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Bhutan Trip Report- Active & Cultural trip

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Bhutan Trip Report- Active & Cultural trip

Old Mar 18th, 2016, 10:05 AM
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Enjoying your report, chichi, keep it coming.
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Old Mar 18th, 2016, 05:54 PM
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Julie's - we upgraded the hotels to " luxury" and fully expected to pay the prices. We take one big trip a year and like to indulge a bit.

Lolazahra- I am glad you got a chuckle out of my post. I was laughing so hard I was crying when I wrote it. I forgot one other touch of ambience at that restaurant...it was a VERY windy day. I would guess 30 mph winds. I thought I was going to blow over. So the restaurant was glassed in - but one of the side windows was open -Screened. Anyway the wind was making ALOT of noise blowing by the one screen.
So...after the Chinese people left head lady turned on two industrial strength over head ceiling fans which sounded like a helicopter taking off. I am not sure why? It was not hot in there nor did it smell? Go figure.

Craig I reread your trip report last night. The view and ambience was the same as your spot- but your food poisoning emporium had a different name. Could be the same place same owner and they change the name every few months? Who knows. If I returned and wanted a nice lunch I would go the the Uma resort and eat there. However the laughs from the place were worth it in hindsight!
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Old Mar 18th, 2016, 05:57 PM
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Kathie..I think I have followed you all over this part of the world. Thank you for all of your great posts. I honestly don't know where Sikkim is but intend to look it up.
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Old Mar 18th, 2016, 06:46 PM
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chichi, reading material for when you are finished with your report: http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...p-to-india.cfm

photos at www.marlandc.com
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Old Mar 19th, 2016, 02:56 AM
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Thank you Kathie. It took me awhile to get connected to the Internet so will try and post to keep this up to date.

Dhensa Hotel - Punahka. As mentioned before- we extended our stay by one day in Punahka because we wanted to bag the 5.5 hour drive to Trongsa. Uma was full so we switched to Densa. I really liked our room. It was spacious, had a drop dead view, pretty little balcony. Soaking tub with a window to view the valley, nice shower, big closet etc. There was a sign, and also the guy who took us to our room told us we would have to wait 25-30 minutes between showers for there to be enough hot water. I am fine with that...as long as you know it is not a big deal. So the room was great. The food was not so great. For dinner they have a set menu - but you pick your main course. We started with a prawn fish cake. It was good. Then there was a cream soup which I wasn't crazy about, my husband ate about half. Then...for a main course you could have 1) pasta in a beef sauce, 2) fish and chips 3)something Bhutanese 4) chicken leg with vegetables. My husband had the pasta which was good. I ordered the chicken leg ( ok where do chicken breasts go in this country...the neck and wings go to the cafeterias my the divine madman temple, the legs go to Dhensa Resort ). The chicken leg arrived with a lot of brown sauce on it.
However when I cut the leg open it was very pink and bloody red juice oozed out. Of course I started thinking about Craig and his food poisoning and I had them take it away. They brought me some pasta instead and that was good but frankly I try to avoid pasta and rice so I wasn't thrilled. Dessert was named " coffee cake" which I think of as a breakfast dish. What arrived was a brown piece of cake - no frosting - that tasted like coffee. It wasn't bad. We had an ok bottle of Australian Cabernet which was a treat because there is no wine to speak of here.

We slept well...everything was fine. Breakfast has been consistently the best meal in Bhutan. No one has really screwed it up and most have actually been good. So - we arrive at the dining room - order coffee which arrives and is excellent. There is an a la carte menu - my husband and I both order omelets - the waitress does not write anything down - so naturally the order gets messed up. We get things straightened out and the omelets were good. However....the " bread basket" is advertised on the menu as " white bread, oat bread, wheat bread, coffee cake, muffins". So I think they are trying to keep up with their competitor down the street. I am thrilled because we brought Tashi and Namgay muffins from Uma and they were so appreciative and tickled - I thought we would take them some. Well the bread basket was several pieces of white toast and a couple pieces of something that looked like pound cake.. My husband said the pound cake thing was ok. I asked the waitress about the muffins and she said they were out. I said ok. Then she came back to the table and said they had coffee cake. I said no thanks I had that for dessert last night.
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Old Mar 19th, 2016, 03:59 AM
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Today was a long drive (3.5 HR) from Punahka to a drop off point for a hike - over a pass - into Gangtey. On the itin it reads Pele la hike to Gangtey. It was a great hike...maybe 3.5 hours from start to finish with a couple stops along the way. There was an 1.5 hour part with 800 m elevation gain...I think 2800 to 3600. We started walking through a farm...then up through the forest. Saw some cows and yaks. It was pretty fun. The descent wasn't too bad...then Namgay met us at a farm and picked us up.

Tonight our itin had us staying at Hotel Dewachen...but I had REALLY wanted to stay at the Gangtey Lodge. It was booked/reserved when we made our plans 11 months ago. Well ...Roy from Uma is friends with the manager at Gangtey Lodge - so he said he would phone ahead and perhaps we could eat there. Well...Roy did as he said he would...we arrived and Ateeb the Mgr knew our names. He showed us around...the place is an absolute dream. Well..it seems that the rooms had been blocked off...perhaps for a group )...but anyway..they had a room. So...we could not obviously get a refund on Hotel Dewachen...but we could gift it to Tashi to stay there. So he was so tickled...and I am so tickled because this place is divine. We have a big gorgeous room overlooking the valley, fireplace, heated floors...it is just awesome. The main house has two big fireplaces...only twelve rooms total. It is like a big wonderful comfortable home. Kathie...it is obviously different...but I felt the same way when I set foot at Tea Trails in Sri Lanka. Magical.

Anyway...they have a lovely ritual when you arrive. The staff sings a welcome song in Bhutanese, then give you the translation in English. The welcome drink has hot cider with an apple slice garnish and a cinnamon stick. Then...the spa manager comes over to explain the services...and we each got a free 10 minute " mini massage". Once they showed us to the room...they explained that laundry was complimentary. We have been here a week...and hiking every day...so we have taken advantage of that!
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Old Mar 19th, 2016, 04:31 AM
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Julies...question for you. I agree with your comments about trash in developing countries. However...when the government charges a tourist tax AND demands you spend at least $250 per person per day...in my view the govt should take some ownership of making it a fabulous tourist 'experience'. They can't control bad food or water temperature or good wifi service. I don't really care about any of that honestly. But...the govt seems pretty willing to tax people here, so what about a fine for not keeping your land cleared of trash? The temples are all staffed ...monks come and go..they have caretakers. Why can't they be charged with picking up the trash? In Chicago you get a ticket if you don't shovel your walk after a snowfall in a timely fashion. Anyway...it is truly a magical place...it is gorgeous and the people are wonderful. But I think the govt mandated tax/expenditures sets up an expectation?
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Old Mar 19th, 2016, 05:47 AM
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chichichicago--Hello from Minneapolis where we have a new 1.5" of snow this morning, and yes we too get fined here if we don't shovel.

I have only read about Bhutan and probably will not be visiting precisely because of the government's per diem monetary requirement and tax. From what I've read, those standards were set to keep the backpackers and less affluent tourists out. My guess also is that your tourist tax money is going to things like the infrastructure, medical care, education etc.

I take countries as they are warts and all, but I can see why you might think they could do better when you are being charged such a high rate. Plus, individual are different. We have friends who think places like Portugal are too dirty, and they want all pristine Switzerland-like environments. I remember a trip we took to Romania (another gorgeous country) nearly 15 years ago. We were in a mountain area and wanted to stop along a roadside stream for a picnic. Every place we could find to pull over was filled with trash, and one even had a bloated dead dog lying in the trash.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2016, 02:55 AM
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A couple days have passed since I last posted ...we have been busy and Internet off and on.

Gangtey Lodge was honestly spectacular from start to finish. It is one of the rare hotels that is a destination in and of itself. The hotel is independently owned and not part of a chain. It was built as a farmhouse - I use that term loosely because it doesn't resemble any farmhouse I have ever seen. The rooms (12)are spacious and luxurious. There is a bathtub that has Windows on 3 sides - overlooking the valley. I was chilled after a long hike on a windy day - and decided to take a hot bath. Honestly it felt like I was taking a bath in the clouds. The floors are heated throughout , there is a fireplace that the staff lights in the evening. It does get chilly at night...so of course there is a hot water bottle in the foot of your bed. Of course because they don't miss a trick at this place. When you retire for the evening you can request coffee or tea to be served in your room. Other hotels have a coffee pot in the room with powdered Nescafé. ( That said - every hotel we have stayed at has served brewed coffee at the restaurant). The main room of the lodge is very warm and cozy. It is just pleasant to sit there and read or have a glass of wine. There are two fireplaces and as soon as you sit down a fire is lit. The snacks they bring with cocktails change each nite and are delicious. There is a lovely balcony that runs the length of the dining room which is available to eat outside if you wish. Of course they provide blankets if it is chilly out. We especially enjoyed breakfast - made to order choices accompanied by fresh fruit, bread/ muffin basket, fresh juices. The dinner menu was a choice of either a la carte or set Bhutanese or Asain or Indian menu ( you could also pick from the set menus on a la carte basis if you wish.we had a picnic lunch for one of our hikes - it was fabulous.
The general manager Ateeb - was always present and bent over backwards to make sure everything was perfect. He was making a point to talk to every guest - and doing everything he could to make sure everyone was having the best possible experience. He is a delightful person - and this is one of the finest hotel experiences we have ever had. We would absolutely return.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2016, 03:17 AM
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We did two hikes in Gangtey. The first was a day hike around the area. The hike was fine - but probably my least favorite of the trip. It was cold and windy which I wasn't thrilled with, and it was relatively flat. I think it would appeal to many people...so I don't want to diss it...but because we live in flat Chicago...I prefer hilly hikes when we get a chance. We ended up cutting the hike short - 3 hrs. We had our picnic lunch then went to the Black Necked Crane visitor center. The flock of cranes left for Tibet in February ...but one sad bird couldn't make the trip because he has a broken wing. So we got to see him but he seems pretty lonely hanging around by himself in a wooden pen. There is an interesting little film - 15 minutes- at the center that explains about the birds etc. I actually am not very fond of birds - they sort of scare me - but the film was good. They are funny birds...they sort of hop around and flap their wings. See it if you are there when the birds aren't.

The next day we did an awesome hike from Phobjikha Valley over a pass - Sasha La. I really liked it. There is an uphill climb from 2800 m to 3200 m- about an hour - then around 3 hour hike down...and we were met by Namjay. Apparently the hike cuts off about 1.5 hours of driving. Well worth it.

We began our drive back towards Thimphu - where we met Kencho for a late lunch/early dinner - around 4 pm. She is really delightful. We had pizza which was delicious. There were many other Italian options but we opted for pizza. We also had a lovely Australian merlot. Time flew by as we discussed our trip, politics etc.

We left around 6:30 for another 1.5 hour drive to our hotel Zhwai Ling on the outskirts of Paro. I will review the hotel when we leave.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2016, 03:30 AM
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Today we went to the Paro festival. It is the 4th day of a 5 day festival. This morning it was rainy foggy gray and overcast at 7:30 am. By 8:45 it was sunny and gorgeous. The hotel is about 15 minutes from Paro...and we were dilly dallying this morning - so we didn't get to the festival until around 9:30. We have been leaving around 8 am most days...I wish we hadn't horsed around this morning. There is some seating...but it was all taken by the time we arrived. The festival is pretty interesting and I would highly recommend attending one if you visit Bhutan. There are dancing performances which are very fun to watch. The costumes are elaborate - native dress and very unique unusual masks. The other thing that is very fun to see is the locals wear their finest clothes to these festivals. It is a riot of color - beautiful silks - quite stunning. All of the aforementioned provide great photo opps.

We left around 11:45 and visited the Paro Dzong. As stated before - they are interesting but after awhile they all sort of look the same to my untrained eye.

Having hit on a yummy dish last night we decided on pizza again for lunch. Chicago is known for pizza but - just saying - they know how to make it here. It was excellent. I especially like it with the chilis on it. Spicy and delish.

We walked around Paro and looked at the souvenir shops. There are a lot of Bhutanese paintings, prayer wheels , tapestries, shawls , jewelry. Frankly a lot of the stuff is nice...but I am in the declutter mode so just bought postage stamps for my post cards.

Tomorrow is the hike to Tigers Nest.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2016, 03:44 AM
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Excellent report... eagerly awaiting the next instalment....I am just waiting for a costing for an almost identical itinerary and hotels!
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Old Mar 22nd, 2016, 04:43 AM
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Thank heavens someone is reading this! Let me know if you have any questions.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2016, 07:19 AM
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Being from flat Chicago, have you had difficulties with the climbs (I am assuming you didn't do any training ahead of time).
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Old Mar 22nd, 2016, 09:43 AM
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I'm still following your report. I'm surprised you have had as much internet connectivity as you have.
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Old Mar 22nd, 2016, 02:47 PM
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I wish there had been places like the Gangtey lodge when we were there...
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Old Mar 22nd, 2016, 04:30 PM
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We didn't train for the hiking...felt the altitude the first day but that was about it. Lucky I guess.

The Internet has been surprisingly good IMO. I think the govt mandated Internet access at hotels - either wifi or a computer available. We have had wifi everywhere. Sometimes slow - or not available for a period - but it has been ok. There was a complete tool at Gangtey dressing down the Mgr because Internet was out for a little while. If 24/7 connectivity is crucial then this isn't the place...but I think it has been very good.

As for Gantey...I put it in a very small subset of hotels...Tea Trails, Amans in Bali, Camp Jabulani South Africa, Kasbah Tamadote Morocco. All worth every dime ...a destination in and of themselves.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2016, 05:04 AM
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Still following along and enjoying your report.

The Gangtey Lodge sounds heavenly from your report. I have not been to all of the hotels you mention above, but I have been to the amazing Kasbah Tamodot in the mountains of Morocco and your comparison makes me realize how special The Gangtey Lodge must be. As staying at Kasbah Tamodot was truly an outstanding experience.

Keep it coming!
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Old Mar 23rd, 2016, 08:21 AM
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As good as Tea Trails and Kasbah Tamodot? Wow!
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Old Mar 23rd, 2016, 05:56 PM
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Yesterday was Tigers Nest. I am guessing anyone who is reading this knows it is a Monastary built on the side of a cliff. It is a bit of an architectural feat....at 3120 meters! You can either hike the entire way up - which we did (1:45 minutes but I think we were on the quicker side- the guides allow 3 hours). Or - you can take a horse or mule halfway up then walk. They do not allow you to take an animal down...you have to walk. We left the base around 8:15 am. A few observations. I saw no trash until the halfway point. None. It is possible! It was the only hike of the trip that we had other people on the trail with us...which is of course to be expected.
So...while there was no trash on the trail...OMG...those animals must have had big breakfasts that did not agree with them. They all seemed to have "air raid " (spelled backwards... get it?). My oh my. It smelled to high heaven. In Chicago they make the horse carriage drivers tie baskets under the horse's behind so they don't leave
their " business"behind. So to speak. Anyway...the only reason to ride up IMO is that maybe you would be above the stench. After the halfway point we lost the stench and most of our company. We pretty much had the trail to ourselves - just a couple other people. It is a great hike...pretty views..etc. The last 45 minutes we were actually walking through snow covered trees, and it started to hail, and it was foggy. That may sound bad but it was actually very cool and mystical. Not far from the top (20 minutes) we encountered a woman on her way down who stopped to let us know that when she had headed up earlier you could see tigers nest from that spot but now it's in the clouds. She was very pleased with herself. I am not sure why she had to let me know that she had had a good view and we had missed it.
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