It’s Finally Easier to Get to Bhutan

Xioajun Deng, Flickr

Bhutan might be most well-known for its Gross National Happiness Index, but it’s also an excellent destination for any adventure-seeking traveler on the lookout for outdoor exploits.

Situated at the eastern end of the Himalayas, Bhutan isn’t the easiest place to get to, but with the launch of the country’s second airline, that could soon change. Up until now, the state-owned Drukair was the only airline available to the country, but tapping into the aviation infrastructure of next door neighbor Thailand, now the Bhutanese and travelers to Bhutan also have access to Bhutan Airlines.

Thanks to the new airline, there will be a daily flight between Bangkok and Paro, Bhutan’s only international airport.

This is good for the country whose new prime minister isn’t focusing on talking about happiness, but “reducing the obstacles to happiness.” Last year the country had 150,000 visitors, up a whole 60% from the previous year. With tourism as Bhutan’s main source of revenue, particularly thanks to the country’s Buddhist temples and monasteries as well as mountainous landscape, a second airline will help more people have easier access to the country.

New Mapping Trend: Follow the Penguins

When Sunshine Aquarium in Tokyo wanted to stand out among other tourist attractions in the busy city, they turned to penguins. Visitors using the Penguin Navi app on their wireless device just follow the little digital birds through the city, which leads them to the aquarium.

The idea taps the world of augmented reality and has been a hit with tourists. Without changing any exhibits, Sunshine has increased its attendance by more than 150%.

Before You Book: Eco-Friendly Hotel Or Just Greenwashing?

can of green paint and brush

velo_city, Flickr

We’ve all stayed at hotels that proudly boast, via little signs on the bed and/or bathroom sink, that they’re doing their part to save the environment. Don’t want towels changed in order to save water? Just hang ’em up, and the housekeeper will know that you’re a carbon footprint-savvy traveler.

Sure. I can count on half of one hand the number of hotels that have actually paid attention to the location of my towel. I’ve seen countless housekeepers dump the contents of in-room recycling bins into their trash bags. I don’t have any expectations at motels, but when it comes to boutique, “eco-friendly,” or high-end properties making these claims, I find it infuriating.

My focus as a writer and traveler is on sustainability issues, and I’m overjoyed that an increasing number of hotels are more aware of their environmental impact. What doesn’t thrill me: the amount of greenwashing, or false eco-claims, that take place in the hospitality industry. This problem isn’t unique to hotels, but it’s prevalent.

African man holding fish

safari_partners, Flickr

We’re living in an era of climate change. Lowering our individual and collective carbon footprint should be something we do, to the best of our abilities, on a daily basis. Hotels are hip to the fact that an increasing number of travelers have an elevated eco-awareness, and they want to capitalize on that.

In the absence of a word-of-mouth or written recommendation, it can be difficult to ascertain a hotel’s eco-integrity (although certain chains are well-known for their green policies; a 2012 Reuters report cites chains like Six Senses Resorts & Spas, Taj Resorts, Kimpton Hotels and Marriott).

Sites like Green Traveler Guides, however, (full disclosure: I’m a contributing editor) exist as unofficial industry watchdogs, reviewing properties and assessing their green policies. If you’re looking for a hotel or resort that’s genuinely green, sites like GTG feature properties that are both green and great, as well as provide tips on how to be a more eco-minded traveler. Other resources include sites like Green Lodging News.

hotel with exterior living wall

Rev_Stan, Flickr

For a quick study, here’s a checklist of what to look for when researching hotels:

  • If the only mentions refer to buzzwords like “organic,” “local,” “eco-friendly,” “eco-lodge,” or “environment,” caveat emptor. There’s no law that prohibits the use of green jargon; it’s up to you as a consumer to do your homework.
  • Is there a bona-fide recycling (bonus points for composting) program?
  • Does the property employ locals/incorporate and support local culture and community? How?
  • Is the property built and furnished with natural and/or reclaimed or renewable materials wherever possible?
  • Are there green options for guests, such as bike rentals and local culture-based activities?
  • Does the property have green certification from a legit international or domestic organization or program?
Laurel Miller, Gadling
  • Does the property use alternative fuel or electric carts for guest transit on-site and off?
  • Are bathroom amenities and cleaning agents chemical-free? Bonus points your in-room goodies are locally made.
  • If there’s on-site dining, is the food seasonal and sourced locally whenever possible (which reduces fossil fuel output as well as promotes local food security)? Do family farmers, ranchers and fisherman supply ingredients? Is there a chemical-free on-site rooftop or other garden from which the restaurant sources product?
  • Does the property have a “living roof” or walls?
  • Is the property using alternative resources for operations? Examples include solar or wind power, geothermal heating and reclaimed water systems.

Magic Restroom Cafe: Would You Pay To Eat On A Toilet?

Toilet-Themed Restaurant Opens in China
(Video: Another restaurant taking advantage of the restroom-themed dining craze.)


Perhaps the Magic Restroom Cafe is magical in part because it has done something other restaurants have yet to do: require patrons to sit on a toilet while they dine. According to the restaurant’s owner, Yo Yo Li, restroom-themed restaurants have been a hit so far in her native China and Taiwan. Their surprising success influenced her decision to open the Magic Restroom Cafe in City of Industry, California – just east of Los Angeles – on October 11.

The Magic Restroom Cafe‘s tables are outfitted with actual toilets (never used, not hooked up) as seats. But the restroom theme doesn’t stop there. The restaurant’s lobby showcases both urinals and toilets. The cafe’s signature dish is called “golden poop” rice. They also serve dishes with titles like “black poop,” “smells-like-poop,” “bloody number two,” and “constipation.” The food itself arrives to the table in a miniature version of a floor toilet.

So this all begs the question: would you pay to eat bowel-movement-themed food while sitting on a toilet?

Guess Who Has The Most Intimidating Border Control Officials?

Border Control
Flickr, US Army

Do you ever feel nervous going through border control in a new country? How about when you return home? A study by IXP visas polled 1,000 travelers who had been to at least ten foreign countries; over 60% said they felt intimidated by border officials at some time, with the most intimidating vote going to American border control. The reasons sited for the nerves included “obvious weaponry on display,” a “lack of humor,” and a general “intimidating demeanor.”

The countries with the most intimidating border officials:

  1. USA: 22% (of respondents called border control officers intimidating)
  2. UAE: 12%
  3. Mexico: 9%
  4. Canada: 8%
  5. South Korea: 6%
  6. UK: 5%
  7. Israel: 5%
  8. Pakistan: 4%
  9. Venezuela: 4%
  10. Cuba: 3%

Have you felt intimidated entering (or re-entering) the U.S.? Which country has you most nervous at immigration?