Accommodations in Bhutan
Bhutan's system for tourism is based on a fixed tariff and all-included arrangements, including accommodations. While there are some upgrade options (see below), hotels are not normally an a-la-carte option for visitors, unlike almost every other country.
In Thimphu and Paro hotel standards are pretty good, though rarely international-caliber. Bhutan is a very laid back place, so service, while very friendly, isn't always prompt. Rooms are often very large and are nicely decorated in local style. But bathrooms in most Bhutanese hotels are pretty basic - western style with hot water, but simple.
Farther west - Punakha, Trongsa and the Bumthang region - the hotels are more traditional and more basic. Heavier blankets and a wood stove may replace the electric space heaters that are normal in the east. Wood-panelled walls and ceilings in rooms are common in many hotels.
Hotel standards in Bhutan improve every year, so your experience may be better than this description. But expect basic accommodations, not luxurious ones.
The Aman Resorts chain has five properties in Bhutan that are spectacular, ane spectacularly expensive too: US$ 300-plus per person per night in addition to the base tariff.
In Thimphu the Taj Tashi hotel is spectacular in every way. US$ 200 and up per person per night in addition to the base tariff. The Druk Hotel in the center of Thimphu isn't five-star, but it's a very nice place and a distinct step up from the standard accommodations. US$ 60-75 per person per night in addition to the base tariff.
The Hermit Kingdom
Bhutan was the last of the "hermit kingdoms" to open up. Even today there is very little of the modern world in Bhutan, and the door is only cracked open. Each visitor still needs a letter from the government approving the visa. (We obtain these for you).
Bhutan offers incredible trekking opportunities. Unlike other Himalayan trekking, Bhutan's countryside is mostly wilderness, with only occasional villages or outposts. The trekking is strenuous and spectacular.
The culture and sightseeing draw many visitors to Bhutan. The entire country is a fascinating other-when. Visit schools, a nunnery, homes and the great "dzongs". Dzongs are Bhutan's great fortified monasteries, which administer the devoutly Buddhist people's religious life, civil society, and, historically, defense.
Bhutan's colorful festivals are ancient and celebrated today with all the splendor of old. Whether you are coming for a cultural program or a trek, consider scheduling your trip (well in advance) to coincide with brilliantly-colored parades, masked dances in jeweled halls, and fire ceremonies at night during Bhutan's many festivals.
The best guide book about Bhutan is the Lonely Planet's. It is titled, simply, Bhutan. (Amazon link) The author for the first editions was Stan Armington, who also wrote the Lonely Planet's Nepal trekking guide. Françoise Pommaret's Bhutan: Himalayan Mountain Kingdom is also well worth buying or taking out from the library. (Amazon link)
Come to Bhutan with Friends in High Places
Everything is included here - accommodations, meals, activities, transportation, guides and staff - everything. It's always best available.
There are a few five-star hotels in Bhutan, but outide Paro and Thumphu there are only traditional styled Bhutanese hotels, which are lovely.Rooms are large, often elaborately decorated, with modern attached baths. The service is old-fashioned; the overall effect charming. Meals in Bhutan are all included. There is no high cuisine here. Meals will be a mix of Western, Chinese, and Indian, all tasty. Meal styles will vary - sit-down one night, buffet the next. For driving days you will often have a packed lunch. You can sample Bhutanese food, though few travelers acquire a taste for it. The diet is bland and monotonous, livened up with very large amounts of hot chilli. For the brave . . .
Bhutan is served by Druk Air, the national airline. The best places to connect to these flights are Kathmandu and Bangkok. Druk also flies to Calcutta and Delhi regularly, but they are both terrible airports. Unless you are visiting India, don't fly through there to get to Bhutan. Druk Air's flight schedule is approximate. It is best to let us arrange Druk Air flights for you.
We can assist with other flights too, especially for guests departing the United States. Please write to us about your needs.
Cultural Tours and Sightseeing in Bhutan
There may be no more picturesque place on earth than Bhutan, for its natural beauty and ancient culture, barely touched by the modern world. The capital city, Thimphu, is small enough that there are no traffic lights. Decorated wooden homes with windowed balconies in central Bhutan often have a crossed phallus and sword hung at each roof corner. You may see "spirit catchers" discarded by the path, having been abandoned, along with the malevolent beings they ensnared, to the wilds. And you will meet happy and smiling people, deeply religious and deeply hospitable, and far "richer" than us, for being poor.
Religion is a part of life and self for the mostly Buddhist Bhutanese. It instructs the great arts and crafts of Bhutan: painting, woodwork, sculputre, embroidery and leather work, weaving and paper. All this contributes to the rich fabric of Bhutanese culture.
Gross National Happiness, not western economics, is the bottom line here for all major policy decisions, and the pace of integrating with the modern world is deliberately slow. Bhutan has benefitted greatly from two intelligent and forward-thinking kings, and the new democracy under young King Jigme Khesar will try to follow their lead.
There are nine nature reserves and parks in Bhutan, and several unique species. All of our pre-set programs include natural wonders - an individualized trip could emphasise this. Fishing is discouraged in many places in Bhutan due to the emphasis on not taking life, but anglers will find that catch-and-release fishing is permitted in some places, and the trout are enormous!
The great dzongs of Bhutan are fortified monasteries and administrative centers. The country's civil service is largely made up of lamas; the overlap between church and state is more pronounced for the physical overlap of facilities. The Dzongs are large, impressive forts - each unique in decoration, form and function. Parts of dzongs will be off-limits, understandably as they are functioning offices and worship centers as well as spectacular attractions.
Western and central 11 days - Including Trongsa and the Ura Valley
East / West 15 days - The wild, wild East and more!
Brokpa (Exclusive) 20 days - Extend East/West to focus on Yak herders' culture in Trashi Yangtse
The best travel book about Bhutan is the Lonely Planet's guidebook. It is titled, simply, Bhutan. (Amazon link)
The Festivals of Bhutan
Ancient festivals are alive and well in Bhutan. Their undiminished practice makes this time-machine of a country even more exotic. Rich brocaded costumes, brightly painted mask and religious zeal color the processions and dances. The crowds of locals watching the dances in the great dzong courtyards are almost as interesting as the dancers - both are living out their rich culture.
The forms of the dances which are part of festivals was established by lamas in the 15th century and embellished by the great unifying leader, the Shabdrung, in the 17th century. All symbolize, in some form, the destruction of evil.
The festivals themselves celebrate religion, myth and history (for the three are forever intertwined in Bhutan) with great pageantry. The festival dancers are almost exclusively lamas, though at folk dances ordinary men and women dance separately and together.
Consider timing your Bhutan Trek or Bhutan Sightseeing Tour to include one of these festival extravaganzas!
All festival dates are subject to change: Please verify them with us before planning your travel!
Trekking in Bhutan
Trekking in Bhutan is strenuous - a little harder overall than trekking Nepal or hiking at home. This is mostly because the days' stages are longer - you should plan six and a half to seven hours on trail each day. For a modest extra charge we can arrange a horse for anyone who wants to walk less. There are no "coca-cola" stops in Bhutan because there are rarely villages. Trekking in Bhutan is much more a wilderness experience than trekking in the rest of the Himalayas. Campsites are rarely in or near villages.
Bhutan treks use horses or yaks for carrying the camp equipment and supplies. The crew and horse drovers will camp near you, everyone sleeping in comfortable two-person tents. Meals come from your camp kitchen and are remarkably good. There are no trekkers' "teahouses" in Bhutan, almost no other trekkers, and long stretches where there are no villages or people. The trekking camp is highly self-contained.
"Trekking" is a South African term, borrowed to describe the Himalayan experience by British Gurkha Col. Jimmy Roberts. It is just hiking and camping, but with a very comfortable camp and efficient crew. No equipment is necessary, other than appropriate clothing and sturdy boots. The walking can be strenuous, but requires nothing other than an optional walking stick. The crew do all the work around the camp and serve 3 meals a day.
A typical day on trek begins with the crew making tea in the early morning. A quick wash up and pack, then breakfast is served. Often the crew are breaking camp and sending off the pack train as we finish eating. The morning's walk is the longer half of the day. It may be gentle down hill or vigorous uphill, and often a series of ups and downs. Lunch break is comfortably long. An avid reader can get a chapter or two in after eating, but most people relax or snooze. When we reach the camp, dinner will be cooking. Then camp chatter, songs, reading or what have-you, and early to bed.
The Snowman Trek 27 days - Called the most difficult trek
Gangtey Gompa 10 days - A great Winter trek
Chilila Nature Trek 12 days - Rhodendron forests, a Spring trek
Dagala Thousand Lakes 12 days - Breathtaking views
Punakha Trek 12 days - Four day trek, great sightseeing
Rodungla 17 days - Bhutan's wild, wild East
Some of these treks are special programs and not in "the books"! Please write to us for itineraries and more information.