred administrative power to a council of ministers and parliamentary elections were held.

One of the other reforms of the King was the introduction of Surveys of ‘Gross National Happiness’ as an important measure of progress in the country.

Around the same time the king transferred power he also abdicated in favour of his son, the current Dragon King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

Although the new King is now a constitutional monarch he is much loved and you will see pictures of the royal family everywhere you go.

Culture and Religion

Preserving the Culture is a priority which is emphasised by the requirement that traditional clothes have to be worn by locals for all official business and even attendance at school.

Although Bhutan is Buddhist religion is so closely interwoven into the everyday culture that a local told me she didn’t realise she was Buddhist until.she left Bhutan to study,

Tourism

The Bhutan tourism policy is high-value, low-volume which means to get a visa you need to demonstrate a minimum daily spend.

The normal procedure is to book your holiday through a local tourist operator who will organise your visa, accommodation, vehicle, driver and english speaking guide.

Travelling around Bhutan without a tourist operator would be extremely difficult as you need a permit to cross district boundaries.

Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (BTN) which has the same value as the Indian rupee (also legal in Bhutan)

Travel Hack 1

Even in the valleys Bhutan is 2,000m above sea level.

Tigers Nest Temple

You may be keen to visit the iconic Tiger’s Nest Temple but its a climb of around another 1,000m above the valley.

If, like me, you normally live at sea level don’t attempt it on the first few days, but allow yourself time to acclimatise and go at the end of your holiday.

Travel Hack 2

Like to see Bhutan and help the Bhutanese people? . . . . Disaster Aid Australia has a project to provide safe drinking water to all 120 central schools.

You can have a holiday in Bhutan and give a water filter to a school.

Find out more at Bhutan 2020

Disclosure: The author, and owner of this website, volunteers for Disaster Aid Australia.

Wondering About A Cruise?

Lots of people have said to me they wondered about going on a cruise for years before they actually went on one.

Does that describe you?

Trial Cruises

Why not look for a trial cruise of just a couple of nights to see for yourself, before committing to a cruise of a week or more ?

This week we looked on a cruise website and found several two night cruises for sale from our nearest port of Melbourne, Australia.

Some were for a circular voyage returning to Melbourne, others were for a short cruise to Sydney; which would mean you would need to fly back.

Costs

Image from Princess Cruises

Costs seemed very reasonable with twin share prices at around:

  • Au$ 350 per Person for an Inside cabin.
  • Au$ 500 per person for a Balcony.
  • Au$ 800 per person for a Suite.

As the price includes 5 meals, plus entertainment I would say it is well worthwhile trying in out.

You could also see if a drinks package suits you.

Travelling With Medications

For many years we didn’t have to bother about travelling with medicines, but as we have got older we both need to take pills daily.

Usually its not a problem travelling domestically, travelling internationally it can be a little more complicated.

Law Enforcement

Laws on drugs vary considerably between countries, particularly if you are taking a narcotic drug.

Although it’s unlikely you’ll be stopped and questioned about your medications, it is a possibility.

You never know if a search dog may pick you out.

Proof that you have been prescribed the medication will make the situation easier.

Evidence

The easiest way of providing evidence that you are entitled to the medicine is the original box, or bottle, with the pharmacists label.

If you are taking very strong drugs it may be useful to also get a letter from your doctor.

Losing Medicines

Minimise the risk of losing medicines by always having them in your carry on and taking a couple of weeks extra in case there is a delay in returning home.

Make sure you have a record of the details (such as a photo of the pharmacy tag) so you can get replacements if your carry-on is stolen.

Medical Emergencies

If you have a medical emergency, having the details of your medicines will help a doctor determine the best treatment for you. 

Niagara Falls

Niagara is certainly one of those iconic tourist destinations that doesn’t disappoint.

American Falls

We were very pleased to have allowed a full day for our trip to Niagara, and that we had booked both day and evening tours.

There is lots to see and the tours manage to fit in all the key elements, including many great viewing areas, without feeling too rushed.

The Falls

Horseshoe Falls

I am sure I’m not the only one who didn’t realise there were three waterfalls.

As well as the Horseshoe and American Falls there is the smaller but still impressive Wedding Veil Falls.

A must is a trip on one of the Maid of the Mist boats.

At Night

The falls look different again at night as they are illuminated by coloured floodlights.

There is also an impressive firework display during the main tourist season.

Niagara Travel Hack

Bridal Veil Falls

If you have got a good rain jacket wear that rather than those cheap ponchos that get handed out.

You can spot me in the Bridal Veil photo because I am the one wearing the red raincoat rather than an anonymous poncho.

I also noticed that the poncho wasn’t much use when you got on the Hurricane Deck as the polythene rips easily.

Meanwhile I stayed completely dry.

What Are Your Points Worth

As I know a fair bit about One World Awards, through QANTAS Frequent Flyer points I will concentrate on those.

Based on my experience from other airlines including Star alliance and Sky Team however I have found most loyalty schemes are very similar.

The points value depends on what you want to buy.

Worst Value

Buying gifts or gift vouchers is the worst value.

I would get an email every week with offers from the Qantas gift shop to buy luggage, cameras, electrical goods,etc; using my points.

When I check the points against local discount store prices it looks like its around one cent (AU$0.01) for every 2 points.

About the only time I would look at buying something from an airline ‘shop’ would be if the points were set to expire, and I was unable to book a flight,

Better Value

Buying an economy flight with ‘Classic Awards’ is much better value.

Although you will still have to pay Taxes and ‘Carrier Charges’ each point is worth between 1.5 – 2 cents (AU$0.015 – 0.02)

N.B. The points value if using ‘Points plus Pay’ is generally around half the classic award rates (not much better that gifts) although there is better availability of flights.

Best Value

The best value on a strictly points for cash basis is either, buying Business Class tickets, or asking for an upgrade after buying an economy fare.

The cash equivalent of a point when spent like this can be 5-6 cents (AU$0.05 -0.06)

The problem is that very few Business Class seats are released for Frequent Flyers which makes them fairly hard to get.

When I had higher (Gold Status) it was easier to get upgraded tickets.

Conclusion

Understanding the value of points means you can better compare collecting points compared with other discounts you may be offered.

Driving From The Airport

People worry about the risk of a plane crashing but probably the riskiest part of their travels is driving from the Airport.

Generally the only time I drive from an airport is in places I know well. and when I don’t have to drive more than an hour.

Overseas

Just got off a long haul flight? . . . . . . Before you rush of to the car rental kiosk think about whether any, or even all of the following will apply to you.

  • Don’t know the roads.
  • Not sure where you are going.
  • Don’t know the road rules.
  • Might be driving on the opposite side of the road.
  • Tired.

Sounds like a recipe for disaster for me.

You might be better checking in a hotel and hiring a car the next morning.

Home Country

Well you may be familiar with the driving but the problem of tiredness isn’t to be underestimated.

Particularly if you live 3 or 4 hours from the airport.

With two of us driving we make sure that we swap drivers more often than we otherwise would.

By myself I stop at least every hour and ‘Power Nap’ at the first sign of drowsiness.

Probably the most dangerous part of the drive is when you are on the most familiar roads.

I have heard a few people say “I was almost home and started to relax, the next thing I remember was waking up as the car ran off the road!”