I’m Nishu – welcome to my guide on the best things to do in Bhutan. I was born and raised in a small town in North India. It was a struggle at home growing up and travelling was seen as a luxury for my family.
My travel journey started when I joined a company in Chennai (South India) and travelled to the lush green mountains of the Western Ghats, the Nilgiri Mountains. It was during this trip in 2015 that I saw a different world.
Amidst the calm serene valleys, fresh air, golden rays of sun and misty mountains – I found a new me. I felt at home. I realised that there is so much more to see in this beautiful world than just being inside the box of your comfort zone. That’s how the expedition began.
Now travelling is an inseparable part of my life. I find happiness in hiking mountains, chasing the beautiful colours of dawn and dusk, camping under the stars, experiencing local cultures, talking to folks from unknown lands, and enjoying the simple pleasures like being close to the ocean.
Alongside these exciting journeys, travel has also taught me to accept and admire the differences in life. It has made me yearn to create bonds and memories of a lifetime and to coexist with nature – which is so important.
I travel around the world and share my experiences through my blog – www.tannedtravelgirl.com. I love it when people relate to my stories and get inspired to step out to explore the unknown in their own ways.
Inspiration to Visit Bhutan – The Happiest Country
Bhutan was a country that I had heard about from its famed peacefulness and happiness approach over GDP. I was so impressed with the fact that a country was prioritising nature and people’s happiness over the economy. Meanwhile, all the giant nations focus so much on economic growth.
I wanted to experience this culture. Also, before my trip to Bhutan, I happened to watch a movie called ‘Little Buddha’. This film was about reincarnation and the path someone takes in life. I was so curious to understand the thoughts of Bhutanese people and wanted to learn more.
One of the first impressions I had of Bhutan was how clean it was. I reached Bhutan by crossing the land border of India. The Indian side of the border was crowded, dusty and dirty. But the moment I crossed the border, it was a different world altogether. Clean, fresh air and so well organised.
Bhutan may be a small country in terms of size and growth but it clearly teaches us a lesson that the attitude towards nature matters the most. Bhutanese folks are so deeply connected with nature, their culture, the food they eat, their unique style of houses and their daily routines.
In these modern times, when our heritage is slowly getting lost, it was admirable to see how Bhutan is preserving its culture. Of course, the people here were one of the highlights of the country too. They were all so incredibly nice, warm-hearted and welcoming.
Since India shares a border with Bhutan, many Bhutanese could speak in Hindi (the widely spoken language in India). It was fun talking to the locals about my country. They all loved Bollywood movies and music!
A Special Half-Month Itinerary in Bhutan
My trip to Bhutan was for half a month. I wanted to explore the lesser known side of Bhutan – East Bhutan. I planned my itinerary accordingly.
I started by reaching Phuentsholing – a small town in the East of Bhutan which shares a border with India. Then I headed to Thimpu (the capital of Bhutan) to arrange all required passes, permits, etc. After Thimpu, my journey to Bhutan kicked off and what an incredible experience it was!
The first destination was Punakha in West Bhutan. We saw the most famous Dzong (temple) of Bhutan called Chimi Lhakhang otherwise known as the ‘Fertility Temple’. Seeing a prayer ceremony in person was just beautiful.
We then travelled to Phobjikha Valley. We were there in December which is the time of year when black-necked crane birds migrate to Bhutan from Tibet. The sight of the wetland, and the early morning walk in the valley when things were still frozen, was an experience I will never forget.
Trongsa in Central Bhutan was our next destination followed by Bumthang in the East. Bumthang is the religious heartland and is home to some of the country’s most beautiful Buddhist temples and monasteries.
If you want to experience raw Buddhist culture then Bumthang is a must-see. We also visited the monk schools in Bumthang. Being able to talk with them was quite the experience! I loved learning about their way of life.
After Bumthang, we went back to Thimpu where the influence of the West can be seen the most. The capital city represents the modern Bhutan. We found fancy cafes, pubs and karaoke bars amongst other things. It was so different from our previous destination of Bumthang.
Finally, we visited Paro. People say that a trip to Bhutan is incomplete if you don’t visit Tiger’s Nest. I completely agree with that. Tiger’s Nest is located on a mountain edge. Once you see it, you start to wonder how such an incredible dzong could’ve been built on the edge like that.
Like the Bhutanese say: it was the magic of Guru Padmasambhava!
My Favourite Place in Bhutan: Bumthang
My favorite place in Bhutan has to be Bumthang because it was so raw, pure and peaceful. This was the place which helped me understand more about the spiritual side of the country. It felt like I had been transported back into the old era – like experiencing Bhutan without any filters.
10 Best Things To Do in Bhutan
Everything you do in the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’ is amazing. Below is a list of the top 10 things to do in Bhutan. Whether it’s your first visit or tenth, I recommend these experiences for those curious wanderers.
1. Trek to Gangteng Gompa Monastery in Phobjikha
The Gangteng Gompa monastery in the Black Mountain region is a majestic sight. One of the reasons this makes for such a great visit is that the trek offers some incredible views of the whole valley, especially early in the morning. You will be lost in nature and culture on this amazing activity.
2. Explore the Beautiful Dzongs of Bhutan
Dzongs are traditional Bhutanese fortresses. My favourites are in Trongsa, Punakha, Jakar and Thimpu. The beautiful artwork and decorations combined with traditional woodwork makes for a spectacle of architecture.
3. Hike to the Iconic Tiger’s Nest
There’s no place quite like Tiger’s Nest (Paro Taktsang). Where else in the world can you find a dzong at the edge of a mountain? The monastery was built in 1692 and consists of four temples with residential accommodation for visiting monks. I can’t recommend this place enough!
4. Visit the Monasteries & Nunneries of Bhutan
Living the life of a Buddhist monk can be tough. Some choose to live this life while others are forced into it. It’s not uncommon for Bhutanese families to send their children to monastic schools. Here they receive free education, accommodation and food. It’s always fascinating to learn about.
5. Watch a Cultural Dance in the Dzongs
Bhutan has many local festivals in each region of the country at different times of the year. Timing your trip to see a festival inside a dzong is an incredible experience. All kinds of different dances are performed here.
6. Experience a Homestay and Cook with a Family
No amount of luxury in 5-star hotels can beat the experience of staying with a local family. I had the pleasure of making Bhutanese pizza with rice and homegrown vegetables. The family was lovely and the food was great.
7. Enjoy a ‘Hot Stone Bath’ in Paro
Imagine stepping into water at a hot stone bath in Bhutan. Now imagine doing so after a rewarding day of trekking to Tiger’s Nest. Hot stone baths are located at farmhouses and hotels across Bhutan. They are traditionally popular with families and groups of friends on special occasions.
8. Attend a Karaoke Session in Thimpu
Singing away in a karaoke bar in Thimpu certainly adds a different dimension to your trip to Bhutan. Make sure you try the local whisky called ‘K5’. It’s the perfect beverage to help you loosen up your vocal cords. I always love exploring the countryside and the urban side of any place I visit.
9. Take in the Sunrise at Jakar Dzong
An early morning sunrise at the majestic Jakar Dzong is one of those bucket-list experiences. Seeing the first rays of the sun falling on the valley is magical. The dzong of Jakar is also referred to as the “Castle of the White Bird” as it dominates the Chamkhar Valley and overlooks the town of Jakar.
10. Partake in an Archery Competition with Locals
Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and people here are pros. The sport goes back centuries to the time when locals would defend the kingdom in war times. Bows and arrows have always been the main weapon of survival in Bhutan. Learning archery is an awesome experience.
Fascinating History and Culture of Bhutan
We were curious to learn about the rich history and cultural charms of Bhutan. When we visited the dzongs, for example, we would always ask questions like how Buddhism flourished in Bhutan. The best thing is that locals love to talk about their history, culture and religion.
During our stay, we gathered so much knowledge about this tiny country. It was like an immersive crash course. The most fascinating belief was that the dzong in Bhutan was made from the imagination of the Unifier of Bhutan. People believe that there are no footprints in these structures.
Wonderful Familial Cuisine of Bhutan
People in Bhutan primarily eat rice with meat or vegetables. One of their favorites is cheese with chilli. It has a unique name to it – ‘Ema Datshi’.
In Punakha, we were staying in a homestay and the family had cooked the entire meal for us. We ate homemade Turnip Datsi, Bhutanese Pizzas (rice base, vegetables and cheese), butter tea and rice. Each of these dishes were unique and thoughtfully cooked given the fact that we are vegetarians.
Cherished Memories from my Trip to Bhutan
One of my favorite memories in Bhutan was an unplanned event. We were heading from Phobjikha to Bumthang and stopped for a while in Trongsa Dzong for a quick tour. We ended up seeing local women singing and men practicing for the upcoming festival called the ‘Black Hat Dance’.
It was an uncanny Bhutanese experience and was unique because we had never heard about this type of dance before. This also gave us a fantastic opportunity to speak with monks who stay there during the festival.
What you Need to Know Before you Go
Tourism is state controlled and ecotourism policies are strictly followed. This Himalayan country imposes high levies ($250 USD per day per person). Although accommodation, food and guides are included in the levy.
Travelling to Bhutan can only be done through a registered agent and you need to stay with a guide during your trip. This is mandatory. Hence, it’s important to choose the right agent only after proper research is done.
With this high levy of $250 per day, it’s vital that you plan your itinerary well. You want to make the most of your days when you’re paying that much.
Lastly, make sure you follow the rules and respect the local people of the monasteries/dzongs. Try to visit them early in the morning to avoid crowds – especially at places like Paro, Thimphu and Punakha.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this guide on the best things to do in Bhutan. If you are planning on visiting and need help with your itinerary, check out my Bhutan blogs on my website www.tannedtravelgirl.com.
You can also drop me a line on my Instagram. I’m always happy to help!