Druk Air (Royal Bhutan Airlines) & the Land of the Thunder Dragon

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Status Traveller, May 5, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    An opportunity arose to join friends on a trip to Bhutan in April 2011. Bhutan is nestled between India and Tibet in the Himalayas and is known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon. The government has a philosophy whereby progress is measured by Gross National Happiness. Friends asked their friends and before we knew it we had a group ready to go!

    On a recommendation we booked directly through Bhutan Gayul Tours which was an excellent choice as they exceeded our expectations in every way. Bhutan Gayul Tours arranged our visas, return airfares from Bangkok to Paro and every facet of the trip including guides, transport, accommodation and meals. E-mails were answered promptly, the owner’s English was excellent and nothing was too much trouble. As is standard practice in Bhutan the tour was paid for via direct money transfer to their bank in the USA with a minimum of fuss.

    Tourism is regulated by the Bhutanese Government with a set minimum daily tariff which covers all transport, guides, drivers, accommodation, meals and sightseeing. All tourists must travel on prepaid package tours and the fee is set in US$ with 35% going to the government. This policy has ensured that Bhutan’s unique culture and traditions and its pristine environment will be maintained for future generations.

    [​IMG]
     
    iolaire, OY-JFS, storyteller and 7 others like this.
  2. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    We flew to Bangkok with QF and were lucky to get an op-up to premium economy. Service by the two male flight attendants was excellent and so was the seat!
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    Lunch

    [​IMG]

    As our flight to Bhutan departed at 06:50 two days after arrival, we stayed the night in a club room at the Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport. The hotel now promotes their 24 hour stays, so myself and Mr Status Traveller chose to wait up for a few extra hours after arrival and checked in at 4am!!! I’m sure the others in our group thought we were mad but we saved lots of $$$ AND got a club room for less than their standard rooms!

    Like many airport hotels this one was not cheap but the lounge access, excellent rooms and beautiful pool area certainly made up for it. We enjoyed a great sleep and had a satisfactory breakfast in the club the next morning. The remainder of the day was spent relaxing at the hotel in the pool and at the day spa. Afternoon tea was included in the club then evening drinks were served (including an extensive list of cocktails). The evening snacks were substantial and we didn’t require dinner that night so the hotel ended up being great value :)

    [​IMG]
    Novotel Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport pool from our room
     
    iolaire, Dreamworks, OY-JFS and 6 others like this.
  3. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    Druk Air to Dhaka, Bangladesh

    Next day we were up early and caught the hotel shuttle to the airport arriving at 4.30am so we would be first in line for check-in. The early start wasn’t difficult and this enabled us to be some of the first in the queue to book the best seats on our Druk Air flight for views of the snow capped peaks of the Himalayas. It was then that we discovered our plane was not going via India as we thought but making a short stop in Dhaka, Bangladesh!

    At Suvarnabhumi Airport we were bussed a considerable distance to a remote stand where we boarded the aircraft. Druk Air has a fleet of two Airbus A319 aircraft and when the Bhutanese Government took delivery of them in 2004 they were the biggest single transaction the government had ever made - they are the only airline to fly into Bhutan.

    The interior of the A319 was immaculate with service to match. A substantial hot breakfast was served (not sure about the sausage though!) and Druk Air’s in-flight magazine “Tashi Delek” provided us with a sneak peak of Bhutan.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    Druk Air breakfast

    [​IMG]
    The approach to Dhaka

    We spent an hour sitting in the aircraft on the ground at a very smoggy DAC offloading and loading passengers before continuing on to Bhutan. Morning tea on this sector included a chicken salad roll, cream biscuits and drinks.

    [​IMG]
     
    iolaire, storyteller, OY-JFS and 4 others like this.
  4. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    The flight over the Himalayas provided spectacular views and our excitement grew as we approached Bhutan. The approach into Paro Airport is a visual one and was the most amazing I have ever experienced. The aircraft weaves around the surrounding hills skimming over tree covered ridges before the final approach into the Paro Valley at an altitude of 2235m. Paro Airport is restricted to daylight flights and is dependent on the weather meaning flights are often disrupted.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    iolaire, storyteller, OY-JFS and 3 others like this.
  5. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    It didn’t take long to position the aircraft steps and we were on the tarmac taking photos.
    [​IMG]

    No-one was rushed to move inside so we had ample opportunity to photograph the plane and airport before heading into the uniquely decorated immigration hall. This took some time as visas were checked manually against lists.

    [​IMG]

    After customs we removed our bags from the one baggage belt and our US dollars were changed to Bhutanese ngultrum. The currency exchange counter had to set a limit for some of the last passengers due to reduced funds.

    We met our delightful drivers and guides who loaded the bags onto the top of one of the buses and drove the 40minutes to Thimphu which is the only capital city in the world to have no traffic lights!
     
    iolaire, storyteller, Fredrik and 3 others like this.
  6. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    Our guides, Tashi and Phub were the most personable, helpful and knowledgeable men, each with a great sense of humour. No request was too much trouble. The Bhutanese are amazingly friendly and hospitable and they have a genuine sincerity that was evident wherever we travelled.

    [​IMG]
    Our fantastic guides - Phub & Tashi

    Bhutan is a unique country, blending old and new. It is rich in cultural diversity with a pristine and unspoilt landscape.

    Our first 2 nights were spent at the delightful Yeedzin Guesthouse (where Prince Charles once stayed) in Thimpu and on our first morning visited Bhutan’s largest Buddha statue, the country’s arts and craft school where Bhutanese students learn the age old traditions of painting and craft work, the folk heritage museum, a traditional paper factory where paper is made from the daphne plant, the national library and the ancient dzong (fortress) of Thimphu.

    [​IMG]
    Bhutanese students

    [​IMG]

    We also saw Bhutan’s most unusual national animal, the takin. (The famous biologist, George Schaller called it a ‘beestung moose’).
    [​IMG]

    We were even lucky enough to see an archery tournament - archery is Bhutan’s national sport.
    [​IMG]

    That evening we had dinner at our host’s home - a Bhutanese meal of red rice, potato cheese and chilli, chilli chicken, beef and vegetables. Delicious!
     
  7. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    All Bhutanese are required to wear the national dress in government offices, schools and on formal occasions - for women it is a kira or long skirt and for men a gho. The gho comprises a dressing gown type garment which has a belt, a fitted skirt, big white cuffs and a huge pocket in the front and is worn with long socks.

    We drove north of Thimphu to the southern border of Jigme Dorji National Park where we hiked up to the Tango University of Buddhist Studies and monastery with its magnificent views.

    [​IMG]
    One of our guides, Phub, chatting with the monks at Tango University

    [​IMG]
    Tango University of Buddhist Studies

    Bhutan is a Buddhist country and the religion is an essential element of Bhutanese life. Dzongs, stupas, monasteries, prayer flags and prayer wheels dominate the Bhutanese landscape and are an essential ingredient of Bhutanese life.

    [​IMG]

    Later it was on to Dochu-la (Pass) at 3,100m for the night where our room had magnificent views of the snow-capped Himalayas. It was kept warm by a round wood fuel heater placed in the centre! A few of our group had mild headaches that may have been due to the altitude but they recovered quickly the next day as we dropped in elevation.
    [​IMG]
    Our room at Dochula Resort
     
    iolaire, storyteller, OY-JFS and 3 others like this.
  8. sobore
    Original Member

    sobore Gold Member

    Messages:
    12,421
    Likes Received:
    33,847
    Status Points:
    16,520
    Wow, what an amazing trip!
     
    storyteller and Status Traveller like this.
  9. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    It certainly was!
     
    storyteller and sobore like this.
  10. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    One incredible day we visited the Royal Botanical Park and met with the Park Manager and Bhutan’s leading botanist, who gave us a fascinating presentation on conservation in Bhutan and took us on an amazing nature walk. We were also fortunate to be visiting on the day of the annual Buddhist blessing ceremony.

    [​IMG]

    The roads in Bhutan are something else! The main east west road was only built from 1969 by Indian labour and consists of a single lane of bitumen. Downhill traffic gives way to uphill traffic and often there is barely enough room for two vehicles to pass. We never travelled faster than 40kmh and the road wound along cliff sides with no guard rails, across bailey bridges and over mountain passes with spectacular scenery.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    storyteller, fyfedog, OY-JFS and 2 others like this.
  11. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    Our next destination was Punakha for 2 nights. Here we climbed 45 mins to Khamsumg Yuelly Namgyel temple which was built for the present King by the Queen Mother then walked through paddy fields and quaint villages before crossing a swing bridge festooned with prayer flags where our bus met us.

    [​IMG]

    Afterwards we had lunch at a restaurant overlooking Chimmi Lhakhang fertility temple (popular with childless couples who come to be blessed) and walked to it through fields planted with numerous crops. Monks as young as 4 and 5 were living at the monastery and we were lucky enough to watch them in the temple during afternoon prayer.

    [​IMG]

    We visited Punakha Dzong (dzongs, or fortresses dominate the major towns and serve as their administrative and religious centre) where a meeting had been arranged with the Governor who is the King’s representative. We all sat in a very formal room and were served juice before he made his appearance wearing his traditional gho and sword! He explained his role and lots of questions were asked.

    [​IMG]

    We have seen some incredible flora and the huge white magnolias and red, pink and white rhododendrons are spectacular and grow everywhere at this time of year.
    [​IMG]

    Bhutan is such an amazing country - every day brings new experiences.
     
    iolaire, storyteller, fyfedog and 3 others like this.
  12. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    Bhutan continued to impress us - from the governments’s philosophy of ‘Gross National Happiness’ to the friendly people whose traditional culture has been retained and the amazing scenery.

    We were travelling with a diverse and fun group of people in 2 vehicles each with a driver and guide. Our guides were absolutely fantastic and nothing was too much trouble for them - their English is excellent, they take people shopping, they ensure bottled water is always available and answer every question asked with a smile. The drivers are experts on the extremely narrow windy roads and are always there to assist with any request.

    [​IMG]
    Our drivers

    We continued to head east and our next stop was Trongsa where we stayed in a resort on a hillside overlooking the magnificent Trongsa Dzong which we visited the next day.

    [​IMG]
    Comfortable room at Yangkhil Resort, Trongsa

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    Trongsa Dzong
    The historic Tower of Trongsa was worth a visit where there is a superb museum. We also spent time wandering around the town and shopping for local crafts.
     
  13. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Monks at Trongsa Dzong
     
  14. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    It was then onto Bumthang but on the way we stopped for morning tea at a restaurant overlooking the snow-covered Himalayan peaks and enjoyed butter tea and biscuits.

    Later, after we had checked into our guest house we had lunch and walked to the 17th century temple of Kurjey Lhakhang and the Tamshing Goemba (temple) established inn 1501. On the inner walls protected by curtains are incredible original paintings and lying on a rock inside was a chain mail armour as old as the temple weighing 25kg which we were all able to pick up!

    [​IMG]
    Young monks

    [​IMG]
    Our cosy room

    Continuing east along rough unsealed roads we arrived at the remote Tang Valley and hiked through farms to the Ogyen Choling museum, originally a 16th century palace. Afterwards our guide arranged a visit to the local school where his cousin is a teacher. Children in Bhutan are taught in English with Dzongkha, the national language, taught as a second language! We had a picnic lunch in the school yard then visited some classrooms, spending time talking to a delightful class of 15 year olds who asked all sorts of questions including what we liked about Bhutan and where we came from. We presented the principal with books, pens, balls, souvenirs and money that he was extremely grateful for.
    [​IMG]
    Very cute kids

    [​IMG]
    Picnic lunch, Bhutanese style

    One of our group had been to Bhutan 4 years earlier and had visited a Buddhist nunnery. Her tour group sent over 100 pairs of red socks to the nuns which they still wear today! Our guides arranged a visit and we were welcomed into their temple and served tea and biscuits. The nunnery is home to 105 novice nuns.
    What an absolutely incredible and special day! When we think we have seen it all there is another surprise around the corner. Bhutan is certainly a country like no other.

    [​IMG]
     
  15. mattsteg
    Original Member

    mattsteg Gold Member

    Messages:
    3,276
    Likes Received:
    5,543
    Status Points:
    4,170
    Amazing trip!
     
  16. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    Bhutan Gayul Tours had organised rangers from Thrumshingla National Park to guide us on a hike through its temperate broad-leafed forests, firs and spectacular flowering rhododendron forest.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    We then visited the nearby Phobjikha Valley which is the wintering ground for the endangered black necked cranes and later walked through the village to a traditional farmhouse which was to be our overnight stop.

    As usual, when we arrived tea and biscuits were served, this time around a central wood heater. The farmhouse was simple with shared bathrooms and traditional furnishings. What an unforgettable experience.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    View from the dining room of the farmhouse.
     
  17. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    It was a full day drive back to Thimpu where we visited the farmers market with its colourful displays of organic vegetables and fruit and wandered around the town shopping for souvenirs.

    [​IMG]
    Fern fronds - a delicious vegetable served with Bhutanese food. The red rice is also not to be missed.

    [​IMG]
    During our time in Bhutan we were fortunate to see beautiful grey langurs with their long tails, barking deer and countless species of birds. Yaks are found at the higher altitudes and we often passed yak herders and their camps – I couldn’t bring myself to try the smelly hardened yak cheese which hung in yak hair strings from roadside stalls though!
    [​IMG]

    Thimphu is the only capital city in the world with no traffic lights. Instead policemen direct traffic from a traffic circle in the main street.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    ​View of Thimpu
     
  18. Fredrik
    Original Member

    Fredrik Silver Member

    Messages:
    182
    Likes Received:
    175
    Status Points:
    395
    A very fascinating country and it seems like you had a great time there.
     
    storyteller likes this.
  19. Sweet Willie
    Original Member

    Sweet Willie Gold Member

    Messages:
    4,048
    Likes Received:
    8,739
    Status Points:
    7,270
    Thanks for taking the time to post such a complete trip report and an even bigger thanks for actually discussing the place you traveled to !!
     
    storyteller likes this.
  20. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    Thank you for your encouragement Sweet Willie.
    It has been a pleasure posting this trip report as I loved the country and want to share it's beauty and that of its people with everyone so they don't miss out ;)

    Now, to continue...
     
    storyteller and Sweet Willie like this.
  21. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    We woke early on our second last day to make the trek up to the famous Takstang Monastery, otherwise known as Tiger’s Nest. This is a major Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple complex and is perched on a cliff side surrounded by thousands of colourful prayer flags.
    [​IMG]

    Half way up the steep track we stopped at a teahouse where morning tea was served while taking in the magnificent view of the monastery, and on our return we enjoyed lunch at the same spot. It was an absolutely amazing day and one we will never forget.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    Tigers Nest at last!
     
    Sweet Willie and storyteller like this.
  22. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    Our last day was also memorable as we were driven to Chelela Pass (the highest road pass in Bhutan at around 4,000m). The stunning views of the sacred snow covered Mt Jhomolhari from the pass which is marked by thousands of fluttering prayer flags was breathtaking and was an incredible finale to our trip.
    [​IMG]

    A two hour alpine hike followed, through magnificent conifers and a vast array of flowers covering the forest floor, past a remote nunnery perched on a rocky cliff down to the valley below where we enjoyed a picnic lunch.
    [​IMG]
    Nunnery

    [​IMG]
     
    storyteller likes this.
  23. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    [​IMG]
    A popular form of transport for farming families
    [​IMG]
    Family and friends all pitch in to help build a family home
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
    storyteller likes this.
  24. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    [​IMG]
    A popular form of transport for farming families


    [​IMG]
    Family and friends all pitch in to help build a family home


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    storyteller likes this.
  25. Status Traveller

    Status Traveller Gold Member

    Messages:
    905
    Likes Received:
    4,313
    Status Points:
    2,345
    [​IMG]
    Boy walking home from school

    [​IMG]
    Accommodation in an apple orchard on the outskirts of Paro

    On our last evening in Bhutan our hosts arranged a spectacular private cultural show around a bonfire where everyone joined in the singing and dancing followed by a superb farewell dinner.
    We were also joined by the families of our hosts, driver and guides - what a special memory!
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    storyteller and Sweet Willie like this.

Share This Page