The happiest country in Asia is on your bucket list, but how are you supposed to really DO Bhutan? Most guidebooks will give you too much information, and so far you’ve only heard about the famous Tiger’s Nest.
Here’s a list of incredible must-do’s in Bhutan that will give you the quick rundown on exactly how to have the best time in a country that is so beautifully exclusive.
1. Cross off your bucket list and take a hike up to Tiger’s Nest! (Paro)
We know this IS the reason you’re traveling to Bhutan, and it’s an absolute must-do! The hike up to Tiger’s Nest can be strenuous so it’s divided into two sections. The first part requires approximately an hour and can be done via horseback riding or hiking on foot. Upon reaching a tea house is also the start of the second part of the hike, which can only be achieved on foot and requires another hour. Once you reach to the top, take an hour or two to pray and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime scenery.
2. Check out the magnificent Tashichho Dzong (Thimphu)
Tashichho Dzong is a Buddhist monastery as well as the workplace for Bhutan’s civil government. This estate is a royal palace, a beautiful temple, and a government office that’s been part of the kingship since 1907 – the start of the monarchy. This is absolutely worth a look during your stay in Thimphu because it’s a real look inside the intersection between politics and religion in Bhutan.
3. Chat up a storm with lamas teaching at Tango Buddhist University (Thimphu)
Founded in 13th century by Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa, and built in 1688 by Tenzin Rabgye, the monastery now also acts as a Drukpa Kagyu Buddhism School in Bhutan. Hike up 30 minutes to the actual monastery where you’ll be able to walk around the caves where meditations were performed since 12th century and touch the prayer wheels. Then sip on warm cups of tea and talk to lamas who teach at the school.
4. Drink Red Panda Beer!
A yellow body topped with a frothy off-white foam, this combined with the view of Bhutan’s zenful landscape…yes, you’re in heaven!
5. Feel some luscious silk at the Bhutan Textile Museum (Thimphu)
This museum has the most incredible antique textile artefacts that you can only see in Bhutan. The museum frequently showcases exhibitions, and a popular one relates to The Royal Family. The Royal Collection displays rarely seen crowns of Bhutan’s kings, Namzas (dresses), luscious robes, hand-made silk beddings and intricate accessories worn by the Royal Family. This museum is modern and contemporary, absolutely a must-see.
6. See incredible works of art at National Institute of Traditional Art (Thimphu)
Here, you’ll see an entire building of students working on various forms of art in their perspective classrooms. You’ll gain a better understanding of the makings of Buddhism art and meet students learning ceramics, pottery, weaving and embroidery.
7. Have a zen moment at the Rinpung Dzong (Paro)
As the main dzong in Paro, there are fourteen chapels and shrines you can stroll through. Check out the ways local government and Buddhist mantras work together as one inside the dzong. Included are: monks assembly hall, protector’s shrine, apartments of the abbot, chapel of the head lama…etc. The dzong was first founded during the 15th century, and built by lama Drung Drung Gyal.
8. Count 108 Bhutanese Stupas at Dochula Pass!
Located near a highway, a bit of a drive away from Thimphu, you’ll encounter these incredible stupas (chortens). For the victory of Bhutanese army during a war in Southern Bhutan in 2003, the queen, her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, built this monument. Over 3,000 meters above sea level, these stupas are all facing the same direction and each hold Buddhist texts inside. Catch the sight on a foggy day, you’ll be busy snapping endless pictures.
9. Be a wanderlust at the Punakha Dzong (Punakha)
As the second oldest, second largest but the most majestic dzong in Bhutan, this is also the location of current Bhutan King’s royal wedding back in 2011. The Punakha Dzong sits at the cross of the Male and Female River: Pho Chhu (father) and Mo Chhu (mother) river. The dzong acts as a city hall, court of justice and many governmental administrative offices. It also acts as a temple and a monastery. The most fascinating fact is that it houses a sacred relic and the remains of renowned Buddhist lamas.
10. Play with adorable lamas at Chimi Lhakhang Monastery (Punakha)
Women with infertility issues often come to Chimi Lhakhang temple. Blessings from the spirits of Buddhas here have been said to be magical. Even to this day, many couples have returned with children, giving thanks to the Buddhas. The route to Chimi Lhakhang is a trek through farmlands and small villages, then a small hike . Built in 1499, the monastery now houses many young lamas who you’ll meet during the visit, they sure are bunches of hams!
11. Be mesmerized by Bhutan’s gorgeous royal family!
Move over Prince William and Princess Kate! Bhutan’s royal family has a long line of good genes, current King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck is the eldest son of the 4th King of Bhutan. Born in 1980, he married Queen Jetsun Pema, who is 10 years younger, in 2011. Bhutan’s royal couple is a representation of the future Bhutan, stylishly modern with a heart of tradition!
12. Fly away with black-necked cranes (Wangdue Phodrang)
The best time to check out black-necked cranes of Bhutan is from October to February. The Crane Festival occurs on November 22nd every year when numerous cranes arrive from Tibet. Since Bhutan has taken special care for the cranes, the Phobhjikha Valley has been established as a conservation area.
13. Say a prayer at Wangdue Phodrang Dzong (Wangdue Phodrang)
The town is named after this dzong that survived a great fire in 2010. If you visit there today, you’ll see that parts of the dzong is still very much under reconstruction. Here, you’ll meet many young lamas attending the monastery while catching picturesque photos of the building on the edge of a cliff.
14. Eat lots and lots of chili!
Hot, hot, hot!! Local cuisine wouldn’t be called Bhutanese if it didn’t have sprinkles of chili on the dish. If you’re a fan of hot sauce and craving for some serious spicy adrenaline, you’ll fall in love with Bhutanese food. YUM!
15. Meet a Bhutanese rinpoche
Rinpoches are reincarnated, older, respected, notable, learned and/or an accomplished lamas. Sometimes, they may even come in the form of a young person. Locals will stand in line to be blessed by rinpoches during festivals, so why not you get in line too!