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Photo Trip Report - April 2015

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Los Altos Hills, CA
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Photo Trip Report - April 2015

Hi all, thanks for all the help from this forum during the planning phase of our trip. We just returned and had a fantastic time. Bhutan is truly one of the most unique and beautiful place I've ever visited.

Here's a link to some photos, which with the caption, is a trip report of sorts. I will post a more detailed report a bit later.

https:/…6135485183075057217

Meanwhile, hope you enjoy the photos, and don't hesitate if you have any questions :)

Singapore, Singapore
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1. Re: Photo Trip Report - April 2015

Thanks, Judy for all the nicely taken photos. Good that you attended 2 festivals, Talo and Paro festivals.

Kuala Lumpur...
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2. Re: Photo Trip Report - April 2015

Thanks Judy . Thanks for the beautiful photos ! Friend and I will be there on 15th to 22nd April . How was the weather ? Should I bring boots ? and warm clothes ? How do you spent your time in the night ? was told there is no night life ... Looking forward to read your Bhutan Report ! Thanks

Los Altos Hills, CA
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3. Re: Photo Trip Report - April 2015

Hi Natalie, weather was warm to hot during the day, and cold at night and early morning. We didn't get any rain except one evening in Paro, where there was a huge thunderstorm that knocked out power. You definitely need a fleece or sweater and a rain jacket, but nothing heavier than that. As for shoes, I pretty much wore my hiking boots all the time.

Yes, zero night life! The hotels all had bars, but closed down pretty early. We basically went to bed early and got up early :). Have fun your your trip!

Thimphu, Bhutan
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4. Re: Photo Trip Report - April 2015

Hello Judy,

What a lovely pictures you had, looks you had good time in Bhutan. Interested to hear your trip report as well :)

Tashi Delek :)

Kuala Lumpur...
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5. Re: Photo Trip Report - April 2015

Thanks Judy . I have to repack my luggage again !

Los Altos Hills, CA
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6. Re: Photo Trip Report - April 2015

Hello, below is a more complete trip report to go with the photos.

Itinerary: This was part of a longer 3-week trip to China, Nepal and Bhutan. Overall my husband and I spent about 13 days in China on our own, and then 3 days in Nepal and 7 days in Bhutan with my in-laws. The Bhutan portion of the trip was as follows:

Day 1: Fly from Kathmandu to Paro, overnight in Thimphu

Day 2: Thimphu to Punakha. We visited Dochula Pass, did a short hike to Khamsum Yuley Temple (a highlight!). Overnight at the Dhensa hotel (our one 5* upgrade)

Day 3: Full day in Punakha. We went to the Talo festival, did another short hike to Chhimi Lhakhang, and visited Punakha Dzong.

Day 4: Loooong drive from Punakha to Paro. Had lunch in Paro, walked around the town, and went to Kyichu temple. Stayed at Metta Resort

Day 5: Visited Paro national museum, attended Paro Tschechu at the Paro Dzong, and another short hike to Zuri Dzong.

Day 6: Tiger’s Nest!

Day 7: Early morning flight to Kathmandu

Planning and tour Operator: As usual, I did my preliminary research on the trip advisor forum reading previous trip reports and asking questions, and then emailed several tour operators. I decided to go with Druk Asia because they were by far the most responsive – I never had to wait more than 24 hours for an email reply. Since I left it a bit late to confirm our plans (Dec), many of the flights were already sold out, and Druk Asia was very aggressive in securing our flights. The person I worked with via email was great at accommodating my preferences and made many adjustments before finalizing the itinerary. I definitely would recommend Druk Asia.

Guide, driver, and other ground support: Our guide and driver were both permanent employees of Druk Asia. Our guide was good. He was very informative and told us just the right amount of details on various Buddhist fables and teachings, and Bhutanese customs. My only minor comment is that his personality was perhaps a bit serious (but that’s really just personal taste). Our driver was outstanding! Not only was he a great driver, he helped out my elderly in-laws on hikes, and even made me a walking stick one day. He was also quite funny even though he spoke little English. The vehicle was a minivan with plenty of room for 6 people (but I think it would be cramped if there were more). Druk Asia was great on the ground – everything was exactly as specified and there was good variety in the itinerary. Our first meal was not the greatest, and after I told our guide, food was fine the rest of the trip. They even loaned me a kira to wear to the festivals! Such a nice touch!

Getting there: We flew through Kathmandu since we had been to both Singapore and Bangkok and wanted to see a different city. In a do-over, I wouldn’t fly through Kathmandu. The airport is really horrible and prone to long delays. On the outbound, we had business class tickets (Druk Asia absorbed the cost difference since economy was sold out). This proved a good thing since our flight was delayed by about 4 hours and we were able to use the lounge. I highly recommend paying the difference (around $200) and getting business class tickets. Druk Air was very nice once we got on our way. Unfortunately, the day was cloudy so no views of Mt. Everest, though we did get a glimpse on the way back. Paro airport was nice and a breeze to get through.

Thimphu: Even though we arrived around 1PM instead of the scheduled 9AM, we still managed to visit the Heritage Museum, Buddha Point, and the Centenary Market, and Thimphu Dzong. It was a bit of a whirlwind, but I was happy that we allocated an extra day to Punakha. Compared to the rest of the trip, Thimphu didn’t feel as special to me.

Punakha: Punakha was a definite highlight for all of us. It was just so stunningly beautiful with the green terraced fields and mountains. It was at a much lower altitude, so good for acclimating. It was warmer and almost subtropical in feeling, like the highlands of Thailand or Laos. We really enjoyed the hike through the fields and up the mountain to the Khamsum Yuley Temple. It was only about 45 minutes one-way, but one of the most beautiful walks I’ve ever done. The temple itself was also stunning, with beautiful frescoes, and there was a rooftop terrace with spectacular panoramic views of the valley. In many ways this was a better hike imho than Tiger’s Nest. Punakha Dzong was also a highlight given its beautiful position. We visited in the late afternoon and were able to get some good photos in a very pretty light. I wished we could have stayed longer in Punakha to do more hiking or just relax and visit some of the villages.

Paro: Paro had a very different look and feel than Punakha, given that it was at a much higher altitude. More like the Pacific Northwest or Canadian Rockies. The valley was also very beautiful, just not as spectacular as Punakha. Our time there was more structured with visiting museums and temples, and of course, Tiger’s Nest and the Paro festival.

Temples and Dzongs: Our guide was excellent in giving us information at various temples and dzongs. In particular, he explained various paintings with Buddhist teachings and fables in a very accessible way. Some temples had a special blessing, for example, the Chhimi with its fertility blessing. This was my favorite temple as there were many worshippers, and monks were there to administer the blessing – being empowered by a tap on the shoulder with a sword, and being blessed with the holy saffron water. We enjoyed going through these rituals. But without the blessing, the temples and dzongs tend to run together after awhile – the statues and paintings were pretty similar.

Tschechus: We went to both the Talo and Paro festivals. Before the trip I was afraid that this would be redundant, but in retrospect, we were very glad to experience a small local festival in addition to the big one in Paro. Note that the dances were very long (1-2 hours each), and even with a detailed pamphlet explaining each one, it did get repetitive and a bit boring after awhile. The best part of the festivals was the people watching, especially all the ladies in their beautiful kiras. Our guide said that many of the women weave their own fabric, since it was very expensive to buy, and they wore their best once a year to the festival. There were also stalls selling things, food and drink, and at Talo, offering games. The games mostly had to do with gambling, some involving skills like archery or darts. They were great fun to watch – lots of cheering and (I think) trash talking. We were disappointed that there were no games at Paro. Our guide said they were banned a few years ago to avoid disturbances. I was really happy to wear my borrowed kira to the Talo festival. I actually felt much less conspicuous, and quite pretty in it ☺. Just keep in mind that it’s not as comfortable as it looks, and quite heavy and hot. I wore regular clothes underneath it and took it off after we left the festival.

In comparison with Talo, the Paro festival was huge and packed. We went the first day and it took place inside the Dzong, making the crowding even worse. I think our guide timed our visit with the Black Hat dance, and when we got there, it was nearly impossible to find a place to stand or to see anything. My husband and in-laws actually gave up and just walked around the dzong, but I stood behind a throng of people about 15 deep hoping to catch a glimpse. After awhile, a monk took out the saffron holy water, and people around me all held out their hands for the blessing, so I did too and said “kadinchela” to thank him. I think this made a good impression on him, and he started talking to everyone and they all made room and pushed me to the front! I got some great photos and even a selfie with the monk ☺. This was definitely a highlight of the trip for me! The Bhutanese people are so kind, friendly and dignified, and I wish we had more ways to interact with them on the trip.

Tiger’s Nest: This was of course billed as the highlight of every trip to Bhutan, and it was indeed a spectacular sight. The hike itself is not difficult, just long (about 3-4 hours round trip). Going up was somewhat strenuous especially as the high altitude made everyone more short of breath, but there was the halfway stopping point at the café for a tea break. I am afraid of heights and was worried about the stairs at the end, but they were really easy. The trail was wide, but a bit uneven, and full of horses (and their byproducts). Coming down, I definitely needed the walking stick. As a point of comparison, Wayna Picchu at Machu Picchu was much much more difficult and scary. The temple itself, once reached, was quite crowded, and by that time, just another temple to us despite its deep significance. I think we started around 9 and got done at 2, including 1.5 hours at the café for tea break (on the way up) and lunch (on the way down). My in-laws took the horses to the cafe and walked down. We found out later that they could’ve gone all the way to the steps on horses, but it would have been a much longer walk down.

Accommodations/Food: We stayed at 3* hotels included in the tour price, except for the upgrade to Dhensa at Punakha. I had wanted the Uma but it was sold out. My reviews of all the hotels are up at TA. Dhensa was wonderful and actually good value for the money. The only bad meal was the first night at the Hotel Norbling. At Dhensa we had excellent 4-course western style meal (included in the price) with nice Australian wines. Everywhere else we had the standard tourist buffet for lunch a dinner. The best way I can describe it would be that it’s really simple Chinese food without all the complexity in spices and ingredients. It was always hot, plentiful, and fairly tasty if not gourmet. Our guide and driver ate different dishes, and I tried a bit at most meals. They usually ate “chili cheese” with rice. This chili cheese must be the national dish of Bhutan. It was various chili peppers cooked in a mild cheese sauce. Sometimes there were other vegetables in it like spinach or potatoes. It was pretty spicy, but actually not as spicy as Sichuan food. I think it’s pretty tasty and definitely worth trying if you like spicy food. We also had a lovely picnic lunch one day in a forest. That was really nice.

Weather, clothing, etc: Weather was warm to hot (in Punakha) during the day, and quite cold at night (I’d say low 40’s). Definitely need to dress in layers. It didn’t rain at all except one evening in Paro where a huge thunderstorm knocked out power. Bhutanese clothing was very conservative and you won’t see any local women with exposed arms or legs, and you must cover up to enter a temple (men must wear long sleeve shirts with collar). I wore light hiking pants, t-shirt and hiking boots every day (since we did a bit of hiking nearly everyday), and carried a very light long sleeve jacket for temple visits. At night I wore jeans, a sweater and the rain jacket and it was barely warm enough. Also keep in mind that the sun was very strong, so hat and sunscreen were essential.

Money: Since the tour was prepaid, we only needed money for extra drinks and souvenirs. The ATM in Thimphu did not work for us so we had to go inside the bank to exchange US$. I think we got $100 and couldn’t spend it all so I got a massage at the Metta Resort (great massage, btw). Most hotels also accepted US$.

That’s all can think of for now. We had a fabulous trip to this unique and wonderful country. I think Bhutan is now in my top 3 favorite destinations, and would love to return some day to experience more of it. Thanks to the people in this forum who helped us plan the trip, and I hope others will find this report useful. Feel free to message me with questions. Happy travels!

Thimphu, Bhutan
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7. Re: Photo Trip Report - April 2015

Wonderful report, festival in Paro and Thimphu is always very crowded and needed planning much more in advance than normal 3-4 months planing. I agree with the fact on food issue in most of the places but going with local meals provided if you like, would be more advisable. We have tried and that worked very well, the only thing would be, you need to avoid timing of crowded lunch break. Thanks for share your thoughts, its great to read reviews. I am sure Bhutan will remain in heart for all the guests who visited the country :)

Tashi Delek

Singapore, Singapore
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8. Re: Photo Trip Report - April 2015

Judy, very nice and detailed report with great photos taken. We were there 29/03 - 04/04. Before I departed to Bhutan, I also asked Druk Asia if they can find kira and gho for us but in the end they didn't manage to get one for us. Lucky you! And you also managed to see Talo and Paro festival. There are karaoke club in Lobesa (Punakha) and Thimphu. In Thimphu they have disco club too which opens at 10pm and close at 12am on weekday (except Tuesday which they call it dry day aka no alcohol day). We wanted to visit their disco club but 10pm was too late for us as we need to set off at 6am the next day.

Los Altos Hills, CA
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9. Re: Photo Trip Report - April 2015

Hi Iva, we were there 3/27-4/2 -- we may have seen each other! I enjoyed reading your blog :)

Re. the kira, I actually got an email from them the day we arrived, which said they provided complementary gho and kira, but you had to ask the guide, and they have to get it from the Thimphu office.

I have a hard time imagining a Bhutanese disco... will definitely have to go to one if we visit again!

Beijing, China
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10. Re: Photo Trip Report - April 2015

Fabulous report, Judy! Bhutan is slowly moving up to the top of my Travel Wish List....as soon as I can allocate the funds!