Fitting in Like a Local

Get a gho (or a kira) Locals love it when a chilip (foreigner) wears Bhutanese national dress, especially during a holiday or festival.

Watch an archery tournament There’s nothing more Bhutanese than the good-humoured banter of a datse (archery) or khuru (lawn darts) game.

Hang some prayer flags Earn some good karma by buying some prayer flags and hanging them at a mountain pass such as Dochu La.

Overnight in a rural farmhouse The digs are simple but the welcome warm – overnight with a local family in Ngang Lhakhang or Khoma.

Sample some local snacks Try jellied cow skin, dried yak cheese and fresh betel nut at the Paro Weekend Market.

Himalayan Treks

Without doubt, the best way to experience Bhutan is on foot, especially if you can combine a trek with a festival and the highlights of Paro and Thimphu. Come in October and November for mountain views and March for rhododendron blooms.

Druk Path Trek The walk between Paro and Thimphu takes in high-altitude lakes and remote hermitages.

Jhomolhari Trek Combines some of Bhutan’s best high-mountain scenery, with remote villages, high passes and yak pastures.

Laya-Gasa Trek Perhaps the best combination of scenery and culture, with a visit to the unique people of remote Laya.

Bumdrak Trek A short and luxurious overnighter, with a visit to several remote chapels and the Tiger's Nest at Taktshang Goemba.

Snowman Trek One of the world’s toughest, most expensive and ultimate treks across the roof of the Bhutan Himalaya.

Pampering Yourself

Bhutan’s top-end travel is anything but tough. Uber-luxury resorts guarantee six-star treatment, with muscle-melting spas and hot-stone massage.

Hot-Stone Bath Stone, wood, hot water and artemisia herbs provide the quintessential Bhutanese experience, available at most tourist hotels.

Termalinca Not quite the Promised Land, but the milk-and-honey body wrap comes close enough; nonguests are welcome at the spa here.

Uma Paro Massage, complimentary yoga and Ayurvedic oil treatments, all featuring Como bath products.

Zhiwa Ling The Menlha (Medicine Buddha) spa here offers a tasty red rice or lemongrass body polish.

Taj Tashi Choose your mood – invigorating masala spice rub or relaxing coconut skin softener?

Wildlife & Wildflowers

Bhutan is a paradise for botanists and birders. Mountain goats and langur are easily spotted; red pandas are more commonly seen on beer labels than in trees.

Phobjikha valley Winter (end of October to mid-February) offers guaranteed sightings of one of over 300 black-necked cranes.

Dochu La One of the best places to wander through a magical forest of pink, white and yellow rhododendron blooms (March and April).

Motithang Takin Preserve Get up close to Bhutan’s odd-looking and endearing national animal, said to have inspired the legend of the golden fleece.

Royal Manas National Park Tourism is in its infancy here, but the wildlife and bird-spotting in this subtropical forest ranks as some of Asia's best.

Day Walks

Sometimes it’s just nice to get out of the car and hike to a hillside monastery or temple. Lose the crowds and meet monks, villagers and fellow pilgrims on an equal footing.

Tango & Cheri Goembas Excellent excursion from Thimphu to two of Bhutan’s most historic monasteries.

Taktshang Goemba A two-hour hike up to the dramatic Tiger’s Nest Monastery, with more temples above.

Bumthang valley The best single destination for day hikes to silent meditation retreats and valley viewpoints.

Ura & Shingkhar Hike between these charming villages, up to a nearby retreat or into Thrumshing La National Park.

Dochu La Choose from short walks through rhododendron forests to longer hikes connecting nearby monasteries.

Cheli La Walk downhill to Kila Nunnery or uphill to a sky burial site.

Phobjikha valley Spot black-necked cranes on the lovely Gangte Nature Trail walk in this charming hidden valley.

Sacred Sites

Protector deities, spirits and saints lurk behind every pass, river junction and lake in Bhutan. These pilgrim spots are imbued with sacred significance and hold a key to understanding how Bhutanese see their world.

Taktshang Goemba Bhutan’s most famous and revered site, tied on to the cliff face by little more than the hairs of angels.

Gom Kora Pilgrims flock to this remote chorten in the far east for its collection of rock footprints, relics and bizarre sin tests.

Changangkha Lhakhang Always bustling with mothers and their babies seeking a blessing from the red-faced protector, Tamdrin.

Membartsho The serene and sacred ‘burning lake’, where Pema Lingpa found underwater treasures and performed miracles.

Hidden Gems

Bhutan’s big shows are its dzongs and festivals, but don’t overlook the charm of the country’s smaller, less-visited monasteries and temples.

Juneydrak Hermitage The Haa valley is a great place to get off the beaten track, and this timeless hermitage is its highlight.

Kila Nunnery Perched just below the Cheli La, Kila is an hour’s walk and about two centuries off the main highway.

Dumtse Lhakhang Pilgrim paths wind upwards at this snail-shell-shaped chapel past some of the country’s best medieval murals.

Tago Lhakhang A charming and easily missed 15th-century chapel inside a chorten, just south of Paro.

Dechen Phodrang Sacred stones and towering cypress trees mark this pilgrimage site, seemingly lost in time.

Festivals

Many people time their entire trip around one of Bhutan’s colourful tsechus (dance festivals). Expect swirling mask dances, playful clowns, spectacular costumes and superb photo opportunities.

Paro Tsechu Popular with groups – and with good reason – but perhaps too popular for some people’s taste.

Ura Yakchoe A quiet rural festival, though the dates are notoriously changeable. Camping is a good idea here.

Punakha Drubchen One of Bhutan’s most unusual festivals re-enacts an ancient battle; held in February or March.

Kurjey Tsechu Brave the monsoon rain and avoid the tourists, plus you can hit the nearby Nimalung tsechu at the same time.

Arts & Crafts

Bhutan’s arts and crafts vary from sacred murals to bamboo bows. For high religious art visit the dzongs and monasteries, but for handicrafts, try these fascinating workshops.

National Institute for Zorig Chusum Watch students perfect the 13 traditional arts and crafts.

Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory View the whole papermaking process.

National Textile Museum Thimphu's impressive new complex showcases Bhutan’s most impressive art form.

Tshenden Incense Factory Breathe in the fragrance of juniper, sandalwood and high-altitude herbs at this workshop near Bondey.

Khoma Village, Lhuentse Every household has a loom in this remote centre of ‘brocade-style’ weaving excellence.

Yathra Workshops, Zungney Shop for hand-woven woollen blankets at these roadside looms on the drive to Bumthang.