Despite being a country spread across several hundred kilometres, Bhutan’s major sights are concentrated in its western province. This means that it is perfectly possible to plan your holiday around an extended weekend and pack a fabulous trip to this wonderful destination in only five days.
Fly into Paro, and count on two full days in and around this picturesque town. Start your first day with a hearty and relaxed breakfast in your hotel, or at one of the numerous restaurants lining Paro’s main street. Then visit Paro Dzong in the late morning, followed by the National Museum. Settle into the upscale and comfy interiors of the Bukhari Restaurant for a lazy lunch, and then spend the early evening exploring the sundry souvenir stores, general shops and kiosks in the town centre. For dinner, saunter into Sonam Trophel Restaurant and treat yourself to a hearty Tibetan or Bhutanese meal.
After breakfast, drive out of town for the vigorous hike up to Tiger’s Nest Monastery, easily the most intriguing sight in your entire itinerary. It helps to be in the mood for a day-long excursion-cum-picnic – carry packed lunch and refreshments that you can gobble up while overlooking fine mountain vistas somewhere along the way. The Tiger’s Nest Monastery routine, if done at leisure (recommended), is likely to take up all morning. Post lunch, visit the lovely Kyichu Lhakhang, and then get back to Paro before making the three-hour onward drive to Thimphu.
If you set out of Thimphu early today, you can squeeze in a long day trip to Punakha to see the Punakha Dzong, the most beautiful structure of its kind in the country, straddling a beautiful valley floor between the confluence of two gushing rivers. En route, you will cross the Dochu La pass – if you’re travelling in March, remember to budget an hour to walk through the gorgeous rhododendron forests above the pass. Stop for lunch en route at the Phuenzhi Diner – a good place to tuck into some classic Western fare such as pancakes. On the way back to Thimphu, pop into the nearby Chimi Lhakhang, the temple of Drukpa Kunley or the ‘Divine Madman’.
Day four is in Thimphu. Start with the town’s major sights, kicking off at the spectacular Trashi Chhoe Dzong, and then moving on to the four excellent preserves of traditional Bhutanese culture, the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, the Folk Heritage Museum, the National Library and the National Institute for Traditional Medicine. You will be ravenous by now, so head for a sumptuous lunch comprising pizzas, salads and yummy Continental desserts – all washed down with a pint of Red Panda beer – at the Seasons Restaurant. In the afternoon, make an excursion to either the scenic Buddha Viewpoint or the Motithang Takin Reserve, and finally turn up at the National Memorial Chorten to join in with the locals as they pay their daily homage at the religious monument.
Spend the early evening exploring the souvenir shops in and around Clocktower Square in Thimphu’s city centre, before heading to Benez Bar – one of Thimphu’s most happening watering holes – unwind with a stiff drink in hand, exchanging travel stories with other tourists and local patrons.
Holiday’s over – it’s now time to go home! To stretch that Bhutanese experience a bit longer, however, you could junk your plan of flying directly out of Paro and set out from Thimphu early in the day on the fantastic five-hour drive, descending to the town of Phuentsholing on the Indo-Bhutan border. The journey takes you through some of Bhutan’s most beautiful mountains. What’s better, a last round of frenetic shopping awaits you in Phuentsholing’s main market. Stock up on some great deals here, before exiting into India and driving another four hours to Siliguri’s Bagdogra airport to catch your flight home.
This article is an excerpt from our Bhutan travel guide. Want more? Grab a copy NOW!