Archive for April, 2009

Bhutan – up, up and away

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

The land of the thunder dragon is indeed a very different Asian experience. With rare exceptions, you will not be allowed to travel on your own so will find yourself at the same watering holes (festivals, tourist menus, treks) as the other handfuls of tourists currently in the country. I was extremely lucky to rate an invitation and therefore with my hosts could find and frequent places recommended below.

Arrival by air: Druk Air only. A picturesque small airport nestled within the town, and 45 minutes of curving road to Thimphu. The r/t flight from Bangkok is $815, so why not upgrade to business for another $100. Try to be seated on the left for incredible views of the mountains. Atlas Travel Services – atlas@druknet.bt – offered efficient and pleasant service. Smoking is not allowed in Bhutan, but you are allowed to bring in a few packs of cigarettes for personal misuse. If you’re used to wine with dinner, bring in a bottle or two of your own from the dutyfree shops in Bangkok airport. Local supply is iffy.

Recommended Thimphu restaurants: MK restaurant, upstairs in Centerpoint Building (near Lugar Cinema) offers excellent Tibetan bhathup (minestrone) and momos; Cypress Restaurant, also in the center, serves delicious Indian thalis and chai;  Seasons is where you go for al fresco pizza, breakfasts and cake. Karma’s cafe is the only place for your caffeine fix – upstairs in Tashi Rabten building, above Zangthopelri complex, tel 17181920. 

Outside Thimphu: I passed up the Hotel Zhiva Ling near Paro, with prices ranging from $350 – $600 per night (and my happiness quotient rose accordingly). The Kichu Resort, with locations both at Paro and at Wangdue, was a tranquil alternative at a fraction of the price, with the nearby river lulling us to sleep. In Punakha, we escaped the omnipresent set tourist lunch and ordered an adequate fish curry in the Kuenga Hotel. And if you are near the Wangdue Dzong (monastery) and feeling hungry, look for the unassuming ‘canteen’ in the alley just above the dzong, packed with locals, and dig in. 

Sights to see: the monasteries and fortresses – dzongs, lakhangs,;the mountains and forests; the unhurried and traditionally garbed people; the festivals (tshechus). Climbing to Takshang (Tigers’ Nest) is a high altitude achievement, but worth every gasp. Chimi Lakhang, the fertility monastery, is set in rice fields and supposedly efficacious.