Tashichho Fortress in Thimphu, Bhutan

Tashichho Dzong (Fortress), Thimphu, Bhutan

We finally set foot in the top destination of our dreams. But not after enduring 25 hours of flying time on four series of flights with layovers at three different airports in three countries over a period of three days. Traveling from bustling New York to remote and pristine Bhutan was a long, long trek indeed. Was it worth it? Absolutely and we’ll do it again in a heartbeat!

Why Bhutan? From everything that we had heard and read, Bhutan is no ordinary place. It sounded so magical, so mystical — like a Shangri-la.  

Who wouldn’t be charmed by an idea of a small Buddhist Kingdom perched high in the Himalayas whose core philosophy is the enrichment of Gross National Happiness rather than gross national product?

Who wouldn’t be intrigued by a country so isolated that it didn’t formally open its door to tourism until 1974 and didn’t have televisions until the 1990’s?

Despite opening its doors to foreigners and being ranked one as one of the world’s top destinations, Bhutan remains not too accessible to most not only because of its remote location but also because of its strict but impressive preservation effort.

Low Volume, High Value Tourism.  Bhutan’s priority remains the preservation of its culture and environment and is, therefore, careful not to allow tourism to negatively impact them. The aim of the government is to attract well-intentioned visitors by imposing a “minimum” tariff of US$250 per day per visitor.  It may sound exorbitant but it covers visa, accommodation, food, transportation and guide. To insure that the minimum tariff is met,  you must book a prepaid tour package with an accredited travel company. Independent travel is not allowed in Bhutan (except for the citizens of India who are exempt from minimum tariff rule).

Druk Air, Paro Airport, Bhutan

Druk Air – Airbus 319

Flights into Bhutan are also limited, so advance planning is essential. Currently, the only carrier that flies into the country is Druk Air, the national flag carrier of Bhutan. There are daily flights from Bangkok, Delhi, Calcutta and Kathmandu, and limited flights from Singapore.

We took our Druk Air flight from Bangkok – at 4:45  in the morning!  After a 3-hour flight, we landed in Bhutan’s only international airport in Paro. 

Landing in Paro, Bhutan

Landing in Paro looked so breathtaking with the view of the spectacular valley below and the majestic mountains that surround it.  But it was daunting as well. The valley is deep and narrow and the mountains soar up to 18,000 feet, making it  the world’s most difficult airport for landing and take off.

Valley around Paro International Airport, Bhutan

View of Paro’s valley from the airport’s runway.

And due to this challenging geography, landing instruments cannot be used for landing in Paro; the pilots can only use visual landing rules.  That being said, only a handful of pilots are qualified to fly in Bhutan. Thanks to their exceptional skills, our flight landed safely and very smoothly. (We guess that they also chant their Buddhist prayers while landing and taking off).

Paro Airport, Bhutan

The airport in Paro is the most charming and most relaxed airport we have been to. Passengers were free to wander around the tarmac to take photos and to take in their breathtaking surrounding.

 

Paro Airport BhutanWe were delighted to finally step on Bhutan’s soil and to be greeted by a big poster of the beloved King of Bhutan and his new bride. Their handsome faces followed us at every hotels, restaurants, temples and shops we visited. The Bhutanese adored them so and refer to them as the People’s King and Queen. 

 

Paro to Thimphu Road trip, Bhutan

We were met at the airport by our excellent guide (from highly recommended Lingkor Tours and Treks) and we were whisked to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Typical of most places and vehicles in Bhutan, ours was adorned with prayer flags giving us some sense of bliss and comfort while on the road (which turned out to be treacherous in many parts).

 

Rice Paddies, Paro to Thimphu Road Trip, Bhutan

The almost two-hour drive from Paro to Thimpu was very picturesque and tranquil. We drove through scenic mountains and valleys dotted with quaint villages, rice paddies and orchards.

 

Wangsisna Village, Along the Road Between Paro and Thimphu, Bhutan

One of the bucolic villages we passed by with typical Bhutanese homes.

 

School children along the road between Paro and Thimphu, Bhutan

We passed by adorable school boys on their way to school wearing “gho,” the traditional Bhutanese clothing for males.

 

School children along the road between Paro and Thimphu, Bhutan

And the school girls wear “kira,” the traditional clothing for females.

 

School children along the road between Paro and Thimphu, Bhutan

Passing by some more school children and a ruin.

 

Market along the road between Paro and Thimphu, Bhutan

A small open market along the road.

 

The road between Paro and Thimphu, Bhutan

Rivers, soaring mountains and winding road.

 

Tamchog Lhakang, Along the road between Paro and Thimpu

One of the many temples dotting the mountains and valleys.

 

Chain Bridge, along the road between Paro and Thimpu, Bhutan

A traditional iron bridge spanning Paro River.

 

Buildings in Thimphu, Bhutan

Entering Thimphu.

The lovely sights in on our drive from Paro to Thimpu was a just a small teaser to the beauty that unfolded to us during our 10 wonderful day of discovery in blissful Bhutan.

Nestled between Tibet and India, Bhutan is indeed a small gem worthy of discovery. We were enchanted by its pristine nature and dramatic landscape; its ancient temples, monasteries and fortresses; the richness of its Buddhist heritage; its delightful myths and legends; the vibrant spiritual festivals; the village life; the spectacular trails; the blissful sights of monks, prayer flags and prayer wheels; the fun archery competition; the majestic architectures and arts; and, most of all, its people.  We found Bhutanese well-educated, very warm and friendly, fun-loving and so relaxed. We admire that they enthusiastically embrace global developments while firmly maintaining their unique cultural identity. 

Photos of Bhutan

What was meant to be a very special fifth anniversary trip also turned out to be a beautiful pilgrimage of a lifetime. We look forward to sharing more of our Bhutan experiences with you in our next posts.

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Some basic and fun facts about Bhutan:
•   Locals call Bhutan Drukyul  – ” Land of the Thunder Dragon.”
•  The government of Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy.
•  The population is about 700,000.
•  The land area is about half the size of the state of Indiana.
•  About 70% of the country is a forest reserve.
•  The national language is called Dzongka and the alphabets are identical to Tibetan.
•  English is widely spoken and is used as medium of instruction.
•  The currency is Ngultrum  (Nu for short). It is pegged to the Indian rupee.
•  Archery is the national sport.
•  Their rice is red.
•  Super hot chillies are the main ingredients of their national dish called ema dashe
•  Sale of cigarettes is illegal.
•  Bhutan is the first country to introduce the ban of  plastic bags in 1999.
•  There are no traffic lights throughout the country. 
•  If some countries use “evil eyes” to protect them from evils, Bhutanese use phallus images to ward them off. (More about this on a separate post!)

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  Linking to Travel Photo Thursday, Travel Photo Mondays and  Travel Tuesday.

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About Marisol & Keith

Taking you on our journey one photo - and footstep - at a time.

78 responses to “The Journey into Bhutan, the Last Shangri-La

  1. Every since you posted on Facebook that you were in Bhutan, I have seriously been eagerly waiting to hear all about your trip. Going to Bhutan is a fantasy of mine, and I’m not quite sure that it will come true within the next few years. So, I want to enjoy it vicariously through you. It looks fantastic and that it lives up to expectations. I absolutely love the picture of the school girls walking in front of the ruins. I can’t wait to read more!
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..A Visit to Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural ParkMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Michelle, I’m so glad to hear that you dream of going to Bhutan, too! I’m pretty sure you’ll get there sometime soon. I hope you get to do it while you’re still living in Asia; it will be so much easier. I’m pleased that you enjoyed the post so far. There will be a lot more Bhutan posts coming and I hope you enjoy them all. Bhutan is so spectacular and we already miss it so much.

      • Keisha

        Humm.. redirected here from rimgehcn.con, reading your blog about 1 hour. I like the way you can blog about anything, it’s just amazing. another bookmark for me to enjoy, keep it up~!

  2. Agness

    Bhutan is amazing, I love your photos. I’m so happy to see you guys enjoying this place so much. It reminds me a lot of Tibet – the locals, the landscape and hiking trails. Did you have any favourite food there? Just wondering if the local cuisine is similar to Tibetan one (fried momos, salty tea, yak soup, thick noodles). I didn’t know the flights are so limited there. Need to check out how to get there from Hong Kong.
    Agness recently posted..Efteling: Feeling Like “Alice in Wonderland”My Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Agness! I expected it to be a lot like Tibet – in a little way it does but I found the feel was completely different. I guess for one, Bhutan was never colonized and has a pleasant feeling of freedom. I found the landscape different as well – much of Tibet is like a tundra but Bhutan is more forested. I also found Tibet’s spiritual devotion a lot more profound and more pronounced. As for food, the only thing I found they had in common was the yak butter tea (but less salty in Bhutan). They have something similar to momos, too. At some hotels, they served thick noodles but it was just part of their international offerings and not really an authentic fare. Authentic Bhutanese dishes are mostly very spicy.
      I hope you and Cez get to visit Bhutan sometime soon. I think the best way for you to get there from HK is via Bangkok.

      • Emmy

        Thanks for stiatrng the ball rolling with this insight.

  3. I am so excited to hear more about this! I would love to visit Bhutan one day, but right now the daily minimum they charge per person is far too rich for our blood and would be such a blow to our travel fund. Right now, we’re over the moon here in Nepal for $25/day for two… Bhutan would be 20 times this! So for now, I’ll look forward to seeing the country through your eyes. I can’t wait! 😀
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Let’s All Go to the Singapore Zoo!My Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Steph, I really hope with all my heart that you make it to Bhutan. For now, enjoy Nepal. It’s an amazing country as well. I hope you enjoy our future posts on Bhutan.

    • Marisol

      I’m so pleased we were able to bring it to life for you.

    • Marisol

      Hi Noel, our great pleasure. It truly is magical and truly worthy to be top of a bucket list. I hope you enjoy our upcoming posts.

    • Marisol

      Thanks Rachel. Gkad you enjoyed the photos.

  4. Wow – such stunning photos (as always)! Especially the one of the bridge. And I had no idea about the minimum $250/day tariff, but I guess it’s worth it since it covers so much and since it allows you to experience a place as unique as Bhutan. Also, I’m curious why the pilots can’t use navigational devices but I’m glad that your pilots were skilled enough to land without them all the same.
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted..Seeing Past the Heavens at the Griffith Park ObservatoryMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Dana, glad you enjoyed the photos! Your so right, any expense is so worth the experience of such a unique place. Landing devices don’t work in Bhutan because of its very challenging topography. I guess because it is closely surrounded by very tall mountains and the airport is in a very deep valley, any kind of reading or signals may not come out accurate.
      Marisol recently posted..The Journey into Bhutan, the Last Shangri-LaMy Profile

  5. Not everyday we hear about a country that is pretty much cut off from the rest of the world and preserved as a beautiful hidden gem. Seems life in Bhutan is so simple yet fulfilling. Scenery is so beautiful. Loved reading this, Marisol!
    Salika Jay recently posted..Albuquerque International Balloon FiestaMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Salika, it’s so true that it’s such a rare gem and that the life is so simple yet fulfilling. A lot of us have a lot to learn from them. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading:)

    • Marisol

      Hey Amy, it truly is a gorgeous place to visit and is worthy to be on anyones bucket list!

    • Marisol

      Hi Jenn, oh I’m so glad Bhutan made it to the top of your list!! It really is an amazing place and I hope you get to get sometime soon.

    • Marisol

      Thanks Cathy. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we all have the same concept.

      • Misty

        Quantos dias após o ato sexual pode ser feito o teste? fizemos 3 semanas após e deu negativo, agora já se passaram mais 2 semanas, devemos fazer outro teste de facar¡Ãim? Obrigado

  6. Love the photos! I want to go to Bhutan too and some Filipinos would love to visit because of the influence of one tv show that was shot there. It seems like a trip to Bhutan is a good anniversary trip 😀 Looking forward to reading the rest of your Bhutan adventures!
    Micamyx|Senyorita recently posted..Eating London: An East London Food Tour ExperienceMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Mica, thanks! I remember hearing about the show from a friend and I actually met quite a number of Filipinos there. I hope you get to visit soon as well. It was indeed a great anniversary and makes for any kind of trip for anyone:)

  7. Stephanie

    Absolutely wonderful! Your photos and lovely words about this magical little place are inspiring. It’s amazing to open one’s eyes to the reality that places like this exist… it is so easy to overlook when caught up in the Big Apple. Thank you for sharing and for inspiring the love of travel and culture in me.

    • Marisol

      Hi Stephanie,
      Oh, I’m so so pleased that we awaken the love of travel in you. Can’t wait to help plan you plan your adventures. Give us a holler when you’re ready. For the meantime, I look forward to our Brazilian Samba adventure:)

    • Marisol

      Hi Joanne, I hope we can inspire you and your husband to go to Bhutan sooner! It’s such a wonderful country and Im sure you’ll love it much as we did.

  8. Denise

    I can’t believe you’ve been to Bhutan!!!!

    How absolutely wonderful. Thank you for these beautiful pictures.
    Denise recently posted..The Art of Slow…LivingMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Denise, we’re so thankful that we finally go there. Glad you enjoyed the pictures.

      • you suck youtube when are you going to go back on the morals that the website was built on when it wasnt about the damn deals and money i have some great videos that have the audio's taken away from the de#3eh&uc9;s at umg. get it together.

  9. Wow! It looks (and sounds) absolutely amazing there! It’s so refreshing to see a country that works hard to preserve their culture and their country. I’ve been wanting to travel to the area for some time now, I’ll definitely be keeping Bhutan in mind! Thanks for sharing the useful information and the lovely photos!
    Meredith recently posted..Travel Tuesday: IrelandMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Meredith, our pleasure! We truly hope that you get to travel there soon!

  10. Marcia

    Happy 5th! What a delightful place to spend your anniversary.
    I’d seen on a travel show that the Bhutanese are zealous about their country but I didn’t realize how strict. I love that they use no plastic bags. Geez, what a concept and we think we can’t live without them. Bravo to the Bhutanese! They’ve written the book on responsible tourism.
    Welcome back!
    Marcia recently posted..Jimmy Cliff, Rivers Crossed TourMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Marcia, thanks!
      Yes, they have indeed written the book on responsible tourism. It’s amazing.

    • Marisol

      Thanks Jakie! I really hope you can make it there sometime soon.

    • Marisol

      Hi Jennifer, that’s terrific. I wish you a wonderful and safe trip. I have not doubt that you’ll have a fantastic time.

  11. Leigh

    What a trip – and one that’s near the top of my bucket list. I’ve wanted to trek in the mountains for years and I’m hoping we can go in two years time for our 35th anniversary (yes I’m that old). I love the fact that there are no cigarettes or plastic bags and some of those facts you provided are very interesting. I so look forward to the rest of your posts.
    Leigh recently posted..What Fall Looks Like in CalgaryMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Leigh, it would make a great 35th anniversary trip! I keep my fingers cross that you can go. The mountains are beautiful and will be great for trekking.

  12. Eileen

    What an amazing place to visit! It sounds like a wonderful country, they have their act together as far as the environment goes. Thanks for sharing your visit, awesome photos.
    Eileen recently posted..National Parks CLOSEDMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Eileen, thanks. It is really wonderful country and their love for their environment is truly amazing.

    • Marisol

      HI Eileen, that’s interesting! I hope you can cross it off from your bucket list soon.

    • Marisol

      Hi Lisa, thanks. Glad you enjoyed the photos. If you love the photos of the people you’ll love the next post:)

      • That Micks poster has bought you a lot of credit Bob; do&3n#9;t worry about it.Saying that, really nice illo. It's weird to see an Amperduke drawing in colour.

    • Marisol

      Hi Eileen, our pleasure. Glad you enjoyed the photos.

  13. Welcome back, Marisol! I’ve missed you and your posts :) I’m so glad you had such a great trip and visit. Love all these beautiful pictures as always. It’s such a memorable anniversary present for you lovebirds and looks like it’s definitely worth the trip. I didn’t know that much about Bhutan either and looking forward to learning more and living vicariously through your trip. We’re probably not going to get there until the kids are much older.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..Neuschwanstein Castle: A Modern Fairy TaleMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Mary, thanks! Oh, you’re so sweet. It truly was an incredible, memorable trip. I hope to get there when the kids are old enough to appreciate. Hopefully by then, the country still maintain how and what it is now.

  14. Renuka

    Bhutan is a magical land! It looks so intriguing….I want to pack my bag and go right now! The local kids loo so adorable!
    Renuka recently posted..10 Pictures Inspiring TravelMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Renuka, aren’t they adorable? I really hope you pack your bag soon. It so much easier for you to travel there from India.

  15. Bama

    Marisol, it’s amazing to see you embark on yet another great trip to an ‘exotic’ place like Bhutan. It’s been on my list since a few years ago and viewing the country through your pictures only convinces me to make it there eventually. I love how the government tries to maintain the local culture which is often spared anywhere else in the world sue to mass tourism.
    Bama recently posted..A Glimpse of MalangMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hey Bama, It’s really worth moving it up on top of your list. It truly is refreshing to see a country who guard itself against the danger of mass tourism. I hope you make it there soon.

  16. Samu Viljanen

    Ah, Bhutan! One of my very favorite countries!!! I wish to return there soon. Looking forward for your next post!

    • Marisol

      Hi Samu, It’s one of our favorites, too! I’d love for us to return and well and do more trekking. Maybe we can return at the same time. It will be nice to travel with you again.

  17. Bhutan looks so amazing, even made more so by your photos! It’s one of the few countries I haven’t been to in Asia yet, and I don’t know when I’ll get there. Hopefully soon, before it loses its old world charm :)
    Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com recently posted..Best Day Trips from Shanghai, ChinaMy Profile

    • Marisol

      HI Aleah, it truly is amazing. I really hope that you’ll get there soon. I was surprised to see quite a lot of Filipinos there. I heard they were inspired by a Filipino show that was shot in Bhutan.

  18. Dennis

    When you mentioned in one of your previous posts you were both headed to the Himalayas, I was thinking Nepal or Northern India – oh boy, you’ve even taken a trip that’s almost like a Holy Grail for intrepid travelers! Bhutan is one trip that will seriously make a dent on my travel budget but I’m keeping that dream alive. Right now, I’ll just drool at your pics :)
    Dennis recently posted..Kenai Fjords National ParkMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Dennis, do keep that dream alive! I have not doubt you’ll get there sometime soon; it’s just a matter of time.

  19. Lori

    Your pictures are amazing! This sounds like a truly incredible country. My favorite picture is the one of the bridge…how beautiful! It sounds like it a very safe and relaxing place to travel…I am certainly adding this to my travel list! P.S. Is the country as clean as it looks?
    Lori recently posted..Halloween Costume MemoriesMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Lori, thanks! It truly is a beautiful country and yes, its very safe and relaxing, and pretty much clean.

  20. Eezin

    It was a great feeling to go through your site. I Loved the pictures and I am happy that you had a nice time in our country.

    May God bless you.

  21. I had just heard about Bhutan is a beautiful place but after visiting your blog it made me curious to explore this beautiful place soon.

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