Bhutan: A Tale Of Altitude Sickness


Adjusting attitude to altitude. 

Age is creeping up on me as I’ve come to realize that I cannot simply consume medicine without reading up on all the information.

It all started when we arrived in Bangkok, staying for a night at my sisters’ home before going to Bhutan the next morning. The average altitude of Bhutan is 8,000 feet above sea level but we would only be touring in the deep valleys which are under 2,500 meters. Since this would be my first time visiting such a high location, Dechen, our travel agency for the trip, advised us to prepare the necessary medicine for altitude sickness.

My sister, who had checked with a doctor for this prescription, told us that she has started taking the Diamox Oral two days prior to our trip. She wasn’t able to ascend to Kota Kinabalu despite her being physically fitter than me, so she decided to take extra precaution for this trip. I, on the other hand was worried about not being able to adjust my body to the altitude, and started taking half of the Diamox the night before the epic trip to Bhutan.

This was all the photo I took on Royal Bhutan Airlines before I got sick.


That’s when all hell broke loose. 

In the wee morning of our flight, after I ate a sour cream Aunty Annes pretzel at Survanabhumi Airport, I took another half of the Diamox pill. The flight was smooth when it departed to Gauhari, India and I started to doze off. The no in-flight entertainment on Druk Airlines made it possible for us to catch up on sleep since we woke up 3:00 am to get on this airplane.

Two hours later, I woke up with a throbbing headache. Thinking that it was because of lack of sleep the night before, I shut my eyes and ignored it. A few minutes later, I felt my sister and Bart pulling on my arms, waking me up. In my mind, I thought that we must have arrived and we should get off the plane. But as soon as I woke up, I felt a ringing in my ears and before I knew it, my sister passed me the paper bag and I just let it rip (vomit mode). The last time this happened was when I was 6 years old, flying to the United States.

Apparently I had blacked out (fainted) and that they heard choking sounds from me while my eyes were shut. They tried to wake me up with force, for a few minutes until I finally did. I felt so dizzy and out of focus but understood that we were still in flight mode. It felt like the longest flight ever after that.

“Note to self and to everyone reading this, before taking any medication for your travels, always check withe doctor first.”

I told myself that I shouldn’t have taken the medicine without checking with a doctor and that Diamox is not for everyone. Always check people!

Our pilot making left and right turns between the mountains.


Kuzuzangpo la Bhutan!

Three hours later (it really felt like forever for me), the pilot maneuvered through mountains before landing on the air strip at Paro. We felt the airplane turning right pass a mountain, left and then right again before we started to descend. It takes a highly professional and experienced pilot to fly into this Kingdom.

Paro International airport was so cute in size. We got down from the airplane, walking on the tarmac towards the arrival hall, looking at the houses perched on the hills around us. I felt slightly better and breathed in all the clean air in this “Kingdom of Happiness”. Even though my body felt so weak, my spirits was soaring high at the excitement of being in this country.

Dechen welcomed us at the arrival area and we got onto our private mini bus to Thimpu, which was an hour away. The roads were winding all the way to the capital city and I took this chance to view the scenery beyond the glass windows.

“I can’t wait to see more of you Bhutan”.

Arriving at Paro International Airport in Bhutan

Just the three of us for this epic trip.

The color of the tiles come from the Buddhist flags that can be seen in the country.


Tips on traveling to Bhutan

If you’re not used to the winding roads and the cool weather, these tips might be helpful for your preparation to this epic trip.

  • Bring comfortable shoes because there will be a lot of walking and a day of hiking to the Tigers Nest.
  • Sit in the front seat where you get a view of the road ahead, to avoid having motion sickness. The roads were super winding everywhere and I had to place my focus to the sky or a faraway scenery. It helped me in getting used to the roads as we traveled.
  • Check the weather because it can get cold in certain months. We traveled in April when winter just ended, therefore the weather was cooling during the day and extremely cold at night.
  • Pay attention to the tour guide as he / she will be telling you local stories about the places you’re visiting, and most probably you will not be able to get them in any books.
  • The currency is Nutrum and there’s no need to bring a lot of cash with you unless you intend on buying a lot of souvenirs.
  • Enjoy the clean air and breathe it all in.

Getting comfortable in our mini bus, with nobody else but us!

Yongten and Lotte, the dynamic duo travel guide who were with us most of the time during this trip.

It helps to focus on the scenery outside, while the driver goes through the winding road.

A beautiful lake seen between Paro and Thimpu.

Buildings in Bhutan has similar architecture and this can be seen throughout the valley.


About Yafieda Jamil

A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.