6 things you might not know about Bhutan

If you are following my blog, you might already know that I visited Bhutan last month. I got to know the people there, asked questions and learned more about the country and their culture during my visit.

Most people know very few facts about Bhutan other than their Gross National Happiness. I'm going to explain why they are happy. Do you know part of the daily tariff USD65 that every tourist pay is actually used to pay for heath care, education and road development in Bhitan? My tour guide also told me that if one is sick, for example cancer, government will sponsor this patient and his/her caretaker to India or Thailand seeking for medical assistance. People there also enjoy free education up to university. Bhutan government take care of their people, would you be happy too if you were them?

They do have personal income tax system too, 10% tax whose annual income between USD1,600 - USD3,900, 15% tax who earn USD3,900 - USD7,800 annually and 25% tax whose annual income between USD7,800 - USD16,000. Comparing this with other European countries and Singapore tax system, I think this is pretty reasonable. I understand that a tour guide (English speaking only) earns USD10-15 (exclude tips, just basic salary) per day, if the tour guide can speak Japanese, Chinese or other foreign language, he/she will earn a lot more.

Before I went Bhutan, I thought Bhutan people were not open to the world yet (ok, maybe it's just my own opnion) but no, that's not true. A lot of young generation are using iPhone, iPad and Samsung smart phones (they know Samsung is Apple's competitor), they can afford to buy DSLR, ladies can afford to dress up nicely for the festival and a lot of them are quite well traveled too. Bhutan is no longer a poor country that we thought.  

So here are 6 things I want to share with you which I know about Bhutan.

1. Only few pilots are qualified to land at Paro airport

Paro airport is the one and only international airport in Bhutan. It is surrounded by sharp Himalayan peak of up to 5400 meter tall. It is also one of the world's most difficult for landing and take off, so dangerous that only 8 pilots in the world are certified to land there. The airport runway is only 2000 meter long which means flights taking off from this airport must pick up speed rapidly, the engine has to reach its maximum torque to develop desired speed to leave the valley. Planes are only allowed to fly in and out from Paro airport during daytime.

Google map satellite view shows Paro airport is sandwiched between Himalayan Mountains.

2. The only capital in the world without traffic light

Bhutan's capital, Thimphu, is the only capital in the world without traffic light. To be exact, there is no traffic light in Bhutan! Instead of using traffic light, there are traffic police standing at a few major junctions in a small pavilions directing traffic with hand motions, The traffic control station is only operating from morning until 6pm. I did see some traffic police patrol there at night but they didn't control the traffic.

The arm waving traffic police has became one of the most photographed attraction.

3. Bhutan is the first and only country in the world completely bans the sale of tobacco and tobacco products in 2010

Though sales of cigarette is banned, it is not illegal to to smoke in Bhutan. However smoking in public area is prohibited in Bhutan. Tourists who smoke will need to bring their own supply, declare and pay 200% duty when entering the country.  

This strict law causes the rise of black market. I saw local young people smoking openly when I was in Punakha.

4. Bhutan is the last country in the world to introduce television and internet

TV and internet was illegal in Bhutan until 1999. The intention was to safeguard the country against Western value. Though it was illegal, many people would buy television sets and rent video tape. Most families would spend USD13 every month on renting movies. Some even bought expensive satellite dishes to tap into India cable channel. It is estimated that about 11,000 tv sets were used in Bhutan.

With the legalization of cable TV, each family just need to spend USD3 every month.

We found LCD TV in a farm house kitchen in Paro.

5. Plastic bag banned in Bhutan

Plastic was banned in Bhutan nationwide in 1999. The ban is mainly to the merchants and to use paper bags instead. I did notice that these shop owners didn't use any plastic bag but they used paper bag, newspaper or cloth bag instead.

The country is still struggling with enforcement.

6. Bhutan's Royal Securities Exchange is one of the world smallest stock market

Royal Securities Exchange of Bhutan with established in 1993 has just 11 employees, 4 brokers and 21 listed companies. It trades 3 days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) a week. I'm very surprised that Bhutan has stock market too! 

Interested to visit Bhutan? Read my post here - How to plan your Bhutan trip? Click here to read day 1day 2day 3day 4day 5day 6 report

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