Welcome to Bhutan, a tiny country of 800K people nestled in the Himalayan mountains where all the problems of modern living seem to evaporate. There are no homeless people, they have a fun national dress code, and they measure their success by Gross National Happiness. Did I mention free healthcare as well? Their slogan is “happiness is a place,” and I’m inclined to believe that.
Here are just a few facts about this little zen oasis that will have you reaching for your credit card to book your next flight out.
There Are No Traffic Lights
You know the feeling when you’re stuck behind every other driver on the planet waiting for that red light to turn green? You’re still waiting. Still waiting. When it finally turns green you just inch along those congested roads until you get to work. It’s boring, it’s impersonal, and it’s frustrating.
Now imagine if that ominous red light was replaced by a friendly man in uniform directing traffic. That’s a reality for the Bhutanese people, who don’t even have traffic lights in their capital Thimphu. What a great way to start your morning commute.
They Just Got Internet
The King of Bhutan had a ban placed on television and the internet right up until 1999. This ban made them the official last country in the world to start watching T.V. You heard me right. They missed the live airing of the first few seasons of Friends.
Talk about tuning out – imagine an entire country not dependant on their phones or internet? Since the ban has been lifted, Bhutan had started modernizing slowly and mindfully. I’m sure they watch Friends re-runs too.
Their Quality Of Life Is Measured By Happiness
They take this wellness trend seriously. Every census has a survey question asking you if you’re satisfied with your life or not. Bhutan also has a Ministry of Happiness that was created to measure Gross National Happiness. It’s the real-life version of the Harry Potter Ministry of Magic – except for smiles.
Their goal is to achieve a balanced development of all facets of life in Bhutan. Here, balance means happiness. That means paying equal attention to consumerism, environmentalism, industry, and well-being. The King has even said that “gross national happiness is more important than gross national product.”
There’s Free Healthcare
For North Americans, free healthcare just isn’t a reality. Whether it’s emergency trips to the hospital, expensive medication, or obscure fees that doctors tack onto your bill, healthcare comes easy but it doesn’t come cheap.
The Bhutanese people have a right to free healthcare, and they have a choice between traditional or allopathic Western medicine. They can decide for themselves which is the right treatment and aren’t met with a staggering bill every time they do so.
Talk about meeting your maker. These Bhutanese funerals are beautiful as well as touching, as they take place on the top of a mountain overlooking the country. These ceremonies exemplify the Bhutanese creed of generosity and giving back, as the deceased is returned to nature by being brought to the top of the surrounding Himalayans.
On the anniversary of the death, large multicolored prayer flags are erected on the mountainside.
There Are No Homeless People
It’s a sad epidemic a lot of people and countries are facing, and it can happen to anyone. Bhutan seems to understand just hard it is and how to overcome the issue by offering much-needed support to those who find themselves displaced.
If a person loses their home, they will be provided with a plot of land by the King where they can build a house, plant a garden, and begin their life again. Now that’s prioritizing happiness over economics.
60% Of The Country Is Forest
Forestry makes up a huge percentage of the Bhutanese economy and it’s no wonder. The country is in a temperate zone and is nestled in a lush mountainous region where trees are a-plenty.
The Bhutanese are careful with their resource management though, as they have erected a law that 60% of the country must be forested at all times. They take this law seriously too – in 2015 Bhutan set a World Record by planting almost 50,000 trees in just one hour. Take a couple of jars with you to bottle that fresh air when you go.
Smoking Isn’t Allowed Here
Here’s another reason to breathe deep – no smoking is allowed. If you’re tired of walking behind that guy on the sidewalk with a lit cigarette or trying to get by a crowd of teenagers outside the mall blowing Juul clouds, it’s time you got yourself to Bhutan where they’re sick of that too.
The King of Bhutan enacted a country-wide ban on the cultivation, harvest, and sale of tobacco. You can’t grow it, buy it, or smoke it, and if you’re a tourist you have to pay a big fee to bring it in.
National Dress Code Means Everyone Is Stylish
We’ve all had to bite the uniform bullet at some point in our lives. Whether it be at school or work, we’ve all had to wear a stuffy polyester ill-fitting shirt. With a look like that it’s no wonder we hated those uniforms.
Ugly fabrics aren’t an issue with the Bhutanese wardrobe. Most people are dressed in beautiful and colorful traditional clothing. Men wear the Gho, a knee-length robe that resembles a kimono, and women wear the Kira, a long, ankle-length dress. The Bhutanese also wear scarves that vary in color and signify one’s social rank.
Free Education For All
Nobody’s too cool for school in Bhutan. Nobody wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat from a nightmare about their student debt either. The Bhutanese government spends an estimated 18 percent of its budget on providing free education and medical care to all Bhutanese.
This is an impressive feat for the developing agricultural country where a large part of the population resides in rural areas. Clearly, the Bhutanese government knows the importance of not cutting class.
Animals Are Friends Not Food
Bhutan is a Buddhist nation, so naturally, the majority of their cuisine is vegetarian. Buddhist leaders in the country have enacted a ban on the butchering of animals for consumption. While it’s not illegal to eat meat in Bhutan, it is illegal to kill animals for that purpose. As a result, Bhutanese meat is imported from neighboring nations.
The nation is so against harm to our furry friends that in 2015 the government planned to build a series of imported meat processing plants, and their plan was ultimately scrapped by Bhutan’s central monastic body. There’s not even a McDonald’s here.
The Country Has Net Zero Carbon Emissions
Since gross national happiness involves a delicate balance between nature and self, Bhutan aims to create industries with mindful environmental impacts. As a result, Bhutan’s extensive and profitable forests act as carbon sinks that remove 3 times as much carbon dioxide as the nation produces.
Bhutan has to thank its mostly undeveloped land and natural industries for the feat. Its natural carbon sink is a win-win for the air and the panoramic views. Did I mention they have lots of trees?
One Of The Worlds Tallest Statues is Here
We all have some famous tall things in our city. Whether it’s a fish statue, a skyscraper, or a giant ball of string, we can all relate to the feeling of looking up and feeling tiny in comparison.
Now imagine that generic tall thing is a 156-foot tall gold guru sitting on a mountain looking down at you. That’s impressive. The Nangsey Zilneon Guru statue in Lhuentse overlooks the Tangmachu village. Talk about a watchful eye.
It’s Hard To Get Here
Tired of seeing Instagram post after Instagram post of places you’ve seen a hundred times? If you’re looking for a vacation spot that’s a little off the beaten path and away from the drove of tourists, Bhutan is the place to be.
The King only recently opened the country to tourism, and even now he restricts the number and locations where tourists are allowed to be in the country. The government also charges visitors from outside South Asia about $250 a day to be there. The rules have helped preserve the special magic of the place.
Hilarious Road Signs
It’s a niche little perk of the country, but if you’ve been driving the countryside exploring Bhutan for hours, they’re a nice way to keep you on track and entertained. Information and giggles? What’s more to love.
Is there a better way to tell you to slow down then “no hurry, no worry”? I feel relaxed and less worried already. Something tells me this is a sign we all need to go to Bhutan.
Country In Bloom
Bhutan has some serious flower power so you better pop your antihistamines before heading over there. The country is home to over 49 species of rhododendron that bloom in the wild forests or in the cities. The bloom season stretches from April until July if you want to catch a sight of these petals at their peak.
Every May the Royal Botanical Park in Lamperi holds a 3-day event where visitors can enjoy a walking tour of the roads covered in the flowers. This is the only red carpet that smells as good as it looks.
It All Goes To The Girls
In a twist from the way the Western world used to operate, the Bhutanese inheritance passes matrilineally. The eldest daughter inherits the parent’s house, land, and property rather than the son. Also not present here are the Jane Austen plotlines where wives had to move into the husband’s family and estate.
In Bhutan, the dynamic is reversed and it is up to the man to move into the woman’s house. The Bhutanese pride themselves on their adherence to gender equality. So let’s hear it for the ladies!
They Have A Cool King
I’ve never seen a picture I want to be in more than this one. Walking the beautiful streets of Bhutan telling jokes with the Middletons and Bhutanese royalty? You couldn’t pass that up.
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is 39 and is the current reigning King of Bhutan. He has been responsible for bringing democracy to Bhutan, personally helped rebuild a community after an earthquake, and went to Oxford. Did I also mention he’s officially a “Dragon King?” That’s what his title Druk Gyalpo literally translates to. Legendary.
They Have Unique Festivals
Here’s a fun game: count the number of faces in this photo. I bet you can’t. Here’s an even more fun game: guess if those faces are on real people or statures. You definitely can’t.
Bhutan has an incredibly rich culture and hosts some amazing and colorful festivals throughout the years. These festivals range from the annual Tshechu which lasts 3 days and boasts a variety of eclectic mask dances, to the Ha festival that’s as much of a good time as it sounds. Put your best face forward and join the fun!
Katniss Everdeen Would Be Right At Home
Archery is the national sport in Bhutan. Stemming from their mythologies where Gods donning bows and arrows play huge roles, archery became a crowd favorite among the Bhutanese. Bhutan also has an Olympic archery team.
In 2012 Kunzang Choden was the first Bhutanese non-archer to compete in the Olympics in the women’s air rifle event. That same year, the Bhutanese sent only women to the Olympics. I’m seeing some parallels between Katniss and these talented athletes and it’s making me very happy.