From thumping dance floors to dive bars and intimate coffee shops.
When planning a getaway, many of us consider the nightlife which our potential destination has to offer. While cities such as Ibiza, Miami, and Rio generally come to mind when nightlife is a consideration, Bhutan has many of its own gems. From thumping dance floors to dive bars and intimate coffee shops, there is something to keep you engaged every evening, regardless of your mood. While clubs and bars are plentiful throughout the country, Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city, is the hub of nightlife and is where all of the locations in this article are located.
Boasting one of the largest varieties of beer, cocktails, and mixed drinks in the country, Mojo Park is best known for its live music. Local artists preform six nights a week, offering an incredible showing of Bhutanese musical talent and variety. Early in the evening, the kitchen is open and serving a great mixture of American and Bhutanese cuisine. If dinner, drinks, and music are on your agenda, Mojo Park is your one stop shop for the night.
If hitting the dance floor is more your pace, Space 34 is a must. Descending beneath the Lungta Handicraft store reveals a sprawling dance floor, smoking lounge, and live music/karaoke room each with equipped with its own bar. Bhutanese youth flock here on Wednesdays (free entry for ladies) and on the weekends to dance and socialize. On the dance floor, prepare to get down to a fusion of Bhutanese, Korean, and American pop and EDM in an atmosphere that is impossible to replicate anywhere else in the world.
Offering a wide selection of food and drinks, OM Pub is arguably the best karaoke bar in the city. The menu offers a great variety of Bhutanese, Indian, and Chinese food to accompany its extensive imported and domestic drink list. For a relaxing evening of socializing with friends and singing karaoke, OM Pub certainly tops our list.
The Hard Rock Café of Bhutan, Barz Brothers prides itself in both its decor and its libations. The walls are adorned with rock iconography and guitars while classic rock plays over the sound system. Barz Brothers also offers great outdoor seating which is the perfect spot to have a beer, hold a conversation, and still be able to enjoy music coming from the inside.
For those nights when curling up on a couch with a cup of tea or coffee and writing postcards home is in order, Ambient Café is an absolutely essential stop. The staff here is extremely welcoming and will make you feel right at home in their warm atmosphere. The coffee served is roasted upstairs and is sure to please even the most refined coffee palate. Open from 9am-9pm, Ambient Café has both started and ended many of my days in Thimphu.
Tashi Tagay Drayang
Phendey Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan (map)
Drayangs are found all throughout Bhutan and can often be difficult to find unless you are with someone who has been there before. These bars are known for their live song and dance performances by Bhutanese females. Upon entering a Drayang, ordering drinks, and taking a seat on one of the couches which face a brightly lit stage, you will inevitably be surrounded by girls with notebooks asking for song requests in exchange for tips. A standard tip is about 100 Ngultrum ($1.50), but can go up to and over 500 Ngultrum depending on the performer. If you decide to make a request, the girl will perform a karaoke while doing a traditional Bhutanese dance. This is all done while wearing a kira and toego, the traditional woman’s dress which consists of an ankle-length dress and long-sleeved blouse. Even if you don’t pay for a song, you are sure to be able to enjoy performances at the requests of the other patrons. Tashi Tagay Drayang is the largest in Thimphu and is sure to always have a full house. Despite its size, Tashi Tagay is still extremely difficult to find, as it is located upstairs in a residential building with almost no signage. If you can find it, visiting a Drayang, even if only for one song, is sure to give you a taste of Bhutanese music, dance, and dress in an extremely relaxed environment
While roaming the streets in Bhutan you will inevitably be quick to lose count of the number of dingy wooden signs you see reading “…cum Bar”. Meaning “with bar”, cum bar is an indication that this shop or restaurant also serves alcohol. While you generally won’t find much aside from wooden bench, a couple dusty bottles of liquor and beer, and a warm, old lady inside, visiting at least one cum bar should be on every tourist’s to-do list. These intimate shops provide a great chance to talk with the locals and see the more traditional way in which Bhutanese congregate. As many seasoned travelers can attest, there are few ways of getting the locals to open up that are as effective as having a few beers. Bhutanese who may be shy about their broken English quickly lose their inhibition and an exchange of experiences may ensue which can provide insights into Bhutanese culture which are difficult to get anywhere else.
There you have it, these are the highlights of Thimphu’s nightlife. While you’re in the city, be sure to explore and you’ll find more hidden gems off the beaten path.