The Unreal Happiness in Bhutan

“Mom, what’s Bhutan? Will I get to fly, to trek, to have fun, to laugh a lot; won’t I?”

Oh my darling, I’ll let you decide Bhutan is your own imagination and your own thought.

For Grandma, Bhutan is the place where she can simultaneously walk and pray “Om Mani Padme Hum”. She can also visit the sacred temples and monastery where she would pray health and peace for our family.

For Mommy, I’d love to discover and understand more about the Kingdom named “Land of Happiness”. Mom was surprised to learn one thing Happiness is not real in Bhutan…

A familiar yet strange Bhutan

Along the road where our family was driving through, there were hills, mountain, woods, dried pine cones, golden yellow paddy fields with heavy ripe ears of rice — those are the undeniably charming landscape that we get to see in Vietnam, too!

Sweeties, what a familiar Bhutan! Don’t you think?
A buffalo calmly enjoys its meal on the rice paddy field

Those monasteries have stood there with time, being covered by the alpine Himalayas. Those monks calmly prays while walking around; sometimes they drop a peaceful smile to tourists who are having fun in the monastery’s backyard. Here in Bhutan, men wear Gho; women wear Kira to work, to school or even casual activities such as shopping. Those friendly dogs enjoy their afternoon nap without being disrupted by the hustle life going around them. Right next to those lazy puppies, nearby are their vigorous cousins showing their passionate eager-to-please by those overly cute wagging tails…What an extraordinary Bhutan!

Monks in a Dzong

The Developing Bhutan

Bhutan is a developing economy, Bhutanese are mostly farmers. Its agriculture is a low-skilled and self-provided industry. Most of the time, I see ramshackle houses without electricity and water. Several houses share one outdoor bathroom which are “naturally” set up and dismantled. Those “outdoor bathroom” are just like the ones in our neighbor hood 20 years ago, every time someone needs to use the “bathroom”, they go to a small “toilet seat” which was set up so on 2 fish ponds at the other end of the neighbor hood. No doubt, leaves are wonderful natural “wipes”. Each household takes turn to “enjoy” their private time, everyone was happy to share. It was fun back then. But not any more now when the whole economic rise-up has made benefited everyone in the corner.

Besides agriculture, Bhutan’s other major industries include: tourism and hydro-electronic power provider. There is a high unemployment rate which focuses mostly on fresh graduates and millennials who immigrate from rural area to urban area. Bhutanese who talked to me showed a common concern: they worry that, given the current economic development rate, whether Bhutan will remain [clean and original] as the current Bhutan.

Although all children get access to free healthcare and education, local parents don’t dare to give birth to many children. Because they fear that they won’t be able to get nanny while they’re work. As a consequence, Bhutan is facing the aging population issue. Bhutan total population has constantly remained around 700,000 people for many years in a row.

When in Bhutan, I asked local people for jewelry [as souvenirs], their reaction took me by surprised. It seems that Bhutanese are not acquainted with jewelry for daily use. Jewelry is only either used in festivals or used as accessories for Buddha statues and local god and goddess. I notice that the local tour guides do not wear any piece of gold or silver jewelry except for a wedding ring.

In Thimphu, there are bars and clubs. But they are not the ones we get to see in other mega cities in the region. In these clubs, there are no EDM music, no drugs, not as much alcohol as in other bars [in other cities]. Only locals who enjoy local artists singing popular English songs. That’s how Bhutanese set up a night club.

There are no traffic lights in Bhutan, I also don’t recall meeting any stoners during their driving. Despite minor traffic jams, locals don’t rush and push other pedestrians by horns. I could hardly hear a single horn sound on the street in the middle of Thimphu. It is recognizable that Bhutanese take things slowly since they think: “Hey hey, you’ll be there eventually”, right?.

Sweeties, have you noticed? Bhutanese kids at your age don’t play with smart phones, Iphone or Ipad at all. They truly hang out while holding each other’s hands on the street. Sweeties, do you recall those Bhutanese friends who helped us riding horses in Tiger’s Nest? They indeed waited until our entire family got to the mountain foot so that they can give you a bouquet of wild yellow flowers. Oh honey, you were so happy and excited that you asked me to bring those flowers back to Vietnam as a gift for your friends? Sisters and brothers in Bhutan don’t get to use trendy toys, they don’t have smart-tech toys with a lot of entertaining information, they don’t even get to eat tasty treats. All they have are flowers, grass, pure love for animals and innocent laughter to give away as presents.

In Bhutan, wild flowers grow almost everywhere, ripened fruit and marijuana naturally fall down and no ones cares about picking them.

Wild flowers
Ripened pomegranate on the sidewalk

A Bhutan I miss so much that it makes me cry when we returned home

When we got home, I realized something strange about this Kingdom. As we all know, I’ve been to many places in the world yet how come I miss this specific land so much that I shed tears?

Well, to be honest, I don’t have an exact answer, every time I ask myself, I assume these might be why:

  • The image of local tour guides who brightly smiled and welcomed us all. The image of the same tour guides who, after such a long day, still waited up until 10:00pm after dinner to take care of us and make sure everyone was happy.
  • Your shiny smile when you were given gift, an equal shiny bouquet of yellow wild flowers, by sisters in Bhutan. You, of course, didn’t forget to share that happy moment with me: “Mommy, they gave me flowers!”.
  • The image of 5 local tour guides gathered together to set up baby trolleys for you and your siblings. Now there’s a lesson here: Despite the fact that those 5 tour guides work for different companies, on the same tour they jumped in and co-operated to solve the problem without bothering questioning, getting jealous or having a second thought.
  • The image of their worried face when your Dad and I had a fight during our trip. We were so ashamed and guilty that we decided to forgive each other.
  • The image of those tight hugs, sincere and bright smiles and friendly looks of Bhutanese locals in the theme of alpine Himalayas mountains.

All together they made me fall in for this peaceful kingdom. And I’ve fallen so hard…

Peacefully slept in his arms

Happiness is not real in Bhutan, sweeties. Happiness is only real the mind of each and every single Bhutanese. They live a humble life yet they have sophisticated thoughts. A majority of Bhutanese don’t have their own house, cars, jobs, TV, jewelries etc. However, what they have is an ultimate love with their country, culture, history. Besides, Bhutanese adore and respect their bright and loving leaders.

Happiness is real in the way Bhutanese look at each other. It’s also real because of their sincere smiles, their behaviors towards each other, their optimism towards life. There seems to be no competition, no negative thoughts, no bad behaviors. There’s only respect toward history, culture, religion which formed this kingdom. Last but not least, happiness is real in the love and respect for nature.

Happiness is real when each and every single Bhutan citizen think about the country and act together to preserve the beauty and value of Bhutan. Together, they act to improve life quality and bring joy, happiness for each Bhutan citizen. Bhutan is blessed to have its Father King, the King, Prime Minister and other leaders who have done their best to take care and think FOR the Bhutanese. It’s surprising that the King of Bhutan lives in a normal and humble house, he doesn’t live in luxury Dzong. The image of the King himself goes trekking, cooking for his people, meditating with his people really touches every single heart. Bhutanese are happy and proud of their leaders. On the same dining table, leaders don’t eat alone but they choose to share the meal with anyone who comes. The reason why Bhutanese leaders do what they do is because they think the country doesn’t belong to the King or the King’s family or the Prime Minister but everyone who bears a Bhutanese citizenship.

For me, I will practise the lesson of Happiness. It’s simple. Smile makes you happy. Being healthy makes me happy. Being able to work makes me happy. Being loved is happy.

This is reason why Mom and Triip team has created Type-A Retreat to bring Founders/Investors/Entrepreneurs to Bhutan from Feb 22nd to Feb 28th so that they can actually experience happiness.

“Happiness only real when shared”

Like what you read? Give Lam Thi Thuy Ha a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.