Adventure World “Land of the Thunder Dragon”: Tour Review.

I have always been fascinated by the unique and untouched corners of the globe, places off the beaten path, the “road less travelled” destinations. One place that has held my imagination for many many years is Bhutan. The idea that a country can function with happiness being placed higher than profit, just resinates with me and I needed to see and experience this country myself. So the research began. First stop for many travellers researching a new destination is good old google. To my surprise I actually found a few tour companies that travelled to Bhutan, some of the big names are World Expeditions and Intrepid Tours, everyone knows these companies, they are large corporate companies that see a large proportion of the market. They both have great reviews and like most large organisations the usual few negative ones thrown in there as well. However the pre-determined departure dates around the time that I wanted to go did not suit my schedule, so I looked a little further, with the aid of my good friend Kylie from JetSet Hillarys. We came across the Adventure World “Land Of the Thunder Dragon” tour, they had daily departures and better still, the tour included flights return to Kathmandu.

Bhutan is such a unique travel destination, it is a Himalayan Kingdom with whom’s name fills the imaginations of travellers with magic and mystery. The Bhutanese have created a very unique way to control the flow of tourist into Bhutan and still make enough revenue to sustain the travel industry, which from my experience is growing at a steady rate. Bhutan have introduced the Gross National Happiness Philosophy which includes the famous $250.00USD per day VISA, which makes Bhutan sound like one of the worlds most expensive destinations. However this VISA/ tariff is all inclusive. The VISA includes your accommodation, food, transport, entrance fees and your local guide. The only thing that you will need to pay for yourself, are the souvenirs that you wish to purchase and the beers at the end of the day. On that topic you wont find many cheap, Chinese made souvenirs here either, not saying that they are not around, they are there and more arrive every year, its just that the Bhutanese like their local products and I sincerely hope this hangs around. I feel much better buying a souvenir that has been made locally, by locals and the money stays local. With this costly VISA you will not find Backpacker style accommodation and this is no accident. Bhutan is not a place that you can just rock up and travel through at your own leisure. You need to travel with a organised tour company however you do not need to travel in a large group. If you wish to travel by yourself, simple organise a personnel tour, you can even organise your own itinerary.

My Adventure World, “Land of the Thunder Dragon” tour started in Kathmandu. I jumped on the Druk Air Jet plane, Druk Air is the Bhutanese Airline, the aircraft was new and very comfortable. One thing I feel I must mention is be ready for the crazy landing at Paro airport. I have never seen a huge jet liner manoeuvre like that. The pilots have to thread the plane between two mountains before landing.

Tattered Passport

The Epic Paro Airport

Once through one of the most friendly and easy going customs gates I have ever seen I was met promptly by Pelma my tour guide from Adventure World, who use a local provider called Etho Metho Tours. I was given a traditional welcome and off we set. The vehicle we were travelling in was a reasonable new Toyota Hiace van, it was clean and comfortable. Pelma was such a nice person and I soon realised pretty much every one in Bhutan is so peaceful and welcoming. On the long drive into Thimphu the capital city of Bhutan we stopped at the famous Iron Chain Bridge and I quickly figured out that Pelma both loved being a Tour Guide and that he was incredibly knowledgeable about Bhutan and Buddhism. I was about to have an amazing experience in Bhutan with this amazing guide.

Through out my tour the accommodation was amazing, every night we stayed at beautiful hotels, all with incredible views, the rooms were all amazing and they all had WiFi in the common areas. I noticed that the hotel food was a westernised version of local food. I understand that this is what some travellers want, but I much prefer to drop myself into a countries culture and really try to experience the real country. I bought this up with Pelma and every meal after that I received a little taste of what the local food was like. I new some of it wouldn’t suit my taste but I wanted to try it. To my surprise the local food is magnificent, some of it is super hot so be ready.

The roads in Bhutan are some of the most breathtaking drives I have been on and surprisingly well made. They zig zag there way around the mountainous country side and boast an impressive 6-7 bends per km. There were shear cliffs, sometimes with nothing then a few well placed rocks stopping you from tumbling off the edge, even so I always felt safe. Our driver was highly skilled at negotiating these roads and always put our safety ahead of pace.  I started to get a little motion sick in the rear seat of the van, Pelma instructed me to switch with him and sit in the front. Pelma explained that this is a common occurrence on these windy roads. Whilst I was in Bhutan many of the roads were under repair I believe this is an ongoing thing. The roads get destroyed by the extreme weather, the summer monsoon and the winter snow storms. The roads are built by hand and you get to see and watch the locals working on the roads when you get stopped at one of the many road blocks. Some of which you may be stuck at for at least an hour until they open that section up. So it came at no surprise to me when Pelma informed me that our van had broken down. This allowed me to wander around Thimphu with Pelma, I got to watch one of Bhutan’s main sports, Archery. This was amazing to watch as the competitors were really accurate and unlike any sporting event in Australia, I was able to get really close to the action, so close in fact that I could hear the bows fly past. The van was getting hammered by all the road works and ended up braking down twice more, Pelma was always super apologetic. The third time, it was replaced with a brand new Hiace van. The new van was already on its way from Thimphu to Punakha and changed out. I was pretty impressed at the effort that Etho Metho went to get a new vehicle to us.

The sites to see in Bhutan are the same site that all tourists see a bit of a tourist loop, so expect to see many other people at the main sites. We kept on bumping into the same people at each stop, at each restaurant and some times at the same hotel. I noticed at one of the restaurants when I ordered an extra coke that I was charged 100BTN then a few days later when I ordered another coke I was charged 50BTN, this didn’t bother me but I did find it interesting. As you would expect at most of the religious sites you are unable to take photos inside the buildings. This is ok, you are in a very important building and respect needs to be shown. However when I was outside the buildings or in the courtyards I wanted to take heaps of photos and film as much as I can.  I found it awkward to take photo’s as my guide seemed to be explaining something all the time and I wanted to listen and learn. I learnt that I would have to just take photo’s while Pelma was still talking, at times it felt a little rushed at these sites. We once run out of time at the Punakha Fortress due to my guide speaking to much at an earlier site. These peaceful temples bring a sense of calm over you and I would of loved to stayed at some of them for much longer and really soaked it all in. I think Pelma realised this and he took me to a less visited temple the “Dzongdrakha Monastery” in Paro. This was one of my favourite temples I have ever visited and I got that moment I was looking for. For a better insight into what happened there click here for the post and youtube video. I was able to get the cultural experience I was looking for. That was one of the most rememberable experiences I have ever had whilst travelling, and for that one moment I thank Pelma from the deepest of my heart.

 

Pelma was really good at reading how I was reacting to situations and quickly figured out what I was looking for and at every opportunity he would create something magical for me. We were at a Monastery and I had an oppurnity to interact with some of the young monks who were learning there scripts.

Tattered Passport

The Traveller and the Monk

This was an exceptional experience, then I was introduced to two young men. These young men were true re-incarnations of the 9th Chief abbot and the 69th Chief Abbot of Bhutan. This was such an amazing experience, such an amazing thing for me to meet someone so special. Later that day Pelma explained to me to process that these two boys would of gone through to figure out who they were in a previous life, quite extraodnery.

 

 

 

 

The most famous site in Bhutan is the Tigers Nest Temple or Taktsang Monastery and when you arrive at the Tigers Nest Resort you can instantly see why.

The temple sits proudly high on the cliff face looking over the valley. The walk is an approx. 1 1/2hr hike up depending on fitness levels through rhododendron forests,however you can hire a horse if you so desire. Expect to see many people up there, both locals and tourist. Expect to wait at rooms before you can enter, but be patient it is well worth the wait. I was lucky enough to walk into a room and the Taktsang head monk began a teaching. I sat down with him and one other couple and listened, listened to his wisdom, it was another one of those moments, those moments that I was looking for.

Tattered Passport

The Tigers Nest Temple

Tattered Passport

Rhododendron forest at the Tigers Nest Temple

In conclusion I would highly recommend Adventure World if you want to experience Bhutan. The tour is well organised, the accommodation is brilliant and the guides are very knowledgable in all aspects of Bhutan. If you are like me and are used to travelling super cheap and using hostels be prepared for a different form of travel in this breathtaking country. Pre-organised tours are usually inflexible and this is an issue as well with Adventure World, but I was not disappointed with the level flexibility I experienced. Be ready for a little bit of the Tourist Loop mixed with some genuine cultural experiences, if you want them.

I have not received any form of payment for this review, it is the opinion of myself. I understand that others may have varying experiences of such tours, which I would love to hear about, so please feel free to comment below about your experiences with Adventure World, or any tour company in Bhutan.

Thank you for visiting Tattered Passport. If you have liked this post please Like, Share and Follow. You can also find Tattered Passport on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

One Life, One Search.

Peace Out.

Shane.

Tour Review: World Expeditions Everest Base Camp Circuit.

World Expeditions come with almost 30 years experience in the adventure travel industry and are self proclaimed to be recognised in responsible tourism initiatives, which I must admit did catch my eye. After many hours of research over the net as well as a couple of information nights I decided to go with World Expeditions.

There are many travel companies that operate in Nepal that offer very similar itineraries and experiences with largely varying prices. So I wondered why the large differences in costs? World Ex is not the cheapest, in fact I would say that they are one of the more expensive ones.

The World Ex. EBC. Circuit at $2,690.00 (18days) sounds a little higher than the Intrepid equivalent at $2,425.00. (20 days). Now I am not going to do a comparison as I have not trekked with Intrepid, however I have toured with Intrepid through Tibet. The World Ex trek is a fully catered trek, this means you get supplied, breakfast, lunch and dinner almost every night, the only nights that food is not included are those in Kathmandu. Keeping your energy levels up whilst trekking is vitally important to both your health and your ability to enjoy the trek. World Ex food, to put it simply, is astoundingly good. We never went hungry and the Chief suprised us every day. What he was able to prepare, sometimes with nothing other than a camp stove and cooking on a tarp in a frozen and windy valley was amazing. One night we actually had a full on Italian night, with pizza and spaghetti. I understand that this is not a traditional Nepalese cuisine, and for some that in it self would stop you choosing a certain tour. I am all for and normally do eat, local cuisine, however we found whilst trekking, eating food that you are used to back home is a great way to ensure that you stay healthy and keep the dreaded travellers belly at bay. This is not something that you welcome when the best toilet around is a hole in the ground.

Tattered Passport

Breakie Alfresco

When we landed in Nepal we were met at the Kathmandu International airport by a World Ex representative and assisted through the maze of people looking to help carry your baggage or drive you to where ever you need to go. The mini bus/ van is what you would expect in Nepal and we had no issues with it. If you are an adventure traveller you would not be disappointed by the lack of air-con, the seats were fine and I felt safe as the driver made his way through the chaos that is Kathmandu streets. The driver even stopped for us to take a few photo’s of some monkeys chasing us along a wall.

Once we arrived at the Raddisson Hotel, where all World Ex tours leave from we were greeted by super friendly door staff and I could say no bad things about the 5 star hotel. The place is super clean and tidy, the staff go out of there way to help you, the rooms are very spacious and there is free WiFi through out the hotel. They say that you are only aloud 1 free WiFi ticket, that last 24hrs but we were never questioned when we asked for a 2nd WiFi ticket. Kathmandu is known for its rolling blackouts that happen completely randomly at any time anywhere. However Raddisson is one of the only places that have a generator large enough to power the entire building so you only ever loose power for a matter of seconds before it is back on again. This is specially good when the power cuts out and you are in the lift heading up to your room.

tattered passport

What a view? From the roof pool at the Radisson

The World Ex staff are suburb, our Tour Manager Prasant was out of this world helpful and a super bloke. He was so knowledgeable about all aspects of the Himalayas and was always ready to answer any question we could through at him. He was also brilliant in diagnosing one of our trekkers and organising her a Medi Vac out of Gokyo Ri. Even after the local doctor had said that she is fine and not to worry. Prasant had watched the trekker detereiate over the course of the day and decided to get her a helicopter out. We later found that she was diagnosed with HACE, High Altitude Cebral Oedema, essentially Prasant saved her life. This knowledge is worth ever cent you pay plus many many more. If you are like us and this is your first foray into trekking, it is worth going with a highly recognised tour group that has many years of experience. It may actually save your life.

tattered Passport

Day Tour, We visit the Boudhanath Stupa

The Kathmandu day tour, guide was a character, it was obvious he new the city well and was very passionate about his city, however none of us could understand a single word he said. He would talk so fast and with so much energy the story was lost. The World Ex hotel representative who is based at the Raddison to support World Ex customers is very good at his job, he can sort out anything you want from organising a fair cab price into the city, or to the post office on the other side of the city, to hotel transfers. However his customer service could do a with bit of work. He comes across grumpy and unwilling to help, which is actually the opposite to what he is. He can help and is really good at it, as the face of World Ex at the Raddisson this probably needs some attention.

The pre-deperture and post return assistance I believe to be what your would expect. World Ex offer information nights in most capital cities and these nights are great ways to easily ask information about the tour and get a better understanding of what you will need to get and do to prepare. World Ex do hand out a what to bring list, which is very comprehensive. However you pretty much need to leave most of the gear in Kathmandu due to the weight restriction of the planes that fly to Lukla. This did mean that we spent way more on gear than we needed and what we could actually take on the trek. I believe the list is most likely a generic list that they send out to all trekkers, a suggestion would be have a gear list suited for each trek. Any trek that flies through Lukla, you are restricted to 10kg in your trekking bag and 5kg in your day pack. The 10kg already includes nearly 6kg of supplied gear, including your sleeping bag, thermal liner and down jacket. So you are basically left with 4kg for 18days. Not a problem but the gear list that World Ex

Tattered Passport

The World Expeditions bag

suggest weighed in somewhere around 15kg in itself. They do supply a really cool World Ex trekking bag that the porters carry and you are aloud to keep. The Hotel do supply a room to store your gear that you leave behind, however it is just a room where everyone stuff from all treks is kept and is not always locked, which is a little concerning, we did not have anything go missing and I have not heard of anyones stuff go missing.

The trek staff are some of the nicest and polite, hard working people I have ever met. You could imagine that in years gone passed porters were mistreated, leaving them to sleep in caves on the side of mountain in freezing weather and paid very poorly. This is now no longer the case, I am not blind and do believe these circumstances still happen. World Ex pay there staff according to the regulations set out by the “Trekking Agents Association of Nepal and the Labour Union of Nepal. They supply staff with three meals a day, accommodation mostly tents, appropriate foot ware, water proof clothing, warm garments, gloves, socks and sunglasses. Porters also receive Life and Income Protection Insurance, they have access to the same first aid equipment that the travellers have. The first aid kit and the PAC Portable Altitude Chamber were impressive to see and to realise that they were carried everywhere. One night the team gave us a demonstration of the PAC and explained to us how it works and what happens once you enter it.

Tattered Passport

Portable Altitude Chamber

I would happily suggest World Expeditions to anyone thinking of trekking Nepal. I had such a great time and I felt safe in the knowledge that I was properly looked after by the World Ex team whilst in the mountains. The pre and post trek service I believe was what you would expect from a tour company. They support local people and the communities they pass through.

I have not received any form of payment for this review, it is the opinion of myself. I understand that others may have varying experiences of such tours, which I would love to hear about, so please feel free to comment below about your experiences with World Ex, or any tour company in the Himalayas.

Thank You for stopping by Tattered Passport. You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or simply by clicking on the “Follow” button at the bottom of the screen. If you have liked this post please feel free to share with your family and friends.

One Life, One Search,

Peace Out.

Shane

The Big Chill Review. Contiki Europe 2012

My 1st Contiki review. I had so much fun on this tour.

Adventure of Epic-Ness, The BIG Chill Review, Contiki Europe 2012

http://www.contiki.com/destinations/europe/tours/106-the-big-chill/reviews/6402

If you are a young Aussie Contiki is a part of our lives. I remember saying to other travelers “It is not are you going to do a Contiki it is when?” So many young Aussie’s before me have been on Contiki and have all got some great stories to tell there friends and family. Contiki opened my eyes to travel and has changed my life. All I want to do now is travel, travel is now my life. Not the daily grind of the corporate world, not the challenge of finding that perfect job. It is how am I going to get there? How am I going to see that festival? How will I travel that country and who will I meet? What will there amazing stories be? Well I feel another “Travel Ramblings” post coming on. Love you all, Namaste.

Remember you can follow mykombiandi on Facebook and Instagram. Or you can click on the Follow Via Email button. Happy Travels.