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Bhutan: Kingdom in the Clouds

  • 12-day journey into the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan
  • Explore Paro, Punakha, Thimphu, and mountain villages.

Expedition Details

 

Within the folds of Bhutan's mountains lie sacred temples, dazzling rice fields, and villages unchanged by time. On this magical journey, experience the wonders of the last Mahayana Buddhist kingdom of the Himalaya. Hike to ancient dzongs, meet local families, wander through serene monasteries, discover unique artistic traditions, and witness one of Bhutan’s spectacular local festivals.

Trip Highlights

  • Hike to Bhutan's most famous pilgrimage site, Taktsang Lhakhang (Tiger's Nest Temple), and explore Gangtey Goemba, one of the oldest private monasteries in the country.
  • Mingle with community leaders and government dignitaries at a banquet dinner, and gain insight into modern Bhutan.
  • Witness colorful parades and processions at vibrant local festivals.
  • Stay at the spectacular Zhiwa Ling, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World that exemplifies the artistry of Bhutanese architecture.

Itinerary - 12 Days

Days 1 & 2 — U.S./Bangkok, Thailand

Depart the U.S., cross the international date line, and arrive in Bangkok the next night.
Novotel Suvarnabhumi Hotel

Day 3 — Paro, Bhutan

Fly to Bhutan's Paro Valley (7,300 feet), and visit the seventh-century Kyichu Lhakhang temple. Explore our stunning hotel—a member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World collection—before a welcome dinner tonight.
Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 4 — Punakha

This morning, witness a Buddhist blessing ceremony for the safe passage of our group throughout the kingdom. Then journey to Punakha, Bhutan’s ancient capital.
Meri Puensum Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 5 — Punakha

After an invigorating hike to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten, a spectacularly situated temple, be rewarded for your efforts with incredible views of the valley below. Then visit the Punakha Dzong, an impressive fortress guarding the southern end of the valley at the confluence of the Pho (male) and Mo (female) Rivers.
Meri Puensum Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 6 — Phobjikha

Travel to the alpine valley of Phobjikha (10,000 feet), considered one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan. It is also the largest wintering site of endangered black-necked cranes, which arrive in November and stay through March.
Dewachen Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 7 — Phobjikha

Against a backdrop of forest-clad mountains, Gangtey Goemba, one of the oldest private monasteries in Bhutan, rises dramatically from a cluster of hilltop cottages. After examining the workmanship of Bhutan’s finest artisans at this recently restored temple complex, take part in a butter-lamp-lighting ceremony. Then set off on a half-day hike, stopping to meet a family at a farmhouse and visit a local school.
Dewachen Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 8 — Thimphu

Travel to Thimphu (7,900 feet), the present capital of Bhutan and home to the royal family. En route, stop at the Dochu La pass (10,000 feet) to admire thousands of prayer flags fluttering in the wind and (weather permitting) 200 miles of Himalayan summits. Visit the National Textile Museum in Thimphu, where Bhutan’s finest weavings and brocades—considered spiritual expressions that are admired for their sophistication and diversity—are on display. Tonight, get a behind-the-scenes perspective on contemporary Bhutan during a lively banquet with members of the government, local dignitaries, and respected professionals.
Taj Tashi Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 9 — Paro

This morning, set off on a hike to the most famous pilgrimage site in Bhutan: Taktsang Lhakhang, or the Tiger’s Nest Temple (9,300 feet). Visible from afar, this stunning monastery clings to a vertical granite cliff 2,000 feet above the valley floor. Spend the afternoon exploring Paro or relaxing at our comfortable, Bhutanese-style hotel.
Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 10 — Paro/Paro Teschu Festival

Perched majestically above the town of Paro, the Paro Dzong is one of the oldest dzongs in Bhutan and still serves as the administrative and religious center of the valley. Visit the dzong and enjoy a full day of celebrations at the Paro Tsechu festival. Bhutan’s festivals are joyous expressions of its Buddhist culture. People travel from distant valleys and towns to socialize, celebrate their thriving Buddhist heritage, and enjoy one of the most important events on the Bhutanese calendar. This evening, celebrate your Bhutanese adventure at a festive farewell dinner.
Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)

Days 11 & 12 — Paro/Bangkok, Thailand/U.S.

Fly to Bangkok and check into our hotel. The following morning, transfer to the airport for your return flight, arriving home the same day.
Novotel Suvarnabhumi Hotel (B,L; B)

Optional Extension

Related Trips

National Geographic Expert

Carroll Dunham

Carroll  DunhamMedical anthropologist Carroll Dunham has resided in the Himalaya for the past 25 years and currently resides in Nepal. An expert in Himalayan cultures, she is passionate about sacred geography, pilgrimage, and indigenous medicinal plants. Carroll has written four books and produced films for National Geographic, PBS, and the BBC. Carroll is the director of Wild Earth, an organization that works with rural Nepalese women who create handcrafted products to generate income.

Carroll will join the following departure:

Nov 05 - 16, 2016

SEE OTHER EXPERTS »

Dates

2016
  • Mar 11 - 22, 2016
  • Sep 03 - 14, 2016 ALT
  • Nov 05 - 16, 2016 ALT

ALT indicates a departure that has a slightly different itinerary than the one shown on this page. Click the ALT icon to see the day-to-day itinerary.

The itinerary shown describes the March 2016 departure, which includes the Paro Tsechu festival on Day 10. Festivals or celebrations on other departures include a private masked dance performance in September; and the Crane Festival in November.

Expedition Cost

2016

$6,695

Prices are per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $2,175. There is an additional Bhutanese government tourism tariff of $400 per person.

International airfare to/from Bangkok and airfare between Bangkok and Paro is not included in the expedition cost. The group flights between Bangkok and Paro are $960 (subject to change).

Featured Expedition Moment

What To Expect

The average elevation in Bhutan is 8,000 feet above sea level. This is an active trip, not suitable for those with cardiac, respiratory, or circulatory disorders, or limited mobility. We stay at first-class hotels in Bangkok, Paro, and Thimphu; a Bhutanese-style hotel in Punakha; and a rustic lodge in Phobjika.