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Bhutan Tourism Update – How I Discovered Bhutan

How I Discovered Bhutan


Imagine, as a travel agent of some 23 years, being asked ‘Is it possible to travel to every country in the world in one trip?’

That’s exactly what my very intrepid cousin, John Bougen, asked me (James Irving) in January 2002 during a brief visit to our home in Brisbane.

Eight months later, after exhaustive planning & with 3 passports each in hand, we departed on the ‘All Nations Quest’. Not only did we seek to set foot on every official sovereign nation (plus The Vatican & Taiwan), but we had to do it as fast as possible using public transport.

And there’s more!

Our charity association with ‘Save the Children’ required us to interview a child at random, in every nation, and ask them the question ‘If any dream could come true, what would it be?’ John was to photograph the child in question while I took down the details of the dream for our forthcoming book.

Often our ‘random child’ did not speak english so we had to enlist the assistance of adult by-standers to help us with translation.

The 'All Nations Quest' - A very long air ticket....and 3 Guinness World Records!

Back in 2002 air tickets were still the old ‘paper style’ for many destinations.

Our friends at Flight Centre issued the biggest, longest, thickest ticket ever. Each of our main ticket stash was over 2 metres long and 4 coupons thick for each ticket component.

And we only had a small backpack each to carry our clothes, cameras, notepad and other personal effects plus those tickets.

However, we did attain 3 Guinness World Records for our efforts.

  • We visited 191 nations in 167 days, 15 hours & 39 mins.
  • We made 191 air flight sectors on the journey (coincidentally).
  • We flew on 104 different airlines on a single journey.

Beautiful Bhutan - The Jewel of the Himalaya

On 02 January 2003, we flew from Delhi to Paro in Bhutan, via Kathmandu. That ticked off 3 countries in less than 24 hours as was the way of the ‘Quest’.

Bhutan was a revelation to me especially. Neither before or since that first landing at Paro Airport, one of lifes great experiences, has any destination captured me almost instantly. 

Bhutan has a special charm that is difficult to put into words. Its spectacular geography, delightful Buddhist inhabitants, an incredible royal dynasty of far-sighted & intelligent Kings & Queens, combined with an almost indefatigable quest for protection of the environment and general sustainability, all combine to make Bhutan a country and travel destination like no other.

And English is spoken beautifully in most regions. The Bhutanese also have a keen sense of humour and delight in intelligent and fun conversation with overseas visitors.

'Bhutan & Beyond' was born!

I adored Bhutan so much in that first 15 hour stopover that I enquired with our BTCL guide, Prem, if Bhutan was doing much tourism business with Australia. ‘No, but we would like to’ was his reply.

Three months later the ‘All Nations Quest’ was over and a month later my wife Nicola and I departed back to Bhutan to meet with our new partners ‘Bhutan Tourism Corporation Limited’ (BTCL), and to sign an inital 1 year contract to work together and foster tourism from Australia. 

The rest is history and here we are 18 years later, still working with our brothers & sisters at BTCL who are now ‘family’ to us. Our working relationship with BTCL has always been a joy and we look forward to many more years of the same. Together we have accepted the challenges remote destinations can throw up and that has melded our destinational skills to a high & mature level.

James & Nicola have taken ‘Bhutan & Beyond’ to a premier Bhutan travel provider worldwide. They offer a complete range of both private Bhutan tours and small group Bhutan tours.

“We are about to take our 18th trip to Bhutan, as soon as our borders reopen, and we are so much looking forward to being ‘back home’ again.”

The Latest COVID-19 Stats for Bhutan

Incredibly Bhutan continues to be a world leader in not only containing the Coronavirus with professional aplomb, but to also lead the world in its vaccination campaign.

Bhutan managed to vaccinate over 61% of its eligible population, with their first dose of Astra Zeneca vaccine, in just 3 weeks starting 27 March 2021. That effort took them to the no. 1 nation in the world for vaccination rate.

And they still have had only one death attributed to the virus. The leadership of both the Royal Family and the Bhutanese PM & Government, in addition to the unwavering support and devotion by the citizens of Bhutan, is attributed to their success in dealing with the pandemic.

Bhutan will hopefully soon be reopening its borders to selected vaccinated travellers.

On 25 April the US State Department issued a list of 16 destinations that vaccinated US travellers were permitted to travel to. Bhutan topped that list at no. 1!!

Bhutan & Beyond will work with the Australian Govt to ensure Bhutan opens for vaccinated Australian travellers as soon as possible.

Article by James Irving – Bhutan Travel Expert

James Irving Bhutan Travel Expert

James has worked in the travel industry for over 40 years & has been involved in the leisure, corporate, group, sport, incentive & wholesale Travel genres.

James loves rugby union, and keenly supports the Queensland Reds and the Australian Wallabies.