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Two New Yorkers Wide-Eyed for Bhutan

The Experience

New Yorkers Geoff and Annie Teillon kept looping back to a New York Times piece that introduced them to the seldom seen kingdom of Bhutan. Due to its size, or lack thereof, most world maps abbreviate Bhutan’s name or throw it in with neighboring India. But however tiny in size, the nation is captivating, big-time. The Times’ image of the nation’s astoundingly perched mountainside monastery know as the Tiger’s Nest – believed by locals to hold on to the rocky cliff side by the hairs of angels – attested to this. The Teillons asked Absolute Travel to plan an impromptu journey to this tucked away kingdom inscribed with tradition and culture. Bhutan's past visa restrictions meant more people visited the Empire State Building in a single afternoon than the country saw over the course of a year. And despite opening their doors to visitors almost forty years ago, attempts to increase visitors and the legalization of television in 1999, the nation known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon remains distinctly unique. Visitors will not find a single traffic light in their capital of Thimpu, Bhutanese still don their traditional gho and kira garb, regardless of who is around to capture them with their Nikon SLR. Even Bhutan’s transition to a democracy in 2008 was exceptional. The curveball? The King, not the people, initiated the transition and relinquished his power in favor of his people's freedom. Locals in the most remote areas of the country voted on machines (delivered by yak!), and a nation known for its Gross Domestic Happiness index made history in peace. “Absolute Travel nailed every aspect of our trip, immersing us in the folklore and dramatic wild beauty synonymous with the magical land while also fitting in a little luxury at the Aman resorts and Uma Paro. And our guide’s relationships gave us access to the local people, which we loved. We still laugh about Geoff’s never-ending backgammon tournament with the local kids and my attempts at the Buddhist’s Black Hat Dance!�? Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness is on display around every bend, as men take breaks from work to challenge each other with their bows and arrows. Geoff remembers, “Archery, Bhutan’s national sport, is just as challenging as it looks. I can’t believe the matches ever end – the distance they stand from the target would be like having to sink a hole in one before they let you off the golf course!�? But while the Bhutanese are quite skilled at hitting a bulls-eye, they could use a few tips on the soccer field. In 2002, while Brazil and Germany’s battle for the World Cup, Bhutan and Montserrat, the dead-last ranked teams, played their own match that day. Bhutan's unwavering national pride overrode their ranking – artfully captured in the documentary The Other Final, reminding us that the core of Bhutan remains the heart of its people. “We’re grateful that even after being on the tourist circuit since the 1960’s the Bhutanese still proudly cherish their nation and the quirks, myths and traditions that make it their own. People, like myself, could never believe this storybook land exists if they don’t see it for themselves.�?

Detailed itinerary

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In more detail, every day of cycling was different. Different area, different scenery (fruit orchards, coconut plantations, rice paddies, khmer villages etc), different scenes of day life (fruit picking, rice cropping, weaving, goods trading, rice paper making, children playing and many more). Accommodation in the hotels was above average and the homestay night was clean and had each own charm.
The food was just brilliant and Tung played a huge role to ensure we got plenty of quantity, variety and quality. From posh dinning by the water in Can Tho to eating with the locals outside in Tra Vinh. There was plenty of fruit tasting as well, either as part of a planned break or the ad hoc need for a bite.

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