Bhutan is probably most famous for its Gross National Happiness Index. Instead of only focusing on economic metrics, Bhutan measures its success by its people’s collective happiness and well-being.

This includes a commitment to environmental sustainability that makes it a truly unique holiday destination. Due to policies that prioritise low-impact tourism, you’ll never run into large tour groups or get stuck in a queue for photos here.

Instead, enjoy an authentic vacation where everyone you meet will make sure you feel at home. These recommendations for exploring the kingdom’s deep cultural heritage, distinctive cuisine, and arresting natural beauty ought to catapult it to the top of your travel wishlist.

1. Trek to Taktsang Monastery

Taktsang Monastery, also known as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, is one of Bhutan’s extraordinary experiences to revel in as it’s among the incredibly important monuments of architecture the country is known for. Legend has it that this cliffside is where the venerated Padmasambhava landed on the back of a flying tigress, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet.

It’s located in the Paro district, only a 30-minute drive away from Bhutan’s only international airport, Paro Airport. The hike is a steep four-kilometre climb with an elevation gain of 700 metres, which takes around three hours to complete at a comfortable pace. Regardless, do have enough water and snacks in your travel backpack for quick refreshments. Thankfully though, there is a cafeteria stationed at the halfway point of the hike. If the trek hasn’t taken your breath away yet, the view of Taktsang Monastery from the rest stop definitely will.

Once you reach the monastery, take in the panoramic views of the lush Paro Valley. The monastery is open to the public. Like all temples and monasteries in Bhutan, photography is not permitted inside the complex. Instead, savour the serenity of one of the most sacred sites in the Himalayas.

The adult entrance fee for the monastery is BTN2,000 (S$33). It’s open every day but is closed to foreigners on six key auspicious days in the Bhutanese calendar. Please check ahead before finalising your travel plans to Bhutan.
 

Address: Taktsang trail BT, F9R7+PCR, Taktsang trail, Paro, Bhutan
Tickets: For adults, BTN2,000 for adults and BTN1,000 for other monuments; For children below 18 years old, 50% off; For children aged 5 and below, free
Opening hours: Daily, 8:00am–1:00pm, 2:00pm–6pm

After a full day on the mountain, unwind at one of Paro’s many award-winning hotels, such as COMO Uma Paro.

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The lovely COMO Uma Paro is the perfect place to unwind amid the beautiful mountains. Step out to meet and interact with the Bhutanese people for a more immersive experience.

The resort’s COMO Shambhala Retreat features an indoor heated pool, steam rooms, and a wide variety of spa treatments and wellness activities.

The attached restaurant, Bukhari, is said to be popular with Bhutan’s Royal Family. It’s easy to see why. Menus are based on local seasonal produce sourced from the finest farms across the country.
 

Address (Bukhari): Paro Valley, PO Box 222 Paro, Bhutan
Opening hours: Daily, 6:30am–10:30am (breakfast), 11:30am– 3:30pm (lunch), 6:30pm–10:30pm (dinner).

2. Try Ema-datshi

Chilli in Bhutanese food is treated more like a vegetable, rather than a spice. You would see it in different forms—fresh, air-dried, pickled, and more—in your meals. Bright red peppers being laid out to dry is a common sight in both urban and rural areas during the autumn months.

The national dish of Bhutan is ema-datshi, which means chilli (ema) with cheese (datshi). It’s a spicy stew made with green, red, or dried chillies and a traditional cottage cheese that can be made with cow’s or yak’s milk.

Ema-datshi is often eaten with red rice, the staple grain of Bhutan, and buckwheat pancakes called khur-le, which are most common in the central region of the country.

You’ll hardly find datshi anywhere outside Bhutan and speciality food shops. It’s so high in local demand that ingredients are hardly exported out of the country. Fortunately, pretty much every restaurant in Bhutan itself serves it. Travellers sensitive to spice can try kewa-datshi or shamu-datshi, which spotlight potatoes and mushrooms instead of chilli.

That said, your trip to Bhutan really isn’t complete without ema-datshi. It’s so good that it’s worth pushing through the post-spice stomachache. Try it out for yourself at the restaurant The Zone, which also has a stunning array of vegan-friendly food items on its menu.
 

Address (The Zone): Chang Lam Gpo 415, Thimphu 11001.
Opening hours: Friday, Saturday and Wednesday: 10:30am–10:00pm; Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday: 10:30am–930pm

3. Take a traditional hot stone bath

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With Bhutan's weather more temperate than Singapore's, enjoying a hot stone bath is a must.

The climate in Bhutan is fairly mild—summer averages rarely cross 30º Celsius, and winter days still hover around the low double digits. Compared to Singapore, the Bhutan weather is much more temperate.

With such gorgeous weather, what better way to unwind after a long day of trekking than indulging in a traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath?

The water in the bath is called menchu and contains khempa, also known as mugwort. Khempa is a natural analgesic and muscle relaxant. Riverbed stones are added, and they crack and release minerals into the bath water. Together, they work to relieve muscle ailments and joint pain.

Luxury hotel Amankora Gangtey offers a traditional stone bath like no other. The bath is located atop the hill in the scenic Phobjikha Valley, just a 10-minute walk from the main lodge.

The bamboo doors of the stone hut slide open to allow you full privacy while still enjoying the magnificent view of the setting sun. If you’re lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of the rare black-necked crane during their migration season from November to March.

Hot stone baths are a mainstay at many of the luxury hotels across Bhutan, and we highly recommend booking a stay at one. Some luxe options include Pemako and &Beyond, which both have properties nestled in the fertile Punakha valley.
 

Address (Amankora Gangtey): Tokha Village Gangtey Gewog, Phobjikha 16004.

4. Spend a night at an authentic Bhutanese farmhouse

The Haa Valley is one of the country’s most secluded and picturesque regions. It borders Tibet and offers visitors a view of snow-capped peaks and alpine forests.

One of the places you can stay at is the Soednam Zingkha Heritage Lodge. It’s a three-storey family-owned refurbished farmhouse nestled in the northern corner of the Haa Valley. It’s located in Hatey, a quiet village that comprises only 60 households. Hand-painted murals with Buddhist iconography decorate the lodge. The house is constructed in the traditional rammed earth style that typifies Inner Himalayan architecture.

While here, guests can also try their hand at Bhutan’s national sport—archery and Khuru, a popular outdoor dart game. The friendly staff at the lodge can also arrange hikes and bicycling tours that offer unparalleled views of nature and visits to nomadic yak herders’ camps.

Soednam Zingkha serves local Bhutanese dishes and is happy to take requests for Haa Valley regional specialities like hoentey, a sweet dumpling stuffed with turnip leaves, amaranth seeds (zimtse) and datshi.
 

Address: Hatey, Haa 15001.

5. Learn about traditional Bhutanese crafts in Thimphu

Thimphu is the capital city of Bhutan and home to some of the country’s most important museums. The Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan, for one, is dedicated to the rich Bhutanese tradition of (you guessed it) textile arts.

It houses the National Textile Museum, which showcases the diversity of textile styles throughout the country. The museum also has a collection of national dresses, including pieces worn by the Royal Family. The museum’s patron is Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck.

Textile weaving and embroidery are just two of the 13 traditional arts (zorig chusum) in Bhutanese culture cherished by its people. Other traditional art forms include painting, sculpting, and wood carving.

The National Institute for Zorig Chusum offers courses in all of these art forms to ensure that the traditions are passed down through the generations.

Tourists can visit the Institute to witness the students in action. You might even have the opportunity to purchase one-of-a-kind souvenirs created by Bhutan’s next generation of artisans.

An easy way to see all the culture that Thimphu has to offer is by booking a tour to Bhutan. The Amankora Thimphu Lodge is happy to make arrangements for guests to visit the school as well as the nearby private galleries and studios of the school's alumni.

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When you book a room at the Amankora Thimphu Lodge, you'll be able to book tours to experience Bhutan's famed traditional arts scene.

The hotel is only a few minute's drive from the town but feels much more exclusive thanks to its forested surroundings. Stays include breakfast and three-course lunches and dinners, so you won’t have to leave the sanctuary of the resort unless you absolutely want to.
 

Address: Chubachu, Thimphu, 11001
Opening hours: 9:00am to 4:00pm on weekdays. Closed on weekends.

 

If you’re looking for a holiday off the beaten path, Bhutan could be perfect for you. These picks barely scratch the surface, there’s still so much else to see and do in the Land of the Thunder Dragon. Plus, take advantage of these tips when travelling to Bhutan, too, so you can experience the same happiness its people do.

 

This story is written in partnership with Druk Asia.

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Please note that most visitors, including those holding Singapore passports, need a visa to enter Bhutan.

International tourists have to pay a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) of US$100 (S$135) per night. The fee goes towards initiatives such as environmental and cultural conservation, education, and healthcare. The SDF was halved from US$200 to US$100, starting from September 2023, to boost tourism in the country.

For more information on how to book a holiday with these exclusive travel incentives, speak to the friendly staff at Druk Asia, a professional Bhutan travel specialist with years of experience planning trips for international tourists.

Best time to visit
The best time to visit Bhutan is either in spring, between March and May, or in autumn, from September to November.

Currency
The Bhutanese currency, ngultrum, is not circulated outside of the country, so travellers are encouraged to exchange money at Paro International Airport. Please note that ATMs and credit card machines are not widely available in Bhutan, so having enough cash on you is essential.

Transportation
The main way to travel around the country is by hiring a guide with a private car and driver. It is almost impossible for tourists to rent a car on their own nor is it really advisable given the tricky mountain roads!

Book Now
Drukair (known as Royal Bhutan Airlines, Bhutan’s national carrier) operates flights from Singapore Changi Airport to Paro International Airport (via Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati, India) twice a week.

This story is written in partnership with Druk Asia.

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