5 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Bhutan
The vast majority of travelers who visit Bhutan come here to hike the remote trails, mountains, or glaciers of this small, Buddhist country, yet the nation is very much a place for the visitor to linger awhile, too. Many return for a second visit, or even return to retire here, as many find themselves immersed in the Bhutanese way of life.
Bhutan is also a colorful place in which to see the old with the new, and the new with the old; its people are renowned for their hospitable nature, which makes visiting an opportunity to learn how they live in harmony with nature, in part.
The tourist attractions in this small country include monasteries, caves, and rambling villages; as well as Buddhist festivals and traditional dress.
The best places to visit in Bhutan include the national museum, national museum, monasteries, and attractions.
Bhutan's capital is a relatively new place to visit, with only a handful of backpackers and tourists making the journey there in recent years. The country's former capital, Phuentsholing, is still best known to visitors. These days, the capital, Thimphu, attracts tourists with its seemingly magical setting on the banks of the Pemako River. The views are magnificent, especially at sunrise and sunset, but the city itself doesn't offer many sights. However, Thimphu has an emerging café scene that is making the city much more appealing. Here you can find quirky bars, cafés and restaurants serving traditional, international and local food. Some of the latter focus on keeping traditional Bhutanese dishes such as "chakpa" (steamed rice served with a variety of local vegetables, meat and/or fish). Although there are still little pockets of Tibet within Bhutan and no tourists are allowed, the country is a little more open to foreigners than it was in the past. Visas for short-term visits are now issued upon arrival at a hotel in Thimphu or at immigration, not at an official tourism office.
Situated in western Bhutan in the Thimphu Valley, the Bumthang Monastery is a large, well-kept monastery nestled among the majestic Himalayan ranges. Famous for its magnificent murals that reflect the life and beliefs of the people in the region, the monastery contains numerous sacred Buddhist objects, as well as a 17th-century, bronze gilded statue of Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Tourists visiting the monastery can watch the daily rituals and ceremonies conducted at the monastery, while traditional houses in Thimphu have stupas and prayer flags set up to resemble a traditional Bumthang village. The International Zorig Tsabak Festival in Bumthang is one of the best festivals in Bhutan.
For two millennia, Paro, in the southern part of Bhutan, has been the epicenter of the kingdom's Buddhist traditions. Its most significant building, a large gilded temple called the Dordenma, is said to have been erected by the 8th Dalai Lama himself. The Dordenma is the biggest and most iconic gilded temple in the world and truly lives up to its reputation. Another historic site in Paro is the 9th Dzongsar Rinpoche Memorial Center, where you can see monks undergoing advanced meditative training. The small Bhutan-specific museum nearby also provides interesting insights into the ancient beliefs and legends of the Himalayan kingdom. Visiting Paro means traveling to an area of pure delight, but after a few days, it is time to move on.
Gangtey Monastery, in northern Bhutan, is a stunning collection of temples built in the 17th century. It is especially famous for its extraordinary labyrinth (ma-tse). A vertical stone passage beginning high above the entrance of the temple and extending the length of the monastery, this 15-meter-long passage leads through two sets of seven temples with eight different turns. With its massive collection of prayer flags and giant Buddha statues, the monastery has a great atmosphere of incense and sanctity. The site is most easily accessible from Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan.
Bhutan's traditional religious center, the Taktsang Lakhang (Dragon's Lair) Monastery, is located on the Paro River's eastern bank, and was built in the 15th century during the reign of King Jampa Konchung. The monastic college, founded by the first king of Bhutan in the early 15th century, features monastic housing on four floors. The first floor is used for the daily practices of the monks; the second floor is where the monastic master stays when visiting from other places, while the third floor is where the Sakyong, or World Teacher, lives and teaches during the school year. The largest and most important section of the monastic college, the fourth floor, is a replica of the chapel at the monastery and is used for meditation and religious teachings. Of interest in Taktsang Monastery Park is the Subdul Phodrang, the traditional gathering place of the new and old chiefs in the country. Built in 1976, this structure features 5,000 Tibetan-style red bricks, each one created by the artisans of Paro and engraved with religious verses by the state assembly of Bhutan.