Mr. Greg and his family trip in Bhutan in August 2015
i Just used them and highly recommend them.
Although you have a lot of choices, I highly recommend using Heavenly Bhutan for your trip to Bhutan as they were very professional, patient with me, really friendly, and we had a great trip. And since price is the same everywhere, you have to look beyond the price.
As you may know, the only way to travel to Bhutan (unless you are from India or Nepal) is via a Bhutan travel company. You cannot do independent travel. Using a UK or USA travel agency makes no sense as they will just add a profit margin on top, as all the intl travel agents still have to use a Bhutan company .
You may also know that the government specifies the “minimum charge”, which for my travel in the fall of 2015 was $200 per person per night in the low season and $250 in the high season. Unless you plan to upgrade hotels (more below on that), all of the companies are going to charge the same price.
So why Heavenly Bhutan over anyone else? For me, they were unbelievably responsive to all my inquires (a zillion emails from me asking about this hotel or that and whether to see this or that), but most important they were on top of everything while we were in Bhutan. I emailed half a dozen companies and only Heavenly Bhutan responded fast and on point. Some just seemed to send boiler plate emails. Heavenly Bhutan also made me feel comfortable before and during the trip. I always felt I was in good hands.
Our guide, Dhana, and driver, Kado, were amazing. I have had drivers and guides all over the world but these two really made you feel like they were your friends not just your guide or driver. And they were always looking out for us, and on call for us 24/7. In talking to them, I found that they were employees of Heavenly Bhutan not just simply hired outside people. This I found important as it means Heavenly Bhutan takes pride in the people they use and others could request these people as their guide and driver.
Moreover, I got several emails and calls from management at Heavenly Bhutan to check in on us, how the trip was going, etc, and they even came to dinner with us a couple of nights.
Here are a few facts and info I learned and feel may be helpful to others.
1. The hotels we stayed at were all within the minimum price. Heavenly Bhutan suggested several hotels in each city we were visiting. I also researched and asked about others, which they were able to give me insight on and help me choose which hotels to stay at. We stayed at: Gyelsa Boutique in Thimphu, Drupchu Resort near Punakha , Soednam Zhingkha in the Haa Valley, and Gangtey Palace in Paro. I will be posting reviews of each hotel so you can read about them there.
But as for upgrades, other than in Thimphu there are not many opportunities for upgrades to a luxury class hotel. And frankly, not sure why anyone would given the adventure you are undertaking. In Thimphu, the hotel we stayed at was smack in the middle of town and right next door to the new high end Le Meridian. Sure by staying at the Meridian you could spend hundreds more a night, and probably enjoy untold luxury, but to me it would seem you would lose the charm. Our hotel was quant, good beds, good stay (see the review for a few negatives).
2. The dogs are, as you probably have read, a problem at night. In Thimphu they barked all night long. Not sure if any hotel can do anything about it and not sure if the Meridian installed sound proof glass or not. You will find dogs all over the country during the day. They are sleeping everywhere. For a country with a population of 750,000, having over 100,000 dogs is something. We were told that most all the dogs have homes. But the people like to let their dogs roam free, and in particular at night scare off anything that might eat their livestock or cause problems. Anyway, other than in Thimphu they were not a problem for us as all the other hotels we stayed at where not in the middle of any town.
3. The price we paid, the minimum, included everything but drinks. At all the restaurants and hotels charge a lot (for Bhutan) to the tourists (compared to what a local would pay). Most charged $1-2 for a bottle of water, $2-3 for a soda and$3-4 for a BIG beer. There were 4 of us so I always figured $10 -15 for drinks at lunch and dinner.
4. Everything else was in the fee (hotels, meals, admission tickets, driver, guide, car, visa etc.)
5. You have to wire all the money to the Bhutanese travel company for your itinerary. In our case, they had us pay half when we booked the trip and then the balance about a month ahead. The money goes to a lock box the Bhutan government holds and from what I learned, is released to the agency later. Once all the money is received, the government then processes your visa.
6. The flight into Paro and out was uneventful. Forget all the stories you have heard about how scary it was. While we could feel the plane bank this way and that, it was nothing like I was expecting and no worse them some landings I have had at some big US and European airports. (if you do not know, there are only 7 pilots licensed to fly into the airport as its visual only. They have to navigate through the valley to land and take off)
I don’t know if the travel company would book the flights or not, as I booked them direct with the airline. One thing I will say about Druk air is that they move the schedules around a lot. So I would definitely be careful cutting a change of plane too close in case they cancel or delay the flight.
7. When I sent my last installment to the agency, I sent them a couple hundred dollars extra to change into local currency to give me when I arrive. This was very helpful as I had money right from the start. For the four of us, for 1 week, the $200 was just right to cover drinks and a few small purchases (not much to buy in Bhutan btw) and the tip I gave the driver. I tipped the guide in US$ as I was out of Bhutanese money.