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Trip Report Back from a wonderful trip to Bhutan !

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We had a wonderful trip to Bhutan in October 2013 , below our itinerary and feelings about this remote country still very much unknown.
I highly recommend Snow White Tours agency and its founder Kencho , who gave us very good advice and immediately understood our expectations. We had the opportunity to meet her twice during our trip , and Kencho was very attentive and careful to make sure we were satisfied.
Our young guide Tashi spoke excellent English and has a wide knowledge of history of Bhutan and of Buddhism, thanks to him we learnt a lot about Bhutan, the culture and the religion. Phub, our driver , was always very cautious, and also spoke good English. Both were very careful and attentive during the week we spent together.
We are used to travel by ourselves backpack with a small budget and were a little bit reluctant to go to Bhutan (as you have to go through an agency, and pay the daily rate). At the end of the day, considering all which is included (hotel , food , guide, car, etc. )the comfort, the high level of services, the price of 200-250 USD / day / person is pretty worth it.

We only stayed for 7 days, with the following itinerary:
Day 01 : early arrival in Paro from Bangkok. Visit Ta Dzong (National Museum in Bhutan ) Paro Dzong Rinpung , Drukgyel dzong . Drive to Thimphu .
Day 02: Thimphu, visit of main sites ( zoo, school of arts & painting , Post Office, textile museum , Memorial Chorten , traditional paper factory, Dzong , etc).
Day 03: Thimphu, hike to Tango monastery Goemba & Buddhist university studies . Drive to Punakha via the Dochula pass 3050 m ( great views of Bhutan 's Himalyan peak) .
Day 04: Punakha : hike to Khamsum Yueling temple, Punakha Dzong , Chimi Lhakhang.
Day 05: Drive from Punakha to Gangtey monastery and Phobjikha valley .
Day 06: Drive back to Paro
Day 7: hike to Taktsang Tiger Nest monastery , shopping in Paro .

This program was perfect and allowed free time in the afternoon to walk freely around or just enjoy the scenery from our hotel . Kencho had told us that seven days are too short to go to Center and Eastern Bhutan, unless you spend several hours a day in the car, and indeed she was right ! when looking at the map it does not look so far, but the roads are in really bad shape (more tracks than roads), and wiggle a lot. 40km / h on average! Fortunatly, people drive very slowly and cautiously , and remain "cool" ( unlike other Asian countries .... ), so it is not stressful and you can really enjoy the scenery. We were in a 4x4 Landcruiser in perfect condition, there are often people along the road selling fruit , and some restaurants are along the road for a coffee break.
The hotels have been a pleasant surprise, they were all beautiful and of very good standard - traditional architecture , comfort (bed, hot water) , decoration, service, food. Top notch hotel being in Dewachen Phobjikha Valley , with wood stove in the room ! The other hotels ( all recommended and booked through Snow White) were Thimpu Namgay Heritage Hotel, and Punakha Meri Puensum Hotel . We were just a little disappointed by the hotel Uma Paro by Como (booked on our request, and with a premium charge), a beautiful and luxurious property but we found the gap was too big between the hotel and the average standard of living in the country.
The food is very good, a lot of vegetables and fruits, delicious local cheese – simple food always very fresh, very clean, good variety. Foreign tourists are usually given non- spicy dishes , but Bhutanese people eat chillies for every meal ! In hotels , Western breakfasts are served (eggs, beans , toast, jam) .
All Dzong ( fortress ) are beautiful and impressive, same for the temples.
Bhutanese are lovely people , and can usually speak some English. Although we felt that the country has begun to develop already, life there is still very quiet and traditional , fully impregnated with Buddhism. We really had the impression of being completely disconnected from the world, especially as foreign mobile phones can not connect, and wifi may not work in every hotel. Eventually we got used to it quickly and it is quite nice to be disconnected from the rest of the world !
Unfortunately the weather was not very nice during our stay, and we were not able to see the high Himalayan peaks . The rice terraces are beautiful in the Paro valley and along the road towards Punakha and central Bhutan .
We especially enjoyed the Phobjikha valley, out of this world, and of course the Tiger Nest (after the 2 hours of very steep climb !) .
You will find many souvenir shops in Thimpu and Paro , especially fabrics ( fine fabrics can be quite expensive , easily 200 EUR or more ) , crafts , or lemongrass essential oil .you can not bargain, but if you buy several things or for a fairly large amount, you can ask for a discount (maximum 10-15%) . It is better to pay in cash , credit cards are not really accepted. You can pay in USD in souvenir shops or hotels (much preferred to EUR or another currency).it is also possible to change foreign currencies on arrival at the airport or in hotels (exchange rate less interesting) , or at banks to Paro and Thimpu . There are a few ATMs that accept international bank cards in Paro and Thimpu.
We are very happy to had the opportunity to visit Bhutan .we had the feeling that the country is changing fast, and we can just hope that Bhutan will be able to remain away from the consumer society and to mix together the best of modernity together with Bhutanese traditions and culture ... (somehow what Japan managed to do). Although landscapes and temples similar to the ones in Bhutan can be found in other parts of Asia , Bhutan remains a unique and unspoilt destination to visit at least once .

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