Hidden in the Himalayas lies the small kingdom of Bhutan, once cut off from the outside world for centuries. Traveling through Bhutan is like travelling through a unique country where traditions thrive, the king is honoured as a god and well-being is measured by the Gross National Happiness.
A journey through Bhutan is like experiencing a series of highlights. To set you on your way, here you’ll find some Bhutan travel tips from Suchie, our travel expert who lived in Bhutan for years.
1. Attend a traditional festival
All over the country locals celebrate annual multi-day festivals called tsechus. It’s worth the effort to tailor your trip to be able to attend one, because a tsechu is sure to be a highlight of your trip.
Bhutanese come together from all over the world, dressed in their most beautiful traditional clothes. The festivals often take place in a dzong, an impressive monastery fort. In the courtyard, monks perform the holy cham dance. Dressed in brightly coloured clothes and equipped with frightening masks, they act out countless myths and legends. It’s spectacular to see and attending the festival is a great opportunity to get in touch with the happy Bhutanese.
2. Experience the weekend market of Thimphu
On Saturday and Sunday, the market of the capital town of Thimphu is the place to be. In a two-storey building, everything the fertile Bhutanese land has to offer is sold. Check out the exotic fruits and vegetables, special products like edible ferns, red and green pepper, cheese, incense, herbs, dried fish, areca nuts and various types of rice. It’s wonderful to watch the residents of Thimphu carry about their daily life and to see how friendly the vendors are.
3. Marvel at houses painted with phalluses
The first time it will surprise you, and frankly you never really get used to it. The Bhutanese joyfully decorate their houses with big phallic symbols. The aim is to bring happiness and drive away demons. This custom was introduced by the Divine Madman, a well-known eccentric saint in Bhutan. Near Punakha is the temple of the Divine Madman and in this area you’ll find the most phalluses. They are not only painted on houses, but also found in wooden form, hanging in doorways. Extraordinary!
4. Bathe in a hot stone bath
Bhutanese believe in the healing effect of traditional hot stone baths. Large stones are heated in a fire for about six hours. Narrow wooden baths are filled with water. Then the glowing stones are laid in the water, which will heat the entire bath. It gets extremely hot! Once you get over the initial hesitations, you step into the water and soak for at least forty-five minutes. Welcome to the Bhutanese way of staying healthy!
5. Admire the dzong of Trongsa
Bhutan is famous for its dzongs, huge monastery fortresses. Dzongs are the religious, military, administrative and social centres of their district. Half of the fort is designed for administrative purposes; the other half has a religious function. Here you will find the temple and the rooms of the monks. Visiting a dzong is an impressive experience. The massive walls tower above you and the courtyards are beautifully decorated with paintings and sculptures. The surroundings of the dzongs are also fantastic. The Dzong of Trongsa is located in the middle of the country on a rocky platform above a ravine. The fort is surrounded by mountains and overlooks the wild Mangde Chu River, guaranteeing a spectacular view.
Tours of Bhutan
Do you want to get inspired for your own Bhutan tour? Check out our travel ideas based on experiences from travellers like you.