Four years ago, I came up with the idea of going to Bhutan after watching season 11, Episode 8 of the late Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown. I knew nothing about the country other than the 50 minutes I'd just seen and I said "I need me a Momo Dumpling."
I started doing my research and realize there wasn't much information on Bhutan. The tours had to be booked through a local tour company amongst other restrictions and were a lot. Then came the $250 US dollar per day fee to be in the country. Since I like to keep my per-country budget at about $1500, I might have bit off more than I could chew. I had to pass but promised next year was my birthday and I'd go then. Then came my birthday(2020) and the country was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The country was closed until September 2022. Once open, I set out for the trip of a lifetime.
The rules were now changed. The daily fee decreased from $250 to $200 plus a $40 environmental price. The fee used to come with a hotel and guide include and now it had more flexibility. The easy way to do it is to book your flight with Druk Air or Bhutan Airlines and have them coordinate your entire trip from places to visit and the guide.
Of course, I think I am a travel agent in another life so I had to make things difficult for myself. I went ahead and booked the flight first, then a hotel, and then attempted to book the visa. Once I reached out to the embassy for help with the visa, they mentioned I should have done that first because there was the possibility I could get denied. Of course, I got worried for no reason but it did take two weeks to get the visa. With the visa in hand, I reached out to the tour company and got a quote of $960 for everything except the flight. I asked to reduce the price since I already had the visa and got no response. So then I reached out to the hotel and asked them to do so. The price quote came in less than the airline so I did not mind.
I arrived in Bhutan shortly after 8:00 am. I deplaned by the stairs and walked across the tarmac to one of the most beautiful airports I have ever seen in my life. Entering the building, the experience just kept getting better. The architecture at every point was just amazing. Don't take my word for it, see below.
I stepped outside and met my guide Ngawang. In Bhutan, when they welcome you to the country, they put a white silk cloth around your neck. Although we had an itinerary, today was the first day of the Paro Festival. This was the first time it had been kept for four years and the people were so excited to see it and so was I. The festival was held at the Paro Dzong (Rinpung Dzong). I crossed a river, climbed a massive amount of steps, and made my way to a field where I sat on cushions with about 50,000 locals. It was great to see the dances, renditions, and local folklore that the people so loved. Afterward, I climbed the step to the Dzong to visit my first monastery. The Dzong also has a few official buildings that are off-limits to visitors. It also has a balcony with some of the best views in Paro.
I had a few stops to make starting with the airport lookout in Paro. The next stop was at Simply Bhutan. You are welcome with a glass of Arag. This is a local drink made of wheat and is served warm. You are then given a speech about the museum. Then you go outside to people performing local dances used for mating and house building. You are then taken into a kitchen to see how food is made in the country. I then went to the kitchen to have some butter tea along with a snack called Zoa (puffed rice). Finally, the tour ended with archery lessons (I'm good at it).
The Buddha Dordenma Statue was impressive. Seen it from the bottom and it got more impressive on the way up. I went inside for a bit but of course, there are no pictures in a monastery. After the Buddha, we made the one-and-a-half-hour drive to Thimphu so I can check in at the hotel. I stayed at the Terma Linca Resort and Spa. Do yourself a favor, if you ever come to Bhutan, stay at this hotel. I was told to sit down and out of nowhere came a birthday cake. The hotel looks very unassuming from the outside but is a massive luxury spa on the inside. After checking in and touring my room I had a wonderful dinner. The food was terrific, it sent me off to bed right.
The next morning I got up early to drive to Paro. I had waited for this moment and couldn't believe it was here. I was at the bottom of Paro Taktsang or Tigers Nest. The climb to the halfway point depends on your athleticism but it takes roughly two hours. The halfway point has drinks and tea and is used as a rest area. You then climb another hour to the Tiger's nest. I waited so long to get there only to not have a picture of the inside. (No phones)
I made my way down to the halfway point for lunch and it was delicious. I then toured the ton of Paro for a few hours before returning to Thimphu.
The next day it was a nearly three-hour drive to Punakha. We stopped at the Dochula pass to see the monuments of socials who died in a past war. It's also a great place to see the Himalayan mountains but it was a bit overcast. I had a local Bhutanese coffee at the Druk Wangyel Cafe. About an hour later we made it to Punakha. The first place we stopped was a village where we walked through rice fields to Chime Lhakhang. The former home of the Divine Madman. I then spent the afternoon at the Punakha Dzong. It was good to be in the monastery and spend time with the monks. I saw how they lived, how they ate, how they worshipped, and their daily lives. I then walked to a school for monks on my way to the Punakha Suspension Bridge.
That night was my final night in Bhutan and I figured what better way to commemorate it than with a can of Druk 11000. The local beer is made in Bhutan. I had my final meal and might I say, I had three. The country was great to me and I had a great time. I left the next morning and couldn't have enjoyed my trip without my guide Ngawang and my driver Kezung. I plan to return and see more of the country and head East. Until next time, I can't wait!
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