Bhutan costs $240/day. $200 plus $40 extra because I'm alone. That's $10/hour, or about 16 cents per minute I am alive in Bhutan. Most fellow travelers have viewed me with a mixture of confusion, awe, and backpacker scorn (as they could live for a month on $240) when I told them I'm going to Bhutan. It's about as opposite of Thamel as you can get while still being 7000 feet above sea level.
I hate to lead off talking about money, but it really shapes the experience here. $200/day is mandatory for everyone, but for that $200, they put you up in style. This place feels like it is my own private resort. It smells sweet like the Rockies, but there are even fewer cars on the road. I, however, have a car and a driver AND a guide. The mattresses are a good six inches thick and I have not one but two towels. When it's mealtime, they bring out like 8 plates of food, not at all expecting us to come close to finishing them.
Yeah, it's pretty weird. Not just because I'm a kid who doesn't require or deserve this luxury, or because I feel like I really have to make every minute count, but also because what the hell can my guide and I talk about all day? I can't be together with my best friends 24/7, let alone a relative stranger.
However, it's also pretty awesome. My guide is cool: he's a 24 year old named Rinchen (goes by "R.K."), so we can kind of get along and understand each other a bit, despite the dual weirdnesses of being from another country and me hiring him. Last night in Paro we had a beer with his friend and went to play snooker.
Side note: snooker is like pool for masochists. First, the table is about 14 times the size. There are 7 colored balls and 15 red ones, and your job is to pocket a red ball (1 point), and then on your next shot, pocket a colored ball for more points. However, there are numerous penalties. Pocket the cue ball: minus four. Miss all the balls: minus four. Hit (or pocket) a colored ball first before pocketing a red ball: minus at least four. Hit or pocket a ball you weren't aiming for: minus, again, at least four. Oh, and if you mess up, your fellow players can decide to let you "try again", for a chance to lose four more points. I think I finished one game at -33.
And today, we went to Taktsang, the Tiger's Nest, the coolest monastery ever. Halfway-around-the-world mission accomplished!
It's a hike to get there, about 2-3 hours and 2400 feet uphill. In a land that costs $200/day, there are still a handful of tourists flocking to this Tiger's Nest, but they are all older and richer than I, so I savored for once being the fittest guy on the trail. Well, besides R.K., of course, who set a blazing pace. Anyway, enough talk, more photos.
R.K. and me
Guru Rinpoche (aka Padmasambhava) flew to the cave at Taktsang on the back of a tiger, hence the name. Here, a descendant of that tiger?
I'm in Thimphu now, the capital and biggest city, with 200,000 people. ("2 million", in Bhutanese terms. Bhutanese "million" = Indian lakh = 100,000) It's thoroughly pleasant! The buildings all look super nice, in a traditional Bhutanese way. It's clean. The only ugly things are international, like the few gas stations. Bhutanese speak excellent English. And, importantly, coffeeshops abound. Sadly, I won't have a chance to settle in and hang out here, because being in Bhutan is more expensive than a 24/7 Thai massage.