Our cultural tour takes a leisurely trip through the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Since emerging from its self-imposed isolation and opening its doors in 1974, Bhutan has mesmerized its visitors. We will visit the Tiger’s Nest monastery, the bustling capital Thimphu, and small villages on our journey through this once forbidden country.
We’ll climb up to the Tigers Nest Monastery, the most iconic symbol of Bhutan, hugging the side of a mountain cliff. For the middle five days of the tour we will separate into two groups, then reunite in the capital city of Thimphu for the last couple of days to share our tales with each other.
Travelers who thrive on high-adrenaline experiences will enjoy a magnificent trek to see landscapes only accessible on foot and spend four nights at high-altitude camps. Veterans of HE Travel’s Inca Trail tour and OutQuest’s Kilimanjaro Climb will enjoy adding this trek to their personal achievements.
Those who want to indulge in the splendors of Bhutan but don’t want to work quite so hard will stay in hotels for the entire trip. There will be several hikes for our Overland Tour travelers as well, but at lower altitudes, and with overnight stays at simple but comfortable hotels in some of Bhutan’s smaller towns.
The scenic flight into Paro offers a spectacular view of the Himalayan ranges. If you’re lucky, you may even see Mount Everest and other famous peaks like Kanchenjunga, Makalu, and Chomolhari. HE Travel will arrange your flight to Paro from Bangkok.
Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted by our local hosts and enjoy sightseeing in the Paro valley. We begin with Ta Dzong, a monastery/fortress that was later converted into the National Museum in 1967. A Dzong is a fortress-like structure that functions as a monastery. Inside the museum, you will find many antique paintings, carvings, statues, textiles, and jewelry. We’ll drive to the Rimpung Dzong which was built in the 17th century. This dzong is now the administration center and school for the monks. In the afternoon, we’ll check into our charming small hotel nestled in the trees.
Today’s hike will bring us to the Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery on the side of a cliff 900m above the floor of Paro valley. As believed by the Bhutanese, Guru Padmasambhava (a very famous Buddhist saint) flew here on a Tigress’s back in the 8th century and meditated for three months. Guru Padmasambhava was the one who later converted the whole Paro valley into Buddhism. After the hike, we’ll stroll in the Paro market before returning to our hotel.
Today we take a short but scenic 30-minute flight to Bumthang. In the Bumthang region, Jakar Dzong is one of the highlights. According to legend, when the lamas assembled in 1549 to select a site for a monastery, a big white bird rose suddenly and settled on a spur on a hill. This was interpreted as an important omen and the hill was chosen as the site for the monastery. Jakar Dzong roughly translates as “castle of the white bird.”
Today’s itinerary will feature a visit to Jakar Dzong, and 2 additional Buddhist temples, Kurje Lhakhang and Jambay Lhakhang. If time allows, we will do some hiking in the area and shopping in the village. Tonight we stay in a traditional small lodge.
Today we will visit the Burning Lake of the Great Treasure Revealer “Pedma Lingpa,” who is a great figure in the History of Bhutan. Next, it’s on to the Nunnery and the village nearby where we’ll visit the local government school and interact with students and teachers. This evening we will take a short drive to the Chumey Valley and check into our quaint guest house.
Today we will take a 2-hour drive to Trongsa, with a lovely hike to Gyetsa Valley en route. Trongsa is in the center of the country and is separated from both east and west by high mountain ranges. The dzong and surrounding town are perched above a gorge, with fine views of the Black Mountains to the south and west. It’s a sleepy and pleasant town, lined with whitewashed shops decorated with pot plants.
Today we will start with a visit to the Trongsa Dzong which is one of the most impressive in the country. It can be seen from great distances from the Mangde Chhu Valley. Trongsa Dzong has been described as perched so high on a mountain that the clouds float below it. It is one of the most aesthetic and magnificent works of traditional Bhutanese architecture. After our visit to the Dzong, we will head to Phobjikha valley where we’ll explore the Gangteng Monastery which is an important monastery of the Nyingmapa School of Buddhism. The monastery’s history dates back to the 17th century. Afterward, we’ll stroll around the village nearby.
We’ll start the morning with a visit to the Nature Conservation Center, afterward taking a short walk toward the Gangten Monastery. After lunch, we’ll drive to Punakha and will pass by the Wangduephodrang district. The Wangduephondrang Dzong was burned down in July 2012 and is currently in ruins, though is currently under reconstruction. We’ll then visit Chhimi Lhakhang, the seat of Lama Drukpa Kuenley, popularly known as the “Mad Monk.” It’s a 20-minute brisk walk through the paddy fields and its village that leads to the Temple. That evening: relax.
Punakha Dzong is a magnificent fortress that was the capital of Bhutan until 1955. It was built in 1637 and was named as Pungthang Dechen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness). In 2011 the royal wedding was held here. Then we’ll travel on to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. Perhaps the only world capital without traffic lights, Thimphu keeps many of its traditions rather than adopting modern ways. In this case, they prefer traffic circle cops to the electric lights.
Today the tour includes visits to a variety of types of sites- religious, political, intellectual, and commercial. The Memorial Chorten is a Tibetan-style shrine and a place of devotion for Buddhists. The Handcrafts Emporium is the market where you’ll find locally made crafts and souvenirs. We’ll also visit the mini Zoo to see the national animal, the Takin, which appears to be half goat and half cow. After lunch, we’ll visit a traditional (indigenous) hospital to see how the traditional medicines are made. In the late afternoon, we’ll drive down the valley to Paro and our hotel, which is close to the international airport.
From the Paro airport, you can fly to Bangkok and connect to other parts of Asia or return home. Happy travels!
Price includes: 9 nights accommodation; Ground transportation throughout the tour; Sightseeing with local Bhutanese guide(s); Entrance fees to sites and museums; Government taxes and fees; All meals. Services of a knowledgeable HE Travel tour host (with a minimum number of participants); HE Travel provides complimentary Medical & Evacuation Insurance for every US Resident on our group tours who does not have other coverage.
Not included: Airfare to and from starting and ending points; Personal items including: alcoholic beverages, snacks, laundry, and telephone calls; gratuities for guides and HE Travel host. Airfare within Bhutan is not included, but is estimated at approximately $240 and will be arranged by HE Travel.
Optional Tour Choices:
$1080 Single Supplement (for solo travelers who wish to enjoy a private bedroom and bathroom)
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Most of our trips draw more single travelers than couples. When couples do join us, it’s usually because they’re looking forward to interacting with a gay group; if they wanted a holiday by themselves, they wouldn’t have signed up to travel with us. Furthermore, the activities included with our trips serve as natural ice-breakers. Within a day, you’ll be traveling with friends. You don’t need to pay the single supplement if you’re traveling alone. We’ll be happy to match you with a roommate. Pay the single supplement only if you want a bedroom to yourself.
For selected trips, including cruises, we will charge half the single supplement if you request a roommate but we can’t match you with someone.
This tour starts and ends in Paro, Bhutan.
We don’t suggest arriving early in Bhutan. If you must because of flights, we can arrange additional nights and accommodations in Paro.
However, we suggest arriving a day or two early in Bangkok. The Bhutan trip begins on Sunday. In most cases, you will have to arrive in Bangkok, Thailand on Saturday. We recommend arriving at least one day early to acclimate to the time change. The airport code is BKK. Please allow HE Travel to arrange your flights between Bangkok and Paro, Bhutan.
Paro is serviced by Druk Air, Bhutan’s national airline. We suggest connecting in Bangkok, Thailand to a Druk Air flight. This will mean staying the night before in Bangkok. We can arrange a hotel for you, or a short getaway in Bangkok, if you have extra time.
You’ll depart on Tuesday. You should not schedule a flight out of Bangkok until after 7:00 pm local time.
Yes, there are vaccination requirements and many of them you may already have. We suggest that you visit the Center for Disease Control Website, cdc.gov, for the latest information on healthy travel to Bhutan.
Yes, a visa is required and HE Travel will order the visas in advance and make them available upon your arrival in Bangkok. After booking your tour, please send a copy of your passport to HE Travel. We will work with a partner tour company in Bhutan who will get your approval in advance of your arrival. The confirmation of your approved visa is distributed to HE Travel, our Bhutanese travel partner, Druk Air, and the immigration officials at the airport.
This process is much easier than it seems as HE Travel takes care of the visa arrangements.
For your short time in Thailand, For most nationalities including Americans, Australians, and most Europeans, no special visa is required for tourists staying 30 days or less.
The tour will have a local multi-lingual Bhutanese guide. He will be experienced and licensed by the government. There may also be an HE Travel trip leader from the US to function as a host and logistics manager.
Because most all of your expenses are pre-paid and included in the package, you won’t need a lot of extra money. You may want the equivalent of US$175-$275 for items like premium drinks such as beer and soda, gifts, and gratuities. If you want to plan a bigger purchase like artwork, crafts, textiles, or rugs, you’ll want more cash while in the country. Most people will gladly accept US dollars. Banks and most hotels can exchange major world currencies (US dollars, Pound Sterling, and Euros) for the local currency, the ngultrum (NU).
October is an ideal time to visit the Himalayas. Autumn generally has a low amount of rain and moderate temperatures. In Thimpu, daytime temperature should be in the 60’s and 70’s. We will provide a packing list to prepare you for the variety of weather conditions.
Most of the hotels are in the three-star category. The rooms have private bathrooms. Realize that this is a remote area and the hotels don’t have the amenities that you find in the West. That said, most people are pleasantly surprised how clean, well-kept, and comfortable Bhutan’s hotels are.
This trip is rated moderate. The trip will have walking through villages and monasteries as well as some Optional 3-4 hour hikes.
For answers to your additional questions, please email email@example.com or call 305-294-8174