Impressions of Bhutan While Traveling Abroad

 

Once, I went backpacking for a few months away from home. For the first time, I was traveling alone. I was used to staying in hotels in my own room until I met a girl from France who told me about dormitories. Right away I researched them because the prospect of staying in one room with many people scared me a little.

I started in Bangkok, and stayed in one of the French hostels there. There were four other guys from different countries and me in a room. It freaked me out at first because in Bhutan we don’t have dorms and I was not used to them. Luckily, one girl from the Philippines moved in, and I felt more comfortable. I decided to stay there for an day or two to experience the foreign company. Since Bhutan is a very small country, there aren’t many tourists; I hadn’t seen even one backpacker before.

Two Swiss boys in my dorm started talking to me and asked me where I was from. When I told them Bhutan, everyone in the room looked at me and asked, “Where is Bhutan?” I explained its location and one of the Swiss boys said, “Oh, the happiness country!” I smiled at them and said, “Yes.“

My journey continued through Thailand. I stayed in dorms and made many new friends from all over the world. I never had to travel alone because I met new travel companions everywhere I went. They never knew about Bhutan; every time I met someone I had to explain my country. Many people told me, "You are the first backpacker I have met from Bhutan!” That always brought a smile to my face.

After traveling by road, train and boat through Thailand from north to south, my trip there was done. I planned to go to Cambodia, so I went to one of the travel agencies on Khaosan Road in Bangkok. My bus left in the evening, so I had to wait for almost 6 hours at the agency.

While I was sitting nearby and eating some noodles, a Thai man walked up and smiled. He asked me, “Where are you from?” "Bhutan,” I said.

First the man said, “Annyeoung!“ This is "hello” in Korean. He thought I was from Korea.

“No, Bhutan,” I told him. He then tried to greet me with “Konichiwa,” the Japanese version of hello. I laughed and said, “Phutann” (in a Thai tone).

Finally his eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “Ah, King Jigme!“ I smiled at him and confirmed his understanding. He was delighted to meet someone from Bhutan. Many people I met during my journey knew Bhutan as the happiness country, or in Thailand as King Jigme’s country.

It can be difficult for Bhutanese people to go backpacking because not many outsiders know about the country; even at borders and immigration offices I have to wait a long time for a visa when my other traveling friends get one in few minutes.

My backpacking travels gave me many fond memories, great friends, and a new favorite hobby.

STORY BY SINGYE BIDHA JIMBA

PHOTOGRAPHY BY A.J. HEATH

 
StorySarah Cahlan