It was no easy task picking our top ten things to do in Bhutan. However, in a country brimming with beautiful and picture-perfect sights, Bhutan can be rewarding for those that love the outdoors and enjoy experiencing foreign cultures. Do not let the high visa fee put you off. Once you arrive in Bhutan, you will want to be swamped by hordes of other tourists; you may even have some of the attractions to yourself.
Here are our top ten things to do in Bhutan:
1.The Tiger’s Nest aka Taktshang Goemba, Paro
Clinging onto the cliff face like a post-it note on a wall. The Tiger’s Nest is the highlight of any trip to Bhutan, and no top ten things to do in Bhutan would be complete without it. The main temple complex is built around a cave where Guru Rinpoche has meditated for three months. The cave is no longer accessible to the public, but you can make a wish and throw some money down. If you manage to get the cash to land in the cave, your wish will come true!
2. The Tiger’s Nest
It’s unique, and the climb to get to the monastery is no easy feat. No one warns you about the two- to three-hour hike and how horrendous it is; we were both unwell on the day of the climb, which made everything 100 times worse. If you don’t want to climb up, there is the option of riding a pony, but that has its hazards.
Note: you can’t bring any electronic devices, including cameras, inside the dzong complex.
3.Punakha Dzong, Punakha
Said to be the most beautiful dzong (a fort Monastery shared between local government and monks) in Bhutan, and we agree. It was built between two rivers for protection and combined with the mountainous backdrop; it is serene. However, once inside, the dzong is deceivingly large, and some parts have multiple floors. Note that you can only take photos in some regions of the dzong, and it’s advisable to dress modestly as you may be refused entry.
4. National Institute for Zorig Chusum aka The Painting School, Thimphu
The National Institute for Zorig Chusum, more commonly known as the painting school, aims to teach those that enrol in traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts such as weaving, painting, statue making and wood carving. When visiting, you can enter the classrooms and watch the lessons taking place. The school is an excellent example of how the Bhutanese preserve their culture and how important the traditional arts and crafts are to enable them to do this.
5. Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, Yambesa
Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten sits at the top of a scenic walk uphill that will take you through rice paddies, wheat fields and past grazing cows. The walk, which can’t be described as a hike, is almost as pleasant as the Chorten (a Buddhist stone monument) itself.
The Chorten was commissioned by Bhutan’s Queen Mother, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck, in 1999, and it took nine years to build. Holy scriptures rather than engineering manuals were consulted to build this four-storey temple, and it is a fine example of Bhutanese architecture and artistic traditions. And it is a bonus that once you get to the top of the Chorten, you have incredible sweeping views of Punakha Valley. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside the Chorten.
6.Buddha Dordenma, Thimphu
This grand 51-metre tall bronze statue of Shakyamuni is one of the giant Buddha statues in the world. The gold-gilded figure is guaranteed to make you feel small. And inside, you will find 125,000 smaller Buddha statues. When we visited, it wasn’t yet finished, with building work taking place inside and out. Photos are allowed inside.
7. Simply Bhutan, Thimphu
Who doesn’t like dressing up? Or find out why you see erect penis’ all over Bhutan? (We won’t spoil it for you). You can also see a traditional Bhutanese kitchen and sample the local Arra, a spirit distilled from barley, wheat or rice. This is a great little museum showcasing all things Bhutan in a fun and interactive way.
If like us, you love sport, Archery in Bhutan is a joy to watch. It’s Bhutan’s national sport, and even if an actual tournament isn’t going on, it’s just as entertaining to watch a practice session. The target board looks minuscule from each end, yet the players are on target more often than not.
9. Hot Stone Baths and Massages
The best way to relax after the long hike up and down to The Tiger’s Nest. Most hotels offer guests the traditional dotsho (hot stone bath) for around $25. The bath is a simple wooden tub, and the water is heated with red hot rocks baking in a fire. The minerals released from the rocks when they are immersed in the water are great for the skin. We bathed after a 60-minute massage which our hotel also organised.
10. Bhutanese food
We love food! We love food so much that we never post food pictures because our plates are empty by the time one of us gets our camera out to take a pic. Make sure you try chillies and cheese, it’s a delicious dish, and the chillies aren’t often that hot. Bhutanese curries are delicious, too; we recommend trying either yak or chicken curry. But what you may find on your trip is that you are taken to many nondescript hotel buffets, so make sure you tell your guide you want to sample the food in a restaurant.
With so many great things to do in Bhutan, we wish we’d had months to enjoy it, but alas, we only had a week. Are you planning a trip to Bhutan? What are you looking forward to seeing? If you have been, what were your highlights?