9 Day/8 Night Sample Itinerary
- Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest)
- Temple of Fertility
- Royal Botanical Garden
- Historic monasteries & dzongs
- Takin Preserve center
- Great Buddha Dordenma statue
- Enjoy delicious Bhutanese food
- Exploration of Bhutan’s culture and arts
Cost [based on four-star hotel]: $2699
Cost [based on five-star accommodation]: Please contact us for details
These per-person costs are based on private groups of 3 people are more; single or couple travelers will incur a small added fee. Please see Pricing page for details.
The Tour Cost Includes…
- All Meals [Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner], tea, and coffee
- Accommodation [twin/double share]
- Airport transfers
- All private transportation, with personal driver, within the country
- Royalty & Government taxes
- Entrance fees for Museums and Monuments
- English speaking Local guide
The Tour Cost Does Not Include…
- Flights to and from Bhutan
- Visa fee ($40 USD)
- Travel Insurance
- Payments for service provided on a personal basis
- Personal expense items (laundry, bottled water and soft drinks, camera charges at sites, etc)
- Incidentals, tips to hotel staff, driver, & guide [see
FAQfor suggested amounts]
- Bank transfer fee from
USAto Bhutan ($45 USD)
Day 1: Arrive at Paro*
Welcome to Paro! You will be received by the Representative at the airport and driven a short distance to your hotel.
After you freshen up, we’ll visit the Drukgyel Dzong, now in ruins. This dzong was built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate the victory over the Tibetan invaders in 1644; the dzong name’s means indeed “victorious Druk.” Explore the ramparts and on a clear day experience an unforgettable view of Mt. Jhomolhari (24,000 ft/7,314 m).
Afterward, we’ll discover Kyichu Lhakhang, one of Bhutan’s oldest and most sacred monasteries dating from the introduction of Buddhism in the 8th century. This monastery is said to hold the left knee of an Ogress down to the earth, pinned in by a total of 108 temples (6 of which are in Bhutan).
Dinner and overnight in Tashi Namgay Resort or similar. www.tnr.bt
Day 2: Paro
After an early breakfast, you’ll explore one of the most iconic sites in all of Bhutan: Taktsang Monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery. A short drive from town takes us to the trail to Tiger’s Nest, which climbs through a beautiful pine forest. We’ll stop for a rest and light refreshments at the Taktsang Jakhang (cafeteria) and then walk a short distance until we see, clearly and seemingly within reach, Taktsang monastery. This incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in 747 AD, flew here on the back of a flying tiger. Unfortunately, we don’t have any flying tigers for rent today!
After lunch, visit the Ta Dzong, an ancient watchtower and the national museum of Bhutan.
We’ll then explore Rimpung Dzong (Paro Dzong) built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The Dzong presently houses administrative offices.
Below the museum is the Paro Rimpung Dzong (literally meaning “Heap of Jewels”), built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Paro Dzong is the center of civil and religious authority in this valley. A short walk takes you to the base of the Dzong and across a traditional cantilevered, covered bridge.
We’ll head to Thimpu after this (~1 hour drive), but on the way, we’ll view Tamchog Monastery, built by Thangthong Gyalpo in the 15th century. Gyalpo built 108 bridges across Tibet and Bhutan, out of which 8 were built in Bhutan. His only surviving bridge is in Duksum (Tashi Yangtse in Eastern Bhutan).
Dinner and overnight in Hotel Migmar or similar. www.hotelmigmar.com
Day 3: Thimpu (Altitude 7610 ft/2320 m)
The day begins with a visit to the National Memorial Chorten, built in 1974 to honor our late King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. We’ll also visit Dupthop Lhakhang, one of the few surviving nunneries in Bhutan.
Afterwards, we’ll explore the National Library, stocked with ancient Buddhist manuscripts. Enjoy your visit to the painting school, where traditional art is still kept alive through instructions in the art of painting thangkas (sacred Buddhist religious scrolls).
After lunch we’ll drive to the Traditional Medicine Institute where medicines are prepared according to ancient practices. We’ll also visit Lungtenzampa to observe the Royal silver smiths and Bhutanese paper factory at work.
Other highlights include a visit to the Tashichho Dzong, seat of the national government and the Central Monastic Body, as well as the summer residence of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan). Finally, we’ll visit the Handicrafts Emporium followed by optional shopping for souvenirs in the local shops of Thimphu.
Dinner and overnight in Hotel Migmar or similar.
Day 4: Thimpu to Punakha (~3 hour drive)
After breakfast, drive to Punakha via Dochula pass (~3 hour drive). If the weather is clear, we stop for a while at Dochula pass to view Higher Himalayas, and then drive further down and visit the Royal Botanical Garden at Lamperi.
The Royal Botanical park, also known as the Rhododendron Garden at Lamperi is about half and hour drive towards Punakha/Wangdue. With your spirits still high from the visit to the awesome sites of Dochula Pass with its 108 stupas and the beautifully arranged Himalayan mountain ranges, you will descend down to Rhododendron Botanical Garden, a nature reserve rich in flora (46 species of plants!) and fauna. The recorded species are the monal pheasants, blood pheasants, musk deer, tiger, leopard, red panda and the leopard cat. Located 30 Kms from the capital, the park has numerous viewpoints, a lake, and a canteen.
On the way we’ll view the “Temple of Fertility,” built by Lama Drukpa Kuenley (also popularly known as “Divine Madman”) in 15th century. Lama Drukpa Kuenley (1455 – 1529) was one of the Bhutan’s favorite saints; he travelled throughout Bhutan and Tibet as a “Neljorpa” (Yogi) using songs, humor and outrageous behavior to dramatize his teachings of “salvation through sex.”
After lunch, you’ll explore Punakha Dzong. Built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it is situated between Pho Chu (Male River) and Mo Chu (Female River). For many years until the time of the second king, it served as the seat of the Government. The construction of the Dzong was foretold by Guru Rimpoche, who predicted, “…a person named Namgyal will arrive at a hill that looks like an elephant.”
Dinner and overnight in RKPO Green Resort or similar.
Day 5: Punakha – Gangtey – Trongsa
After an early breakfast, we’ll drive to Trongsa via Gangtey. On the way we’ll enjoy the sites of the valley of Wangdiphodrang, including a visit to Wangdiphodrang Dzong. Wangdiphodrang Dzong was built in 1638 but razed by fire in 2012. Legend has it that as the people were searching for the site of the Dzong, four ravens were seen flying away in four directions. This was considered an auspicious sign, representing the spread of Buddhist religion to the four points of the compass.
Drive further to Gangtey and visit the Gangtey Gompa. Gyaltse Pema Thinley, the grandson and mind reincarnation of Pema Lingpa founded the Temple in 1613, and Tenzin Legpai Dhendup, the second re-incarnation, built the temple. The present Abbot, Kunzang Pema Namgyal is the ninth reincarnation. It is a Nyingmapa monastery.
Explore gorgeous Phobjikha valley, famous for the Black Necked Cranes during winter, but breathtakingly beautiful year-round. A packed picnic lunch will be served at Gangtey.
After lunch, we’ll explore Trongsa Dzong, considered the most impressive Dzong in Bhutan. It was built in its present form in 1644 and enlarged at the end of the 17th century. Trongsa Dzong is the ancestral home of the present Royal Family, and the first two hereditary kings ruled Bhutan from this Dzong. Afterward, we’ll visit Ta Dzong, an ancient watchtower with a chapel inside.
Dinner and overnight in Yangkhil Resort or similar.
Day 6: Trongsa to Bumthang
After breakfast, we’ll take a scenic drive to Bumthang (~2 hours). We’ll explore Jakar Dzong, which literally means “The Castle of White Bird.” The Jakar Dzong dominates the Chamkhar valley and overlooks the town. Constructed in 1549, by the Tibetan Lam Nagi Wangchuk, the Dzong played an important role as the fortress of defense of the whole eastern Dzongkhags. It also became the seat of the first king of Bhutan.
We’ll also visit Jambay Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in the kingdom. It was founded by Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King in the 7th century AD. The king was destined to build 108 temples known as Thadhul-Yangdhul (temples on and across the border) in one single day in order to subdue the demoness that was residing in the Himalayas. The temple is one of the two of the 108 built in Bhutan. A second is located in Paro, the Kichu lhakhang, was also built on the very same day.
Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche visited the site several times and deemed it exceptionally sacred. Chakhar Gyab, the king of the Iron Castle of Bumthang, renovated the temple in the 8th century AD.
Dinner and overnight in Swiss Guest House or similar. www.swissguesthouse.bt
Day 7: Bumthang
After breakfast, visit Kurjey Lhakhang, built in 1652; it houses the imprint of Guru Rimpoche who meditated in a cave where the monastery was built. Then we’ll explore Tamshing Lhakhang (“Temple of the Good Message”), established in 1501 by Pema Lingpa; it is the most important Nyingmapa temple in the kingdom.
After lunch, visit Mebar Tsho (“The Burning Lake”) a short distance up the road leading to Tang valley. According to the legend, Terton Pema Lingpa had a vision of the sacred treasures that Guru Rimpoche had hidden within the lake centuries earlier. However the people of Tang and the local ruler were cynical of his claims. In order to prove his claims, Pema Lingpa held a butter lamp in his hand as he jumped into the lake. After remaining under water for a long time he re-emerged holding a chest and a scroll of paper with the butter lamp held in his hand still burning bright.
We’ll also visit mathra (woolen textile) factory & a local cheese factory. In the evening, we’ll visit a Bhutanese farm house.
Dinner and overnight in Swiss Guest House or similar.
Day 8: Bumthang to Thimphu
After an early breakfast, we’ll begin the drive to Thimphu. This will be a long day of driving (~10 hours) but the scenery will be as breathtaking as usual. Packed lunch will be served on the way.
Dinner and overnight in Hotel Migmar or similar.
Day 9: Thimphu to Paro Airport
Bid farewell to Bhutan and start recounting your fond memories of this magical country! Today you’ll get an early start and take a 1 hour drive to the Paro Airport. We’ll see you next time!
One of the most distinctive features of the Bhutanese is their traditional dress. Men wear the Gho, a knee-length robe somewhat resembling a kimono that is tied at the waist by a traditional belt known as Kera. The pouch which forms at the front traditionally was used for carrying food bowls and a small dagger. The modern Bhutanese man tends to use it these days for his cell phone and wallet!
Women wear the Kira, a long, ankle-length dress accompanied by a light outer jacket known as a Tego, with an inner layer known as a Wonju. Both styles are modeled above by His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema.
(photo courtesy of the Queen's Facebook page)
National Dish: Ema Datsi
It might be a tiny country, but the national dish of Bhutan packs a SERIOUS punch! Ema datsi (or ema datshi) is essentially a chili (ema) cheese (datsi) sauce that is served over rice. Now, cheese sauces are hard to come by in Asia (trust me—this is my ongoing, daily quest), let alone delicious cheese sauces! Take a look...
This simple, spicy dish is absolutely addictive. I asked our guide how often Bhutanese people actually ate ema datsi; he replied, "At every meal, as much as possible."
Although I have yet to come close to replicating the deliciousness of ema datsi at home, this recipe may give you insight into the flavors. The blend of cheese is particular to Bhutan, but I don't think that makes the recipe impossible to replicate. The datsi, as pictured below in a Thimpu market, is a tangy fresh farmer's cheese, although much drier and slightly more sour than we're used to in the West. Everyone I talked to in Bhutan about ema datsi suggested blending it with another cheese (along the lines of a mild cheddar or even Swiss), half-half. I think that using a mild feta or a queso blanco as a substitute for ema datsi would be acceptable.
3 or 4 fresh green chilis or red dried chilis
1 cup water
2 TB butter
1 ball datsi cheese, crumbled (1/4 to 1/2 cup) (*Remember you may want to actually make this amount of cheese a blend of datsi and other cheeses)
Salt to taste
If using fresh chiles, remove stems & slice lengthwise into long, thin pieces. Place the chilis into a pan. Add water, butter, cheese & salt. Cook for 10 minutes.
When cheese is melted, stir well & turn off heat. Serve hot with white or red Bhutanese rice.
What is a Takin?
The takin is the national animal of Bhutan. Although more closely related to the goat, it is more similar physically to the muskox. On this tour you'll visit the Motithang Takin Preserve in Thimpu to see these gorgeous beasts in person!
The takin has a rich Bhutanese mythology dating to the 15th century. A Tibetan saint by the name Drukpa Kunley (aka, “The Divine Madman”) is credited with creating the takin with unique features. The people of Bhutan requested that Drukpa Kunley perform a miracle before them. The saint agreed to do so provided he was fed for lunch: a whole cow and a whole goat. Once served, he devoured the food of both animals and left out the bones. He then took out the head of the goat and fixed it to the skeleton of the cow—with a snap, he created a live animal!