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Bhutan Trip Report- Active & Cultural trip

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Bhutan Trip Report- Active & Cultural trip

Old Mar 23rd, 2016, 06:09 PM
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We got to the top and there were only a couple people up there with us. There are a couple temples to visit...very fun to see. The temples are very small...could only accommodate a handful of people...so I would not want to be there when the throngs arrived. If you go...bring a second pair of thick wooly socks. I had thin ones on and I thought I was going to get frostbite my feet were so cold. The clouds parted as we finished touring the temples...the sun was shining...and we had fantastic views and great pictures. We started our way back down...and stopped ...because a ton of people started descending on the place. We ate some beef jerky and granola bars and let them pass. We virtually had no company on the way down. It was nice. It was very sunny and we got great pictures on the way down. So I have two sets. Cloudy mystical ones and sunny postcard type photos.

There was no one heading up...and we asked Tashi if people did the hike in the afternoon. He said not really. If I was not a speedy walker then I would do the hike in the afternoon. It is warmer..sunnier...but you can dress for that. I think viewing Tigers Nest with a ton of people would be annoying and claustrophobic. BTW - Tigers Nest closes from 1-2 PM each day.

There is a cafeteria midway up...I bet the food is bad but we didn't stop there.
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Old Mar 23rd, 2016, 06:21 PM
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There are some trinket sellers at the base of Tigers Nest. I had been toying with a necklace in town for $150. I found something I liked just as well from a trinket seller for $8.

Which brings me to shopping. Ok...there are these wine bottle covers that they sell all over the place. Saw them in Downtown Thimpu for 280 NU. We used the pricing on these to gauge whether the place was a rip off. We had them offered to us anywhere from 200 to 400. We bought some for 200 (around $3). There is a two block area in Paro that is basically souvenir shops. Yesterday I saw sort of a pretty lidded jar - it was made of a smokey white crystal, covered with gold filagree ( silver dipped in gold) with some red and green gemstones set. I am guessing it came from India. Anyway...the first store I saw it in she offered for 17,000 NU. Then quickly dropped it to 15000 NU. ( 6500 NU = $100). I said I would think about it. The next place I see the same thing...she offers at 35,000. Then she drops to 25000. Then she asked me what I would pay. I decided to forget it. The only reason I bring this up is I think I read somewhere they don't negotiate .
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Old Mar 24th, 2016, 01:29 AM
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I did buy the cutest little handmade snow leopard toy at the Uma Paro gift shop. It was from some Bhutanese handcraft consortium . The only other place I saw these was at the airport. $29 at Uma - $50 at airport. Btw - the wine covers are 750nu at the airport.
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Old Mar 24th, 2016, 06:41 AM
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I think it used to be that they didn't negotiate o prices, but as you experienced, that has changed!
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Old Mar 24th, 2016, 05:27 PM
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What fun to follow along with you. Thanks for writing.
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Old Mar 24th, 2016, 06:36 PM
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Zhiwa Ling Hotel. -I opted to stay at this hotel because it was written up as 100% Bhutanese owned 5 star etc. we had a gorgeous room - the Takin Suite. I upgraded to a one bedroom suite since...at the time of booking..it was not much more than a regular room. We were on the top (3rd) floor corner. The room was huge, goegeous , pretty little sitting balcony. Pretty view. Big bathroom with heated floors. More amenities (shampoo, combs,sewing kits etc etc etc) than I have ever seen any place.. The floors squeaked like nobodies business...so if you stay here a third floor room is a must. ( however there is no elevator so you will be walking upstairs to your room). The building is very ornate...there is a buddist alter/ prayer room on the third floor. There are several outer buildings that have rooms...we did not check those out. There is a tea house and separate spa that has a sauna and steam you can use for free even if you don't get a treatment. The grounds are lovely and the hotel was written up by National Geographic as he of the most interesting/ unique places to stay in in the world. That said...the property has about 44 rooms...and it might as well have 200. There was nothing warm about the place...the staff. I have read about staff turnover there...if there was a GM on site we never saw him or met him the 4 days/3 nights we stayed there.

The location is about 10-15 minutes outside of town...which doesn't matter unless you wanted to have dinner in town.

The breakfast was decent...omelet station ..a variety of pre cooked hot dishes..cereals breads etc. it is a common theme in Bhutan that the breakfast is generally the best offering of a hotel. If the breakfast is bad don't even think about dinner. Which brings me to the dinner. It was a gross buffet of bland tasteless stuff.
There was no price disclosed...and my husband was guessing it was going to cost $10 per person. I said no way...this is a hotel...probably $25 per person. Ha. Including the 20% tax and sc that is added to all bills...it was almost $100. That would make it the single biggest rip off of the trip. We were done eating in less than 10 minutes. We each got a plate of food...had a few bites...done. Furthermore - the ambience...the lights were so bright you could have performed an operation in there. ( we noticed that at Dhensa hotel...I think some wannabe hotels crank up the lights at night to show off that they have electricity??). The clientele seemed to be a mix of tour groups...and then next to us was a man and his girlfriend ( I hope) or wife ( I hope not)). After they completed their dinner he whipped out dental floss and flossed each and every tooth. I know I can't fault the hotel for that but since I have never witnessed such a thing I had to report on it.
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Old Mar 24th, 2016, 06:55 PM
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Loving your hotel reports!
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Old Mar 24th, 2016, 06:57 PM
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Of course we checked out the two other high end hotels in town. To give an idea of pricing (double check me on the internet because I am going from memory) I think Zhiwa Ling is $375, Uma Paro $600ish, Aman Paro $1550. Add to all 20% tax and SC. I believe Uma and Aman include dinner and Zhiwa Ling did not...which narrows things between ZL and Uma. In terms of location - Aman is 20-25 minutes outside of town, ZL is 10-15 minutes outside of town, and Uma is 5 minutes up a hill from town.

We had a drink at Aman. The property was the best of the 3 Amans we visited...and it had the best view of (gorgeous snow covered mountains) of the three properties we saw in Paro. If I were to stay at one Aman it would be this one due to spectacular setting. The drink was good and they brought a nice little tray of smoked salmon on a potato chip. There were 4 - delicious - they offered more but we declined. Also brought a nice dish of almonds and cashews. The view was divine.

We had dinner at Uma. Like Uma Punahka, the food was excellent. There is a circular dining room wth views of the valley. One side of the room ( right side) has the views- and we got a great table overlooking the valley. I had scallops with pumpkin gnocchi to start, an awesome pork chop in chimichurri, chopped salad side dish ( sounds boring but was divine) My husband had lamb shank. He had both desserts, a chocolate mini tart thing and some ice cream. I was too full but he said both were great and they looked great. It is not cheap to eat there...food alone is prix fixe..$80 ++...so $192...then if you throw in a bottle of wine....you get the picture. Uma had a lovely gift shop...really pretty things. That is where I got my snow leopard.

So... I am happy to report that knowing what I know now...I would have stayed exactly where we ended up staying...and kept the (amended) itinerary that we had.
The one thing I would consider if I were planning a trip...is consider flying to Bumthang then driving back to Paro. It would probably amount to the same amount of drive time that we did ( not positive about that) but you would only be driving one way. I think there is one flight a weeke from Paro to Bumthang on Tuesday. ( I read that in a magazine so I could be wrong)
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Old Mar 24th, 2016, 06:59 PM
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Thank you Kathie and Marija...it is time consuming to write all this but I have found so much invaluable info on this forum that I make myself pay back!
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Old Mar 24th, 2016, 07:10 PM
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Druk Air...I have to say I didn't expect much - but was quite pleasantly surprised. We flew biz class which is totally worth it. On our flight from Paro to BKK yesterday - the airport was crowded but there is a separate civilized room with big leather cushy chairs where you complete the check in process. As I mentioned earlier...you also get a higher baggage limit. From there you go upstairs to the Druk Lounge which was very nice with wifi food etc. the only downside was the jerk who was complaining about his internet service at Gangtey Lodge was on our flight...he was regaling his trip and various dietary issues to some poor couple in the lounge. I am so happy he was not an American. At boarding time they come and get you..escort you through security and directly into the plane. On the flight from Paro to BKK you apparently want to be on the right side of the plane ��- I viewed the snow capped mountains across the aisle. We stopped in some town in India along the way. Food was very good...much better than many meals I had in Bhutan. One important note on Druk....and I have read this elsewhere...the flight times seem to be approximate. Our ticket said 11:30 departure...Kencho knew it had changed to 11 AM. Just so you know...our flight was taxing away at 10:59. So don't cut things too close.
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Old Mar 25th, 2016, 02:47 AM
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Thanks so much for this report, it has been extremely helpful!

Am now reconsidering the Zhiwa Ling though in favour of Uma.

We are down to fly back from Bhumthang to Paro rather than drive although I have now been told that Paro is on the list of most dangerous airports in the world so flying in twice is worrying! Did you find it scary?

Perhaps a stupid question but re hiking....are hiking boots necessary or will Merrells do the job....unfortunately having to consider the luggage allowances as we have 3 weeks in India beforehand!
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Old Mar 25th, 2016, 05:05 AM
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This was a wonderful trip report. You made me laugh and smile along the way. Your descriptions of the hotels you stayed at were awesome and helpful. The details about your hikes were fantastic. Just like Craig inspired your trip, you are going to inspire mine. So glad you had a great time. Thank you!
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Old Mar 25th, 2016, 07:15 AM
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Thank you for this wonderful report, chichi!
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Old Mar 25th, 2016, 02:51 PM
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Warm Saturday morning greetings from Tokyo to the OP, chichichicago - and thank you kindly for taking the time to post such a thoughtful (and delightfully humour-filled) trip report. Brought back fine memories of our Bhutan sojourn last July.

You have a good sense of adventure, so the following could appeal: we had the best time this past Christmas and New Year's in Patagonia and later, interior Antarctica. The holiday was bookended by business meetings in Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires, as noted by all-too-brief reviews on my profile page. Will be returning to Antarctica this late-December for some climbing with friends.

Thanks again, chichichicago, for your brilliant writing. Should your travels ever take you back to our fine home of Singapore, happy to assist with suggestions. Warm Easter greetings from Tokyo - and later next week for more meetings and sakura with friends in Kyoto; so cherish Japan this time of year,

robert


... Singapore Airlines, You're a Great Way to Fly ...
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Old Mar 25th, 2016, 07:33 PM
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Cyansiam- the airport didn't phase me...but I am not a jittery flyer. Those roads are hair raising...so I guess pick your poison. �� I personally would fly. The driving is tedious and nerve wracking.

I am THRILLED that you asked about hiking footwear! There is something very funny I saw at Tigers Nest! I forgot to mention! People wear everything on their feet there. Flip flops, slip on sneakers etc. However....I am not kidding...I saw a woman wearing pink patent leather chunky heeled dress shoes! Unfortunately my camera was not handy...she was coming up when I was headed down. So..you can wear whatever you want. That said...we both wore hiking shoes and I was glad. You encounter everything on the hikes we did...rocks, mud, streams, rain,snow,sand, steep, ankle deep leaves etc. Tashi - our sure footed guide- wore sneakers on a couple hikes- but mostly true hiking shoes. My hiking boots are Merrill - mid height( i.e. Not over the ankle)... So I am not totally sure what kind of shoes you have? If you are only doing one hike then you can wing it. Otherwise I would bring hiking shoes. As long as I am on the topic of "gear" we also brought the back packs with the water ( camel backs) and the collapsible hiking poles. I get very thirsty hiking in altitude and like hands free water drinking - and those hiking sticks are part of the save the knees program. They do not sell either thing in Bhutan. They were renting bamboo hiking sticks at the base of Tigers Nest.
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Old Mar 25th, 2016, 07:48 PM
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Speaking of weight limits on baggage...when we were checking into our flight at Etihad at Ohare...there was a family ( who looked like terrorists from a New Yorker cartoon) trying to check in a bag that weighed 44 kg. The gate agent was trying to explain that they could not check a single bag that weighed that much. There was a language issue between gate agent and said family. Gate agent spoke a couple languages but not one that these people could understand. It appeared they were willing to pay excess baggage fees...however there must be some rule about the weight of a single piece of luggage because gate agent wasn't going for it. So my husband leans over helpfully suggested to the family " you could remove the bomb to get the weight down in that bag". ( Mind you this was two weeks ago and it was funny then...maybe not so now - after Brussels? At the time it was like a Saturday night live skit...so take it in the vein it was intended)
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Old Mar 25th, 2016, 08:10 PM
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Anyway...we take junky clothes on trips like these...and pitch them when we are done. The bellboy at Zhiwa Ling thought we had forgotten to pack the stack of clothes we left by the garbage can. We said no we didn't want them...he was thrilled.

Robert- I had the pleasure of working for a Japanese investment bank for 10 years...and was able to visit Kyoto...which is fantastic...I do agree.

We did a Chile trip a few years ago....Patagonia , Atacama and Easter Island. Stayed at Explora lodges in the first two spots ( which also should make my short list of hotels that rock- Lolazahra you should check them out) loved the hiking. You are spot on. One thing I didn't realize...is that even though Easter Island is part of Chile it is a 6 hour flight off the coast of Chile. oops.

I have only been to Singapore once...I was enroute from somewhere. My husband wasn't with me...so I went to the concierge at the Ritz and told him I wanted to do a tour of some sort. He suggested the night zoo. I said ok. I walked around all day...loved Singapore. Around 6 pm I boarded a motor coach to the zoo. I was very happy I took this tour. I have a Bengal cat which is a cross between a domestic cat and an Asian Bengal . I could never understand how they could mix a 10 pound domestic cat with what I thought was a giant 200 lb jungle animal. Well...on my tour of the zoo I saw an Asian Bengal and it weighed 15-20 lbs. so then it all made much more sense.
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Old Mar 26th, 2016, 11:57 AM
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Chichi,

Will look up the lodges for sure!

Make sure you tell us where to next!

I think we will head somewhere in South America next, but Bhutan is next on our list when we make it back to Asia, due to you and Craig!

Thanks!
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Old Mar 26th, 2016, 01:51 PM
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Wonderful report, thanks for all the details. Bhutan has been high on my list for some time. If I get there anytime soon, this will be a great model.
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Old Mar 26th, 2016, 10:42 PM
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Okay a shorter scare on the plane would be preferable to continual ones in a car. I get the feeling I will need a relaxing beach holiday after this trip!

I think the merrills will do (will leave the pink dress shoes at home), we cannot get decent walking/hiking boots here and the cheap ones keeping rotting so....

Thanks for the other tips.
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