I get that it doesn’t look classy to rock up at our super lovely hotels in a tour bus. It conjures images of school drop-offs or maybe a local bus route in Bolivia. Looks can be deceiving however.
The private car option for travelling in Bhutan should only be used when you need to access a remote location by 4WD, or if your group size is simply too big and the bus would be jam packed like a sardine tin. It's natural to think a car would more comfortable, but it’s mostly a matter of perception and lack of experience. We come from western countries where cars are a symbol of status and the idea of sharing a bus for two weeks seems like a form of punishment, yet nothing could be further from the truth.
Here’s why the bus is better.
- You get to spend time with the people you’re travelling with. The conversations that happen in the bus are really valuable as part of the overall experience. Sharing ideas, information and inspiration while we cover the winding miles between temples is something you don’t want to miss out on. I answer a lot of questions from people while we’re on the road, and answer them immediately. Sometimes it’s about where we might shoot after lunch, sometimes it’s an in depth discussion on taking portraits of strangers, and sometimes it’s a question on the Royal Family. But we share these conversations and that benefits all of us.
- Comfort. It turns out the bigger buses are a little bit slower and a lot more comfortable on the bumpy windy roads. I was shocked at how much less comfortable I was to travel across Bhutan in the back seat of a Landcruiser. You feel the bumps more directly from the smaller vehicles and there’s actually a lot less room inside to move and get comfortable. With a group of 8 guests and a bus designed for 20 we end up with tonnes of room to flop camera bags about and stretch your legs and change seats to chat to people or review photos as we drive.
- Nobody misses out on a stop. When we’re in the one bus it means we all get the same opportunity to photograph. Nobody has to worry about "fear of missing out”. I often hear the conversations with car based groups who happen to arrive at the same hotel for a night, and I hear a lot of debate over why one car stopped for a shot when another car didn’t. That feeling of having travelled thousands of miles to experience Bhutan and then you missed on a moment that other people got is not good dinner table conversation. Everybody gets an equal chance on my trips.
- Comfort again. Part of the reason some tours don’t want to bus about is because their group sizes are too large. They say they have a “small” group but in fact they pack 12 passengers onto the same trip, plus two photographic leaders plus five drivers plus additional guides so that every car has a guide of some sort. Suddenly you have an entourage of 16 people when you arrive at places, and a fleet of cars clogging up the road-side when they arrive at a festival. My idea of small groups is a maximum of 8 guests. Not 10, not 12 and certainly not 16. Be wary when people say "small group" and then sell 12 spots on a trip, anywhere. But especially in Bhutan.
- Simply the best. When I run a tour the primary focus for me is that my guests have the best experience possible. That means the most comfort and the most opportunity to ask me questions. Time in the bus sharing ideas and philosophy on photography, and life, is an essential part of that experience.
So get on board :)
Visit my Bhutan Tour page to see when my next trip to Bhutan is running:
You can also find photo essays from recent trips to Bhutan on my website here:
Happy driver makes for a happy bus!
OK Kinley you can stop posing now!
Stop me if you've heard this one before