Bhutan: Kingdom in the Clouds

  • Trip Type: Land
  • 11 Days | Paro to Phobjikha
  • Group Size: Max 24

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, the Taktsang Lhakhang (Tiger's Nest Temple), and participate in an intimate butter lamp ceremony with the monks of Gangtey Goemba.
    • Get a personal perspective on contemporary Bhutan while mingling with community leaders and government dignitaries at a special banquet.
    • Stay at the spectacular Zhiwa Ling Hotel, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World that exemplifies the artistry of Bhutanese architecture.
    • Experience a traditional festival, and visit a family farmhouse to learn about rural life.

Itinerary - 11 Days

Day 1 — Bangkok, Thailand

Arrive in Bangkok this evening and check in to our hotel.
Novotel Suvarnabhumi Hotel

Day 2 — Paro, Bhutan

Fly to Bhutan's Paro Valley (7,300 feet), and visit Ta Dzong, a 17th-century fortress overlooking the Paro Valley. 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 3 — Punakha

After a special Buddhist blessing ceremony, journey to Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan. This afternoon, visit Chimi Lhakhang, a small but famous temple in the center of the golden Punakha Valley. Settle into our hotel and enjoy dinner together.
RKPO Green Resort or Zhingkham Resort (B,L,D)

Day 4 — 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.
RKPO Green Resort or Zhingkham Resort (B,L,D)

Day 5 — Phobjikha

Travel to the beautiful alpine valley of Phobjikha (10,000 feet), the largest wintering site for the endangered black-necked crane. Along the way, the environment changes from semi-tropical to pine forest, and then to an alpine zone that is home to several species of rhododendron, dwarf bamboo, and Grey Langur monkeys.
Dewachen Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 6 — Phobjikha

Against a backdrop of forest-clad mountains, Gangtey Goemba temple complex rises dramatically from a cluster of hilltop cottages. One of the oldest Nyingma monasteries in Bhutan, Gangtey Goemba has recently been renovated, allowing us to examine the fine workmanship of Bhutan’s best woodcarvers, sculptors, and painters. Our visit coincides with the annual Crane Festival, a charming mix of traditional masked and folk dances. Held in the courtyard of the Goemba, this festival was created by the community to raise awareness for the rare cranes that winter in the valley. Today is also celebrated throughout the country as “Children’s Day” in honor of the fourth king’s birthday. After the festival, set off on a half-day hike, stopping to visit with a village family along the way.
Dewachen Lodge (B,L,D)

Day 7 — Thimphu

Travel to Thimphu (7,900 feet), the capital of Bhutan. Cross the Dochu La pass (10,000 feet) en route and gaze at a 200-mile panorama of Himalayan peaks (weather permitting). Tonight, get a behind-the-scenes perspective on contemporary Bhutan during a lively Bhutanese banquet with members of the government, local dignitaries, and respected professionals.
Taj Tashi Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 8 — Thimphu/Paro

Spend the morning exploring the country’s more modern side in Thimphu. Visit the National Textile Museum, where Bhutan’s finest weavings and brocades are on display. Return to Paro in the afternoon and settle back in at the Zhiwa Ling.
Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)

Day 9 — Paro

Our journey in the kingdom culminates with 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. This evening, celebrate your Bhutanese adventure at a festive farewell dinner.
Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)

Days 10 & 11 — Paro/Bangkok, Thailand

Fly to Bangkok and check in to 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 more than 25 years. Her primary area of study is the role of the feminine divine in South Asian history and culture. She has authored four books and produced more than a dozen films for National Geographic, PBS, the BBC, and others. Carroll serves on the board of the Nekorpa Foundation, which strives to preserve sacred pilgrimage sites and traditions. She travels regularly to Bhutan, and enjoys introducing National Geographic travelers to this mountain nation, with its constitutionally mandated commitment to Gross National Happiness.

Carroll will join the following departure:

Nov 06 - 16, 2018



  • Sep 13 - 23, 2018 ALT
  • Nov 06 - 16, 2018 (waitlist only)

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 November 2018 departure, which include the Crane Festival in Phobjikha. Festivals and celebrations on other departures include:

  • Paro festival on the March 2018 departure
  • Thimphu festival on the September 2018 departure
  • Expedition Cost



    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 Traveler Photo

    Activity Level


    Travelers should be physically fit and prepared for multiple hours of activity (e.g. hiking, kayaking, biking) each day.

    Click here for a description of all activity levels.

    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.