Bhutan 8 Day Girls Trip

Bhutan 8 Day Girls Trip Claimed

11 Days | Nov 2019 | 4 Women | Culture and Hiking

Average Reviews

Trip Overview

A guided private tour that visited 4 cities/areas of Bhutan (and day in Bangkok en route). Culture and moderate hiking (not overnight trekking) each day.

Full Itinerary

We LOVED this trip – such a beautiful country and people.

-We said we wanted to do some sort of hike each day, but did not have time for an overnight trek.

-It was a great combo of culture and exercise.

-We stayed at 4 star hotels (4 of them), with one of them being more local feeling than the other three.

Note: For the write up below, under each day there is a summary of activities for that day, with further details afterward. Also at the end of the post is info on how to plan a trip to Bhutan.


Day 1: pre Bhutan:

Sunday/Monday – Travel to BangkokFlew to Bangkok leaving midday Sunday with a layover in Toyko. Arrived midnight on Monday in Bangkok and had a hotel pickup car take us to Hilton Millenium which is a beautiful hotel in a great location right on the river.

Hotel: Hilton Millenium


Day 2 Pre Butan: Tuesday – Bangkok

Activities:

Massage

Bike Ride


After a great buffet breakfast at the hotel sitting outside on the river two of us had a massage at Urban Spa (across street from the hotel) which was great after the long travel day. It was about $45 and was terrific. Our friends cabbed to Jim Thompson house – took tour at 10:25 – it’s a very pretty house and gardens on a canal. Met up and walked to icon Siam mall (on same block as the hotel) for best lunch in food court.Took free boat xcross river and met for bike ride at Co Van Kessle – big yellow cruiser bikes for 3 hour ride along river and through back alleys and to flower market and to a wat and thru China town … really fun.Walked to delicious thai dinner at Never Ending Summer in Jam Factory.


Day 3: Wednesday – Bangkok to Bhutan/Thimphu

Activities:

flew to Bhutan

drove to Thimpu, stopping at suspension bridge/stupa,

checked into hotel

visited Thimpu- Textile Museum, Post Office, Couple Shopsdinner at hotel


Up at 3am to get early flight to Bhutan.2-1/2 hour Bhutan air flight to Kolkata (Calcutta) and a quick wait with a deplane and reload and we took off for Bhutan – short flight and amazing views of the Himalayas – Makalu and Everest etc. BE SURE TO GET A SEAT ON LEFT SIDE OF THE PLANE FOR VIEWS!The descent into Paro is amazing! It was like in a video game or a Disneyland ride … we saw the runway over a ridge and between 2 mountains and indeed the pilot dive-bombed left between the 2 and then right and we had hills nearby the wings on both sides of the plane and lots of clapping when we landed … we stepped down the staircase onto the tarmac and the smell of trees and fresh air was so fabulous. After landing it was like nothing I’ve ever seen – everyone was super calm and just looking around and taking photos of the main terminal and of the mountains surrounding us …. the workers were trying to herd us into the building but no one wanted to go. Grabbed bags and we exited the airport to see our Yangphel tour guide Tee Tee waiting for us.We stopped after about 20 mins from the airport to see a suspension bridge called Tachogang Lhakhang bridge that is across a gorgeous river … but it is under renovation so we went across another bridge strewn with prayer flags to a stupa with prayer wheels and little stupas filled with forehead bones of dead people ….We drove on along the river on a windy road with lots of painted trucks windy windy windy to Thimphu … a much bigger city than we expected .. the current capital and around 100,000 people. Our hotel was isolated in a park-like setting up on the hill- built of brick and wood with stone floors and big glass windows overlooking the town.Headed to town to Textile Museum (really interesting) and post office (beautiful!) for personalized stamps and there to a souvenir shop and back to hotel.Amazing food at Zwahling hotel. Early to bed.


Day 4: Thursday: Thimphu

Activities:

Big Buddha

Hike

Changangka lhakhang temple

Archery StadiumPark with standing Buddha

Produce market


Picked up at 8:30 after delicious breakfast.Drove up to see tall seated Buddha (170 feet) on the hill and great views …From that area took a 1.5 hour hike traversing hillside and then down to Changangka lhakhang – 13th century temple where babies are blessed and can get names – really beautiful place. We were going to have our reincarnations told to us but that monk was busy so we rolled some dice and made a prayer and another monk told us if it would come true.Indian lunch at Druk hotel downtown ThimphuWalked thru town/clock tower area, exchanged money at the bank (good to have some local currency for tips, offerings, any shopping etc) and did a bit of shopping (old yak bell and prayer beads).Walked to Changlimithang stadium and watched archery … they shoot the arrow a longer distance than a football field … walked to soccer stadium where kids were practicing for a festival and walked to the tennis stadium and walked to centennial children’s park and then to a weekend market where imported and local foods sold … then drove back to hotel.Dinner at hotel


Day 5: Friday – drive to Gangtey

Activities:

Long drive to Gangtey, stopping at the pass to see stupas

Visited monastery Gangtey Gompa

Watched Black Crane Festival rehearsal

To hotel


Picked up at 9Visited Tankin preserve to see the national 1/2 goat 1/2 cow animal .. then drove the windy road to the 10,233 Dochu La pass with 108 stupas .. a bit cloudy but still gorgeous views .. and then a nauseating drive fueled by Dramamine that goodness to lunch … lunch just over pass (when crossing the passes there is a chant you must all say!) at Menchuna restaurant (food not good but bought some scarves!).. more windy road to another pass with an outdoor gift shop and fabulous Happy potato chips!!! Walked down the hill a bit past lots of yaks – down a gorgeous valleyArrived at Gangtey Gompa (17th c monastery) and walked through it and then watched schoolkids rehearse for the black crane festival which was a couple of days away.. So cute, and fun to see the monks watching and all the kids. Lit butter lamps before we left (be sure to keep your mouth covered when lighting a butter lamp, per their beliefs).Went to RKO hotel a bit out of town down a dirt farm lane. Rather bare-bones, but felt very authentic and local. Was a bit cold and we were only ones there but they were very kind. We had heating blankets and room heaters and had to wait 45 mins between showers, but loved it, with cows and dogs and families just outside the front of the hotel.Had cocktail hour in one of our room with Druk beer and nuts … and a local dinner.


Day 6: Saturday – Gangtey

Activities:

School visit

2 hour hike through valley and saw Black Cranes

Local lunch in town

Black Crane museum

Home farmhouse visit


After breakfast left at 9:30, went to the local school to see more of the dancing and visited classrooms. Two helicopters landed next to the school (for the nearby Aman hotel)Went on beautiful couple hike down Gangtey valley trail through farms and then forest along the valley and saw the Black Cranes that had started to arrive for the season a few days before.Had delicious Bhutanese lunch at hotel in Gangtey – yo lekey – including the Chili and Cheese local dish we grew to loveVisited black neck crane visitor center and learned about them and viewed them via telescope below usFarmhouse visit to make butter tea, chilis with home made cheese and rice wine- great to see inside a home and get real taste of homemade itemsShort pitstop in town for scarves and Happy chips, and back to hotel for ginger tea, rest, dinner and bed!


Day 7: Sunday – drive to Punakha

Activities:

Couple hour drive to Punakha, stopping en route for views and lunch

Easy hike to Chimi Ihakhang temple (fertility temple) and watched rice harvesting

Massages at hotel


9:30 started drive to Punakha. We stopped at the pass for some good views …. and then stopped again cause the mountains were out … Jomolhari mountain. Windy road down the river, learned about cremation … saw Monkeys and cherry blossoms … stopped in Wangdi and walked around town and had lunch at Phuensum hotel – had really good Bhutanese lunch.Easy hike to Chimi lhakhang (fertility temple), small temple dedicated to the divine madman. You start the walk in a little town that is devoted to penises – they are everywhere and for sale in any item you want (toys, ornaments, art….). Rice was being harvested along the walk as well (walk only 1/2 hour each way).Drove to Dhensa hotel which is modern (light pine, windows, incredible views) and beautiful and we all had massages and then watched (and performed in) traditional dance and had great buffet dinner …


Day 8: Monday – Punakha

Hike to Temple Khamsul Yulley / Namgel Chorten

Picnic along river

Visited Fort –

Punakha Dzong Nunnery visit


Up at 6 … beautiful bfast outside … pick up at 930 and drove to good photo stop for dzong and then drove to trail head at suspension bridge to start hike … many along trail selling wonder berries / goose berries and guava … nice hike through rice paddies .. lots of cows … warm and sunny .. hiked up around 600 feet to temple Khamsul Yulley / Namgyel Chorten … gorgeous views. Walk was approx. 2.5 hours.Drove to picnic site along river where various tour companies had set up lunch tables.Drove to large fort/Dzong which is main attraction in town. So impressive!Drove to nunnery above our hotel (Wolakha) which was cool to see.


Day 9: Tuesday – drive to Paro

Activities:

Meditation lesson with a monk

Drive to ParoHot stone baths


Met with monk Kempo at 9:30 in yoga room at hotel to learn about peaceful meditation. He told us in order to meditate you need Three things:Joyous effortGenuine interestWisdomMeditate for 1 minute at a time (-breath out saying ‘ nourish others’, breath in saying ‘nourish yourself’) and do it 60 time a day. After a year increase to 2 minutes at a time.Drove toward Paro back over passes – stopped for a little view of Himalayas but kind of cloudy . … drove into en route Thimphu which was much more crowded and stopped for lunch in a hotel and we were one of many chilips there for a questionable buffet … but luckily Tee Tee ordered a few special plates and those were pretty good …Gorgeous sunny drive to Paro – and checked into Le Meridian which was culture shock … big western hotel with music in the bathroom etc …Went to a local hot stone bath at a roadside restaurant/archery place. It was very authentic and cool – we sat in wooden troughs 1/4 of which were outside where the guy put in red hot stones that heated up the water. He pulled weeds and flowers from the front door and floated them in the water and told us to scrub ourselves with them. We were supposed to stay in an hour … sweating and then dizzy after around 45 mins was the goal … it was so hot and we could hear cows mooing. (was $25 each for the baths). We went into the restaurant and were almost hit by an errant arrow that dinged a nearby car .Dinner at hotel. Early to bed to be up for Tigers Nest/final day.


Day 10: Wednesday/Tigers Nest

Activities:

Tigers Nest

Lunch

Shopping in Paro

Bhutan Kichu lhakhang/ temple


Got box lunch from hotel for breakfast and took with us to eat on hike.Picked up at 6:30 and on trail by 7. Hiking sticks are for rent at the base of the walk.Great weather. We stopped often for pictures and at some benches for our boxed bfast of cheese and egg sandwich and chocolate muffins Kept going to the cafe for the WC and then up to the top, stopping often to take pics. We started early to avoid the crowds but the sun wasn’t optimal for photos (much better on the way down). Once at the top we toured the 7th century (!) monastery (but some rebuilt after a fire) for maybe 1-1/5 hours, visiting a few of the rooms and hearing the history. An incredible day that lived up to the hype.Went to Paro for a delicious lunch at Sonam Trophel. Such a cute restaurant upstairs and fab food – pork dumplings, noodles, chicken stir fry, cheesy cauliflower, chili cheese, butter vegetables.We hit the main drag to do last minute shopping looking for beads etc.Went to the oldest temple in Bhutan Kichu lhakhang/ temple 7th c for short visit and then went to Zwhilinh Ascend hotel to meet person who organized our tour and to have massages. Beautiful hotel tha looks very Bhutanese (vs a lot of other hotels that do not). We hit the gift shop for some scarves.


Day 11: Thursday – Travel day

Early to the airport for flight to Bangkok. Some of us went on to Cambodia for a week, one went home and one met up with a friend for a resort visit in Thailand.



Bhutan: Overall Things to Know When Planning a Trip


Trips must be booked via a tour operator and you must have a guide while you are in the country (unless you are a citizen of India, Bangladesh or the Maldives – this blog logistical info does not apply to these residents who should check their own visa needs). We used one of the oldest tour companies in the country – Yangphel – who are terrific. They are also used by tour operators such as National Geographic and GeoEx. 

Book ahead of time. To ensure you can get the trip you want and stay in the lodgings you want, best to book ahead of time. We booked six months out and were not able to get some of the lodgings we wanted. And if you are, for instance, wanting to book around a specific festival then that may cause even more crowding of lodging options. 

Choose whether you want to go on a group tour or a private tour. Many companies offer group trips. We had 4 women and opted to book a private tour which came with a guide and van/driver. This offered us a lot of great flexibility throughout our visit.  Some 5 star hotel chains such as Aman can also act as a tour agent if you stay at their properties throughout the trip.

Do your research and decide where you want to go and what you want to do while in the country. Research top attractions and activities (including festivals if you want your trip to coincide with one) and make sure your group trip offers these, Or, if using a private guide be sure to communicate clearly with them so they can set up the best itinerary for you. Do you want to go to a particular festival? Do you want to trek? Do you want to visit more remote locations? Do you want to raft/mountain bike? Do you want to do a hike every day? We told them that we didn’t want to be ‘over-templed’ and that we wanted to have some hiking each day, as this was a balance that worked for our group. If you want a spiritually focused trip, a trekking trip or a cultural trip you can get it – but each of those itineraries will look very different. Also know what part of the country you want to visit. The eastern area is less touristed/more ‘authentic’ (and harder to get to) so if that’s your interest be sure to indicate that. It’s also very different having a trip that stays in 5 star hotels vs one that includes homestays in small villages. Once your itinerary is set it is NOT easy to change it after you have arrived (location/hotels in particular – daily activities have flexibility). THIS IS KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL TRIP as there are lots of ways to visit/experience Bhutan so be sure your trip reflects your interests in both activity and type of accommodation.

Trekking. Bhutan is known for its incredible mountains, there are lots of trekking options available. These can range anywhere from doing a moderate hike each day (but staying in hotels), going on a one to two night camping trek, to the famous 28 day Snowman trek, which some say is the most difficult trek in the world. Remember you are dealing with serious altitude as well. Be sure to look for a trip that offers the activity level you desire.

Let your travel agent know what level of accommodation you want. The country has everything from top end 5 star options (Aman resorts has a property in most major cities in Bhutan…and Six Senses has amazing properties, some of which you can helicopter between) down to homestay options. The budget for the trip can vary drastically based upon lodging choices. 

If planning a private trip, let your tour operator know what additional activities you are interested in, such as hot stone baths (a must!), massages, archery, meditation lessons, festival visits, cooking demos, school visits etc. 

Your tour operator will be in charge of organizing your visa (which you get up on arrival), all your hotels and your transportation. They will obtain ‘road permits’ for your travels outside of the main towns of Paro and Thimphu and you may have to stop at immigration checkpoints along the way to check that your paperwork is in order (your guide handles this). If you are planning on traveling on to a neighboring country like India or Nepal after your time in Bhutan, you should check on getting those visas yourself before you leave your home country vs trying to get them while overseas.

Cost: Via your guide service you must spend $250/day per person (price decreases to $200/pp from Dec – Feb and June-Aug – details here). There is a surcharge if you are traveling in a group of one or two people. Kids get a discount with a family trip. This daily amount covers hotel/transportation/guide/entrance fees. So once you land you are only paying potentially for things like hot-stone baths, rafting/biking/horseback riding, cultural shows, tips and shopping.  

Book a seat on the LEFT side of the plane when arriving in Bhutan and the RIGHT side when leaving for the great views of Everest and the Himalayas. Those on the left side of the plane have an incredible view (weather depending) as you enter Bhutan and it really is worth making sure you secure a window seat if possible. The landing into Bhutan is quite dramatic! 



Additional ‘good to know’ info:


– ‘Chilip’ refers to a white foreigner.

– Dollars are accepted at some places and bigger bills are preferred rather than smaller notes (you can usually get change in dollars as well). Make sure dollar notes you bring are in good condition and not too old as otherwise they will not be accepted. Don’t plan your cash around using an ATM there (not reliable), so bring cash for any spending you will need (including tips for your guide and driver at the end and for your hotel staff). 

– Tipping: We were recommended the following: guide $100/week per person, driver $5/day per person, hotel $5/day per person (leave at the desk at checkout). $5/day for possible temple donations. Overall about $20/day per person/per day excluding the main guide tip. All in US dollars is OK. We also brought some knee high black ‘gold toe’ socks for our driver and guide as this type of socks are part of the national dress that men wear daily (we had a male guide and driver).

– Adaptor. Most hotels used the two-prong English outlet or our US items were able to plug in to the regular outlet at some locations. Some hotels had power strips. Bring a universal adaptor to be safe, and maybe even power cord if you have lots of stuff to charge (and room to pack it).

– If you get motion sick bring meds for the long drives.

– Be prepared to deal with high altitude – with meds, cocoa tea or whatever you prefer. It’s an adjustment the first day or two as it’s high…. Thimpu is at 7709′, Paro is 7300′, Ghangty is 9842′ (and the pass to get there is 10,000′ ) and Punakha is 4100′. Tiger’s Nest is over 10,000′, with a 2000′ elevation gain during the hike up. Plan accordingly, especially for the first day or two when you are adjusting.

– Meds. Chances are you will do a lot of driving, and many of the roads are windy. Be sure to pack Dramamine (or equivalent) just to be safe. Also pack sleeping meds (as needed), as well as meds for altitude adjustment. Better to be prepared with meds and not use them than not have them on hand as it’d be tough to find them there.

– Bring layers for dress. We didn’t need anything fancy where we stayed, but check if you are at the 5 star resorts like Aman or Six Senses.

– Shopping: baby yak scarves, between $6-$15 depending on size, are beautiful and are great gifts. Prayer Beads are also great and prices really vary depending on material/quality/age. Don’t believe that all prayer beads are made of Bodhi wood (the real Bodhi wood ones are upwards of $150 to $1000 and if you cup them tightly in your hand and shake them you should hear a rattle inside the beads). Paro has the most shopping but if you see it and like it along the way….get it, as you never know if you’ll see the same thing again. You may also want some prayer flags after seeing them everywhere you turn!

– Helpful to read up on Bhutanese Buddhism before you go.

– We had been advised to bring bars in case the food wasn’t agreeable but we never ate them as our food was all great, with the exception of only a meal or two. We had also been told there was MSG used in cooking so our guide made sure to ask that no MSG was used (although all the hotels and restaurants said they did not use it).

– We recommend, if coming from far away, that you have a day in Bangkok (or elsewhere) to adjust and rest a bit before you hit the ground running in Bhutan. We extended our trip on the back end as well elsewhere in Asia.

– For Tiger’s Nest (a MUST) try to arrive early to miss the crowds and the hot sun. We started hiking by 7am. Plan for at least 5 hours round trip including stops, tour etc. Leaving in the early morning does not provide the best light for photo ops on the way up however – afternoon provides those. But as we came down the light was better. 

– For temples you need your knees and shoulders covered. Ideally wear a collared shirt or put a sweater on as you go in. Shoes off and no photos inside.

– Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world. By law Bhutan has to have at least 60% of the country covered in forest and currently it is at 72.5%.  

– There are no stoplights or Starbucks in the country, but we did have wifi at all the hotels!

– Dogs are everywhere, sleeping or wandering, but none were ever aggressive. They can howl at night and depending on your hotel you may want earplugs if you are a light sleeper.

– Be ready to flexible. Expect the unexpected.

– Do a hot stone bath, and do it outside your hotel for a more authentic experience.

– If you have a private guide feel free to ask for extra experiences such as hot stone baths, massages, home visits, meditation lessons, school visits etc.

– You can request home stays as part of your trip if that’s of interest.

– Save Tiger’s Nest until the end of the trip so you are acclimated to the altitude. But apparently, if you are going on a trek some companies do this at the start to assess the fitness level of the group! They rent walking sticks at the start of the hike so no need to bring your own unless you feel you’ll want it throughout the trip.

– Smoking is banned in public – only allowed in private confinements. 

– Tuesdays are ‘dry’ nationwide.  No alcohol is sold on Tuesdays, even at major hotels, to reduce alcoholism.



Books to Read Before You Go:


Lonely Planet Guide to Bhutan – Lonely Planet guides are always full of great info!

Married to Bhutan –  The story of an American woman who moved to Bhutan

Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan – About a woman who chose to relocate her life to teach in Bhutan


Items to Consider Purchasing For Your Travels: 


Away Suitcase: I bought a new suitcase before the trip, wanting a Carry On suitcase that could fit a lot and expand as well. My Away ‘Expandable Bigger Carry-On’ suitcase was perfect for the trip. I threw in a small nylon duffle for any extra space I needed for purchases I made during the trip. Once home, my husband has stolen the bag for his work trips and loves it as well.


Trtl Neck Pillow: I always tout this product because it saves me on long flights!  The Turt neck pillow keeps your head propped in a soft, comfortable way that lets you sleep on planes without a neck ache afterwards. 


Good small, lightweight, compact backpack: to have in the car for ready access to items as well as to take on any hikes (including up to Tiger’s Nest). 


Water bottle: To keep in your car, to have in your hotel and to bring on hikes – basically to have on you at all times. You can refill it with purified water as you go. You are at very high altitude and are drinking a TON of water.

Photos

Author

Time of year

Oct-Dec

Type of Trip

Adventure/Active, Food/Culture/Arts

Duration

1 week

Who Went

Girls trip

Accommodation Type

Hotel

Budget

$200-$400

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