Day 1: Arrive in Paro
Before you even set foot in Bhutan you get to see what dramatic place this is from the airplane. From your window, take in the view of Bhutan as you enter the Himalayas. It is one of the most scenic flights we have taken. We flew to Bhutan from Kathmandu and the views of the Himalayas were spectacular.
Most people will fly to Bhutan from Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Kathmandu, or Singapore. Only Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines fly to and from Bhutan.
Paro Airport is one of the most challenging places in the world to land an airplane. The runway sits in a narrow valley between high mountain peaks and lining the airplane up with the runway can be difficult. Only a handful of pilots are authorized to land here
At the airport, you will meet your guide for the week and start your tour of Bhutan.
From the airport, it is a 45-minute drive to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. It was in Thimphu that we stopped for lunch, getting our first taste of Bhutanese cuisine. We ate traditional food: red rice, noodles, beef with carrots, assorted veggies, and green chilies with cheese. Chili peppers make it into a lot of the dishes here so be prepared for spicy food!
The afternoon is spent in Thimphu. For a capital city, it’s a relatively small place. Thimphu is a beautiful, colorful city in an idyllic landscape, with bright blue skies, green mountains, and rice fields.
Our guide, Kinga, took us to a local school, where young adults were learning various artistic jobs such as painting, weaving, embroidery, and woodworking.
At the Bhutan post office, you can have customized stamps made with your photo on them. If you like to send postcards to friends and family when you travel, now you can include your face on the stamp! Who knew Bhutan could be so high tech?
Visit the Takin Preserve, a “zoo” where the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan, is on display.
Your day will end with dinner and downtime.
Where We Stayed: Hotel Pedling. This hotel has large rooms with comfortable beds, flat-screen TVs, and a private bathroom. For a three-star accommodation, this place is fantastic!
Day 2: Thimphu
After breakfast, it’s a short car ride up into the mountains to the Cheri Monastery. And for many people, this is probably your first visit to a Bhutanese Buddhist monastery.
From the parking lot, it takes 45 minutes to 1 hour to walk up the hillside to the monastery. Spin the prayer wheels, visit the temple, and listen to your guide’s lesson about Buddhism and the monastery.
• Cheri Monaster
• Bhutan Prayer Wheel
• Paper Factory
After lunch in Thimphu, you have the option to visit a paper factory. Learn how paper is handmade and dyed with various pigments.
National Memorial Chorten
This stupa is one of the most recognizable religious landmarks in Bhutan. Many Bhutanese people visit this Chorten every day to spin the prayer wheels and circumambulate around the Chorten. This increases their good karma, which gives them a greater chance for a favorable next life.
Bhutan Memorial Chorten
Memorial Chorten Prayer Wheels
This place with a funny name is the highlight of the day. A dzong is a fortress, similar to the castles that were built in Europe. In modern times, dzongs are used as a seat of government and as a monastery.
Walking around the courtyard of this dzong is incredible. It’s a beautiful spot, with a mix of visitors, tour guides, and Buddhist monks. Inside of the temple 1000 Buddhas are painted on the walls.
• Thimphu Dzong
• Monks in Bhutan
• Bhutan Painting
• Archery in Bhutan
Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. If you get lucky with your timing, you can watch young men during a practice session. Using hunting bows, they fire at a target 145 meters away (that is really far!).
End the day with dinner in Thimphu.
Day 3: Paro to Punakha
Buddha Dordenma Statue
This is the largest Buddha statue in the world. It is made of copper, gilded in gold, and filled with 125,000 smaller golden Buddha statues.
Why build such a large, ornate statue? The Buddha Dordenma statue was built to commemorate the 60th birthday of Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the fourth King of Bhutan.
This statue sits on a hill overlooking Thimphu. Take in one last view of Thimphu, because now it is time to travel to Punakha.
Dochu La Pass
The distance between Thimphu and Punakha is not long, only about 85 km. However, since you will be driving up and over a mountain pass on incredibly windy roads, this journey can take a long time. For us, it took over 3 hours to go this distance. We did this in 2014 while this road was undergoing a huge renovation project. Travel times are faster now (more like 2 to 2.5 hours) on better quality roads.
The Dochu La Pass is a high mountain pass on the road between Thimphu and Punakha. At 3,150 meters (10,330 ft), you have excellent views out to the Himalayas.
Also at this pass are 108 stupas built as a memorial for the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed by Indian insurgents in 2003.
After lunch in Punakha, it’s just a short ride to the Punakha Dzong. What a site to see!! This is the ost impressive dzong we saw in Bhutan.
• Punakha Dzong
• Buddhist Monk
• Dragon Carving
• Best things to do in Bhutan
• Dzong Courtyard
Cross the wooden bridge to the fortress and spend some time wandering the courtyard, admiring the colorful woodwork, and getting another lesson on Bhutan history and culture from your guide
The next site may be a little shocking for some people, but it is an interesting look into one of the cultural aspects of Bhutan.
Chimi Lhakhang is the Temple of the Divine Madman. The Divine Madman was a Buddhist monk who loved alcohol and women. Chimi Lhakhang is now a temple of fertility and childless couples come here to be blessed in order to increase their fertility chances.
As you walk from the town to the temple, you will see buildings adorned with giant phalluses and shops selling phallic souvenirs. It can lead to some interesting conversations, especially if you are here with children.
Inside of the temple, you have the option to be blessed with a bow and arrow and a foot-long wooden phallus. This is done for good luck and to keep evil spirits away.
End the day with dinner in town or at your hotel.
Where We Stayed: We stayed at Lobesa Hotel in Punakha. We had two giant rooms and each one had a great view of Punakha Valley.
Day 4: White Water Rafting and Drive to Paro
One very cool thing to do while in Punakha is to go white water rafting on the Mo Chhu River. The timing of your visit to Bhutan has a lot to do with whether or not this is possible. In October, when we did this, river conditions are rather sedate. But in the spring months, rafting the Mo Chhu River becomes a much bigger adventure.
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Temple
From Punakha, your guide will drive you about 45 minutes upriver. Before rafting, we made a quick visit to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Temple. It’s a short, scenic walk through the rice fields to this temple. From here, the view over the valley, and the river you are about to go rafting on, is amazing.
Bhutan Family Travel
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Temple
View of Bhutan
White Water Rafting
From the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Temple, we donned life vests and climbed into our raft. For about one hour, we drifted down the Mo Chhu River, occasionally hitting bigger rapids. Because the water flow was low, it was more of a tranquil ride down the river than a hair-raising adventure, but even so it was a wonderful experience. The Punakha Valley is gorgeous and this is a unique way to see it. Gliding past the Punakha Dzong is an unforgettable experience.
Drive to Paro
After lunch in Punakha, it’s a long drive to Paro. Take those doses of Dramamine, if you need them, and try to enjoy the scenic drive. It takes between 3 to 4 hours to drive from Punakha to Paro.
Where We Stayed: In Paro we stayed at Khangku Resort. In 2014, this place looked brand new and it was our favorite hotel in Bhutan. Again, we had huge rooms with flat screen TV’s and a private bathroom. The best part of this hotel was the balcony overlooking the Paro Valley and the runway of the Paro Airport.
Day 5: Paro
The National Museum is Bhutan’s premier museum. Inside of this round, stone building are thangkas (Buddhist paintings), historic artifacts, and festival masks.
Our favorite part of the visit to the museum was the view over the Paro valley.
At the Paro Dzong, visit the temple, admire the architecture, and spin more prayer wheels. In some ways, visits to these dzongs and temples gets a little repetitive, but they are all unique in someway.
Plus, you never know what you’ll see or whom you will meet. This photo that we took of Tyler and Kara with young Buddhist monks is one of my favorites of all time.
After lunch, and just when you thought there couldn’t possible be another dzong to visit in Bhutan, you will journey out to Drukgyel Dzong. These are the ruins of an ancient dzong that burnt down in 1951. It’s a cool spot to explore and during the drive you get a view up to the Tiger’s Nest monastery.
Shopping in Paro
Spend the rest of the day shopping in Paro and end with dinner in town.
Day 6: The Tiger’s Nest
The grand finale to your tour of Bhutan is a climb up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Takstang Monastery). This monastery is one of Bhutan’s icons and a visit to Bhutan would not be complete without seeing this with your own eyes.
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery is a small collection of buildings precariously perched on a cliff, 900 meters off of the ground. The only way to get to the Tiger’s Nest is by hiking.
A visit here usually lasts 6 to 8 hours, with time to hike to the monastery, tour the monastery, and have lunch. It’s an extraordinary experience and many people’s favorite activity during a visit to Bhutan
Get all of the details on the hike in our post:
Hiking to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery
End the day with dinner in Paro.
Day 7: Fly Home or Continue the Journey
Today you will begin your journey home. Or, for those with more time, continue the journey.
Best Time to go to Bhutan
The best time to go to Bhutan is during the spring months of March, April, and May and the autumn months of September, October, and November. During this time, the weather is generally clear with warm days and cool nights.
The summer months of June through August are the wet season months. During this time, it is not unusual to have daily rain showers, sometimes several per day, but they usually do not impact travel. You may not get the clear blue skies as you see in these photos.
During the winter months of December, January, and February, it can get very cold in Bhutan and snow can close the roads in central and eastern Bhutan.
We visited Bhutan during the third week of October.x