Bhutan is a mysterious travel destination where clued up travellers go to uncover the secret to happiness and lose themselves in the magic of the mountains. This tiny country has set regulations for tourism to prevent it from negatively impacting their strong culture and pristine natural environment. Tourists may only visit as part of an organised tour, making the time spent travelling in Bhutan limited and special. Choose a tour that allows you to make the most of every minute, so you can be sure this once in a lifetime trip will exceed your expectations.
Here’s a closer look some of Bhutan’s most captivating destinations and sightseeing experiences. You’ll want to make sure that these are included in your tour:
Thimpu is included in most Bhutan tour itineraries, but what you’ll experience in the capital city will differ. You’ll want to visit all the top sights like Tashiccho Dzong (a beautiful fortress, home to the government offices), & the National Memorial Chorten. Another must see is the Changangkha Lhakhang, where babies from all over Bhutan are brought to be blessed. You can’t miss visiting one of largest buddha statues in the world, the Buddha Dordenma. Follow this up with a visit to the Takin Sanctuary to see Bhutan’s most treasured and iconic animal. We could try explaining to you what this animal is, but it’s probably easier to show you…
Another overlooked highlight of Thimpu is the stunning Wangditse trail (a favourite of the King who’s often seen riding his bike here). The 2 hour (relatively flat) track in the hills provides stunning views over the city, prayer flags fluttering in the wind. You’ll be able to spin a large prayer wheel as you look out over the Tashiccho Dzong and the whole valley.
Punakha is another must-see destination, very different from Thimpu. There are a few beautiful walks here that you cannot miss. Take a leisurely hike through lush farmland to Chime Lhakang, also known as the temple of the Divine Madman. This temple is dedicated to fertility, and it is popular for couples who desire children to perform an interesting fertility ritual here. As a visitor though, you’ll probably be more preoccupied by the hundreds and hundreds of depictions of penises adorning the structure.
The second hike is slightly more challenging. It takes you through crop fields of chillies, eggplants and potatoes, uphill towards Khamsum Yalley Monastery. Another highlight of Punakha is a visit to Bhutan’s most beautiful fortress, Punakha Dzong. Finish the day by stopping in at the nunnery, in time for evening prayer chants.
Most tours will focus their time around West Bhutan (Paro, Thimphu and Punakha), which is close to the international airport and a few major attractions, like the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Stray specialise in going further off the beaten track, exploring the unique, lesser known parts of a country, like Bumthang. Bumthang translates to “beautiful field”, and is the religious and spiritual heartland of Bhutan. It is home to three of the most sacred sites in Bhutan. It also boasts spectacular scenery and a unique style of architecture, almost reminiscent of Austria or Switzerland.
Learn the legend behind the Burning Lake (which is neither a lake, nor on fire), hike through fields of wild strawberries into the Ura Valley and see marijuana growing wild along the roadside. The people here are friendly and curious. Explore the little village and enjoy the feeling of being far from the tourist crowds. The road to Bumthang may be long, but journey is beautiful. The magic and spirituality here makes it worth getting off the beaten track for.
Another special experience you’ll want to make sure is included is a night spent with a Bhutanese family in a traditional homestay in Gangtey Valley. This valley is the winter home of the endangered black-necked cranes that migrate from Tibet. These birds are loved and protected by the Bhutanese – so much so that in November they host an annual festival in their honour! Take a hike along the nature trail that runs alongside the wetlands and learn about the conservation efforts at the Black Crane Centre. Experience true Bhutanese hospitality with a delicious home cooked meal around the stove with your homestay family. You can even indulge in an optional hot stone bath!
All tours to Bhutan include Paro. Not only is it where the international airport is, it is also where the famous Taktsang monastery or Tiger’s Nest is! The important thing to look for here is that the tour you choose includes the hike to the Tiger’s Nest monastery several days after you’ve arrived in Bhutan. It’s best if you complete some practice hikes earlier in your trip. This will allow you to become accustomed to the altitude. That way, you’re adjusted and prepared for the Tiger’s Nest hike, which can be challenging! See the video here.
In Paro you’ll also want to include a visit to the National Museum and Kichu Lhakhang. The latter is a very old, peaceful monastery, famous for the orange trees in the courtyard that bear fruit all year round.
Bhutanese culture is full of celebrations. After all, they are one of the happiest nations on earth. If you can, choose a tour date that includes a festival. Immerse yourself in these fantastic celebrations – an experience you’ll never forget!
If all of the above is what you’re looking for, come and explore Bhutan with us! We pledge to take you to all of the essential experiences. But we’ll also take you off the beaten track, deep into the heart of East Bhutan. This is where the real magic happens.
Need to knows:
The Government of Bhutan have restrictions on visitors in order to ensure high value, low impact tourism. The important stuff:
- You must be guided by an organised tour. It is not possible to visit Bhutan independently.
- There is a daily tourism fee of between $200-250USD (seasonal)
- The cost of this is included in your Stray Bhutan Explorer tour!