Bhutan is a very small country in terms of the area still they have preserved their culture very well. Bhutan is also known as “Land of Thunder Dragon” and the thunder dragon is its national symbol. They have preserved their culture and heritage while accepting modernization. There are some really beautiful places to visit in Bhutan. I have decided to see some of the most popular tourist places in Bhutan during my 7 days trip.
Nowadays when every nation measures its development through “GDP”, Bhutan has a unique system of “GNH” which means Gross National Happiness. Bhutan government work toward the well being and happiness of its citizens. They have consciously saved their culture from the blunt influences of the western world. Bhutanese people have a modern approach but at the same time, they are very traditional. I have observed a good balance of traditional values with technology.
Where is Bhutan?
It is tucked between India and China. Bhutan is surrounded by Indian states from three sides and shares its eastern border with China.
Must visit tourist places in Bhutan
Even though Bhutan is small in the area but it’s not possible to see everything in a week or 10 days time. If you are traveling to Bhutan for the first time then you like to see and experience the best of it. I recommend that you should visit the capital Thimpu, Paro, and Punakha. There are many beautiful places in these cities to experience the essence of Bhutan.
My Bhutan itinerary for 7 days
Here is my itinerary for Bhutan if you have 7 days to explore the land of Thunder Dragon. This itinerary is most useful if you travel to Bhutan by flight.
Day 1: Fly from Delhi to Paro
I reached Paro around 10.00 AM and after obtaining permit checked in to the Olathang hotel. Paro is a valley and situated at an altitude of 2200 meters above sea level, most people don’t have any altitude issue at this height. Still, it is better to relax before going for any sightseeing in Bhutan.
After relaxing for some time we went to the local market and explored the area. Paro’s local market is located on one long road. The shops are made in the traditional Bhutanese style of architecture. Almost all the shops have a photograph of King and Queen inside or at the gate of the shop.
The air is clean with no pollution as there are few cars on the roads. Everything is very laid back in Paro.
Read more about my First Day in Paro
Day 2: Drive from Paro to Thimphu
Before leaving for Thimpu we visited the National Museum of Paro. It’s beautiful well preserved building through a part of it was destroyed in the 2009 earthquake.
Bhutan’s capital Thimpu is 70 km from Paro and it took us about 2 hours by road.
We stopped on the way at the Iron chain bridge. This bridge connects to a Dzong across the river but it is private property so entry is not allowed without prior permission.
Our hotel Kisa in Thimpu was at the beginning of the main market and very centrally located. Thimpu’s Archery ground was in front of our hotel and we had an amazing view of the ground with mountains in its background.
We had more than half of the day and we spent that time for local sightseeing. We visited the Painting School, National Library, and the Textile Museum.
Later that evening we went to Thimpu Dzong and watched the flag-lowering ceremony. It was a small yet colorful ceremony.
Day 3: Sightseeing in Thimphu
We dedicated this day to visit the areas around Thimpu. First, we went to the Buddha viewpoint, it is the highest point in Thimpu. Then we went to Takin Zoo where they have kept Bhutan’s national animal Takin, which is a rare animal.
We returned to the Thimpu market for lunch.
Afterward, we visited Simtokha Dzong and National Memorial Chorten, which is one of the religious places for the people of Bhutan.
Later that evening I bought some souvenirs from the National textile museum and from Thimpu’s local market.
Day 4: Thimphu to Punakha return to Thimphu
Punakha is 137 km from Thimpu and driving time is 4 hours because roads have several curves & bends.
We stopped on the way at Dochula pass. There are a monastery and 108 Chortans at Dochula pass. We stopped there for some time and explored the area. The view of Himalayan mountains from Dochula pass is mesmerizing.
Finally, we reached Punakha and visited Punakha Dzong, which is situated on the confluence of Pho Chuu, Mo Chu rivers. This is a beautiful dzong and the intricate work inside the main hall is spectacular. It is so beautiful from inside that I can’t describe it in words. Photography is not allowed inside the prayer halls.
Later on, we spent some time near Sankosh River and finally went to a nearby village for lunch.
The temperature in Punakha is higher as compared to other parts of Bhutan because it is situated in a narrow valley at low altitude. We returned to Thimpu by evening.
Read more about My experience in Thimpu and Punakha
Day 5: Thimpu to Paro
We started from Thimpu to Paro after breakfast. In Paro, we left our luggage at the hotel and left for Chele La pass.
Chele La Pass is one & half hour drive from Paro. The road to the Chele La pass is narrow and have hairpin bends. The scenery from Paro to Chele La pass is a delight for any nature lover. There are lush green tall trees on both sides of the road.
Chele La pass is at the altitude of 4,000 meters above sea level and its Bhutan’s highest motorable road. The view of mountains from Chele La pass is mesmerizing while for me, it was the journey, which was the high point of this day trip.
Later on, we visited Drukgyal Ruin Dzong, which is in ruins but the view of mountains around it was worth visiting this place.
Day 6: Paro to Tiger Nest
We went to the base of the Tiger nest by van and trekked from there. Till halfway trek is simple but afterward path is narrow and a bit steep at some points. Tiger nest is the most important religious place in Bhutan and the Dzong at the top is beautiful. We returned in the late afternoon.
Later that evening our hotel has organized a cultural program in the conference hall. Artists performed several traditional dances in colorful Bhutanese costumes with live music.
Read more about Places to see Paro Bhutan
Day 7: Paro to Delhi flight
Our flight from Paro to Delhi was at 05.00 PM so we had more than half a day to explore Paro. We visited Paro Dzong and later on spent some time at Paro Chuu. Even in the month of April the water of Paro Chuu was ice cold.
I again went to Paro market for lunch and also did some shopping. I bought some asparagus & Bhutanese cheese to bring back home.
Bhutan Itinerary for 10 days
If you are traveling to Bhutan for 10 days then you must add these two places in your itinerary. If you are looking for solitude than visit these two places to experience rural culture and life of Bhutan.
Phobjikha Valley (Gangtey) from Punakha
It is 135 Km from Thimpu and 75 Km from Punakha. It is possible to do a day trip but it’s better to stay there for one night. The drive to Phobjika valley is through very winding roads. There are the high valleys and drop-offs on the way which adds to the thrill of traveling by road. Phobjikha is a vast glacial valley at an elevation of about 3,000 meters. It is a beautiful valley which gets snowfall in winters and remains very pleasant in summers.
It is home of the black-necked cranes in winter months, you can see them here between November to March. The birds fly back to Tibet in the summer months. There is a Black Neck Crane Conservancy in Phobjikha Valley, where you can get information about this rare species of birds.
There is Gangtey monastery in the valley on a small hillock. Other than these you can go for easy nature trails around the village and forest. The valley looks like a beautiful hamlet guarded by the mountains on all sides. There are some homestays and tented accommodation in Phobjikha Valley for night stay.
Haa Valley from Paro
Paro to Haa valley is 65 Km and it will take about 2 to 2.5 hours to reach. The drive to Haa valley goes from Chele la Pass, which is highest mountain pass in Bhutan. The Chele la pass gets closed in winter months when it snows heavily. Haa Valley has very beautiful scenery and it is quite less visited in comparison to the other areas in Bhutan.
In Haa valley, Indian and Bhutan army have their battalions in camps. It is a strategic military hub due to it’s proximity to China border. There is an army canteen from where you can buy food items or have Indian meals.
The town of Haa is on the other of the valley away from army area. It is quite well developed but still have beautiful natural trails. Haa is surrounded by mountains from all sides and the weather remains pleasant. There are two monasteries and town is blessed with natural beauties in abundance. The Pelden Restaurant in Haa town is very popular to try Bhutan’s cuisine.
You can visit Haa valley during a day trip from Paro but it will nice to stay there overnight. There are few homestays in Haa town where you can experience Bhutan’s hospitality and culture.
Travel tips for traveling in Bhutan
* Bhutanese currency is Ngultrum. It is equivalent to the Indian rupee. US Dollar and Indian Rupee are widely accepted. Indian currency notes of 500 and 2,000 are not acceptable.
** English is widely spoken in urban areas. In rural areas language can be a problem.
* Bhutan time is six hours ahead of GMT, 30 minutes ahead of India and one hour behind Thailand.
** Credit Card facilities are very limited. International ATMs are limited even in Thimpu, so it’s advisable to carry cash.
* Bhutanese dress modestly. Short skirts and shorts are generally not worn in public. While visiting temples, monasteries and Dzong wear trousers or a long skirt and tops with sleeves. Hats, sunglasses, sleeveless tops, shorts, and short skirts are not permitted inside these places.
** Always carry a shawl or light jacket while traveling. Weather gets extremely cold and windy even during summer months. We had this problem while we visited Chale La pass but fortunately, we were carrying Jacket.
* Bhutanese people are religious and most of them follow Mahayana Buddhism (Kagyu tradition). Some of the Bhutanese traditions are different from other parts of the world, understand this and show respect.
** When entering an inside a prayer hall in Dzongs or Monasteries, remove shoes outside and photography is prohibited inside the temples.
* When passing by Chortens, Mani walls or prayer flags, always walk clockwise.
** Smoking is prohibited in public areas.
* Bhutanese people respect and consider their king and queen next to God, keep this in mind when talking about them.
** Road from Thimpu to Punakha and Paro to Chele La pass has many twists and turns. If you have a motion sickness problem then take the medication in advance.
* Wear comfortable shoes for the trek to Tiger Nest.
** Most restaurants prepare food after you place an order, so be patient because it can take 25-40 minutes.
Here are some more interesting facts about Bhutan