TRAVEL NEWS: Bhutan Steps into the Modern World, Retains Most Friendly Status

Two Cities in Bhutan voted Friendliest in the World

Readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine have named a seaside, partygoers’ destination on an island in the south of Brazil the friendliest in the world.

Florianopolis beat out other cities like Thimphu, Bhutan; Charleston, South Carolina; and Kilkenny, Ireland to become the highest rated destination when it comes to welcoming visitors with open arms. A common thread among the top 10 friendliest cities is that most are small to mid-sized destinations from less affluent, modest countries such as Bhutan, Burma, Ireland and Indonesia.

Taktsang Monastery in Thimphu, Bhutan

Taktsang Monastery in Thimphu, Bhutan

Friendliest
1. Florianopolis, Brazil
2. THIMPU, BHUTAN
3. Queenstown, New Zealand
4. Charleston, South Carolina
5. PARO, BHUTAN
6. Margaret River, Australia
7. Mandalay, Burma
8. Kilkenny, Ireland
9. Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
10. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Unfriendliest
1. Newark, New Jersey
2. Islamabad, Pakistan
3. Oakland, California
4. Luanda, Angola
5. Kuwait City, Kuwait
6. Lome, Togo
7. New Haven, Connecticut
8. Detroit, Michigan
9. Atlantic City, New Jersey
10. Tangier, Morocco

For more on the list, click here.

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Democracy Arrives in Bhutan

Bhutan does things differently in South Asia, and nothing illustrates this so as much as the way it has conducted its transition to democracy.

Voting in Bhutan

Voting in Bhutan

In December 2007, I was driving from Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, to Paro, a small city 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the capital. Along the way, just before a bridge spanning the river, I noticed a small bulletin board and saw my first election posters in Bhutan. The board was around two meter square, and a few neat A4-size election posters and notices by Bhutan’s Election Commission were pasted on it.

Coming from India, Bhutan’s closest ally and neighbor, this was bizarre. We are used to colorful campaigns, election posters casually pasted everywhere, defying any size regulations, and often accompanied by graffiti smeared over walls and buntings all over the place. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal campaign in the same way, but in Bhutan, democracy has come in a measured, prescribed manner, with strict rules, one of them being not to litter the countryside with posters or graffiti.

The designed nature of Bhutan’s democracy is the direct outcome of the decision by Bhutan’s fourth king, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s decision to voluntarily hand over power to his people, and this is what makes it so very special. The test of how well established this new democracy has become is the second general election currently taking place in Bhutan, its first round completed on 31 May 2013, and the final round on 13 July 2013.

To read more of the New York Time Article, click here.

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“Women Helping Women”: Bhutan photographers take new approach to Storytelling

The photographers appeared from nowhere, flashguns popping in the late-morning sun. But this was no paparazzi horde. The frantic snappers were participants on a two-day photojournalism workshop in Bhutan run by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Their startled subjects – women entrepreneurs hawking snacks and drinks at the capital’s bus station – grimaced then laughed and got on with their jobs. Dressed in Bhutan’s colorful, belted robes, the photographers experimented with shutter speeds, aperture settings and various shooting angles. Their mission: to tell stories through pictures. Their theme: “women helping women”.

The exercise on the streets of Thimphu was part of an unprecedented course hosted by Bhutan Media Institute and designed to give local photographers a crash course in the art and science of visual narratives.

Led by Thomson Reuters Foundation Editor-in-Chief Tim Large, the workshop encouraged photographers from the Himalayan kingdom’s 12 newspapers and several magazines to see themselves as fully fledged journalists whose images have the power to move, provoke and shape opinion.
Despite a population of only 700,000, Bhutan has seen an explosion of private media in recent years as the fledgling democracy prepares for 2013 elections. But photojournalism remains an alien concept for many publications, whose photographers simply turn up to take pictures “for the record”.

For the full Reuters report, click here.

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A Bhutan Tech Primer: Early Signs of Startups and E-commerce

In our initial Bhutan tech overview, I provided a brief summary of the country, its unique circumstances, and its increasing openness to technology and startups. In this second article, I’ve reached out to the COO of Thimphu TechPark (pictured above), Tshering Dorji, and several others for an on-the-ground analysis of the Bhutanese tech scene.
Dorji has been with Thimphu TechPark since it opened in May 2012, and prior to that, worked at Bhutan Telecom, where he witnessed the country’s explosive internet and mobile growth firsthand.

Computer Room at National Institute Education (NIE), Samtse, Bhutan

Computer Room at National Institute Education (NIE), Samtse, Bhutan

In the 14 years since the Bhutanese government first allowed internet access, “people took to the internet almost like a fish to water,” he said.

Now that most subscribers have broadband connections, the popular applications are Facebook, online discussion forums, Twitter, news sites and blogs – not to mention the porn sites.
Regarding mobile, Dorji said that 3G coverage is available throughout Bhutan, including “some of the most remote villages” in the country. “In fact, foreigners are often surprised that there is mobile coverage even on the mountains and deep valleys of Bhutan,” he added.

A startup white elephant?

Back at the tech park, however, a January article in The Bhutanese newspaper claimed that the development was a “white elephant” and a waste of taxpayer dollars invested in the project. Few firms had come forward to rent space within the tech park besides the Bhutan Innovation and Technology Centre’s startup incubator. In that same article, Dorji was quoted as saying that “the rent paid by the incubatees isn’t even enough to cover the electricity bills.”

To read more about technology in Bhutan, click here.

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Bhutan Government Seeking it Increase Tourism Market Through Mobile Connectivity

Bhutan’s capital of Thimphu may be the only world capital without a traffic light, but the largest city in this remote Himalayan kingdom does boast some 5-star hotels, an increasing range of restaurants, and several nightclubs.

Bhutan, wedged between India and China, is known as the “Land of True Happiness” after adopting a happiness index to measure its success. The landlocked country was totally isolated until it opened to foreign visitors in 1974 – and then allowed television and the Internet in 1999.

But the tiny, largely Buddhist kingdom is in transition with growing numbers of Bhutan’s 700,000 people on Facebook and mobile connectivity reaching almost 100 percent of the nation, which is about the size of Switzerland.

Bhutan had been wary about foreigners damaging its unique culture and traditions, so it limited tourism from the outset. Although these fears have waned it still restricts visitor numbers by charging US$250 a day, in advance, with this cost including meals, accommodation, a guide, and internal transport.

The government, however, is aiming to lift tourist numbers to 100,000 this year from about 65,000 and is trying to attract more foreign investment in the private sector.

Read the full article in Reuters here.

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Editor’s Note: Original World Travel offers cultural immersion tours, private custom tours and small group tours to Bhutan through the year, including the Himalayan Explorer Tour: Sikkim, Darjeeling and Bhutan which departs in April for a 16-day tour, the Thimpu Tsechu Festival Tour, a 13-day tour in the Fall, and Bhutan’s Fabulous Black Necked Crane Festival which departs in November for 12 days.

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