Bhutan - 2 Day Roadtrip in Bhutan

The flight from Nepal to Bhutan was theoretically supposed to be a breeze, just an hour. But yes, with all the waiting on the departure runway, it felt like I was on that plane for a century. The Nepal airport is quite famous for its delays, all thanks to the fabulous Yeti Air and Buddha Air (which already caused cancelations of my flight within Nepal). What fantastic airlines!

On the contrary, Bhutanese Druk Airline is reliable but they can't do anything about the lazy Nepal airport. However, at least I was able to get to Bhutan at all. 

Organizing the trip required some extra time and things to consider. During my planning, I found out that it's not fully clear if I need a guide or not. Especially since tourism regulations have changed in Bhutan.

Is a guide mandatory in Bhutan?

In Bhutan, you (don't) absolutely need a tour guide, it's almost like (not) a mandatory thing. To explain. Things have changed a bit after Covid, nowadays, you can apply and pay for a visa, book a hotel, and organize the SDF (that's the Sustainable Development Fee which is a bit too expensive!) all on your own. You're free! 

But wait, there's a catch! You've got to have a guide to visit any site or museum, and if you're caught without one, guess what? A big fine! So, it's better to have a guide. 

Usually, I try to avoid a guide at all! But in Bhutan having a guide was worth it, especially with those sites scattered all over the place, only a limited amount of time and the sun beating down very intensely.

Guide and driver are worth the money

So, all in all, the 2-day guidance and car cost me 170 bucks. And it was worth every penny. The guide was a real pro. These guides in Bhutan are like walking encyclopedias, they undergo a rigorous three-month training program, including a governmental examination! They know everything, and I mean everything! Not a single question went unanswered, and everything on the trip was perfectly planned, right down to the minute! 

And the vehicle was clean and comfy.

Arrival in Bhutan

Anyway, the flight's landing approach was quite something. The plane wiggled its way through the mountains, making sharp turns here and there, finally landing quite smoothly.  A sharp left turn followed by a daring right turn, and before I knew it, we touched down on the runway with an unexpectedly smooth landing. 

The airport is like an art gallery

Now, I was the first to clear immigration, and let me tell you, the airport was something else.

One of the most beautiful airports I've ever seen. It's no wonder they experience frequent delays – everyone is just awestruck by its beauty!  And the staff, they were all so friendly, personally shaking hands with each visitor. You don't see that everywhere!

Driving through the country

So, I landed in Paro, and it was late afternoon already! Time flies. Tashi, my guide, was already waiting for me, decked out in his traditional Bhutanese attire. "Tashi" is a name so common in Bhutan that when calling the name in a group of 10 people, 8 would react.

On the way to the accommodation, I stopped at the Ringpung Dzong.

Tigers Nest Temple

Before I got to the hotel, my driver Tashi drove to the most iconic Bhutanese temple - the Tigernest temple. If I had enough time I would probably go up there. But I didn't have enough time.

Although it's possible to see it from the road, and honestly, walking up there would've been a whole-day affair. Imagine that!

So I admired it from a distance.

Archery, the national sport of Bhutan

Next up was a visit to a Bhutanese archery range. These local people are avid archers, they practice archery like it's their national pastime. They practice archery every single day, and they're pretty good at it! I saw them shooting arrows with incredible precision, aiming at a tiny 30cm target 130 meters away – just right there next to the road, no safety gear, just raw talent and skill!

You'd think they'd be careful, but no, they take turns shooting, people on the other side collecting their arrows, and then shooting again. As a spectator, it was quite the spectacle to witness it right up close, standing next to the target behind a wooden wall.

Paro Sightseeing

I stayed in Paro. Walking in Paro in the evening was interesting. It was still enough daylight to stroll through the streets of the small town.

A different world

It was like everything was new for me here, as things were from another planet.

So many things that caught my attention. I was in absorb mode because I do not have much time in this country and so I'm in the mood to soak up everything as much as possible. Or maybe because I have not been to China yet and am not used to Tibet or China's architecture and customs.

Lots of archery, art and clothes shops. And cotton shops that provide fabrics for their everyday attire.

Day 2 - It really looks like a different world

So, the next day, I set off from Paro at 7:00 AM, and went from one viewpoint to another on our way to Thimphu.

The guide was a walking encyclopedia, flooding me with fascinating facts and captivating stories about the places I visited. Now, I usually get tired of listening to history, but he had useful information for days.

Nice views along the way.

Exit gate of Paro.

Arriving in Thiumpu. 

Picking up another driver in Thimphu

Tashi stopped to pick up his driver. A dedicated driver simplifies the logistics within Thiumphu, as parking is not free or possible everywhere, and when walking around the driver can pick us up where required.

Driving through Thiumpu. Looks like a skiing resort somewhere in the Alps during summertime.

The huge Buddha Dordenma Temple

I saw this massive Buddha Dordenma statue on the hill. Big, really big! It's a massive, towering statue of Buddha, exuding a sense of tranquility and power all at once.

They admire their statues here! But no wonder it was a fantastic view from the hill.

Down the hill again in record time, the National Memorial Chorten was waiting down in town.

One of the holiest places here and it has a great meaning to local people. They walk in there and flip the big drums which brings them luck.

The "Simply Bhutan" Museum

Then, I visited the Simply Bhutan Museum. They had a show where they demonstrate their culture and traditions. And they served chips and butter tea. 

This must be how museums have been hundreds of years ago. Not as boring as many are today.

You pay a relatively small entry fee, and they give you even a bottle of rice wine. Is this a little bribe to keep you happy, huh? 

But wait, it's a good deal! The museum guide explained everything in intricate detail, from traditional performances to the Bhutanese way of pounding house foundations and singing while cooking. 

And then, more archery! They just can't get enough of it. But this time it's possible to take a turn as a visitor. Every time you hit the target, they start cheering and they bring in the whole crew for a dance routine.

Driving through the city

After that, the driver went to the Bhutan Post Office. Don't know, but normally a post office doesn't sound like a thrilling place to visit.

But, we're in Bhutan, so this is a different story. It's just.. different here.

Through the streets of Thimphu.

Monasteries everywhere

Somewhere on a cliff was a monk monastery.

The guide Tashi explained everything, but unfortunately, I forgot most of it. Nevertheless, at the moment it was interesting to hear the background of why and when and who, and .. why it is how it is!

The Residence and the house of the king

We went to an overlook to see the King of Bhutan's residence and the largest governmental temple and housing. But guess what? The King doesn't live in the big fancy temple like kings normally do in other countries! Nope, he lives in a humble little wooden shed, setting an example for the common folks. Now, that's leadership.

Shopping opportunities on the market street.

Central Square of Thimphu

Around lunchtime, I visited the central square with lots of businesses around and with a clock on it. A clock, nice! The vibrancy of Thimphu all in one place.

And then, we had lunch and headed back towards the airport. Again many unique sceneries along the way.

The last stop was visiting a temple with a suspension bridge. They put the ashes of their locals in those small candle-looking things and include them in their prayers.

Departure to Bangladesh

It was a great trip, from the landscape to the friendly people, Bhutan was worth it! A short but intense experience.

I was at the airport right on time to catch my flight to Bangladesh in the late afternoon. The airport again, spectacular as when arriving.

All quiet and lots of space. No hassle, not many people at all as there was only one flight every day.

Bhutan locals traveling abroad for the first time?! Wow!

I boarded the Druk Air to Bangladesh. The flight is supposed to be just an hour and ten minutes.

Beside me on the plane was a group of 4 Bhutanese locals. They told me it was their first time ever flying, and traveling to another country. They are heading now for work and study in Canada and they highly appreciate their government support.

How Bhutan maintains its traditions, even in the 21st century.

It's a common thing that Bhutanese people are going abroad for a few years, via a paid trip by the government, and then have to bring back knowledge to develop Bhutan back home. But everyone who has been abroad has to undergo a mandatory camp every once in a while, where they have to re-learn the values and customs of Bhutan, with the goal that the people who have been abroad will not forget or unlearn the traditions and thinking in the Bhutan way. 

Impressive! I hope it works for them (and Bhutan) as planned for many more years to come.

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