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Ringed by the staggering peaks of the Himalaya, Bhutan is a remote Buddhist kingdom where age-old traditions hold strong. Amid verdant valleys dotted with historic fortresses and shrines, delve into Bhutan’s rich culture with a private guide, discovering how everyday life is intertwined with Mahayana Buddhism. Meet with monks, nuns, farmers, and artisans; take part in ancient rituals; and witness firsthand the cautious evolution of this tiny kingdom.
Get a glimpse into rural Bhutanese life on a private tour of Thimphu's Folk Heritage Museum and during a visit to a local farmstead in the Paro valley.
Visit the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup temple in Punakha and receive a blessing from the resident nuns.
Decorate ritual cakes to offer to deities, and participate in a butter-lamp offering with monks.
Itinerary - 9 Days
Day 1 — Arrive Bangkok, Thailand
Arrive in Bangkok for an overnight stop on your journey to Bhutan. Transfer independently to your airport hotel, connected to the terminals by covered walkways. Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel
Day 2 — Bangkok/Paro, Bhutan/Thimphu
The adventure begins on your way to the kingdom in the clouds, before your feet even touch the ground: On a clear day, the flight from Thailand over the eastern Himalaya offers extraordinary views of the range’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest. Upon landing in Paro, travel to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital and the best place to witness the country’s newly embraced modernity. Meet your Bhutanese guide, who will travel with you throughout your stay. Then spend an afternoon in the city at leisure, browsing its handicraft shops, exploring neighborhoods where the old vies with the new, or mingling with locals at a karaoke bar. Taj Tashi Thimphu (B, L)
Day 3 — Thimphu
Delve deeper into Thimphu on a private tour of the city. Gain insight into rural Bhutanese life at the Folk Heritage Museum, a replica of a traditional mud-and-timber farmhouse. Observe the delicate artistry involved in creating deh-sho, or locally handmade paper, at the Jungshi Paper Factory. Walk alongside local parents to Changangkha Lhakhang, a 12th-century monastery popular for providing blessings to newborns. End your excursion at a wildlife sanctuary for the takin, Bhutan's national animal, described as having the body of a cow and the head of a goat. Taj Tashi Thimphu (B, L)
Day 4 — Thimphu/Punakha
This morning, visit Thimphu's Royal Textile Academy and admire the displays of intricate and diverse Bhutanese weavings, which are considered spiritual expressions. Journey to Punakha by way of the Dochu La pass. With its circular formation of 108 chortens set against a panoramic backdrop of majestic mountains, the pass is an awe-inspiring and spiritual place. Upon arrival in Punakha, set out on a hike through the surrounding rice paddies to Chimi Lhakhang—a temple blessed by Drukpa Kunley, known as the "Mad Saint." Zhingkham Resort (B, L, D)
Day 5 — Punakha
Spend the day discovering Punakha, the old capital of Bhutan that still retains its regal feel. Hike to the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, a colorful temple poised on a scenic mountain ridge overlooking the Punakha valley. After lunch, explore the elaborately designed fortress of Punakha Dzong; its positioning at the confluence of the Mo (mother) and Pho (father) Rivers helps make this dzong one of the most beautiful in the country. End the day with a blessing from the nuns at the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup temple and nunnery. Zhingkham Resort (B, L, D)
Day 6 — Punakha/Paro
Travel through the emerald rice paddies and quaint farming villages of the Paro valley, and visit Jangtsa Dumtseg Lhakhang, a unique temple designed in the architectural style of a chorten. Settle into the stunning Zhiwa Ling Hotel, a National Geographic Unique Lodge that celebrates the artistry of Bhutanese architecture and embodies the principles of the country’s Gross National Happiness initiative. Immerse yourself in the peaceful customs of the Bhutanese as you linger in the lodge’s intricate temple, meditation house, and tearoom. Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B, L)
Day 7 — Paro
Spend the day discovering Paro. Visit the National Museum of Bhutan, and admire the impressive architecture of the Paro Dzong, a stronghold that once defended the country from Tibetan invasions. Lunch at a local farmstead, and then return to the lodge for an afternoon devoted to Bhutanese traditions—an experience exclusively offered to National Geographic travelers. Learn how ritual cakes are baked and decorated to offer the deities, and participate in a butter-lamp offering with monks. Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B, L)
Day 8 — Paro/Taktsang Lhakhang/Paro
Your journey through Bhutan culminates at the kingdom’s most iconic site: Taktsang Lhakhang, famously called the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. This majestic structure is poised high above the Paro valley, built dramatically on the ledge of a granite cliff face. Make the steep, strenuous trek to the temple or hike to a nearby viewpoint, taking in a landscape dotted with pine trees, prayer flags, and ancient shrines. Enjoy lunch at the home of a local farmer before returning to Paro for the evening. Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B, L)
Day 9 — Bangkok, Thailand/Depart
Depart for Bangkok, where you can connect with your international flight home. (B)
About Private Expeditions
National Geographic Private Expeditions are specially crafted itineraries designed for independent travelers that combine guided excursions, fascinating insights into culture and wildlife, and top accommodations. Simply select a trip and decide whom you'd like to travel with and when you want to travel. We'll take care of the rest.
Prices are per person, double occupancy and are subject to availability. Single traveler prices are available upon request. For 2018 price inquires please call our reservations specialists.
Internal flights between Bangkok and Paro are an additional $850 (subject to change). International airfare to and from Bangkok is not included in the expedition cost.
A holiday surcharge may apply to certain travel dates based upon international or local holidays, as well as local events and festivals.
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives, or easy hikes, with options for more physical activities such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and biking.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.
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Call to speak with a specialist about this trip.
Other Important Details
We will be traveling at high elevations while in Bhutan. Paro, Thimpu and Punakha are at an altitude of 7,200-7,600 feet and Tiger's Nest Monastery is at 10,000 feet. Participants should be physically fit. This expedition is not suitable for anyone who suffers from a respiratory disorder, a circulatory ailment, or a disability that limits mobility. Please contact our reservations specialists to learn about the level of physical activity on this trip. The activity level can be decreased or increased based on your preference.