Frances H Bak, 70, from the United States of America, is the first tourist to enter Bhutan on 9 August this year after Bhutan decided to allow tourists in.
Bak said, “Bhutan chose me. My relationships with the people I met here fueled my desire to return. They act as a sort of guide for me. This was my vision, and I’ve been holding on to it for a long time, and it’s finally come true. I thought I was in a dream when I initially arrived. It’s like I’ve returned home.”
This is her second visit to Bhutan.
“I left Bhutan in 2020, and had planned to return as soon as possible. However, tourism was shut down in Bhutan since the outbreak of the COVID-19. And here I am finally. It was worth the wait,” she said.
Bak is quite interested in learning more about Bhutan. And, if she can pull it off, she plans to travel to remote locations of Bhutan to experience things that no one else has seen.
She stated that the three weeks quarantine period was difficult, especially during the last ten days.
“Three weeks in a single room is a bit of a challenge. The cuisine was excellent. And the DeSuups and staff did everything they could, and I understand why some people are upset. I believe, for three weeks, an ordinary western visitor will have difficulty in adjusting to such setting since they would want to change rooms frequently. But, while the last week was difficult for me, I believe it was an excellent transition,” she said.
“Coming from Vietnam, I was able to catch the last flight out. The tour organization My Bhutan that brought me to Bhutan had to overcome many obstacles to bring me here, so the third week was a gift in some ways. I was familiar with the conditions because I had visited the area before and stayed in rural places in homestays. I’ve also arrived with a positive attitude,” she said, adding that being in Bhutan is a blessing, and that she is grateful.
She also said that she is aware of the government’s requirements for incoming tourists, which include large sums of money because a tourist will have to pay the Sustainable Development Fee (65 dollars) during the quarantine period.
“Nevertheless, I believe I am unique, and one of the reasons I am here is that I intended to return. There was no price too high for me to return to this country, and believe in it. I know where the 65 dollars goes, and it’s a lifesaver for the average individual. I also understand the quarantine process. And I believe that the condition must be respected, and that Bhutan is a small country whose people must be protected,” she said.
During her first three-month visit, she was able to travel to 18 out of the 20 districts in the country. Sharing her experience, she said that going to distant locations, monasteries, homestays, and campgrounds were exciting and exhausting, and this is when the guide became a friend and family member.
“It was life-changing on a personal level because Bhutanese people are constantly teaching. They are demonstrating how to live in a kinder manner. I was fortunate enough to be in tiny villages, and my aim has been, and continues to be, to deliver sound healing with gongs and singing bowls,” she said, adding that the ideal gift she receives from Bhutanese people is love, kindness, and generosity.
She added, “I appreciate TCB maintaining in touch and working closely with me, as well as the Ministry of Health for providing me with some medicines, which I thought was quite generous.”
In the meantime, she received her first dose of COVID-19 vaccine yesterday at the Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck Mother and Child Hospital in Thimphu. She conveyed her gratitude to the Ministry of Health for the vaccine.
She expressed that there are times when there are no words to express her gratitude. “I’m humbled, and getting the vaccination is monumental. I’m not sure where I would have obtained it if I had left Vietnam. I believe it is a gift and a generosity,” she said.
Bak will receive her second dose on 4 October, as she will be staying in Bhutan for three months.
Meanwhile, the three weeks mandatory quarantine period for all the travelers coming into the country has been reduced to two weeks.
Each tourist entering Bhutan have to produce a COVID-19 negative certificate issued by a certified laboratory, and carry out a RT-PCR test, not earlier than 72 hours before embarking or the initiation of a journey from the country of origin.
In addition, it is encouraged to have both the doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and also to check for other travel requirements if transiting through another country.