This is a short summary of our trip to Bhutan which we visited from September 29th to October 10th in 2009. We departed from San Francisco and flew through Narita to Bangkok where we stayed overnight (more like a few hours). From Bangkok we flew Druk Air to Paro.
We used Village Treks and Tours as our tour operator who provided us with an excellent guide in Pema Sonam. Although, we did not know it at the time of booking, Pema had served as a guide to other professional photographers like Art Wolfe.
You can also see hundreds of my pictures of Bhutan in my photo galleries.
Tourism is highly regulated in Bhutan and the Department of Tourism determines the price for all visitors. This fixed price includes all expenses such as hotels, camping, transportations, meals, and other fees. The peak season rates are about $200 per person per day (for three or more) and $230 (for two people). This does not include tips for your guide or driver.
Day 1: Paro to Thimphu
We arrived early in the morning on a flight from Bangkok. We cleared customs relatively quickly and then met our guide and driver. We drove to Thimphu but along the way we stoped at a few sites including the Iron Bridge by Tamchhog Lhakhang as well as stopping at the Chunzon confluence of three rivers. There wasn’t much at Chunzon except for a few merchant stalls and three chortens in Bhutanese, Tibetan, and Nepali style.
We arrived in Thimphu near mid-day and had lunch in trendy cafe. In the afternoon, we wandered around Thimphu on our own. The streets were very busy with many Bhutanese people. I’m not sure if it is normally that crowded or whether it was especially busy because we had arrived during the Thimphu Tsechu festival which lasts for several days.
Day 2: Thimphu Tsechu Festival
We spent the day at Thimphu Tsechu festival which as held in the courtyard of the Tashi Chhoe Dzong. The festival was filled with thousands of Bhutanese people wearing their finest Gho (men) and Kira (women) and there were multiple religous dances. In the evening, my wife was tired and stayed in the hotel room but I walked around Thimphu again and made my way to the Chorten. The sun had already set in the valley.
Day 3: Thimphu
I woke up very early and went to capture the National Memorial chorten at sunrise by myself. After returning to the hotel and having breakfast we toured the city with our guide and visited the National Memorial Chorten, Post office, Textile Museum, Institute of Traditional Medicine Services, National Institute for Zorig Chusum (this is an art school for high school aged students), and the National Library. In the afternoon, we went to the Jungshi handmade paper factory and drove around Thimphu Valley to various lookout points where we could see the whole city.
Day 4: Thimphu to Punakha
We drove to the northern end of Thimphu valley and did an early morning hike to Cheri Monastery. On the way up, we encountered the head monk who was being carried down on something that was a cross between a palanquin and a stretcher. He stopped briefly to bless us. After the hike, we drove on to Punakha and along the way we stopped at Dochu La Pass where they have the 108 chortens (Druk Wangyel Chorten).
Day 5: Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten and Punakha Dzong
We started the day with a hike through rice fields and up the valley hillside to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten. This took about 45 minutes provides stunning views of the valley. In the afternoon, we toured Punakha Dzong which is the second oldest and second largest Dzong in Bhutan. I also learned this day that Bhutan has cobras as I ran into one as I was moving around on the hillsides around the Dzong to get a better angle for pictures.
Day 6: Chimi Lhakhang and Wangdue
We hiked through the small town of Sopsokha and then made our way to Chimi Lhakhang, the temple of the divine madman. We then saw Wangdue Dzong and town. In the afternoon we drove on to Phobjikha Valley.
Day 7: Phobjikha Valley
We hiked the Gangte Nature trail up to Gangte Goemba. With my stopping to photograph, this took about four hours. The valley was very peaceful and this was my personal highlight of my trip. In the late afternoon we returned to Wangdue.
Day 8: Wangdue to Paro
From Wangdue we drove back to Thimphu. Along the way we drove through Dochu La Pass again, however, the weather was very foggy and it wasn’t possible to get photographs of the mountain views. In Thimphu, we stopped at the Takin reserve. Finally we headed to Paro.
Day 9: Paro
In the morning, we went to see the Drukgyel Dzong which now lies in ruins as it was destroyed by fire in 1951. It was raining quite hard but I think this suited the atmosphere of the ruins. We also visited Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Bhutan built in 659. Finally, we saw the National Museum and Paro Dzong.
Day 10: Hike to Taktsang the Tiger’s Nest
The day started out overcast, foggy, and raining. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to hike to Tiger’s nest but the rain stopped and we began the ascent up the valley walls. We made it to the temple near mid-morning and on the way down the weather began to clear.
Day 11: Paro
Our last day in Bhutan. We didn’t do much but relax in the hotel and then head to the airport in Paro for our flight back to Bangkok and then home.