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Bhutan Trip Report- Active & Cultural trip

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Bhutan Trip Report- Active & Cultural trip

Old Mar 14th, 2016, 03:55 PM
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Bhutan Trip Report- Active & Cultural trip

We are at the beginning of our much awaited Bhutan trip. I will post as we go along - depending on Internet service. Thanks to Craig for his post in 2012 - we are using Kencho/ Snow White Travel based on his experience. In the planning stages I found her quite responsive and helpful. We only arrived in Bhutan yesterday- but so far so good. We requested an active vacation ( but we're not interested in treks that involved tent camping) and higher end hotels. There is not a lot to pick from - absent Aman. Though we have stayed in Aman resorts in other countries- we did not opt for them in Bhutan. They are wildly expensive - impeccable - but it many ways once your staying at one you could be in any country. We were hoping to get more of a feel for Bhutan by not going with that choice. We shall see.

Our journey here involved Business class on Etihad . Chicago - Abu Dhabi- Dehli. The seats were flat beds which is my requirement for those long flights. The seats were on the smallish side ( narrow) but they were fine. I am 5'10 and my husband 6'2" and they worked out. If you are heavy set I would not recommend however. If you fly Etihad check the Seatguru website to select your seats. We got a middle section " pod - which affords the most privacy away from the aisle. Same with window seats. They are staggered - one close to windo - one away. Hard to describe but if u are on the outer side of aisle people walking in the aisle could bump into you while you are sleeping.

Etihad sends a limo service as part of the ticket price - so we were picked up at home in Chicago, and met on the other end in Dehli. Our flight arrived at 7:20 pm - and we were taken to the JW Marriott ($200) where we spent a few hours sleeping. Our wake up call was 3:30 AM ! The hotel was very nice - close to airport- quiet. I would recommend it - though we didn't see much of it!

Our Druk flight was at 6:30 AM. We flew business class . Business Class has higher baggage allowance, an airport lounge, bigger better seats etc. it does not cost a lot more. The ticket check- in gates close 1 hour before flight ( according to info at the ticket counter) so arrive in plenty of time. There was no line in B Class at the counter, passport check & security had faster separate lines for B class. The coffee and food was decent in the lounge, however their wifi wasn't working.

Flight made a stop in Katmandu for about 30 minutes. As indicated in other posts- sit on the left side to get photos of the Himalayas. Service on board was good - breakfast on first leg and snack on second leg - even though flight times were fairly short.

Immigration was fairly smooth and we were met by our guide and driver in baggage claim. ( I need to get spellings of names - so for now rhet are guide and driver)

We left the airport and went straight to the National Museum at Ta dzong. It is small but interesting for a 30 minute visit. A display of masks, paintings on textiles, taxidermy of local wildlife, exhibit on flora and fauna etc. Interesting to see - but it is small and 30 minutes covers it.

We then went to a buffet spot for lunch. It was ok - I am not expecting much in the food arena in Bhutan. A Buffett of green beans with pistachios ( very good) cauliflower, curried chicken bread, sweet potatoe hash, rice and some lukewarm vegetable soup. We weren't very hungry after breakfast at the airport and breakfast on the plane - so had a small plate and it was fine.

After lunch we went to the Kyichu Temple. It is very small and very old - 8th century. Fun to have a look but it is not a lengthy stop. If you have spent any time in SE Asia you have seen similar . However I have never seen prayer wheels - and those were pretty cool. There were smaller ones surrounding the temple, and then a set of 4 or 5 very large ones - all of which you could spin.

We then left to drive to Thimphu to the Hotel Therma Linca where we will stay for two nights. Our room is located along a pretty river....which makes a pleasant rushing noise outside our window. I have seen many comments about barking stray dogs in Bhutan..and the hotel is quiet. Our room is very large - comfortable king sized bed, large bathroom with single sink but plenty of counter space.

The staff thus far has been very sweet and kind and eager to please.

Signing off now - more as I get time.
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Old Mar 15th, 2016, 07:58 AM
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Thank you your report so far. I just finished reading Craig's Bhutan report a few days ago after finishing up his recent South Africa report, so this is timely. Bhutan was not on my radar until then, so I'm very interested in reading more as you go along. I looked up your first hotel and it looks lovely. How's the food there? Your description of the prayer wheels is very interesting. Keep it coming when you can!
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Old Mar 16th, 2016, 02:56 AM
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Lolazahra....I just wrote a huge post to update...and when I hit submit it disappeared. I am dashed! I will try tomorrow.
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Old Mar 16th, 2016, 06:20 AM
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Terma Linca must be new(ish). I read some reviews on TA and it sounds lovely. Looking forward to hearing more...
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Old Mar 17th, 2016, 03:25 AM
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So I am going to try again...but I will submit a paragraph or two at a time. Still mad my hours worth of work down the drain from yesterday. Craig - thank you for your trip report - it inspired our trip.

I will condense my comments - lots to report.

On Terma Linca - we liked it and would recommend it. The staff was great - I loved the location by the river. It was so pleasant to hear the river rushing by. I had no interest in staying in Thimpu. It was nice to walk around etc - but happy to be a little outside the city. No barking dog noises. The only thing we didn't like was our dinner the first night. We were the only hotel guests ( we are just ahead of " high season" - it starts next week). We waited over an hour for an order of steamed dumplings and a stir fried ( my description) pork dish. When it arrived - the pork was a slab of fat. I told my husband to eat whatever accompanied it and bagged it. We didn't have another hour to wait for something else. I really think it was an anomaly ? The breakfasts were made to order and terrific. Great coffee - even cappuccino - eggs fruit pancakes etc. all very well executed. Our room was enormous - very comfortable- good shower pressure - no hot water issues etc. There was a nice long window seat over looking the river.
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Old Mar 17th, 2016, 03:35 AM
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Enjoying this very much.

It's frustrating losing a bunch of writing. So, a gentle suggestion, use word (or notes on iPad) then cut and paste into your post.

Happy continued journey !
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Old Mar 17th, 2016, 03:36 AM
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To finish the topic of hotels - we went to the Aman resort or a drink. We have stayed at several Aman resorts - and as a general comment have think they are terrific. There was something about the Aman hotels that didn't enthuse me when I looked at them on the Internet - and decided against staying at any of the properties. The one in Thimpu did nothing for me. The rooms are always lovely - and we did not ask to see one. But the setting was not as nice as Terma Linca IMO. Sort of sterile...even with the fireplace going it was cold. The dining room had no view and reminded me of a coffee shop at a Marriott. I think the place misses the mark.
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Old Mar 17th, 2016, 03:49 AM
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Sartoric....I am afraid I don't know how to cut and paste from notes...so I will do it this way. Bits and pieces. When I get home I will try to figure out the other. Thanks for the tip tho...

For activities the first day - we hiked to the Chagri Monastary. ( I hope I have the name right. The it in says Cheri and my photo of sign says Chagri). Anyway - it was an excellent 45 minute hike uphill - nice exercise and fun place to explore once we arrived. There was no one else there - had the place to ourselves. I am pretty happy with the timing of our trip. Apparently the festival in Paro starts the spring " high season". The festival in Thimpu starts the fall high season. Paro festival will be at the end of the trip ( next week) so nothing is crowded.

After Chagri we went to see an ENORMOUS sitting Bhudda - 150 meters tall. It is fairly new - and construction of the temple is not complete inside. There are going to be 100,000 mini Bhuddas lining the walls - they are not all in place yet. When it is finished you will be able to walk up to the nose of the Bhudda. Right now you can't go up. Anyway - it was fun to see and got some great pictures.
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Old Mar 17th, 2016, 04:05 AM
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Snow White Travel / Kencho. After Bhudda viewing we met Kencho for lunch at a great spot I think it was called Karma Coffee? I didn't take picture of the name. Kencho preordered FABULOUS. Bhutaneses food. There was enough for ten people. Great steamed dumplings , a mushroom pepper cheese dish, stir fried beef and mushrooms, a salad of red onion chilis. All was delicious. Anyway - they don't offer this on the menu but she preordered. It was really good. Kencho is delightful. She has 6 guides that work with her - and if they are booked she will turn business away. I think that ensures high quality and attention to detail. We love our guide - Tashi , and our driver Namgay. They both are fun and happy, but take their jobs very seriously. The roads are bad when you get out of Thimphu ( more on that later) and Namgay is very responsible driver. Tashi is both a cultural guide as well as a trek guide. We are very very happy with him. We were very interested in hiking in Bhutan - and he is exactly what we wanted. Craig thank you again for the recommendation.

After lunch we walked around Thimphu and did a little shopping. I only bought postcards - I have too much stuff at home I don't need!

We went back to the hotel for a couple hours to rest read etc.

At 5 pm we were picked up to go see the Dzong in Thimphu. Tashi encouraged us to walk swiftly to the entrance once it opened at 5:30 pm. I got great pictures because we got in ahead of everyone else. There was a line for this site because it doesn't open to the public until 5:30 pm. The king works there during the day so it is off limits. Btw - we saw the king walking home to his palace after work. I guess maybe he doesn't always walk home - maybe he takes Uber- because Tashi says you don't always get to see him.
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Old Mar 17th, 2016, 04:52 AM
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The next day the plan was to travel from Thimphu to Punahka with a hike along the way to break up the trip.

The Roads. Ok - there is a " road widening project" going on. It is dreadful and not going well. I am not sure if I have the story straight - everyone tells a different story. One story is that multiple contractors have different sections of the road? I don't know. But it is a mess. Parts have big earth moving equipment. Parts have giant piles of rocks on either side of the road. Most of it is not paved. Furthermore - if these roads have been widened ( which for the most part is the case - they are waiting to be paved) I cannot imagine them before they were widened? They are barely wide enough for two cars to pass. Thank god Namgay is a good driver. I guess they are doing a lot of work at night ...but there was definetly work going on during the day. It is a nightmare - irritating - and if you are planning a trip check on the status of said project. We changed our itinerary today and eliminated a destination because we wanted to cut down on the amount of driving.

Anyway - we did a GREAT hike to Lungchutse Lakhang to Docula temple. ( I think it has a diff name but this was the picture of the sign) It was about 3 hours round trip - elevation went from 3100 meters to 3600 meters. Great 360 degree views from the temple at the top. I would highly recommend.

We had lunch at the base at a buffet restaurant - great views - unremarkable - but edible food. I think the name was Dochu La Restaurant. If you miss it don't fret about it.
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Old Mar 17th, 2016, 01:31 PM
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What a treat to see the King! Your hikes sound glorious. I am an avid hiker, so I am so happy you are enjoying them. You sound like you got a good meal too, when Bhutan is not known as much for the food. Still following along and enjoying your report. Keep it coming.
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Old Mar 18th, 2016, 12:41 AM
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After the hike to Dochula temple we drove to Punakha and checked into the Uma resort for two nights.

In short - we loved the Uma resort. The staff was fantastic from start to finish. There was a lovely gentleman, Roy Todemann who managed to distinguish himself amongst a group of stellar employees. I don't think he ever sleeps and absolutely bent over backwards with food preferences etc. Our room had a spectacular view of the river and the snow capped mountains in the distance. The food was terrific by any culinary standard. They pride themselves in making everything from scratch. The breads and muffins were divine ( I usually avoid both but this selection was totally worth the calories) . We had pasta starters both nights ( homemade noodles). The salads were lightly dressed - locally grown greens. The offerings for both breakfast and dinner completely changed both days - including the flavors ( 3 types each morning) of muffins. My husband had filet mignonette one night and braised lamb shank the second night. I had kingfish the first night which was great. The second night the fish was salmon which I don't care for- so Roy suggested prawns or kingfish. I couldn't decide so he had the chef fix both - grilled. I wanted some spicyness - so he brought two sauces on the side. Both were great. The dining room has a great view - there is outdoor dining with warming fireplace if you desire.

The only thing I didn't love is that the room was very small. I have never been on a cruise but I imagine cruise ship rooms to be this small. The reason I comment on it - is because we are traveling for over two weeks -and each have a suitcase and a carry on. There was barely room to maneuver. It would not stop me from returning or recommending the place - but if I owned the hotel I would lose the small L shaped alcove sitting area and put in someplace to accommodate suitcases.

Anyway - as referenced above - we altered our itinerary slightly and wanted to stay at Uma another night. Unfortunately they were booked (10 or 11 rooms total) so we moved to the Dhensa resort for one night. I will report on that later.
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Old Mar 18th, 2016, 01:15 AM
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The next day was spent in Punakha hiking and sightseeing. We did a nice hike to Khamsum Yueling Temple which is fairly new - pretty grounds - beautiful inside. It is being built by the crown prince mother - ( get this - the 4th King had four wives and they are all sisters. I guess wife number two had the first male child - and he is now the fifth king. I find this all sort of entertaining.) the hike is nice and steep- but easier than the day before because Punahka is around 1200 meter elevation. We then walked through farm/rice paddy area which was fun. The aforementioned took around 2.5 hours.

We found ourselves at the base of the road that leads up to the Aman resort at Punahka. We decided to go up and see it and have something cool to drink. A darling young man ( so far everyone in this country is very very nice and eager to please) took us on a tour and showed us around and we looked at a room. The room was maybe 3 times the size of ours at Uma...but the view and setting at Uma is far superior. I did not care for the architecture of the buildings that housed the rooms. They looked prison like. A regular room there starts at $1550++. It does include 3 meals, guides, house liquor etc. Honestly if they were the same price I would still pick Uma...but Uma is $550 a night. So win win.

We then had lunch at a very questionable spot called the Rinchenling Cafeteria. My. I am not sure where to begin. We were brought a soup course of " river weed soup". We really didn't even want to touch it since it was gray and watery and looked like it had some pink oily dots floating on top. Nonetheless we each had one bite and it was foul. Tasted like fishy water. Our next course was rice, a bowl of peppers with cheeses, a bowl of spicy chicken parts ( not sure what part..throat..wings ..I don't know). I think there was one other dish but I am trying to erase the whole thing from my mind. Anyway - there were sort of ground up bones in the chicken - and after encountering two of those I moved onto the granola bar in my bag. My husband ate some peppers and rice and some chicken and he didn't get sick so I guess it was safe. The only other people eating there was a group of 10 Chinese tourists. There were two cats wandering around the dining room. We adore cats so that didn't bother us one bit. The thing that was weird is that one was really healthy looking and the other one clearly had an issue. I am not sure what was wrong with it. He only had half his fur...I felt bad him. But I also didn't want to get too near him because if it was communicable I do not want to take those germs home to my cat. If they had a donation box for him I would have donated. Anyway- the cats clearly live there. So the Chinese people complained about the cats- so the head lady put them in a cupboard and locked the door. I am not making any of this up. My view of the cupboard was from the side - so I assumed that the front had chicken wire on it. Wrong. The Chinese people left - we got our bill (about 15 minutes later) for the drinks and paid it. On the way out I realized the cupboard was completely enclosed- wood doors!! I asked the lady if I could see her cats. I think she forgot they were in the cupboard. She let them out. I am sure I have carried on too long about this but my husband and I have not quit laughing about the whole thing since it happened yesterday.
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Old Mar 18th, 2016, 01:25 AM
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After lunch we went to the temple of the divine madman. It is walking distance from the aforementioned restaurant. There were lots of tour buses , groups etc. The temple itself is not memorable and it is flooded with tourists. I could have skipped the whole program. I think the general story of this guy is he was a partier and revolted against orthodox bhuddism. Don't take my word for it...please feel free to research yourself. The thing that is interesting is that apparently he is believed to be a symbol of fertility so if you are a childless couple you drop by his temple for a blessing. The thing that is " unique "... Is that there are wooden penises for sale everywhere. They are penises painted on the sides of the souvenir shops. The arrows to the restrooms are penises. Frankly if I were reading this post I wouldn't believe it but it is true. Between that program and the river weed soup and the cats in the cupboard...we had quite a day.
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Old Mar 18th, 2016, 01:39 AM
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As discussed earlier- we decided to change our itinerary and nix driving to Trongsa. The roads aren't great and this was likely to be a five hour drive to see another dzong and a museum. We bagged that and opted to stay in Punahka another night and hike instead. Tashi and Kencho sorted out a hotel room for us, and our driver (Namgay)told Tashi about a hike in the area because he grew up here. The hike was AWESOME. Around 5 hours total. Up to a very old temple, then across a ridge - FABULOUS VIEWS of the dzong- 360 degree views. I loved the hike and would recommend.

We had brought granola bars and beef jerky along on the trip...having heard the food wasn't great. After the river weed soup incident - we told Tashi we wanted to skip lunch and just eat the stuff we brought. He was game.we finished our hike and headed to the new hotel Dhensa where we are now. We have a big nice room with a pretty view. I will report on it tomorrow.

Oops - one thing I forgot to mention is that we visited the Punahka Dzong yesterday. It is quite lovely- and apparently the most famous one. Having seen the one in Thimphu and the one in Punahka - they are very cool to see but I don't think I need to see anymore. You get the idea after awhile. Don't get me wrong...they are a must see...but if you are planning a trip I would not add hours of drive time just to see an additional one.
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Old Mar 18th, 2016, 01:54 AM
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Observations

1. The temperature varies a lot. It was on the cool side in Thimpu. The range was probably 30-50 degrees because it is at much higher altitude than Punahka. Where the temp is cool in the evening (40's) but during the day it gets close to 80.

2. One thing that is quite a disappointment is the amount of trash I have seen everywhere I go. You can't go hundred yards without seeing a juice box or a plastic bottle. Even on the hikes we have gone on where we have literally not encountered a single person along the way. It has been bugging me since I can't imagine a tourist interested in making the journey to Bhutan being so careless about the environment. Finally I asked Tashi who throws the garbage on the ground? I point blank asked if it was tourists. He said no...it was locals. That makes sense...because the worst trash I have seen is walking through little towns/neighborhoods. For a country where the number 2 source of income is tourism fees - they might need to get a clue. It is illegal for the Bhutanese to smoke, illegal to drink alcohol on Tuesdays. They ought to make it illegal to throw garbage on the ground. I noticed that Backroads references the trash in their trip brochure...so I am not the only one who has noticed it.

3. I believe the term " let sleeping dogs lie" originated in Bhutan. I have never seen so many dogs sleeping in my whole life. For the most part they look pretty perky and healthy - but there are loads of them.

More later.
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Old Mar 18th, 2016, 06:01 AM
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Fascinating read!

I know Bhutan is expensive, but some of the prices you mention make my jaw drop.

Unfortunately, it will probably be a generation (at least) before the trash problem is resolved. In many, many of these poor, developing countries we have visited we have noticed the same problem. Initially they just didn't have the money for facilities for trash disposal, and then came the advent of non-decomposable plastic which is a problem with their old ingrained habits. Education is the solution, and that type of change takes time.
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Old Mar 18th, 2016, 07:20 AM
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I'm pretty sure that the place with the cats is the same place where I caught food poisoning. Unfortunately, there aren't any alternatives in the area.
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Old Mar 18th, 2016, 08:15 AM
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Okay, I laughed out loud about your day with the river weed soup, the cats and the penises. You did have quite a day! I looked up the temple as I just could not imagine what you were talking about, and there they were! How interesting. Huffington Post had a story on it. Really great report. Your hotels seem divine and the hikes and views just glorious. Keep it coming!
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Old Mar 18th, 2016, 09:59 AM
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The one developing country I've visited that didn't have the trash is Sikkim. I'm disappointed to hear about the trash in Bhutan - makes me glad we went to Sikkim instead.
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