Responsible travel in Bhutan
Tourism has come slow to this tiny Himalayan Kingdom widely known as the ‘happiest country in Asia’. Slow to modernise and still steeped in ancient traditions, Bhutan is a rare jewel to encounter. A mindful approach to culture and people here is not only respectful to the local people but also helps us to appreciate the value of adopting a slower pace on our own journeys.
Here are the key things we ask our guests to ‘do’ when travelling in Bhutan.
BEFORE YOUR JOURNEY
- Do read about Bhutanese culture and history in advance. An informed traveller travels well. At the very least, learn some basic greetings. Any language that you can pickup before and during your journey will enhance your experience and enrich your encounters with locals.
ON YOUR TRIP
Witnessing first hand a way of life so different to our own is an extraordinary experience and a precious opportunity. In doing so, we feel sure that you will have no wish to disturb or be an impact on the lives of the Bhutanese that you will visit.
To this end;
- Do be respectful of peoples’ privacy.
- Do ask permission before taking photographs and respect people’s wishes if they’d prefer you not to. Whenever possible, it is good to take a postal address and follow through with sending the photographs back to the family.
- Do be gracious and complimentary about any food or drink you try. Do try everything offered if you possibly can.
- Do be patient. Sometimes things can happen at a slower pace in Bhutan than westerners are used to.
- Do dress appropriately covering your ankles and arms when visiting monasteries.
- Do avoid giving money, pens, or sweets to the local people in the communities we visit, as it can promote a 'begging culture'. It can create unequal relationships between tourist and visitor, with tourists being seen as purely 'givers', and it can also strip self esteem away from people when they get money for simply being poor rather than having to solve their own issues of poverty through community action. With sweets - local people may not have access to dentists, nor be able to afford them. Instead, please read the “Suggested Gift” section of our “Practicalities” document.
- Do shop locally - Why not do as much of your Christmas shopping as possible in rural Bhutan. Any money you spend on artifacts in the countryside can have an impact on problematic rural-urban migration.
- Do shop ethically. Avoid buying items derived from endangered species e.g. fur, ivory and items where animals may have been treated cruelly
Do use water thoughtfully. Although it may not seem it, water can be a scarce commodity especially in the countryside where is has to be carried from the valley bottom, or brought in by truck or horse. Further, hot water supply may be erratic – please do be understanding of the difficulty involved in providing this service and use water conservatively.
Do keep your use of water to a minimum at all times in the countryside. Going without showers and running water in toilets is to be expected in some areas.
Do bring your own water bottle - and we will provide a handmade bottle holder. Our vehicles normally have a 60 litre bottle of drinking water from which you can refill throughout your journey. Last year we estimate that we prevented 6000 plastic bottles being used and thrown away.
Do please bring and use biodegradable soap/washing products with you.
Do respect animal life/wildlife - we ask you not to; feed animals unless specifically asked to do so by the owner, pursue or touch animals as they may get distressed or pick flowers. Tour Leaders and local guides will provide a reference book where possible so clients can identify plants/birds in situ.
Do avoid touching or moving fossils
Do turn off all electrical equipment and lights when not in use.
Do be active in reducing litter and waste. Litter is a relatively new problem in Bhutan that comes with the wider availability of pre-packaged goods. The Tourist Authority of Bhutan ensures that all guides are environmentally aware.
There are litter laws in Thimphu, enforcing fines on those who drop litter. We can help by minimising our use of resources in order to generate less waste and ensuring that waste is disposed of in the most effective way possible.
We encourage you to:
Avoid accepting plastic bags for everything in shops and reuse the ones you have (for litter collection etc).
Reduce the amount of packaging taken on tour as it is more effectively disposed of at home than on tour
On camping tours, where possible, to use reusable food containers rather than foil or plastic bags and avoid using disposable plates, cups and cutlery dispose of litter responsibly
Compost food waste – if possible. Alternatively it should be carried until it can be put in a rubbish bin.
Take a plastic bag and collect a few pieces of litter and dispose of it at the end of the walk, leaving the environment cleaner than when you found it! We often initiate clean up walks. Your help on these is much appreciated.
If camping please be sure to dig a deep latrine far from any water sources and cover after use.
Visiting ancient/sacred sites - We ask you to:
Do avoid climbing on ruins
Do avoid touching religious objects
Do walk around Buddhist monuments and temples in a clockwise direction.
As it is, we donate a percentage of each of our journeys to our Sustainable Projects Fund, so by booking with us you are already making a contribution.
We invite our clients to make any additional donations to the fund or to any of the local charities that we have identified to be doing good things. You can send a cheque payable to the Sustainable Projects Fund to our UK office.
DO GET INVOLVED
If you have time and skills to share with one of our projects, please let us know whilst your itinerary is being finalised.