The Ultimate Travel Guide to Bhutan – Top 10 Places to Visit in Bhutan
Kuzuzangpola (Bhutanese Greetings)!
Voted as the happiest country, Bhutan ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’ is well known for it’s untouched wilderness and rich culture. All thanks to Druk Asia Bhutan Travel Specialist, I had the chance to visit Bhutan in June. Besides simply immersing ourselves in the streets in Thimphu and the dzong of Punakha, one of the highlights of travelling to Bhutan is a visit to the Taktsang Monastery ‘Tiger’s Nest’ nestled on the cliff edge high above the Paro Valley. Here are some of the best places to visit in Bhutan.
1. START FROM BHUTAN’S CAPITAL – THIMPHU
Situated at an altitude of 2400m, Thimphu is the centre of government, religion and commerce. The capital has an interesting combination of tradition and modernity, and includes some of the most advanced and remotest parts of the kingdom. It is home to the Kings and the Royal family members, civil servants, expatriates, politicians, business persons and monks. Enjoy this cultural mix based on livelihood. Of culture we will take you through temples, dzongs, chortens, museums, handicraft stores, nunneries, parks and many more. Allow yourself to meet both traditional and contemporary artist.
Tashichhodzong (Thimphu Dzong) was initially constructed in 1641 and restored by the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s. Tashichhodzong houses some ministries, His Majesty’s secretariat, and the central monk body.
2. UNDERSTAND BUDDHIST TEACHINGS
Meet the elderly generation in circumambulation at the National Memorial Chorten. Chorten means ‘Seat of Faith’ and Buddhists often call such monuments, the ‘Mind of Buddha’. Treat yourself with the fantastic depiction of Buddhist teachings in the form of paintings and sculptures at this temple. As the name denotes this National Memorial Chorten was consecrated on July 28, 1974, in memory of the Third King.
3. SEND POSTCARDS HOME
Visit the post office in Thimphu to get customized stamps or to mail cards to your friends and relatives.
4. VISIT THE TALLEST BUDDHA STATUE
Located at Kuenselphodrang Nature Park, the 169 feet bronze statue of Buddha Dordenma, Vajra Throne Buddha makes it one of the largest statue of Buddha in the world. The Buddha Dordenma symbolizes indestructibility, and it is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world. The Buddha statue will be completed soon, currently awaiting for the completed paintings but visitors can drive up to the Buddha point and view the tallest statue of Lord Buddha. The view of Thimphu valley from the Buddha point is spectacular and beautiful, especially at night.
5. DRIVE UP TO SEE THE HIMALAYAS MOUNTAIN RANGE
At 3,050 meter, the beautiful Dochula Pass is located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. It offers a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of Himalayas mountain range with its 108 Druk Wangyal Chortens chortens that was built by Her Majesty The Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to commemorate the victory over the Indian militants and to liberate the souls of the lives lost.
6. PUNAKHA DZONG IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DZONG (in my opinion)
From Thimphu, we proceed to Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan. It takes about 2.5 hours drive from Thimphu across Dochu-la pass. Once you cross the pass, you will see a gently flowing aquamarine river that leads you to the Punakha Dzong, the second dzong to be built in Bhutan.
Punakha Dzong was built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative seat of the region. It was here that the dual system of government was introduced in the 17th century and in 1907, enthroned the first King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored in the recent years by the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
7. WALK BHUTAN’S LONGEST SUSPENSION BRIDGE
Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge is 160 metres long and is known for the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan. Spend an hour or so there and you will be awarded with spectacular views of Punakha Dzong and the Pho Chhu Valley.
8. PICK A SOUVENIR AT PARO
The beautiful valley of Paro is home to many of Bhutan’s old monasteries and temples. The country’s only Airport is in Paro. The valley is also home to mount Chomolhari (7,300 meters) situated at the northern end of the valley whose glacier water forms the Pachu flowing through the valley. Explore the main street of Paro town and check out if there’s anything you will like to pick up as a souvenir!
9. FIND BHUTAN’S NATIONAL FLOWER AT CHELE LA PASS
We drove to Chele La Pass, which, at 3,988 m, is the highest road pass in Bhutan. On a clear day the view sweeps away to the snow-dome of Bhutan’s second highest peak, Mt Jhomolhari (7,314 m), and down to the Haa Valley, which only opened to foreigners in 2002 due to its proximity to the border with Sikkim and Tibet. Walk slower because you will be pretty breathless with the high altitude. We went around to hunt for Blue Poppy, national flower of Bhutan. It’s rare now in Chele La Pass but if you are sharp enough, you will be able to find the beauty. After a easy hike, have a picnic lunch while enjoying the beautiful view.
10. MUST CLIMB TIGER’S NEST
A trip to Bhutan is never complete without a visit to Tiger’s Nest. Indeed, it’s true as the journey there fills you with spiritual bliss. It is believed to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan, making it the most sacred monastery in the country.
On our last day, we took a 3 hours climb up to the Taktsang Monastery, located 3100 metres above sea level. Paro was raining in the morning so the weather was cool but very misty. When we were nearing the viewpoint, the sky cleared up for a few minutes for us to take some shots before the mist covered the whole cliff again. But well, that precious moment was enough for us to be awed by the stunning view.
Why is it called the Tiger’s Nest? Legend has it that in 8th century Guru Rinpoche flew to this spot from Tibet on a back of a tiger. He came to subdue a demon and then took residence in a cave. To visit, you can either climb to the monastery by foot or ride a mule.
It wasn’t the best day to climb, honestly. When we were up there, it started to rain again hence walking down the slope was muddy and slippery. But through this, I get to see how helpful our guides were. They held our hands tightly, walked each step with caution, carried our camera bags all the way up and were always by our side to cheer us on. Of course, thank you Dennis for being such an awesome travel partner!
Are you ready?
WHAT TO EAT IN BHUTAN?
Chilli and rice form the essential part of most Bhutanese meals. Some of the specialties that you definitely get to try in Bhutan includes:
Ema Datshi: The national dish of Bhutan, Ema Datshi is a mix of chilli and cheese. It is a staple in every meal just like how Koreans love kimchi.
Momos: These Tibetan-style dumplings are stuffed with pork, beef or cabbages and cheese.
Red Rice: This rice is similar to brown rice except that it is softer and more stickey. Red rice is extremely nutritious and filling.
Buckwheat Pancake: Buckwheat has been a staple in their diet for centuries. Bhutanese make pancakes using buckwheat!
*EAT BHUTANESE FOOD IN SG* At the Druk Asia Breathtaking Bhutan Travel Fair in ION Orchard from now till 30th October 2016, we get to sample some Bhutanese cuisine such as red rice porridge and dumplings prepared by Chef Sonam.
WHERE TO STAY IN BHUTAN?
Hotel Lobesa Punakha
Address: Punakha, Bhutan
Phone: +975 17 61 26 72
This is a three stars hotel situated in Punakha with a commanding view. The rooms are spacious, reminiscent of the unique charm of boutique hotels. Most rooms have balconies overlooking the lush and verdant fields and valleys of the region. Hotel Lobesa also houses a restaurant where guests can sample traditional Bhutanese cuisine.
Metta Resort & Spa Paro
Address: Langong, Shomu, Paro 12001, Bhutan
Phone: +975 8 272 855
This is my favourite hotel during my stay in Bhutan. The hospitality team took great care of us and made us feel at home and comfortable. What impressed me is the authentic asian cuisine. It’s really authentic because the lady boss is from Malaysia so she makes amazing nasi lemak and bak kut teh! It also has a beautiful garden and lots of parking.
Le Meridien Paro, Riverfront – Paro
Address: Paro-Thimphu Highway, Shaba, Paro 12001, Bhutan
Phone: +975 8 270 300
It’s only 15 mins away from the airport and if you are catching an early flight, you don’t have to wake up so early to travel and you can even have buffet or call for room service. Newly opened, Le Meridien Paro has got amazing view of the river. The hotel facilities are fantastic and great service.
TRAVEL PACKAGE WITH DRUKASIA
If you like what you see and would love to pay a life-changing visit to the Land of Happiness, DrukAsia will take you there! Select from a wide range of itineraries via their website – www.drukasia.com – and pick an experience that is best suited to you.
The beauty of DrukAsia’s packages are that everything and anything can be customized to your unique preferences. You get to decide however long or short you would like to spend at each attraction, and get to add on the experiences you would like!
Their team of friendly and experienced Bhutan Travel Specialists would be more than happy to help recommend experiences that caters to your Bhutan Bucket List! Also, don’t expect a bus-full of fellow tourists. All of DrukAsia’s packages are for private groups catered for groups of up to 4, making your private holiday that much more enjoyable.
What’s more, Druk Asia’s travel packages all come complete with the following:
1) Visas for Bhutan
2) A qualified & licensed English speaking guide
3) An experienced driver
4) Suitable transport for your group with experienced driver
5) All meals inclusive at selected restaurants
6) Accommodation at 3 star rated hotels
7) Taxes, surcharges, government contribution
8) Mineral water for the duration of the stay (FOC, to get from guide)
All foreign travellers are required to apply for a Visa before entering Bhutan except for India and Bangladesh passports holders. Your Visa to Bhutan can only be applied and processed by an authorized and registered travel agent like DrukAsia. The Visa will come together with your travel package to Bhutan. You can’t apply Visa yourself and Bhutan embassy does not have travel visa services.
The minimum tariff for tourist visiting in a group of 3 persons or more are as follows:
• High Season Tariff: USD 250 per person per night halt (March, April, May, September, October & November)
• Low Season Tariff: USD 200 per person per night halt (January, February, June, July, August & December)
It’s time to put Bhutan on your travel bucket list if you want to visit the happiest place on earth!