Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tips for Travellers to Bhutan

Bhutan is not an easy place to come to for a holiday. First you get the idea in your head that you want to come. Then you find out that it is going to cost you $250 - $300 per day to travel here, and you start to wonder if you can afford it and will it be worth it.

If you're like me, Bhutan takes a hold of your dreams and imagination and you know that you must come, whatever the cost! If you've got the skills to share, a big heart and a year or more of your life to give, you could do what we did and contact the Bhutan Canada Foundation and apply to be a volunteer teacher or college lecturer (or look into other volunteer opportunities in the country for other professions).

If a shorter trip will suit you more, there are still ways to go a little bit deeper in your time here and I wanted to share a couple of ideas that I have.

All students in Bhutan study English. It is so important that they develop their English skills before they begin their highschool years of study so that they can understand what is being taught - as most subjects are taught in English-medium and all text books are in English.Even primary school maths, science and social studies are all taught in English.

As you travel through Bhutan you will  see many little school children in towns and villages and it may be surprising but all of them will have a command of English to some degree and I encourage you to strike up conversation with them. It is so useful for them to build confidence in their ability to communicate and by engaging in conversation with you they will get to learn a little more about the world (wherever you come from) and you will also get a warm fuzzy feeling inside because they are such lovely kids!

My boys asked me to take their photo on the way to their football game.

Taking this a step further, if you have a little bit of spare space in your luggage coming to Bhutan, squeeze in some fancy pencils, stickers, postcards or picture books or a souvenir pin (brooch) to give as you travel around. Some of my students have been given these by passing tourists and they are treasured so much! They will always remember the German tourist who gave them the green pencil (honest!).

If you are willing to go a step further, you could ask your guide to see if he or she can take you into a school to have a chat with students - in most cases this would be welcomed by English teachers. I have brought many foreign visitors into my class this year and we really enjoy a 'Question and Answer' session. The students can ask you questions (be prepared for them asking how old you are and guessing you are 40 years older than you think you look!), and similarly you can ask them questions. It is excellent real life language practise, and all the different accents of English are part of the experience. Hopefully their English teacher can act as an intermediary.

Miss Kimi, a Japanese friend living in Thimphu came for Q & A last week.

Visitors have been especially welcome on Thursday afternoon reading time. Thanks Lekkie!

Another idea is to consider buying learning supplies in Thimphu (particularly reading books which are available at many good book shops in Thimphu) to give to school libraries on your way. Although schools all have a library, many are limited and only receive funding to buy books once a year. Books for early readers through to teen novels would be greatly appreciated. Pens, paints, stickers, glue sticks, scissors and other stationery would also be valuable as the further you get from the capital the less easy it is to access these items for teachers and students.

I have recently been preparing my Class 2 students for continuing to improve their English next year when I'm gone - and I have been encouraging them to particularly approach tourists at tshechus (festivals) to have a chat. What I often see is tourists at the tsechus with big fancy cameras taking photos of my dear students as if they are monkeys in a zoo! I must say it really makes me feel sad. We would never go up to a child we didn't know in a western country and put a camera in their face without their (or their parent's) permission. I think it is not ok to do it here either.

BCF teacher Colin's dad Dennis right in amongst it with us for the walk to Umsang.

Vera listened to children read up at Umsang.

To turn this situation into a positive, you could say to a little girl 'You look so pretty in your kira. What a beautiful necklace/hairband/brooch! Can I take a photo?'  - I can almost guarantee they will say yes. To a boy, a similar comment on how smart they look in their gho would be well received. Then you can have a little chat and everyone is a winner - you get the great photo, and they are valued as a little person, and have built confidence in themselves.

Give some of these ideas a try - and your holiday will be full of rich and wonderful experiences, much more than just looking out the window of the bus and taking pictures of unknown people.

We met a Swiss family last weekend and invited them down to school for a look around. Their son had such a good time, he didn't want to leave.

All the best and have a wonderful time in this unique and special country. Tashi Delek!


  1. Great ideas Andrea! And for anyone trekking in the mountains, take along some old sunglasses. They are highly sought after by adults and children alike and are really essential at high altitude where the glare of the sun on snow is literally blinding (as two of our guides discovered to their cost this year).

    1. Thanks for reminding me about the sunglasses Heather. They would be a light and easy thing to bring. I remember at home seeing heaps of sunglasses at op shops too - cheap to buy secondhand and would make all the difference.

  2. " I often see is tourists at the tsechus with big fancy cameras taking photos of my dear students as if they are monkeys in a zoo! I must say it really makes me feel sad"
    coming across this sentence got goose bump on my skin, for how much you care and love for your students , I really like your perception .you are just incredible person, love going through your blogs.

    1. Thank you Thukten Dolma. I do love those students and miss them so much now. I wish it was easy to pop in for a visit!