I recently returned from a 12 day trip to Bhutan. Here are some random thoughts that might help others planning their trip.
- Duration of trip: I thought 12 days was a good length of time. While it would've been nice to be able to explore central Bhutan, towards the end I was getting tired of seeing monasteries and temples.
- Itinerary: Thimphu was my least favorite city. There's a ton of construction and traffic and it doesn't have much charm. I spent 2 days sightseeing there and ran out of things to do and see. I would've preferred to spend an extra day in Punakha. I really enjoyed Punakha, Phobijha and Paro and would recommend visiting all three places. I did a day trip to the Haa Valley. I enjoyed seeing the views and prayer flags from Chele La Pass but do not think it is necessary to drive into the valley since there is not much to see and it's a long drive back to Paro.
- Favorite sites and activities: Tiger's Nest Monastery was a highlight. It was covered in clouds in the morning but luckily the skies cleared by the time I made it to the top. I also enjoyed visiting Punakha Dzong, doing a 2 hour hike in Phobjikha Valley, seeing the mountains from Dochula Pass, going to the Thimphu and Wangdue tshechus, having a hot stone bath at a farmhouse, doing the Druk Path Trek and enjoying the views from Gangtey Palace while sipping a glass of wine.
- Tour operator: It can be overwhelming picking a tour operator. I contacted a few companies that had positive reviews on Trip Advisor and ended up deciding on Heavenly Bhutan given they answered my emails quickly and offered a good itinerary. I would recommend them to others without hesitation. The owner was very concerned that I was enjoying myself and made an effort to meet me for dinner one night and called me a few times to check in on me. He seemed to genuinely care that I had a good experience. My guide, Tek, was fantastic. He spoke excellent English and was very friendly and knowledgable.
- Doing a trek: I am very glad I split up my time between sightseeing and trekking. I did the Druk Path trek for 4 days from Thimphu to Paro and enjoyed the exercise and scenery. We had great views of snow-capped mountains, valleys, rivers and the towns of Thimphu and Paro. We also got to visit a monastery and temple. I felt absolutely spoiled. I am used to carrying my own backpack and eating dehydrated food. On the trek I had my own guide, cook, cook's assistant, horseman and 6 horses. I had my own tent, toilet tent and dining tent. I also had the best food of the trip on the trek. There was rice and 4-5 side dishes of meat and vegetables for both lunch and dinner.
- Accomodations: I paid extra to stay at the Terma Linca Resort and Spa in Thimphu and Dhensa Boutiue Resort in Paro. I also stayed at a farmhouse in Phobjikha and the Raven's Nest in Paro. I wouldn't recommend Terma Linca given I thought it was overpriced without great food, service or reliable internet. I would highly recommend Dhensa Boutique Resort in Paro, though. The rooms are well-appointed and comfortable, there are great views of the valley from the room balconies, internet was reliable and the service was superb. I wish I spent more time there. The Raven's Nest in Paro was okay. It's a new hotel so it is working out its kinks. The bed was very hard so it was difficult to sleep, the bathroom had a foul odor and the internet was not reliable. I would have liked to stay at the Gangtey Palace but they were booked. I went there for dinner one night and a drink another night just to enjoy the ambience of the hotel and its view of Paro Valley. I would highly recommend staying at a farmhouse for a night. It's uncomfortable sleeping on the floor and using an outdoor latrine but it is a great experience talking with a family, eating a homemade meal and learning a little bit about how farmers live.
- Festivals: I am very glad I had the chance to see two different tshechus. I spent 1/2 day at both and thought that amount of time was good. I would've gotten bored if I spent more than 4 hours watching the performances in one day. It was good to compare the differences between the two. I went to the festivals in Thimphu and Wengdue.
- Food: On a positive note, I lost 5 lbs because I just ate rice and vegetables for 2 weeks! I was expecting the food to be horrible based on what I read online but it was better than I expected. It is a bit monotanous but I always had a wide variety of vegetables to pick from. We usually ate at restaurants that would bring rice and 4-6 dishes of meat and vegetables to the table. I avoided the meat given it didn't seem good quality. The vegetables were tasty, though.
I am happy to elaborate on any comments or answer any questions.