12 Day Itinerary in Bhutan

Out Of This World

Dzongs, gongs and tshewang (blessings), hikes through breathtaking mountains and vales, Bhutanese heritage and Buddhist philosophy, Black-necked Cranes, untouched landscapes and sacred lakes.

Do the roads less travelled appeal to you? Bhutan is the kind of place where one goes to get lost — and finds oneself instead.

From the rushing river in Punakha, to rugged Himalayan trails in Bumthang, sacred shrines in Paro and migratory birds in Phobjikha, one can keep returning to Bhutan and still not see it all.

Interact with monks at ancient monasteries in Gangtey, discover the weaving culture of Bhutan in Thimphu, get up close with wild yaks and takins, and experience the awe-inspiring beauty of Bhutan’s Himalayas.

This twelve day journey will expose you to the Bhutan’s best-kept secrets. Its natural beauty and cultural depth will leave you deeply inspired.

Don’t miss highlights like the Chimi Lakhang temple of fertility, the centuries-old Punakha dzong or Tiger’s Nest in Paro.

You will travel across Bhutan by air and road. Enjoy hikes along some of the best-known mountain trails, visit ancient dzongs, and connect with locals throughout your journey. Encounters Asia arranges for you to stay in experiential hotels with a touch of ethnic character. You will find friendly staff, experienced guides, wholesome cuisine, and luxurious accommodations throughout your trip.

Our tour leaders, guides and naturalists are local and lead you seamlessly throughout your journey. Buckle up, and let us take you on the trip of a lifetime to Bhutan!

Who It’s For

This itinerary is ideal for the true traveller, who enjoys a blend of culture, nature and adventure. All the hotels we use on this trip are extremely luxurious and well-equipped for an effortless stay. Our team on the ground is local, and well-versed in the history, culture and biodiversity of Bhutan.

Difficulty

While the hikes and rafting are not unduly strenuous, it is important to keep Bhutan’s high altitudes in mind, and therefore one must be fairly fit to do this trip.

Our Travel Style

Rugged yet refined. Explore the beauty of Bhutan’s mountain landscapes and culture in comfort and style. From towns like Thimphu and Paro, to the remote villages scattered in Bumthang and Phobjikha, you will venture deep into Bhutan to discover untold beauty and heritage.

Client Reviews

Tour Program

Day 01

Arrive in Paro and transfer to Thimphu

Your airplane makes a dramatic descent through the Himalayas, as you touch down in Paro. Upon arrival, you will pass through Bhutanese immigration and customs at Paro Airport.

Your Encounters Asia representative will meet you after you’ve cleared customs, and a private car and driver will be waiting to take you to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan by road.

Transfer from Paro to Thimphu, a one and a half hour drive through Bhutan’s gorgeous valleys. Pause en-route to visit Tamchog Lhakhang.

Don’t miss the amazing iron bridge, that has been reconstructed using original chain links from the Tibetan bridge builder, Thangtong Gyelpo. Arrive in Thimphu and check in to your hotel, the Zhiwa Ling Ascent. After you freshen up, you can choose to enjoy lunch at the hotel or at a local restaurant in town.

After lunch, your guide will take you on a tour of Thimphu. Drive out to Buddha Dordenma, an enormous statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha.

The statue is filled with over one hundred thousand smaller Buddha statues made of bronze and gilded with gold. Head over to Motithang, to visit the Royal Takin Reserve. The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan and is an extremely unusual bovine that looks like a cow crossbred with a goat, and is found only in some parts of the Himalayan region.

According to Bhutanese legend, the Takin is a creation of the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kunley, who is revered across the country.

Day 1 – Highlights

Buddha Dordenma, Royal Takin Reserve

Overnight – Zhiwa Ling Ascent

Where You Will Sleep

Zhiwa Ling Ascent

Sleek and chic, the Zhiwa Ling Ascent is a boutique concept hotel, nestled within serene park-like environs, just beyond the city centre in Thimphu. The hotel features wholesome and delicious local and international cuisine. It also offers guests yoga and a spa facility, as well as a rooftop bar with gorgeous views of the surrounding landscape.

The rooms are simple yet elegant, and feature hard-wood floors, clean lines and abundant natural light. All rooms are heated and include a minibar, wifi, a safe, television, and a tea and coffee making facility.

Day 02

Thimphu

Begin the day with an energetic hike to Tango Goemba. Situated a little north of Thimphu, this monastery is situated within a beautiful rhododendron forest. The original monastery dates back to the 12th century, and the present building was built in the 15th century by Lama Drukpa Kunley (the Divine Madman). Today, it’s a Buddhist university with 280 monks.

Continue to visit the National Institute for Zorig Chusum, where traditional Bhutanese art and crafts are taught to students.

Learn about Bhutanese painting and the thirteen traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan.

Visit the Royal Textile Academy where you will learn about Bhutan’s ancient weaving culture and traditional handloom textiles.

Learn more about Bhutan’s crafts, as you continue to the Jungshi Paper Factory. Jungshi is famous for Deh-sho traditional paper that is made from the bark of the Daphne and Dhekap trees. Deh-Sho paper is used in monasteries to create sacred texts because it is immune to damage by insects. Return to your hotel in time for dinner.

Day 2 – Highlights

Tango Goemba, Royal Textile Museum, National Institute for Zorig Chusum, Jungshi Paper Factory

Overnight – Zhiwa Ling Ascent

Day 03

Thimphu – Bumthang

Early morning breakfast and checkout to drive to the airport in Paro, for your domestic flight to Bumthang. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. Check in and enjoy lunch.

This afternoon, visit the Jambay Lhakhang. According to ancient legend, it was built to appease a giant demon goddess.

Songtsen Gampo, a Tibetan King, decided to built 108 temples in one day, that would ground a demon ogress in the earth, and thereby allow for Buddhism to flourish in Tibet and Bhutan. The shrine at Jambay Lhakhang pins down the ogress’ left knee. It is also well known for the Ter Cham ceremony, where dancers traditionally perform a sacred dance naked, each October. A 20 minute walk brings you to Kurje Lakhang, dedicated to the Guru Rinpoche who brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century.

On your way back, visit the Bumthang Red Panda brewery and the cheese factory.

In the evening if you feel like a walk around Bumthang town, your guide will be happy to assist you. Evening at your leisure and dinner at your hotel.

Day 3 – Highlights

Jambay Lakhang, Kurje Lakhang, Red Panda Brewery and cheese factory

Overnight – Mountain Lodge

Where You Will Sleep:

The Mountain Lodge is lovingly run by a local family from Bumthang. Rustic yet refined, the façade of hand-hewn stone, gives way to interiors made from traditional Bhutanese pine. Simple yet elegant, the Mountain Lodge oozes warmth and hospitality from every pore.

Comfy beds, crisp linens, plush mattresses and well-appointed bathrooms make for a terrific stay. The food is a treat as the kitchen is personally overseen by the lady of the household, and guests are served wholesome cuisine made with local ingredients like buckwheat and red rice. The property also has hot stone baths and a yoga and meditation area, ideal for you to unwind after a day spent exploring the countryside.

Day 04

Bumthang

This morning, after breakfast at your lodge, we set out to explore the Bumthang region. Your destination this morning is the beautiful Tang Valley. You will visit Mebar Tsho, commonly known as the ‘burning lake’ which is actually a gorge through which the river runs. Mebar Tsho is an extremely sacred spot for the local residents of Tang.

Remote and removed, the Tang Valley is one of the most picturesque regions of Bhutan. Continue to visit the 16th century Naktshang (country manor)/Tang Ugyencholling Palace. Today the palace is a museum and a centre of learning for religious studies, research and solitude.

After lunch at the manor or a picnic in the countryside, your guide and driver will take you to the village of Bebzur, from where you will begin your hike on the Bushman Trail.

A delightful and relaxed hike for about half an hour brings you to Kharchu Dratshang. Walk through the pine forests, with lovey views of Pemacholling nunnery and Zangdopelri (Paradise of Ugyen Guru Rinpoche). As you reach the end of the trail you will come across a large open meadow.Your car will meet you at Kharchu Dratshang and drive you back to the lodge. The entire hike takes about 3 – 4 hours.

Return to your lodge in time for dinner.

Day 4 – Highlights

Mebar Tsho, Naktshang and Tang Ugyenchholing Palace, Hiking the Bushman Trail

Overnight – Mountain Lodge

Day 05

Bumthang – Phobjikha

After breakfast and checkout, drive from Bumthang to Phobjikha. En route, stop to visit the Yathra weaving centre, where people from 13 villages in Bumthang weave and sell traditional handloom and crafts. Continue to Trongsa Dzong. Built in 1648, it was the seat of power over central and eastern Bhutan.

Continue your drive through central Bhutan until you arrive in Phobjikha, one of the most picturesque valleys in Bhutan, and the winter roost for the Black-Necked Cranes that fly in from the Tibetan Plateau.

Head to the town of Gangtey, where you will spend the next couple of days. This evening head to Kuenzang Chholing Shedra, where you can watch the monks as they chant the evening prayers.

Day 5 – Highlights

Yathra Weaving Centre, Kuenzang Chholing Shedra

Overnight – Gangtey Lodge

Where You Will Sleep:

A cocoon of comfort and style, Gangtey Lodge is an idyllic retreat in the heart of the Phobjikha Valley. A serene home away from home, the lodge is styled like a traditional farm-house. The interiors are embellished by Bhutanese textiles, traditional motifs, and warm colours, to create a unique sense of place.

During your stay at Gangtey Lodge, you can also enjoy a range of experiences such as a hot-stone bath, outdoor picnic or dining in a traditional Bhutanese wood shed. Gangtey Lodge is also closely connected with the Gangtey Goemba and Shedra.

Day 06

Phobjikha

After breakfast this morning, your guide will take you to visit the Gangtey Goemba, where approximately 300 monks are in residence, studying the Nyingma sect of Buddhism. After you visit the Goemba, your guide will take you for a walk along the Gangtey Nature Trail. Rushing streams, local villages, rhododendron gardens and thick forests create the perfect backdrop for stunning views of the Himalayas.

Pass through the villages of Sumchubara and Khewang, before you reach Nake Chu, where your car and driver will be waiting to fetch you and take you to visit the Crane Information Center. Return to the Gangtey Lodge in time for lunch. The rest of the afternoon is at your leisure.

Day 6 – Highlights

Gangtey Goemba, Gangtey Nature Trail, Crane Information Centre

Overnight – Gangtey Lodge

Day 07

Phobjikha

This morning, explore the stunning natural beauty of Phobjikha with a hike along the Longteng trail. Descend through bush bamboo down the trail to a quaint village. Walk through vivid rhododendron forests and hike through the dense and beautiful old rhododendrons as you head uphill towards a pass from where you will see stunning views of the Gangtey Goemba, and the rest of the valley below.

As you descend once more, pause en route at the meditation huts where a local monk will take you through a guided meditation session, before you continue to the village of Kumbu, where your car and driver will be waiting to take you back to your lodge. After lunch, you can either opt to relax, or try your hand at a friendly game of local archery and darts on the lodge grounds.

Day 7 – Highlights

Hike the Longteng Trail; Guided meditation session with a local monk. Traditional Bhutanese games

Overnight – Gangtey Lodge

Day 08

Phobjikha-Punakha

This morning, check out after breakfast and set off on your road journey to Punakha. En route, make a brief stop to visit the Chimi Lakhang temple of fertility, which is dedicated to the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kunley.

Continue into Punakha and check in at your hotel. After lunch, your guide will take you to visit the Punakha Dzong, which is arguably one of the most beautiful monasteries in Bhutan.

This dzong dates back to the 1600s, and was once the seat of government in Bhutan.

Return to your hotel in time for dinner and evening at your leisure.

Day 8 – Highlights

Chimi Lhakhang Fertility Temple, Punakha Dzong

Overnight – Dhensa Resort

Where You Will Sleep:

Subtle and zen is the underlying theme at Dhensa Resort in Punakha. Pine floors and panelling and simple, clean lines offer a soothing and welcoming ambience. The resort is situated amid Pine forests, with lovely views of the mountains and the Punakha River.

Spacious rooms open out onto beautiful views. The Dhensa Spa offers a variety of traditional treatments, and also includes a sauna and steam. Locally sourced ingredients add to the freshness of the cuisine, prepared by expert chefs.

Day 09

Explore Punakha

Enjoy a delicious breakfast before you join your guide to explore the sights of Punakha. Start by driving to the suspension bridge from where you commence to hike to Khamsun Yuelley Namgyal Chorten. Walk through farms and forest, until you reach the lhakhang. Take in inspiring views of the Punakha Valley before you enter the lhakhang to learn about its deities and Bhutan’s belief system. This temple is dedicated to Dudjom Rinpoche, the great Nyingmapa master.

Optional: If you like, you an continue to hike up the mountain slope to the village of Giligang. Walk through lush paddy fields and thick forests, before you reach the Giligang Temple. This is a private monastery, owned by a family for over 300 years. Aum Kortem and Ap Sangay Wangchuk have been living here for over half a century. They cultivate produce and chillies to earn a living, and enjoy welcoming guests to their sanctuary. From Giligang, you continue down the mountain until you reach Changyul Bridge, where your car and driver will be waiting for you.

As time permits, you can head back to your hotel or opt to visit the Sangchhen Dorji Lhendrup Lhakhang Nunnery.

This beautiful temple is home to an enormous bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara, as well as those of several other deities. Besides being a temple, the nunnery also has a meditation and learning centre, where the nuns are taught essential life skills. Enjoy an hour-long interaction with the nuns as they share their way of life and philosophy with you, followed by a traditional tshewang (blessing) ceremony for empowerment, wish fulfilment and a healthy life.

Return to your hotel for dinner and evening at your leisure.

Day 9 – Highlights

Khamsun Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, River-rafting on the Pho Chu River, Sangchhen Dorji Lhendrup Lhakhang Nunnery.

Overnight – Dhensa Resort

Day 10

Punakha – Paro

After an early morning breakfast, check out of your hotel. Your car and driver will be waiting to take you on your journey to Paro. Stop en route to visit the 108 stupas that were built in memory of the fallen soldiers of Bhutan.

After lunch, your guide will meet you to take you on a tour of Paro. A former watch tower, Ta Dzong now houses the National Museum. Your guide will lead you through the exhibits which include ancient relics, Thangka paintings, art and a fantastic collection of postage stamps. After visiting the museum, your guide will take you to a traditional Bhutanese farm-house. In Bhutan, farm-houses are built without using a single nail! Richly decorated and brightly coloured, they are extremely quaint. Interact with the family who owns the farmhouse before returning to your hotel in time for dinner. The rest of the evening is at your leisure.

Day 10 – Highlights

Ta Dzong, Visit a Bhutanese farm house.

Overnight – COMO Uma Paro

Where You Will Sleep:

COMO Uma Paro is a gorgeous resort, with a stunning location in the Paro Valley. Exclusive private villas and an expansive spa, includes two Bhutanese Hot Stone baths, a gym and a space for yoga and meditation. An indoor pool and outdoor deck are ideal to relax and unwind after a day spent exploring Paro. Hardwood floors, bright colours and traditional motifs, give the interiors a sense of warm elegance.

The rooms and suites overlook stunning views of the surrounding forest and the valley. The stand-alone villas have special touches like a traditional Bhutanese Bukhari wood burning stove, or a private hot stone bath. The kitchen at COMO Uma Paro offers guests a variety of dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Guests can opt to dine on COMO’s Shambhala cuisine menu, which is nutritious and delicious, made with home-grown ingredients from Uma Paro’s kitchen garden.

Day 11

Paro

This morning, wake up early for breakfast, and then take a short drive to Ramthankha, from where you will begin your hike to the Taktsang monastery. Commonly known as Tiger’s Nest, this beautiful trail takes you through pine forest, covered in Spanish moss and fluttering prayer flags at various intervals.

According to an ancient legend, the Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew on the back of a tigress from the east of Bhutan, bringing the tenets of Buddhism with him, and he came here to rest and meditate on the steep cliff. The hike takes approx. 5 hours with a 900 meter gain in altitude. After visiting Taktsang, hike down the path and return to your hotel in time for dinner.

Day 11 – Highlights

Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery

Overnight – COMO Uma Paro

Day 12

Paro – onwards

Morning at your leisure until check-out and transfer to the airport for your flight onward.

Note: If you would like to extend your journey in India, please contact us and we would be delighted to create a customized journey just for you.