Women-only Cultural Tour to Bhutan
Number of days: 12
Itinerary dates: March 17 – 28, 2013
WanderTours Giving Program – A portion of your tour cost will go to supporting RENEW, a women’s program in Bhutan dedicated to the relief and empowerment of women in Bhutan. The group will visit their offices to present the donation and to learn more about the organization.
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* Hike to Tiger’s Nest, the country’s most photographed monastery
* Attend the Paro Festival – the country’s most popular event featuring the unfurling of the country’s largest thongdrel (banner)
* Drive over Himalayan mountain passes (11,000+ feet)
* Take light hikes in the peaceful beauty of the Himalayan foothills
* Visit Punakha Dzong – considered the most beautiful temple in Bhutan
* Experience Bumthang, believed to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan
* Learn about the Kingdom’s approach to Gross National Happiness
* Every tour participant on a tour with a departure date in 2013 will receive a free Donner Bag from Overland Equipment in their color choice. See details here.
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The group will meet in Bangkok for the flight to Paro, Bhutan. A welcome dinner will be arranged the night prior to departure (March 16) for all who can attend. Flights leave Bangkok very early on the morning of the 17th (usually 5:30 am) so it’s best to arrive in Bangkok at least 24 hours prior to departure to Bhutan in the event of flight delays.
March 17, 2013 - Arrive in Paro, Bhutan – Thimphu (Meals: L, D)
The flight into Paro on Bhutan’s national carrier, Druk Air, is a befitting introduction to the spectacular beauty of the country. In clear weather, magnificent views of the world’s highest peaks give way to the lush green Paro Valley as you land. Your first experience will be that of breathing in the cool, clean fresh air. After clearing customs and visa control, the group is met by the local guide and driven to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital (population 86,000; 7,520 feet) about 90 minutes away.
After lunch, the group will visit sights around Thimphu that may include a nunnery, the National Memorial Chorten, the National Zoo (more like a preserve, the only animal present is the national animal, the unique Takin), the handicraft emporium, the handmade paper factory and Tashichoo Dzong. Dinner and overnight at Hotel Riverview or similar in Thimphu.
HIGHLIGHT! Though Thimphu is considered a bustling city compared to the rest of Bhutan, it is the world’s only capital without a traffic light! It is also a great place to find out about the nation’s thriving arts and crafts.
March 18, 2013 – Thimphu – Punakha (Meals: B, L, D)
Following breakfast, the group will leave for Dochu La Pass (10,000 feet) where you’ll have time to meander through the 108 chortens (small temples) and, on a clear day, take in views of the Himalayas. The drive climbs up through a forest of cedar and pine, their boughs dripping with lichen. From the pass, you’ll take a downhill walk through the woods, intersecting with the road where you’ll board the bus and drive further east to the Punakha Valley.
If there’s time today, you’ll visit nearby Punakha Dzong, otherwise the visit will happen tomorrow. Dinner and overnight at Meri Puensum or similar in Punakha.
HIGHLIGHT! Punakha Dzong is considered to be the most beautiful of all the dzongs in Bhutan. You’ll have time to look around the compound of buildings that house hundreds of monks in the winter months. You’ll tour the impressive main temple that contains huge Buddhas at the altar as well as thousands of small Buddha statues along the walls. The Bhutanese guide will provide detailed information about the dzong’s storied past and about the interior artwork.
March 19, 2013 – Punakha – Trongsa (Meals: B, L, D)
After breakfast, you’ll head out on the approximately 5-hour ride (bring your iPod) to Trongsa. Along the way, you will cut through the Black Mountains on Bhutan’s “Central Road,” completed just over 30 years ago. This highway essentially opened central Bhutan to the rest of world.
You’ll first stop in Wangdue, a small village and the district headquarters of Western Bhutan. If there’s time, you’ll stop at Wangdue Phodrang Dzong, which is situated on a ridge overlooking the two rivers. The road then climbs through tropical vegetation to Pele La Pass (10,900 feet) which is surrounded by towering rhododendron and dwarf bamboo. You’ll likely see yak, which often graze in this area and, if clear, you might see impressive Mt. Jhomulhari (24,140 feet) to the west. Coming down from the pass, you will go through an amazing gorge and then on to Trongsa, where you will visit the striking Trongsa Dzong. This is one of the largest and most impressive dzongs in Bhutan, built high on a mountain spur next to a sheer drop overlooking the gorge of the Mangde Chu (river).
Dinner and overnight at Hotel Yangkhil Resort or similar in Trongsa.
March 20, 2013 – Trongsa – Bumthang Valley (Meals: B, L, D)
Following breakfast, you’ll head eastward to the Bumthang Valley, where you’ll have time to see a number of sights including: Kurjey Lhakhang and Jambay monasteries, the Tamshing Gompa, the Jakar Dzong and possibly the Swiss Farm, where they make cheese, honey, beer and local fruit spirits.
Overnight at Rinchhenling Lodge or similar in Jakar (Bumthang Valley).
HIGHLIGHT! It’s believed that Buddhism in Bhutan started in Bumthang. The valley is home to the two oldest temples in the Kingdom and a number of sacred sites. A spiritual vibe fills the air of this idyllic valley.
March 21, 2013 – Bumthang Valley – Tang Valley (Meals: B, L, D)
This morning you’ll set off for the Tang Valley about an hour and halfaway. You’ll then make the hour-long hike up to Ogyen Choling Museum, where you’ll tour this remarkable building that provides a rare insight into traditional life in Bhutan. After walking back down to the road, you’ll have a picnic lunch in a quiet spot along the river.
In the afternoon, you’ll pay a visit to the Pema Choling Nunnery to see how the women there live. This is a very special opportunity to see where the nuns reside and how they run the nunnery, which is quite different than the monasteries (where the monks live).
Dinner and overnight at Rinchhenling Lodge or similar in Jakar (Bumthang Valley).
HIGHLIGHT! The road to the Tang Valley is quite beautiful with wonderful views at the top. A visit to the museum is a unique opportunity to see how the Bhutanese have lived for centuries.
March 22, 2013 – Bumthang – Ura Valley (Meals: B, L, D)
After breakfast, you’ll head to the Ura Valley, located approximately 25 miles outside of Jakar. The road reaches the Shelthang La Pass, where, in clear weather, there is a magnificent view of Bhutan’s highest peak, Gangkar Puensum (24,600 feet). From here, you’ll hike down through a lush forest and through the village of traditional homes to meet the bus.
Dinner and overnight at Rinchhenling Lodge or similar in Jakar (Bumthang Valley).
HIGHLIGHT! Ura’s main occupation is raising sheep and yaks but the introduction of potato farming has brought a certain degree of prosperity to the people. You’ll have a chance to meander through the streets and alleys of this village to see their homes.
March 23, 2013 – Bumthang – Gangtey (Meals: B, L, D)
Following breakfast, you will start the drive back toward Paro. Along the way, you’ll stop at Yotong La Pass and continue on, via Trongsa, to Pele La Pass, and then onward to the Phoblika Valley (10,000 feet), considered to be the most beautiful valley in the Himalayas. There will be a lunch break along the way.
Dinner and overnight at Dewachen Hotel or similar in Gangtey.
HIGHLIGHT! The Phoblika Valley is the winter home to the endangered black-necked cranes which migrate from the Tibetan Plateau. While they are usually only here from November through March, sometimes you will find stragglers as late as April.
March 24, 2013 – Gangtey – Wangdue (Meals: B, L, D)
Following breakfast, you’ll visit Gangtey Gompa, which was built in the 17th century and renovated just over 2 years ago. From the gompa, you’ll walk back to the hotel along a path that cuts through a beautiful forest and then across the valley floor. Lunch will be served back at the hotel.
In the afternoon, you’ll drive 2 hours to a riverside hotel near Wangdue (4,000 feet). Dinner and overnight at Dragon’s Nest Hotel or similar in Wangdue.
HIGHLIGHT! You’ll enjoy the morning’s walk in the Phoblika Valley which is one of the easiest and most beautiful on the tour. This region is breathtaking and you’ll likely see horses and cows grazing along the valley floor (and maybe even a crane or two!) which is ringed by low mountain ranges.
March 25, 2013 – Wangdue – Thimphu – Paro (Meals: B, L, D)
From Wangdue, you’ll drive to Thimphu for lunch and one last opportunity for sightseeing and souvenir shopping in the capital. You will then head to Paro for dinner and overnight at Tenzinling Hotel or similar in Paro.
March 26, 2013 – Paro (Meals: B, L, D)
On this day, you’ll get an early start in order to hike the 2+ hours to Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest), the country’s most photographed and well-known monastery. On most days, there are monks here who will be happy to bless items that you’ve carried with you (mala beads, prayers flags or other sacred items).
You’ll tour the several temples located at the top in addition to having time to simply enjoy the views from this perch.
Afterward, you’ll head back down, stopping at the tea shop/cafe located midway, where you can continue to enjoy exceptional views of Tiger’s Nest. You will then have a picnic lunch at the bottom of the hill.
Upon returning to Paro, you may have time for relaxing or going to town for some souvenir shopping. Dinner and overnight at Tenzinling Hotel or similar in Paro.
HIGHLIGHT! The hike up and the visit to Tiger’s Nest could quite possibly be the highlight of your time in Bhutan! It might be the highlight of your life!
March 27, 2013 – Paro (Meals: B, L, D)
Today you’ll arise very early (VERY early) to attend the Paro Festival. Sometime in the wee morning hours (perhaps 3 a.m.) the group will depart for the Paro Dzong to watch the unfurling of the thongdrel which takes place over a few hours time. After the unfurling, you’ll head back to the hotel to catch up on sleep or have breakfast (depending on the time).
The festival continues until the late afternoon and you may return to enjoy the rest of the day’s festivities (the King was spotted during one of our visits to this festival!) or you may choose to peruse the streets of Paro, visiting sights that you might have missed previously.
A special final night’s dinner will be organized and then overnight at Tenzinling Hotel or similar in Paro.
HIGHLIGHT! It’s considered good karma to attend the Paro Festival – be prepared to have a lifetime of sins disappear as you watch this event in the middle of the night.
March 28, 2013 – Paro – Bangkok (Meals: B)
Following breakfast, you’ll leave for the airport for the sad farewell to the Kingdom of Bhutan and your flight to Bangkok. Though you can connect with an international flight on the same day, you might consider staying in Bangkok for one night in case flights out of Paro are delayed (not uncommon).
** Itinerary subject to change without notice.
Interested in sharing? We do our best to pair up travelers so they can avoid the single supplement. However, priority is given to the first deposits received. If you’re interested in sharing – PLEASE send in the deposit as soon as possible in order to take advantage of this benefit. (Why a single supplement charge? See this FAQ page for an explanation.)
Final payment due no later than January 17, 2013.
Price includes: All transportation in Bhutan, all meals, hotels, bottled water, visa, airport tax and tourist development fund charge. Also includes entrance to monasteries and festivals.
Price does not include: Flights to and hotel in Bangkok, evacuation insurance (highly recommended), souvenirs, personal purchases (such as books and snacks), beverages other than water, and tips.
We recommend World Nomads for travel and/or evacuation insurance.
This trip is limited to 15 people and requires an $900 deposit on a first come, first served basis.
Minimum required: 5 (will run trip with local guide if fewer than 5)
Registration Form Bhutan Cultural Tour 2013 (PDF)
Please make payable and send check to:
PO Box 16102
Seattle, WA 98116
For questions, please contact Beth at:
beth (at) wandertours (dot) com
Bhutan Women-only Cultural Tour Packing List: Provided upon registration
Bhutan Cultural Tour 2013 Itinerary (PDF)
Beth Whitman has traveled the world for nearly 25 years and has a deep respect for cultures and the environment. She is the author of the Wanderlust and Lipstick series of guides and the editor of www.WanderlustAndLipstick.com and www.WanderTours. This will be her 8th trip to Bhutan and the 3rd time attending the Paro Festival (a most amazing event!)
Few travelers go to Bhutan because of the country’s insufficient infrastructure and the government’s desire to keep the country somewhat isolated in order to sustain its extraordinary culture. While accommodations are usually quite comfortable, they can sometimes be considered basic. Meals are usually served buffet-style at the hotel and include plenty of cooked vegetables, rice and occasionally meat. Vegetarians will have no issues finding enough to eat.
Bhutan is situated high in the Himalayas. The altitude shouldn’t be a problem for most, but sometimes people react to it with minor headaches or stomachaches. Participants should be fairly fit and expect to do light hiking throughout the journey.
For those vulnerable to motion sickness, please bring medication or natural remedies in the event the twisty roads get to you.