This private tour of the Kingdom of Bhutan combines exploring important villages of western Bhutan on foot, meeting welcoming local people, with immersion into a fascinating culture.
Bhutan Trip Overview
Along the lofty ridges of the Himalayas lies the Kingdom of Bhutan - a remarkable land where the well-preserved countryside, architecture, and rich culture appear lost in time. The capital city, Thimphu, is said to be the only capital in the world without traffic lights. Our walks in Punakha reveal impressive dzongs, while the town of Paro's location along ancient trade routes has created a rich culture, encapsulated by its unique monasteries, such as the striking and iconic Tiger's Nest.
Itinerary at a Glance
Days 6-8: Explore the Paro Valley and hike to Kila Gompa and Tiger’s Nest monastery.
Day 9: Depart from Paro.
THE HIDDEN KINGDOM IN THE HIMALAYAS
We’d like to let you in on a little secret – Bhutan. Typically people we tell about Bhutan ask “Where is Bhutan?” and that’s just the way we like it. It is this anonymity that Bhutan has preserved so well, for so many years, that makes it special. The Kingdom of Bhutan is a hidden gem that is often compared to Tibet before the Chinese invasion, and Nepal without the budget backpackers. Let us introduce you to Bhutan, a true Shangri-la!
THE PRIVATE COLLECTION ADVANTAGE
- Independent travel at its best. With your own exclusive party of family or friends, you'll enjoy itineraries developed from our years of experience.
- Your dates, your friends. You chose your dates and traveling companions, and let us do the rest!
- Reconnect in remarkable places. What better way to celebrate important milestones than with family and friends in amazing places, with all of the details handled for you so you can simply relax and enjoy each other’s company?
- Do your own thing. Customize your journey to indulge your most amazing travel fantasies.
- Travel with Trusted Leaders in Adventure Travel. Recognized by readers of Travel + Leisure magazine as a Top 10 "World's Best Tour Operator and Safari Outfitter".
Our tours often fill months in advance, and our maximum group size is smaller than most tour operators. It's very quick and easy to reserve a trip. Give us a call at 800-941-8010 or complete the online Reserve a Trip form. We will confirm your reservation with a $500 per person deposit, payable by check or credit card.
Trip Rating (1 Easiest - 5 Most Strenuous)
Traveling to and From
Most Convenient Airport:
Bangkok International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand (airport code BKK)
Meeting Place and Time:
Your Boundless Journeys guide will meet you at the Paro, Bhutan airport upon the arrival of your flight from Bangkok. Please be sure to be at the Druk Air (national airline of Bhutan) check-in counter at the Bankgok International Airport two hours before your scheduled flight on Day 1 of our trip. The airline tickets from Bangkok to Paro, Bhutan will be purchased in advance for you by Boundless Journeys.
Departure Place and Time:
Paro, Bhutan; in time for the departure of your flight to Bangkok.
When to Reserve
It is important to reserve your trip early as the Bhutanese national airline has a ticketing policy and will only accept reservations with full payment for the ticket. Seats can only be confirmed upon receipt of your deposit, as well as the payment of $950 for these flights. Please contact our office with any questions regarding these important policies.
Boundless Journeys trips are designed for energetic and flexible individuals who like to be active and have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. Hidden Kingdom in the Himalayas is rated 2+, easy to moderate, on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being the most strenuous). The walks and hikes on this trip are easy to moderate day hikes (with an optional hike that is moderate to challenging), generally from 2-5 hours in length, with minimal vehicle support. The hike to Tiger’s Nest will be the most strenuous day, with a few steep ascents and descents. A few days involve drives on narrow, winding roads.
Preparing for this Trip
It is important that you realistically assess your physical condition with regard to the demands of this trip. The more well prepared you are for the activities, the more you will enjoy yourself! Please engage in moderate aerobic activity (hiking, jogging, or cycling) for at least 30-45 minutes several times a week for 4-6 weeks before your departure. If you live in a flat area, try to incorporate some stairs into your workout, or use a treadmill with varying incline capability. Consult your doctor before undertaking any new fitness programs.
Our trip begins and ends in Paro, which is situated at 7,300’ in the foothills of the Himalayas. Our hotel in Thimphu is at approximately 7,500’. We then move to the Punakha Valley, which offers a relatively low elevation of approximately 4,300’. Our walks and hikes will take place at elevations from 4,300’ to 9,000’. There is time to move at a comfortable pace, allowing the group to adjust to the altitude and mountain air. Staying well-hydrated, avoiding excessive alcohol, eating frequent, light meals, and getting plenty of rest will help with any effects of altitude that you may feel.
The mountainous areas of Bhutan have pronounced rainy and dry seasons. The dry season lasts from October through May. Days tend to be warm with nighttime temperatures dropping significantly. Any time of year, dressing in layers is a good strategy, so that you can shed or add clothes as the day heats and cools. See the chart below for monthly average temperatures. You may obtain more detailed weather information at www.weatherbase.com.
When to Go
When to Reserve
It is important to reserve your trip early, as the Bhutanese national airline has a new ticketing policy and will only accept reservations with the full payment of the ticket. Therefore we are unable to hold group seats in advance of reservations. At this time, seats are available for all of our departures, but they can only be confirmed upon receipt of your deposit, as well as the payment of $950 for these flights. Please contact our office with any questions regarding these important new policies.
Development in Bhutan
Although visiting Bhutan in many ways is like stepping back in time and has been a longtime favorite of Boundless Journeys’ travelers for this reason, it is important to understand that this evolving society is also eager to keep pace in the modern world. While the government is approaching the development of their country with a sensitivity towards preserving the environment and culture, you can still expect to encounter some of the less positive signs of modernization. Some examples include: road construction projects that may hinder driving or cause noise and dust; litter in developed areas; and begging. We ask you to visit Bhutan with an open mind and leave any rigid expectations about the pristine nature of the country behind. It is important to embrace what you see and experience without judgment and recognize that Bhutan, just as any country, is struggling to be a part of this complex and rapidly changing world. We are confident that with this attitude, the Bhutan you experience will be a fascinating and memorable place.
Trip participants have certain responsibilities to both Boundless Journeys and your fellow travelers. This includes understanding the conditions described in the trip itinerary and making sure it is appropriate for your interests and abilities, based on a review of the trip ratings, consultation with Boundless Journeys’ staff, and perhaps your doctor. In addition, trip participants are responsible for preparing for a trip by undertaking the proper fitness training. At the guide’s discretion, a participant may be asked to leave the trip if the guide feels that the person’s further participation may be detrimental to the individual or to other trip participants. If you have any questions about the difficulty level of the trip you have chosen, please contact Boundless Journeys to speak with one of our Destination Managers.
Overview: Five nights in standard hotels and three nights in a 4-star hotel. Accommodations in Bhutan are somewhat basic and on several nights this itinerary includes the standard hotel options available in Bhutan. We have done our best to select the country’s best available hotels of this category for this journey; all have private baths.Although the hotels in Bhutan cannot be compared to international standards, they are clean, comfortable and offer all of the necessary facilities. We believe that any inconveniences due to these modest accommodations are far outweighed by the unforgettable experience of visiting Bhutan.
Confirming hotels: Due to the unique tourism policy in Bhutan, we are unable to confirm which hotels we will be using until four weeks prior to departure. The above accommodations will most likely be what we can expect, but may alter due to availability.
Hotel upgrades are available, please inquire for details.
Nights 1, 2 & 3: Hotel Druk
Nights 4 & 5: Hotel Punatsangchu
Nights 6, 7 & 8: Janka Resort
Bhutan Detailed Itinerary
SAMPLE ITINERARY: Other private customized options are available.
Arrival in Paro, Bhutan; transfer to Thimpu (approximately 1 hr.*) and city exploration by foot
We are greeted with a warm Bhutanese reception and transfer to Thimphu, home of the royal family. Before becoming Bhutan’s official national capital in 1961, Thimphu was a simple rural farming valley. Small and secluded, it is unlike any other world capital. The city is quiet, and there are still only a few streets with no traffic lights.
Thimphu is a city ideally explored on foot, and our walk today takes us to many interesting sights. Before the day is through, we may visit the newly built National Textile Museum, the Thimphu Dzong (seat of the government and main monk body), the School of Traditional Arts and Crafts, the Heritage Museum, and the Handicrafts Emporium, displaying the rich traditional crafts of the kingdom (museums and schools are closed on holidays and weekends).
Dinner this evening will highlight Asian-Bhutanese cuisine, either at our hotel or one of Thimpu’s fine restaurants.
Druk Hotel, Thimphu
Cheri Goemba and the Choki School of Arts
This morning a short drive through the countryside surrounding Thimphu brings us to the boundary of Jigme Dorji Wildlife Sanctuary, the largest protected area in the country. The park is home to several endangered species, including: the takin, snow leopard, blue sheep, tiger, red panda, and the Himalayan black bear. More than 300 species of birds have been catalogued within the park.
Our walk begins in the small village of Dodena. The trail starts by crossing a covered bridge over the Wang Chhu, and from here we climb steadily to Cheri Goemba, a small monastery perched on a hill with a view of the Thimphu Valley. Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal built this monastery in 1620, and this is where the first community of monks in Bhutan was established. The monastery is considered very sacred, as it contains the ashes of Tempi Nima, the father of the first Shabdrung of Bhutan, and beautiful frescoes of Buddhist saints.
After our visit to the monastery, we descend back the way we came, keeping our eyes open for the goral (wild goat) that are often spotted on the nearby cliffs. Back at the village of Dodena, we follow a riverside trail via Begana to Cabesa, home to the Choki School of Arts (closed on weekends and holidays). The Choki School is private and provides free, skills-related education in the traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan to Bhutanese children who are unable to complete their formal education. After visiting the school, we continue along the riverside trail, passing through small rural villages before returning to Thimphu.
This evening before dinner, we will enjoy a Bhutanese cultural teaching delivered by an expert from Thimpu.
Druk Hotel, Thimpu
Sangaygang – Phajoding Hike
Hiking –moderate to challenging, approximately 5-6 hours/ 3,000ft elevation gain. *other easy to moderate hiking options upon request.
This morning our trail head starts from Sangaygang, which has a radio broadcasting tower for the only radio station in the country (since 1999 it has also been broadcasting TV programs), and offers a superb panoramic view of Thimphu.
Setting out on our hike, we begin with a fairly steep ascent through a forested area of blue pine, fir and spruce. Bhutan is one of the least deforested countries in the world and boasts approximately 70% old-growth forest coverage. Eventually, the trail becomes more moderate and we reach a junction where we bear right towards a Chorten (sacred Buddhist monument). From here, we continue for about 45 minutes to reach Phajoding, where we visit the Phajoding Goemba, one of the numerous temples and meditation centers scattered across the hillside. A Tibetan yogi called Togden Pajo founded this goemba in the 13th century; its complex of buildings also includes Thuji Dra, a meditation center hanging on the side of a cliff at almost 13,000 ft.
Upon returning to Thimpu from our hike, there is time in the afternoon for walking, relaxing, or searching for the traditional weavings that can be found in many Thimphu handicraft shops. Beautiful weavings in wool, silk, and cotton; basketwork; silver jewelry; thangkas; and other traditional crafts of the Kingdom are available in various shops.
We conclude our day with a dinner at a favorite restaurant in Thimpu.
Druk Hotel, Thimphu
Transfer to Punakha (approximately 4 hours*); Temple of the Divine Madman
Walk – easy, 1-2 hours.
On route to Punakha, we stop in a small village where a short walk brings us to Chime Lhakang, a temple dedicated to the Lama Drukpa Kunley, one of Bhutan’s favorite saints. Commonly known as the “Divine Madman,” Drukpa Kunley traveled throughout Bhutan and Tibet, using songs, humor, and outrageous behavior to dramatize his teachings. The Divine Madman believed that stiffness in the clergy and social conventions of the time were keeping people from learning true Buddhism. Today, the site is still believed to hold fertility powers for women hoping to conceive.
*A note about driving times: these are estimates times based on actual driving. The total transfer time may be longer when taking into account rest stops, road construction and other unanticipated delays.
Khamsung Yuely Namgyel Temple to Punakha Dzong
Hike – easy to moderate, 3-4 hours on dirt roads and trails.
Following breakfast and a drive through the Punakha Valley, our walk today begins by ascending a series of switchbacks to the Khamsung Yuely Namgyel Temple. From here, we are afforded grand views of the Mo Chu River Valley below, before descending on a well-worn path down the valley, passing through rice fields and small villages.
After enjoying a picnic lunch along the river, we continue to the Punakha Dzong. Constructed in 1637, the Punakha Dzong was the second of Bhutan’s dzongs, and for many years served as the seat of the government. Today, it is home to Bhutan’s spiritual leader, Chief Abbot Je Khempo, who, along with 1,000 monks, resides here during the winter months due to Punakha’s relatively low altitude (by Himalayan standards) of 4,000’. From this imposing dzong we can look back to see the Khamsung Yuely Namgyel Temple, perched on a hillside far in the distance. A short walk from the dzong takes us back to the road where we meet our driver and return to our hotel.
Following our hike, we have the special opportunity to visit the Nalanda Buddhist Institute, just outside of Punakha. There we meet the resident monks and learn about their lives. For those who have an interest, there is the option to take an introductory mediation class (please note that this may also take place in the morning, depending on the monastery’s schedule for the day).
Hotel Punatsangchu, Wangduephodrang
Transfer to Paro (approximately 4 hrs*); visit Kyichu Lhakhang, the Paro Dzong, and Bhutan’s National Museum
This morning we drive to Paro, while stopping by a farmhouse, providing us with a glimpse into the Bhutanese way of life. Here we have the opportunity to join a Bhutanese family for a cooking demonstration and tasting. We sample fresh yak-butter tea, and a home-brewed liquor – either fiery arra or sweet sinchang – and have the chance to help them make ema datsi (chilis and cheese), and pancakes with red rice, served along with hot chili curries. Following our meal, we have the chance to explore their farmhouse and learn about the family’s daily farming activities such as taking care of the livestock and crops. Over 85% of Bhutanese still practice subsistence farming and this afternoon affords an authentic encounter with the Bhutanese traditional way of life.
Upon our arrival in Paro, we visit Kyichu Lhakhang. Kyichu Lhakhang, meaning “twin temples,” is believed to have been built in 659 AD by King Songtsen of Tibet, and reflects the introduction of Buddhism to Bhutan. The temple is one of 108 that were built throughout the Himalayas in one day in an effort to subdue a mighty ogress; it is still believed to hold her left foot in place.
We then make our way by vehicle to the National Museum (closed on weekends and holidays), housed in the round, multi-storied Ta Dzong, built in 1775. The Ta Dzong was once the watchtower for the massive Paro Dzong, built in the 17th century by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The museum’s collection includes ancient artifacts, weapons, a collection of antique thangkha (painted or embroidered religious pictures), textiles, and stamps.
Finally, we head (either by foot or vehicle, depending on timing) to the valley’s magnificent Rinpung Dzong. If we are fortunate we may have the opportunity to explore within the dzong’s mighty walls. However, if the Administrative Body is in session, we must admire from the outside.
Janka Resort, Paro
*A note about driving times: these are estimates times based on actual driving. The total transfer time may be longer when taking into account rest stops, road construction and other unanticipated delays.
Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery
Hike – moderate, 4-5 hours on hiking trails; approximate elevation gain of 1,650 feet.
This morning we enjoy a hike to the famous cliff side hermitage called Taktsang - “Tiger’s Nest” - a monastic retreat built into a sheer cliff face high above the Paro Valley. Our hike begins on the valley floor and is a steady uphill climb on a wide hiking trail that switchbacks through pine forests, with glimpses of Tiger’s Nest along the way. We pass water-powered prayer wheels and mani stones (sacred stone walls with Buddhist prayers etched into them), as well as a shrine where a high lama was supposedly born - all reminders that this is not just a hike, but a spiritual pilgrimage for many.
As we near the monastery, we stop by a small teahouse for snacks and tea and take in our first up-close view of Taktsang. From here our hiking trail levels out for a short while, before we begin climbing down steps and cross a bridge, eventually leading us to this most impressive sacred site. Legend has it that the Tibetan Buddhist saint, Padmasambhava, flew across the Himalayas on the back of a tiger and landed here, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. Entry into the monastery feels like stepping back in time and we have the chance to visit several shrines that comprise the temple complex. During our exploration, our guide brings Tiger’s Nest to life with the tales of Buddhism that make this one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in all of Bhutan.
After a trail side picnic lunch, we return to the valley floor, where our vehicle and driver meets us for our drive back to our hotel. If time allows, we will visit the Drukgyel Dzong, a ruined fortress where Bhutanese warriors fought Tibetan invaders centuries ago. This dzong was built in 1649 to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over Tibetan invaders, and sits at the point where the trail from Tibet enters the Paro valley. Bhutan’s dzongs are perhaps the most visibly striking aspect of the kingdom, and these huge citadels dominate the landscape of the major towns and act as the administrative headquarters for their respective regions. If we are lucky and the weather is clear, we may have the opportunity to view the sacred Mt. Chomolhari (23,977’), which lies along the border of Tibet and Bhutan.
We have some time this afternoon to unwind and relax after our hike. There will be the option to stroll the Paro market, or you can simply rest at the hotel before dinner.
Janka Resort, Paro
Cheli La Pass to Kila Gompa
Hike - moderate, 2-3 hours on hiking trails and dirt roads; approximate elevation loss of 1,300 feet.
Leaving the prayer-flag-swathed col and our vehicle behind, we strike off along the ridge, passing through meadows, before re-entering forests of larch, spruce, hemlock, fir and rhododendron. After a little under two hours, we see the Kila Gompa, seemingly suspended in rock crags. Home to approximately 30 nuns, this place has served as a retreat for mediation since the 9th century. Kila means “spiritual dagger,” anda visit to the temple is often thought to tame the negative emotions of anger, ignorance and greed.
Departure from Paro
An early morning departure from Paro returns us to Bangkok where we say farewell and journey home or on to other exciting destinations.
Please note that this is a typical itinerary, and actual activities may vary to take advantage of weather conditions, local events, and to allow serendipity to play a hand in your experience. Accommodations are as outlined in the itinerary, although we reserve the right to change these should the need arise.
2015 Private Collection Land Cost
From $4,495 per person
2015 Land Cost Details
1-2 Guests: $4,795 per person
3+ Guests: $4,495 per person
Other customized private options are available.
Accommodations (hotels, tents, cruise cabins) are based on double occupancy. A single supplement is paid by participants who specifically request single accommodations, subject to availability. If you reserve at least 120 days prior to departure, you may be eligible for a reduced or free single supplement.* This is generally limited to the first one or two solo travelers to reserve, and the reduction is outlined in the pricing for each trip. Please note, free or reduced single supplements are not combinable with other offers or promotions.
If you are traveling alone and wish to share accommodations, we will try to match you with a roommate of the same gender. If you reserve at least 120 days ahead and a roommate is not available, you will only be charged a “forced” single supplement in the amount of 50% of the standard single supplement* (unless otherwise noted in the detailed itinerary). Single accommodations are limited so you are encouraged to reserve early!
*This does not apply to cruises in the Galapagos Islands. Please see these trip pages for more details.
Bangkok, Thailand to Paro, Bhutan (RT)
- All meals included
- Private guide throughout
- All accommodations
- All transportation during the tour
- All activities as noted in the itinerary
- Bhutanese visa fees and departure taxes
Please complete the following information to request a reservation. A trip deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your reservation (payable by check or major credit card). Once we receive your request we will contact you within one business day to confirm availability and answer any questions you may have.
About our guides
Sangay Wangchuk: Sangay spent almost two decades in the tourism business and has trekked many of Bhutan’s trails and climbed some Himalayan mountains. He completed practical mountain management courses in Chamonix, France, forming a basis for his guiding background. His pride and passion for Bhutan’s culture and ecology is evident, and he always willing to share is knowledge with others. He is a published author of: Seeing with the Third Eye: Growing up with Grandma in Rural Bhutan, depicting his interest in preserving local beliefs and traditions.
Dawa Tashi (right): Dawa has led a variety of Boundless Journeys tours, from treks in the mountains to festival celebrations in the valleys. His local knowledge and amicable personality make him a real treasure to have on the trail. Whether hiking at high altitude or exploring local towns in the lowlands, Dawa ensures that our guests come away with an outstanding experience, providing them with a a deep appreciation of his country and culture.
Kinley Tshering ( left): Kinley (or Kelly, as he is known among his Bhutanese coworkers) joined our local staff of guides after completing extensive training in 2006, and has led many tours for Boundless Journeys, becoming a favorite among our guests. Very friendly and down to earth, Kinley is extremely knowledgeable and always determined to make your trip special.
Leki Phuntsho: Leki is a well-educated local guide who has lived his whole life in Bhutan and who currently resides just outside of Thimphu. He completed his extensive Guide Training from the Tourism Council of Bhutan in 2006, and enjoys trekking when not leading guests on cultural tours of his homeland. With his infectious love and passion for the country, Leki carries the adventurous spirit of a true Bhutanese guide. Very friendly and down to earth, Leki is always determined to make your trip special.
What other guests have said about our guides in Bhutan:
“It is truly impossible for me to express in words my gratitude and appreciation for the professionalism, dedication, and hard work of your team in Bhutan. Dawa was so accommodating and flexible throughout the entire tour. He certainly went out of his way to make sure the experience in Bhutan was both memorable and enjoyable for everyone in the group.” – S.G., East Rochester, NY
“Dawa was excellent, especially on the walks and hikes; very helpful. He was also extremely knowledgeable about Buddhism. We were very fortunate to have Dawa!” – S. M., Cambridge, MA
“It was an honor to be guided by someone I would consider to be Bhutan’s first-class ambassador, Sangay Wangchuk. Sangay was always imparting great knowledge, wit and wisdom with all members of our group. He became our Buddha.” – V. A., Playa del Rey, CA
“Sangay was such a pleasure to have on the trek – friendly, knowledgeable, open, and upbeat! He was amazing, sharing stories of his culture and the promise of things to come.” – K. L., Englewood, NJ
“Kinley Tshering was the most amazing guide. I have traveled to many places around the globe and been around a lot of guides. Kinley is truly outstanding. His patience, knowledge and good humor made every day special for us. He never tired to explain details to us or find a cup of tea. He is full of life and his love for his country showed greatly.” – G.M., Baltimore, MA
“Kinley was amazing in his knowledge and command of English in order to pass along information. If someone mentioned one thing or asked a question about something, he incorporated that into the next day’s activity or found it for us. For example, we had read about how incense is made and about momos in the DrukAir magazine on the flight over. We mentioned those things to Kinley and sure enough he found a small incense manufacturer for us to visit and made sure we had plenty of momos!” – G. M., Greenwich, CT
Picture Yourself Here:
Marveling in Bhutan's dramatic scenery with spectacular river valleys, snowcapped sacred mountains, terraced rice fields, and striking architecture
Engaging with warm and welcoming Bhutanese people and a devout Buddhist culture
Hiking to temples and monasteries accessible only on foot
Exploring remote villages in picturesque countryside
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Bhutan can't be described. It must be experienced.
- Lynn Duncan, Bhutan
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