LGBT Asian Travel, Purple DragonBhutan

Bhutan: Perhaps the last unspoiled cultural destination in Asia...

Bhutan is a tiny Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between India, Nepal and Tibet. It is one of the last "undiscovered" places to visit in Asia. About the size of Switzerland, this is a land of boundless spectacular beauty and an environment that is still pristine. It is home to a progressive monarchy and friendly, contented people who are deeply rooted in tradition and Buddhism.

Despite a growing number of modern conveniences like electricity, the telephone and modern plumbing, Bhutan's culture is relatively unspoiled and the country's leaders have gone to great lengths to keep it that way. The kingdom has never been occupied or colonized. It was completely closed to tourism until 1974. There was no television in until 1999. Regardless of the introduction newspapers, cell phones, the Internet, air travel, and of many of the things visitors take for granted, Bhutanese live much as they did a century ago. Life here is uncomplicated and the country measures the progress of society in terms of "Gross National Happiness."

Buddhism is the nucleus of Bhutan's culture and people here are very devout. The country's most significant architectural treasures are its monasteries and temples.Colorful festivals take place throughout the year.

This is the world's first non-smoking country. You cannot buy tobacco anywhere in Bhutan and smoking in most places is prohibited. If you are addicted to tobacco, Bhutan may not be the best holiday destination for you.

Prices and Options

"High quality, low volume" must be the nation's unofficial tourism slogan. Tourism here is strictly controlled to minimize the impact of visitors on culture and the environment. You can visit Bhutan only on a pre-planned, pre-paid tour that includes hotels, guide services, transportation, and meals. Independent travel is not allowed except for diplomats and NGO employees involved in local aid programs. Holders of Indian passports are subject to more relaxed rules and restrictions.

The government sets prices and regulates the quality of hotels. They set a flat cost per day for everyone who does not stay in a luxury hotel. The cost is slightly higher for one to three people traveling together than for those traveling in groups. About one third of the cost goes to the government.

With other  tour companies there are really no hotel options available to visitors. For the most part, visitors take what is offered. All tourist hotels are clean and comfortable. If you insist on luxury these hotels can cost an additional $300 to $1,200 per night on top of the established daily minimum. If you want to choose your own hotels but don't want the "luxury" price tag, we have a Better Idea.

Prices might seem high at first unless you consider that they include practically everything except airfare--all transportation, hotels, meals, driver, guide, and admission costs. The cost per day is lower than the price of most four star hotels in London, Paris, New York or Tokyo. Prices of our packages are quoted per person.

How Our Programs Are Different

Purple Dragon was originally founded as a specialist in tours for LGBT guests. Many of our guests like our approach so much  that they began to send us their co-workers, neighbors and family members. You do not have to be gay to enjoy Bhutan with us. Our journeys of a lifetime are open to everyone!

Purple Dragon's Bhutan programs follow the same model that we use everywhere else--private cars, drivers and guides, and unique program features and destinations wherever possible. All of the three itineraries shown below have the option for a one night stay in a local home. This is a remarkable opportunity to experience daily life..

We have gone to a great deal of effort to hand-pick hotels and places to eat that we think are far better than the rest, while other tour companies are more likely cut corners in order to maximize profit. For Bhutanese tour companies, you are a one-time customer. We would rather see you travel with us again by giving you something better than a spartan hotel room and the monotonous hotel buffets that most visitors complain about.

The emphasis of the group tours offered by many tour companies is usually on trekking, or strangers packed into a bus. We think you can enjoy the breathtaking natural wonders of Bhutan without sleeping in a tent or returning from a holiday with blisters on your feet. All of our programs involve some walking, but no hiking. People with minor physical limitations should be able to enjoy any of our itineraries without feel traumatized. If you really want to hike, we are happy to offer anything from a half day to a seven-day trek.

Our Bhutan Itineraries

Bhutan Basics ▸ Purple Dragon's seven days, six night exploration of Bhutan's most important places: Paro, Thimpu, Wangduephodrang, Punakha, and Phobjikha Valley. Not only will you experience Bhutan's most important places, but you will visit rural villages, see unbelievable scenery and meet some of the kingdom's happy people.

Spirit of Bhutan ▸ The first three days of this ten-day program are the same as Bhutan Basics, but diverges to explore Bhutan in a little more depth. You will also visit Trongsa, the magnificent Bumthang Valley, where you will see Bhutan's oldest places.

Bhutan Explorer ▸  Like our ten day itinerary, this thirteen-day program begins in Paro and Thimpu, with a few subtle differences. In addition to all of the places included in our 10-day program, you will make several side trips from Thimpu and journey deep into the Alpine forests of Bhutan's eastern-most regions. You will see Tashiyangtse, Mongar, and Trashigang, and cross both the Thrumshin and Kori La Passes, and end at Samdrup Jongkhar, where you cross into India's Assam State at Guwahati.

Since our programs use private guides instead of groups, we can customize your itinerary by adding extra nights and other stops. Feel free to contact us if you have questions or  need more information. There are additional great itineraries on our website.

Getting There

Bhutan's national carrier, Drukair flights to Paro from Bangkok, Kathmandu, Dhaka, Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta) and two other airports in Northeastern India. There are also flights on Bhutan Airlines. You can enter the country from a couple of border crossings from India.

The Reservation Procedure

Reserve as far in advance as possible! Transportation and hotel rooms are limited, which makes spontaneous last-minute travel to Bhutan nearly impossible.

Since tourism is carefully controlled by the government, the established procedure for reserving your trip must be closely observed. Here are the steps, which must be followed in the order shown:

1. You decide on the dates you want to travel and the places you will include in your itinerary. In other words, you decide which of ou packages you want to use and whether you want any extra nights or modifications. Many of our guests like to build their itineraries around one or more of Bhutan's colorful festivals.

2. We will send you a summary of these arrangements along with an invoice for the total of your land arrangements, airfare and visa fees. You must pay the full amount before we can go the next step.

3. We finalize your land arrangements by submitting payment for everything when we are notified that space is available.

4. Only when everything is reserved and prepaid in full can we begin the process of issuing visa for Bhutan. You will receive a "visa clearance letter" at the time your air tickets are issued. You must carry that with you since you will be required to show it when you check in for your flight and again on arrival in Paro. Your actual visa will be stamped in your passport on arrival.

Because of this strict procedure, our Terms & Conditions are slightly different for Bhutan bookings. We strongly encourage our guests who travel to Bhutan to purchase adequate insurance to cover trip cancellation as well as illness, injuries and losses while traveling there.

Gay (and Lesbian and Trans) Life in Bhutan

There are many great reasons to visit Bhutan, but gay life is not one of them.

In short, there isn't any. Very few Bhutanese are openly gay, although that is changing rapidly. There are no gay entertainment venues. Most of the population of Bhutan are simple rural people who live in a cultural vacuum and it has apparently not occurred to them that people might live differently than their parents or grandparents. That said, it may be safe to say that the percentage of the population who might normally enjoy sexual contact with people of the same gender is probably just about the same as anywhere else. Although there may be opportunities for men living in monasteries to have contact with each other, this is well away from the eyes of visitors. And yes, Dorothy, there are lesbians and transsexuals in Bhutan.

Time changes everything, of course. The advent of television the Internet, and the growing number of educated people in Bhutan who have studied abroad will surely cause Bhutanese gays to become more visible. In December 2008 a major English language newspaper in Bhutan published a story entitled "How gay Are Bhutanese gays? This created an online forum conversation that lasted for three years until the newspaper ceased to operate (which had nothing to do with the gay story and ensuing commentary). There is a "gay in Bhutan" Facebook page with about 1,500 followers. And Bhutan now has an openly trans-gender woman who enjoys celebrity status and has bee called "one of the ten most beautiful women in the world," so there is hope.

If you are interested in our CEO's personal perspective on Bhutan, read his blog, February 2015 to present. He thinks Bhutan is one of the most fabulous places we offer.