Western Bhutan Trip Details
Bhutan: Logistical Details
- Indians don't need a visa (or even a passport) to enter Bhutan. A voter ID would suffice. Indians are also exempted from having to sign up for the minimum $250 a day per head tour package. But we do have to get permits. If you are driving, the permit issued in Phuentsholing is only valid for Thimphu and Paro. You need to make a fresh one for Wangdi and beyond.
- Our Indian credit worked everywhere where cards were accepted. We had a bit of trouble withdrawing money from ATM. Our cards only worked in Bank of Bhutan ATMs. Indian currency is widely accepted, especially of the denomination of 100 or lower. 500s were accepted in all museums/monuments for entry tickets. Some restaurants also accepted 500s.
- We had taken AirTel International Roaming before leaving India and it worked just fine. We had connectivity with good speeds everywhere we went, including the highest of passes.
- Vegetarian food is not a problem at all. Dal, Rice, Mixed-Veg curry, Ema Datshi, Veg Fried Rice and Veg Noodles were available in every restaurant we went.
- If you are driving on your own, you should not have any problems in Thimphu, Paro and Wangdi region. The roads after Dochu La pass are extremely bad and is very muddy. Do not venture beyond Dochu La unless you have prior experience of driving in such bad terrain.
Tara Phendeyling Hotel, Thimphu We stayed here for 2 days in October 2017.
1) The rooms and bathrooms are very spacious and spotlessly clean.
2) The decor is excellent with quality wooden flooring.
3) Good Wi-Fi connection even in rooms far away from the lobby.
4) Good gym and spa facility and the spa rates are quite cheap.
5) The staff is very courteous and very helpful.
6) Service in the restaurant is very quick. The breakfast/dinner is always on time.
1) The place is far from the city centre and right off the main road and it is quite difficult to walk around.
2) There is not much eating options around the hotel. So you are stuck to the hotel restaurant or need to take a taxi to the city centre.
3) The quality and taste of the food was just about adequate. There is a lot of scope of improvement here.
Kichu Resort, Wangdue Phodrong We stayed here a couple of nights in Oct 2017
1) The location is very scenic. It is right by a roaring river and you can do good birding right from your balcony.
2) The landscape of the property is very good. There are plenty of seating areas around and the dining area is very spacious.
3) The quality of food was good. It was great for us vegetarians as this was a pure vegetarian place.
4) The rooms and bathrooms are clean.
5) The staff is courteous and helpful.
1) The service in the restaurant is slow. The breakfast and dinner are not on time.
2) The rooms and bathrooms are quite small and cramped.
3) Since it is by a roaring river, light sleepers will have problems.
4) The place is far from Wangdi. So you need to have your own transport to get here.
5) The service at the front desk is also slow. So budget half hour for check-out.
6) The Wi-Fi is patchy and it only works in the lobby and not in the rooms.
Mountain Lodge, Bhumthang Stayed here for a couple of nights in Oct 2017
1) This is a luxurious accommodation and was the best hotel we stayed during our Bhutan trip.
2) The rooms and bathrooms are very spacious and the rooms are made from fine pine wood.
3) There is heater provided in each room
4) The entire property is spotlessly clean.
5) The dining area and the lobby are very spacious and very well done.
6) The WiFi works well in all rooms.
7) Great view from the top floor rooms.
8) The quality and the taste of the food was good.
9) The staff is courteous and helpful.
10) They have laundry facility and returned our cloths on time.
1) There are no TV in the room. This probably is a positive.
2) The service in the restaurant is quite slow.
3) The breakfast spread is quite poor. It is just toast/cornflakes and eggs.
4) We did spot a rodent inside the property. That is probably because the property in in the middle of a forest and not because of hygiene.
Kichu Resort, Paro We stayed here for 3 nights during October 2017.
1) The location is great. It is by the Pa Chhu and is surrounded by hills. It is at a walking distance from the Kyichu Lhakhang.
2) The entire property is very well done. There are plenty of areas to walk around right inside the property. The garden and the lawn are very well maintained.
3) The rooms and bathrooms are spacious and are very well done. The drawing area is separate form the bed room.
4) The rooms and bathrooms are very clean.
5) The lobby/restaurant/bar are also spacious, clean and well-done.
6) The staff is courteous and friendly.
7) They have laundry facility. It does require a bit of cajoling to get them to do it. But our cloths did get returned on time.
1) The service is not upto the mark. The restaurant hardly ever serves food on time.
2) The kitchen gets closed outside the main meal times. It was a hassle even to order an evening tea, and our request for snacks was flatly denied.
3) The WiFi is quite patchy. We got better connection even in the remote villages of Central Bhutan than here.
4) The place is far from the city centre. So are pretty much stuck here for your meals.
- National Textile Museum - Must See; 1-2 hrs: It is an excellent museum giving you a comprehensive insight into the local costumes of the country. The museum is well laid out. Note that the museum is closed on weekends.
- National Library - Should See; quick in and out: It is not very far from the Textile Museum and can be covered fairly quickly. It houses the world's largest published book. Note that the library is closed on weekends.
- Buddha Point - Must See; 30 mins: Another "got to do this" monument. Views are great and the statue imposing. Head here in the morning for best lighting.
- Takin Preserve - Ok to miss: Unless you have a burning desire to see this Takin, there is no pressing need to head here. Apart from the Takin and a couple of deer, there isn't much here to see.
- Zilukha Nunnery - Should See; 10 mins: The site temple is one of the few dedicated to Tengtong Gyalpo and has his giant image inside.
- Changangkha Lhakhang - Must See; 15 mins: It is an important temple with period murals. The main statue of Avalokiteshwara is quite impressive.
- National Memorial Chorten - Must See; 20 mins: The Chorten itself is impressive. But if it is open, you can head inside to see the three levels of the temple. The statues of Vajrakilaya arer quite fascinating.
- Trashi Chhoe Dzong - Must See; 30 mins to 1 hr: If there is only one thing you are seeing in Thimphu, it has to be this fort. It is massive, impressive and elegant at the same time. The giant statue of Buddha in the main temple is truly magnificent.
- Paro Dzong- Must See; 1 hr: The site temple does not have any giant statues. But the views more than make up for it.
- National Museum - Must See; 1 hr: Mask collection is the best. The Thangka, Natural Museum bit is worth a walk through.
- Kyichu Lhakhang - Should See; 20 mins: It is a bit away from the city centre, but on the way to Tiger Nest Monastery and can be combined with that. It often gets shut down as the Royal family uses it for their personal ceremonies. Historically and theologically, it is an important temple. Nothing much to impress via architecture and statues.
- Dumtse Lhakhang - Must See; 15 mins: The murals are breathtaking. Please bring a torch or use the one in your mobile.
- Takshang Goemba (Tiger Nest Monastery) - Absolute Must See : If you are doing only one thing in Bhutan, it has to be this. It is a moderately strenuous hike of 4.5 km (one-way) with an elevation gain of nearly a kilometer. It took us 2.5 hrs to climb up and 2 hr for the downhill. There is no food at the monastery. There is a tea shop at the half way point. There are 8 temples on top and it takes about 30 mins - 1 hr to see all of them.
- Chime Lhakhang - Must See; 1 hr: The walk through the fields and the esoteric phallus paintings in the village are itself worth the trouble.
- Punakha Dzong - Must See; 1.5 - 2 hr (including the bridge): It is easily the most beautiful dzong in the country. The giant statues inside are icing on the cake. Don't miss the Suspension Bridge. It is fantastic and is about 20 to 30 mins walk from the dzong.
- Trongsa Dzong - Must See; 30 mins: The main temple does not have any eye-catching statues. But the view from the fort is the best in the country.
- Jampey Lhakhang - Must See; 20 mins: It is a must-see only because it is the oldest temple in Bhutan and if you have come this far, you may as well see this.
- Kurjey Lhakhang - Must See; 30 mins: There are three temples here and it is a challenge to find all of them open. The rightmost is the oldest and historic with the famous body print of Guru Rinpoche. The middle one has the best statue - that of Guru Rinpoche.
- Membartsho Lake - Should See; 1 hr (including the drive): The lake is nothing but a slow-down in a fast moving river. The drive is quite scenic.
- Jakar Dzong - Must See; 30 mins - 1 hr: The site temple has no eye-catching statues. But the fort itself is quite beautiful and worth roaming around.
- Kharpo Lhakhang - Should See; 20 mins: The approach to the temple is quite intriguing.
- Nagpo Lhakhang - Should See; 30 mins: It is 10 min walk from the Kharpo Lhakhang. It is a small temple. If you have come this far, you may as well see this.
- Gangte Goemba - Must See; 30 mins: The valley itself is an 1.5 hr detour from the main highway. But it is one of the prettiest and the monastery is also quite lovely. So it is all worth the effort, if you have the time.
- Thimphu to Paro: 50 km 1 - 1.5 hrs: The road is good and not too winding. The traffic is heavy.
- Paro to Haa via Chele La: 64 km 1.5 to 2 hrs: Road is only as wide as one SUV, but at least it is entirely paved and pothole free. It is winding and the Chele La pass is the highest in the country.
- Thimphu to Wangdi: 72 km; 2 to 2.5 hrs: The route is scenic and Dochu La is a good place to spend some time. The road is paved all through and is in good condition.
- Wangdi to Trongsa: 125 km; 6 hrs: The road is in very bad condition and muddy in parts. Avoid driving here at night. Avoid if you have no experience in driving in such terrain.
- Trongsa to Bhumthang: 80 km; 3 hrs: The road is atrocious. The section around the Yotong La pass is a quagmire and many cars just get stuck here in the mud.
If you don't want to drive in these terrain, especially east of Wangdi, and don't want to lose precious vacation days running around for the permits, then you have to look for a Travel Agent. Non-SAARC passport holders don't have a choice. If you are a SAARC passport holder, do make that clear to the agency so that they don't charge you the "foreign" rate. We booked our trip via Nivalink who did a wonderful job of putting together a workable itinerary, arranging accommodation, a guide and a driver. The vehicle provided was Land Cruiser, perfect for the conditions. The driver had 10+ years of experience on this terrain. When every other vehicle was stuck at least once on the muddy terrain, we never once encountered the slightest of problems. The guide was very knowledgeable and knew his country's history and culture well. The trip went according to plan and the plan was perfect, not to hurried or too lethargic. It was also a private trip with flexible dates. From our experience, we would highly recommend this agency for your bookings.