Tag Archive | DrukAir

On Our Way

Ready to carry us to Tokyo

Ready to carry us to Tokyo

We’re here: 14 months of serious planning, shopping and training has landed us in the international terminal at SFO. We’ve got our passports, visas and rabies shots, ready for the little country of Bhutan, with many great unknowns for us. You can only read guide books and travel blogs for so long, or ask only so many questions…and still not really have a clue what is ahead.

Our next 24+ hours will be in the netherworld of air travel: a little over 11 hours from San Francisco to Tokyo, about 3 hours layover, then about 7 1/2 hours from Tokyo to Bangkok. Then it’s 8 hours in the Bangkok airport before we take off for Paro, via Daka: another 4 1/2 hours or so, depending on the length of the stopover. For our daughter, leaving from Newark will add another three hours to her travel time.

Because DrukAir does not have arrangements with other airlines, we must collect our bags in Bangkok and transit through immigration, to circle back into the airport in search of food and a quiet bench for napping. We managed to minimize our checked bags to one duffle, by carrying our sleeping bags and boots with the rest of our clothing and toiletries in our carry-on luggage. In the one checked duffle we have crammed in the other two empty duffles, a month’s supply of granola bars for three (or more) people, 3 Thermarest pads, our travel pharmacy, spare batteries, and other miscellaneous items frowned¬† upon by TSA. Like Swiss army knives.

Checking in at DrukAir also meant checking in all but our small carry-on bags. We had to trust that they would not get lost between Bangkok and Paro since adequate sleeping bags and our broken-in boots would not be replaceable in Bhutan. Miraculously, we were still within the DrukAir baggage weight limits. And, we were able to get seats on the left side of the plane, with views of Everest above the clouds.

Everest from inbound flight to Paro

Everest from inbound flight to Paro

Other Bits of the Trip Planning

Prayer Flags to Tiger's Lair

Prayer Flags to Tiger’s Lair

Once we had settled on the trek itself, the other details fell into place.  The biggest other piece of planning was finding affordable and workable flights to and from our gateway city. At the time, there was only one airline, DrukAir, that flew in and out of Bhutan. The schedule changed from season to season to match the weather and the visitor load. And, while they flew in and out of several cities, the most availability was in and out of Bangkok. We were able to find round trip airfares from SFO to BKK for under $1000, while the airfare for our daughter, traveling from New York, was a few hundred dollars higher.We managed to book our flights on United (with code share partner ANA) so that we all arrived in Tokyo within an hour of each other, and were able to travel together the rest of the way to Bhutan.

Perhaps the most challenging part of our air travel planning was that we would be forced to spend hours overnight in Bangkok both ways. Given the great potential for flight delays getting in and out of Paro, due to weather, etc., this buffer is good to have in place. The Paro airport lies along the valley floor, and covers a large part of real estate surrounded by steep mountainsides. The landing there is nothing much like we had previously experienced on commercial airlines. Watch a landing from the cockpit here on YouTube.

Given our arrival at BKK at 11:30pm local time, and the DrukAir ticket counter opening time of 5:00am the next morning, we opted to do what many did: slept a few hours in the airport. We found the second level, which has the restaurants and health clinic, has convenient benches tucked into relatively darker and quieter parts of the corridor. Although we were simultaneously jetlag-tired and keyed-up for the adventure ahead, we found adjoining benches to catch a few hours sleep.

Everest from inbound flight to Paro

Everest from inbound flight to Paro

There is a real reason to make sure that you are down at the ticket counter before the 5:00am opening. Your seats are not assigned until you check in for your flight. So, you want to be smiling and pleasant and kindly request seats on the left side of the aircraft (or right side if you are outbound from Paro). With clear skies, you get a spectacular view of the Himalaya crest above the clouds, including Mount Everest. We scored great seats.

In mid-2014, a second airline, Bhutan Airlines, began service in and out of Paro. We had the option to make minor adjustments to our flight plans and budget, but we stayed with the DrukAir reservation originally made by Blue Poppy agents.

On our return flight out of Paro, we had a late morning departure scheduled. Taking advantage of the longer layover, we opted to book a dinner cruise in Bangkok proper, and a night in the airport hotel. However, our original departure had been cancelled, and we were booked on a mid-afternoon flight to Bangkok. The flight departure was delayed, and we had a stopover in India; by the time we had claimed our bags and caught the shuttle to the hotel, it was about 10:30pm. The hotel had lost/confused our reservations, and it was 11:30pm before we plopped ourselves in bed. Up again by 4:30am to catch the shuttle back to the airport for our 7am flight back to Tokyo. While the hotel expense was marginally worth it, having the extra hours to allow for delays were priceless.