Experience Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon
Experience the best that Bhutan has to offer: a living Buddhist culture, serene monasteries, and a peek into the ancient traditions of this last great Himalayan kingdom. Only open to outsiders since the 1970s, this country of less than one million still doesn’t have a single traffic signal. Slow down with us to enjoy travel around the serenity of these terraced valleys, snow-capped peaks, and serpentine roads. Few travel to Bhutan. Make the once-in-a-lifetime journey to the “Land of the Thunder Dragon”.
Why we love this tour
This is an incredible journey into the heart of Bhutan. We’ll explore the unique architecture of the monasteries and other ancient religious buildings as well as meet plenty of friendly locals to get an understanding of their unique way of life. We’ll taste the fiery flavors that make up typical Bhutanese cuisine and burn off that energy on quiet walks through the forested landscape. The trip will culminate with an accent of the spectacular Tiger’s Nest Monastery. We’ll be led by a local guide along with our co-founder, Stephen Bugno, who has had a fondness for Bhutan since first visiting in 2014.
- Day 1Arrive at Paro, drive to ThimphuOn the flight into Paro (elevation 2200 m/ 7800 ft.) you’ll get an introduction to the spectacular beauty of Bhutan from above. From a window seat on a clear day you can enjoy a magnificent view of Bhutan’s snow-capped peaks as you approach Paro. On arrival, you will be received by your guide and your driver who will drive you to the capital city, Thimphu (elevation 2400 m/ 8000 ft.). The 45-minute drive follows the rivers of Paro and Thimphu. You will have ample time to look around the city, the only capital in the world with no traffic lights. Dinner and overnight at hotel.
- Day 2Thimphu SightseeingAfter breakfast we’ll visit the Memorial Chorten, built in the memory of the third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Then we’ll drive to Motithang for a bird’s eye view of the capital city. Next we’ll visit the mini zoo to get up close with a Takin, the national animal of Bhutan. Takins are a unique looking animal and are the only occupants of the mini zoo. There is an interesting story to their existence, which you will hear from your guide. Next, we’ll drive to Drubthop Lhakhang, the nunnery temple. Return to town for lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch, we’ll visit the Bhutanese Indigenous Hospital, Traditional Painting School, National Library and continue our drive south to Lungtenzampa to visit the Royal silversmith at work and then stop by at the Bhutanese Paper factory. Time permitting we will visit Simtokha Dzong (fortress), the first Dzong in Bhutan, built in 1624. It currently houses the Institute of Learning for Culture and Buddhist Studies. Dinner and overnight at hotel.
- Day 3Drive to Punakha Valley to See Punakha Dzong & Hike to Temple of Divine MadmanLeaving Thimphu the road gradually climbs through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with hanging lichen high up near Dochula pass (3,050 m/10,000 ft.). This pass offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges. After a brief stop to catch the breathtaking views, we will descend along a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Punakha (1,350 meters/ 4,430 feet). Before proceeding further to Punakha town we will hike through rice fields to Chimi Lhakhang Temple located on a small hilltop.
Chimi Lhakhang Temple is dedicated to the great Yogi of the 14th century known as Drukpa Kuenley, or popularly known in the west as the “Divine madman”. It is believed that this temple blesses women who seek fertility. A popular pilgrimage spot for the Bhutanese, it is frequented by childless couples and parents who have difficulty raising children. After Lunch, we’ll continue to Punakha Dzong (Fortress) situated between the two rivers Pho Chu and Mochu (Male and Female Rivers). This fortress is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan). This Dzong had served as the capital seat of the Kingdom for more than three hundred years. Dinner and overnight at hotel.
- Day 4Drive Scenic Punakha to Phobjikha Valley and HomestayToday we’ll head down the valley to Wangdi Phodrang and enjoy the 2-hour scenic drive east to the Phobjikha Valley. Before we reach Pele La Pass, we’ll make a right turn on a spur road and exit the highway. The road will lead us to the broad and beautiful valley of Phobjikha. This valley is also home to the Black-necked cranes, an endangered species of bird that migrates from the plateau of Tibet. The birds migrate in late October and they return to Tibet in March/April. The Black-necked Crane, deeply revered as a heavenly bird (lhab-bja), is also known as Thrung Thrung Karmo. The birds have harmoniously coexisted with the local residents largely due to locals’ strong Buddhist beliefs. The lhab-bja appears in the Bhutanese folklore, songs, dances and historical references. Then we’ll visit the Gangtey Goenpa (Monastery).
Tonight we’ll experience a homestay at a local farmhouse. You will get to enjoy some authentic Bhutanese hospitality tonight and while the standards or comfort level may not be as high as the hotels, it is a good opportunity to learn about a family’s day to day life. In most cases, the mattress will be on the floor (no bed) and the bathroom is shared (not attached to the room).
- Day 5Explore the Phobjikha ValleyAfter breakfast, we’ll take a beautiful hike around the Phobjikha valley, explore the villages, and look for black-necked cranes if there are any. We’ll also stop by to visit the crane information center. Return journey towards Dochu La Pass. Overnight at hotel.
- Day 6Drive Punakha to Paro Valley and hike to StupaAfter breakfast, we’ll drive through the Punakha Valley. Along the way we’ll stop to hike about an hour up the switchbacks to the Namgyel Khamsum Yuely Chorten (stupa). Looking downstream, the viewpoint here affords expansive views of the Mochu River Valley below. We’ll descend from the temple and follow a well-worn path down the valley through rice fields and small villages. Along the way we are rewarded with stunning views, the terraced rice paddies providing a gorgeous backdrop to the river below. After enjoying a picnic lunch alongside the river, we’ll continue our journey to Paro. Upon arrival in Paro, you will have time for walking around the town and for some shopping. Overnight at hotel.
- Day 7Visit Paro ValleyThis afternoon we will visit the National Museum, housed in a unique, semi-circular shaped Ta Dzong, built in 1775. The Ta Dzong, with its six floors, was once the watchtower for the massive Paro Dzong, built in the 17th century by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The museum has the most extensive collection Bhutanese artifacts and history, which include, ancient crafts, wares, weapons, a collection of antique thangkha (painted or embroidered religious pictures), textiles, and stamps. The museum provides a wonderful introduction to the rich culture and heritage of the Kingdom.
We’ll walk downhill from the museum to the Paro Rinchen Pung Dzong (meaning ‘fortress on a heap of jewels’), the religious and secular center of Paro, and certainly the most dominant feature in the valley. The dzong was first conceived in the 15th-century and finally consecrated in 1646. From the Dzong, we will hike to the river and cross Nyamai Zampa, a traditional cantilever bridge. Paro options include a visit to a traditional farmhouse for lunch with a family. After spending some village time, we will visit Kyichu Lhakhang, the oldest monastery in the country. Overnight at Hotel.
- Day 8Hike to Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) MonasteryAfter breakfast, you’ll be dropped off at the starting point of the excursion to view the spectacular and famous Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s lair).The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest, many of the trees covered with Spanish moss, and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. You’ll stop at the cafeteria for a rest and refreshments and continue the hike for a short while until you see, clearly and seemingly within reach, the imposing Taktsang monastery. Built in the 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. It is believed that, in the 8th century, Guru Rimpoche, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tigress to subdue a demon. Guru Rimpoche is supposed to have meditated here for three months and it is considered a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists.
Driving further up the valley, we’ll visit Drukgyel Dzong (the fortress of the victorious Drukpas), built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to celebrate victory over invading Tibetan forces and also to curtail further invasions from the enemy. The route is picturesque, and the site of the dzong, magnificent (from here, it’s only a two-day hike to the border with Tibet, dominated by Mt Jhomalhari). Not far from here also marks the trailhead for the popular and scenic Jumolhari Trek. After returning to town, you can visit the town temple, built in 1525, to check out ancient wall paintings. Spend the rest of the evening in town. Overnight at Hotel.
- Day 9International Flight Departure from ParoMorning drive to Paro Airport for departure to your onward destination.
Recommended Packing List for Experience Bhutan:
- Weather in Bhutan in October can be cool to warm in the day and chilly, especially at night in the high elevations. Pack a variety of clothing that you can layer. Wool is always best. October daily highs average about 55°F / 13°C and nightly lows about 36°F / 2°C
- Comfortable footwear for walking / light hiking.
- Cash (new, clean Euros or USD are best).
- ATM cards, credit cards (only useable/accepted in Thimpu).
- Money belt for passport, large bills, and credit/ATM cards.
The accommodation will include government-approved 3-star hotels for seven nights and one homestay in a local resident’s farmhouse. On that night you will get to enjoy some authentic Bhutanese hospitality. While the standards or comfort level may not be as high as the hotels, it is a good opportunity to learn about a family’s day-to-day life. In most cases, the mattress will be on the floor (no bed) and the bathroom is shared (not attached to the room).
The transportation during this trip will be by private minivan or van depending on the size of the group.
Flights to Bhutan
Flights to/from Bhutan can be bought on Druk Airways website. Please note to wait for the minimum number of travelers to be met for the tour to run. Flight depart from Delhi, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Singapre and a few other cites.
Very important: Your flight to Bhutan must arrive exactly on Oct 26th and depart on Nov 3rd, 2020.
Cancellations and Refunds
If you must cancel your reservation for a tour and/or its extension, we will refund your payment, less the following fees per tour and/or extension:
|Days Prior to Trip Start Date||Trip Cancellation Fee Per Person|
|31 – 60 days||50% of trip price|
|0-30 days||100% of trip price|
Payment in full is due 90 days before trip start date.
Our Group Leader
In addition to our local Bhutanese guide, Unquote Travel co-founder Stephen Bugno will join us on this trip as group leader. He’s traveled to over 90 countries during the past 20 years and created Unquote Travel in 2016 to share his love of travel with others. Stephen has been intrigued with Bhutan since his first trip there in 2014.