The Land of the Thunder Dragon – things to do in a 3-day Bhutan itinerary

Welcome to Druk Yul! Druk is the word for thunder dragon in Dzonghka (Bhutanese language) so you will meet this word many times, in different contexts, and in almost any brand/business name. Our first visit to Bhutan was planned and organized very impromptu and spontaneously and lasted less than 3 full days but we did experience so much for such a short time! Here are our favorite things to do in Bhutan – all of them we experienced on our 3-day Bhutan itinerary.

Bhutan - the magical monastery Tiger's Nest

Landing in Paro – one of the most dangerous airports in the world

Paro is considered one of the top 10 most dangerous international airports in the world. Shorter runaway, majestic 5- and 6-thousand meters high peaks surrounding the tiny airport – the pilots should be masters and gurus of their craft. Only 8 pilots are allowed to land and take off at the airport of Paro, which is the only international airport.

Well, approaching it was one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring things we’ve experienced. Sights of the Himalayas and Mount Everest itself stepped off to sights of virgin Bhutanese peaks. The latter stepped off to sights of fields and hardworking people from the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon. At least if something went wrong, the last views would have been worth it!

On a flight between Nepal and Bhutan, Kathmadu to Paro, Himalayas and Mount Everest
The view of the amazing Himalayas. Sit on the left side on your way to Bhutan and stay awake to spot Mount Everest!
How to plan a trip to Bhutan from Nepal: Landing in Paro airport

Wear traditional clothes from Bhutan – kira and gho

An essential part of Bhutan’s magic is the phenomenon that most of the local people still wear traditional clothing in their everyday life. We were mesmerized by the neat and tidy kira dresses for ladies and gho for gentlemen. If you wear one of those, you don’t need a bag or a purse to put stuff – you can tuck your phone or purse on the inside of the upper part of your kira or gho.

We saw some tourists hiking the mountains in traditional clothes – they looked so fancy, but they complained they were not feeling comfy all the time. It’s remarkable how our guide Pema hiked 5 hours to Tiger’s Nest and back with his official shoes (he forgot the sneakers in the car). Kiras are long enough to reach the shoes, but ghos are knee-short so men wear socks. That leaves a small section from under the knee to the knee itself uncovered. Imagine that in the chilly fall/winter in the mountains. Bhutanese people are tough!

Bhutan - people, country, culture, men in gho walking along the road
Gho fashion – goes great with a cap!
Bhutan - people, country, culture, mother carrying her child
A mother in a kira carrying her child

Meet Buddhist monks and nuns

In Bhutan, everyone is born Buddhist. Some people choose to devote themselves to teachings and religion and become monks and nuns. People say about 15% of the population chose Buddhism as their full-time occupation. So you can meet many of them not only in monasteries and nunneries but also in the streets or elsewhere you go.

Buddhist monks are very nice and kind-hearted, which applies to any person from Bhutan we’ve met so far. Religion, mindset, and philosophy of life are closely connected in Bhutan, which might be the key to its magical and charming atmosphere. We find this fascinating, well worth respect and definitely something worth to be seen and experiences before it starts to disappear (hopefully it won’t).

Bhutan - people, country, culture, panorama of monastery in the Biddhist Kingdom
Beautiful monasteries behind (almost) every corner

Find out where the King works – Tashichho Dzong Fortress

You can visit the fortress and its premises after the King’s working time is over – from 17.30 to 18.30. You will enter the fortress, walk in the gardens and get into the courtyard with a monastery inside. All that fascinating architecture was our first place of interest to visit in our Bhutan itinerary and definitely set the bar high for everything else.

We entered the Throne Room where dozens of monks were chanting prayers. All those statues, Buddhas, frescoes, and decorations are nothing short of glamour, aesthetics, and style. Naturally, it’s absolutely forbidden to take photos inside the space and guards are there to kindly remind you to take off your shoes and keep your cameras off.

Bhutan, King Palace in Thimphu at night
Tourists are allowed after King’s working time
Bhutan, King Palace in Thimphu at night

Experience local life after dark in Thimphu

Having to be accompanied by a local guide and following a well-defined route during your Bhutan itinerary means that you don’t have much room to improvise or explore on your own. But after we finished sightseeing in the area of the capital Thimphu, we asked our guide if we could take a walk alone after dinner. He said we could, but there’s nothing much to see.

Of course, he wasn’t right. Being able to see how locals live and spend their free time is such an amazing opportunity. We had a nice walk of about 20 minutes to the center, our destination was the square with the Clock Tower, where they do concerts during summertime. We met a lot of youngsters hanging out, and students going back from school. We couldn’t help but notice the many stores for mixed goods.

Even with the cold night, the shopping streets were full of people. We spotted some international restaurants, but they looked quite empty. That’s because locals tend to eat at home, according to our guide. Stray dogs were all over. We collected enough of the cold weather so it was time to go back and sleep and get ready for the next day.

Bhutan - Thimphu at night, dragon architecture
Dreaming of thunder dragons in Thimphu
Bhutan - Thimphu, building in progress
They know how to construct a good building in Bhutan!

Visit Zilukha Nunnery on election day

The next day we woke up early to try to add a few more stops to our Bhutan itinerary – we wanted to see as much as possible for our short Bhutan itinerary. Our guide Pema and our driver Arjun were trying to pamper every our whim. So we stopped at the Zilukja Nunnery so early that it wasn’t even open for a visit. We met some younger nuns in the yard, together with a few dogs.

Inside the main temple, there were some older nuns who smiled at us and continued their activity – knitting. It was not allowed to take photos but the alter was full of amazing art and donations that would satisfy even the most thirsty-for-color-and-shape eye. Pema explained to us who founded the nunnery. He knew so much about the history of the country – every King, every Buddha, every milestone. Fascinating!

Bhutan - Buddhist Nunnery in Thimphu

Meet the elderly believers in Memorial Chorten

The Memorial Chorten was a bit outside for opening hours for tourists but Pema explained to the guard that we have a loaded schedule and he kindly let us take a walk nearby the big stupa inside. And while the stupa and the surrounding garden were spotless and provoked us to take tons of photos, there was another thing we found more awe-inspiring.

There were quite a few elderly people who were praying, chanting, turning the Buddhist wheels, and having a quiet spiritual time. Pema said some of them stay there all day long to pray, their children bring them some food. If we didn’t know the background, we would have thought that those might be homeless people or beggars.

Bhutan - people, country, culture, Buddhists praying, wheels with mantras
Bhutan - people, country, culture, Buddhists praying

Explore the streets of Paro town

Paro town had the charms of a smaller non-capital town. Some amazing Dzong-inspired architecture. Small shops, closed due to Election Day (aren’t we lucky to hit all the public holidays everywhere we go). A cafe was built just for foreigners to get warm and drink some tea. Strings of dried peppers hanging on the terraces.

We took a short walk to just absorb some vibes and chase the sunset in between roofs. Surrounded by the majestic mountains, fields being harvested, and fresh air – we wouldn’t mind the occasional traffic or people hiding behind the corner for a smoke. Yes, Bhutan has some interesting rules and its people have interesting habits.

Bhutan - people, country, culture, hanging peppers to dry in Paro
Bhutan, election sunny afternoon in Paro
Sunny election afternoon in Paro

Get to know Bhutan’s national sport – archery

We didn’t have archery – the national sport of Bhutan – in our program. But we shared with Pema and Arjun that we would really love to see archery in action. And we were lucky – we were just passing a practice field so we pulled over to take a look at an archery practice session.

Your target is 145 meters away from you so you need a lot of practice for sure. Our archers were a mixed group of men – young to older, dressed traditionally in gho or in tracksuits. One of them spoke some English so he got us up to speed on who’s who in their group – who’s good, better, worse, loser, etc. It was a nice and quite safe interaction with the archers who were using the off day (elections, remember?) to improve their archery skills.

Bhutan, archery is national sport
Crossing the archery field must be done with extreme attention!
Bhutan - people, country, culture, archery is the national sport

Try the national dish of Bhutan – chilly cheese

It was expected to be a very spicy chilly dish – green peppers with cheese sauce that only few dared to try. It’s quite understandable that the national dish will be hot – you need to get warm in those cold weather. Nace set a new record, eating 3 bowls of chilly cheese and astonishing the locals around. However, if you try this, have a lot of bread or rice, or both nearby.

We suggest you also try some of the many local beers in Bhutan. Our personal favorite is Druk 11000. Don’t worry – 11000 is not the price. It’s a strong beer so be careful. Another specialty in Bhutan is the peach wine, which was nice to try, but don’t expect anything wine-ish in it.

Bhutan traditional meal - chilly cheese
Very chilly peppers with cheese sauce
Bhutan - Druk beer in a hotel near Paro
Bhutan - dinner at a hotel near Paro
Food in Bhutan is totally delicious!

Experience car breakdown and quick change of vehicles

Our super fancy new jeep started smoking on our way to the mountain we were about to hike. So we left our driver Arjun to try to fix it and started hiking to Tiger’s Nest with our guide Pema. On our way back, Arjun joined us for lunch and said they found a new car for us. So the one that was smoking had to be repaired and even during high season, they found another car to drive us around.

The new car had a new driver so we had to say goodbye the night before we leave. The point here is that even in places where everything is supposed to be perfect and you pay so much for that, sometimes unexpected things happen. What’s important is the way they handled everything timely and without putting any of their burden on us. It’s about professionalism in the end!

Bhutan, start of hike to Tiger's Nest
Maybe we should hitchhike on the way back to town?

Explore the nestled in the mountain Tiger’s Nest Monastery and hike for some rewarding views

Taktsang Palphug Monastery or the Paro Taktsang (སྤ་གྲོ་སྟག་ཚང in Dzongkha་), or the Tiger’s Nest is probably the most popular place that is the major highlight of any Bhutan itinerary. It has turned into Bhutan’s symbol. So we couldn’t just skip it. We wanted to do the full hike, on foot. Some people ride horses to some point, but we thought we would enjoy it better on foot.

The whole hike, with exploring the monastery, stopping for tons of photos, for tea and lunch in Taktsang cafeteria, took us about 5 hours. We couldn’t un-notice dozens of people hiking or riding the same route, but it’s understandable – that’s the most popular attraction. And photos will show best what this is so.

The monastery itself makes it easy – you can’t take your camera inside. We passed corridors, hallways, temples, and rooms. The most secluded experience was at an altar where we could just sit and try some Buddhist meditation. Stories about glorious feats, colorful legends, and vivid architecture contributed to the otherwise intimate and pure experience.

At places like Tiger’s Nest, it is easy to realize it was worth it – the whole dusty hike with horses running like crazy downhill. The lines we had to wait in to have a photo with the monastery in the background. The steps of stone that our knees had to deal with, the high altitude we had to adjust to. It is not just a treat to the eye, but mostly a victory to the whole body and mind that one has to overcome to experience the magic of this Himalayan Buddhist sacred site.

Hiking to Tiger's Nest in Bhutan, panorama
The hike is long but totally worth it!
Bhutan - people, country, culture, prayer flags Tiger's Nest
Eco-friendly prayer flags
How to plan a trip to Bhutan from Nepal, Tiger's Nest

Our Bhutan itinerary

So here’s a summary of our 3-day itinerary in Bhutan. Day 1 – arriving in Paro, driving to the capital Thimphu, a visit to the Tashichho Dzong Fortress, a walk in Thimphu city center after dinner. Day 2 – visit the Zilukha Nunnery, the National Library (it was closed, unfortunately), visit the Memorial Chorten. Head to Paro and hike to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Paro Taktsang), watch traditional sports archery, and explore Paro town. Day 3 – fly out of Paro airport. Usually, those places of interest are spread into a 3-day Bhutan itinerary but as we had a quite early flight on the last day, we asked if we could do more things on the second to compensate.

Bhutan is so saturated with amazing things to do, see and experience that even three days could look like a month in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon. Even if you can afford a short time in the country, we strongly recommend visiting it! You will never regret spending time (and money) in Bhutan!

Things to do in Bhutan The Land of the Thunder Dragon
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2 Responses

  1. I want to visit Bhutan one day. The Himalayas and Mount Everest especially are increidble.

    • We hope you will visit Bhutan soon, Kathy! Very few places on Earth have that kind of unique magic! 🙂

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