Festivals of the Thunder Dragon

From: $4,999

per person dbl occ

Dates: Mar-Dec - see all dates

Total Days: 14

Activity Level: 2

Reserve This Trip

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Price:

2014

REI Member: $4,999

Non-member: $5,399

Additional Fees

Single supplement: $899

Internal flights: $800

Roundtrip airfare from Bangkok to Paro (subject to change).

Special payment and cancellation policy applies; see Trip Details tab for more information.

Trip Dates:

2014

  • Mar 11–24
  • Apr 3–16 *
  • May 4–17
  • Oct 2–15
  • Oct 27 – Nov 9
  • Dec 1–14

*The Paro Festival varies from the listed itinerary. Please contact us for details.


Or, book a
private departure.

Group Size: 2-16

Activity Level: 2

Activities:

  • Hiking
  • Touring

Accommodations:

Hotels/Resort, 13 nights

Trip Highlights

  • See the majestic, natural beauty of Bhutan's mountains, lakes, and forests
  • Witness a famous Bhutan "teschu", or religious festival, with mask dances
  • Hike to temples, villages, and passes for stunning views and cultural insight
  • Travel with exceptional Bhutanese guides

The breathtaking natural beauty of sacred mountains, holy lakes, isolated valleys, and lush forests is reason alone to visit Bhutan, but add to this mix Buddhist culture that has remained largely untouched by the outside world and it's easy to understand why Bhutan is considered one of the most exclusive destinations on earth.

The Bhutanese people constitute one of the most interesting and least disturbed cultures, making it a unique honor to travel in their homeland. Each departure is timed to take advantage of a "tshechu," or religious festival. These are colorful celebrations dominated by ancient "mask dances" with brilliant costumes, clashing cymbals, and lively social interchange. Rich Buddhist tradition is woven throughout.

On our west-to-east crossing of Bhutan's central valleys we enjoy day hikes with superb views of the distant Himalaya range, visits to remote villages known for their artistry, bustling bazaars, and ornate temples clinging to cliff sides. Each evening we relax in comfortable lodging and soak up the purity of this place. Join us in the Land of the Thunder Dragon!

2014 festivals:

  • Mar 11-24 – Tangsibi Festival
  • Apr 3-16 – Paro Festival
  • May 4-17 – Ura / Domkhar Festival
  • Oct 2-15 – Thangbi Mani Festival
  • Oct 27 - Nov 9 – Bumthang Festival
  • Dec 1-14 – Choejam Festival

Want to make the most of your stay in Asia? Check out our Angkor Wat extension.

Itinerary Summary

  • Day 1 - Arrive in Paro and travel to Thimphu, Bhutan's capital.
  • Day 2 - Hike to nearby monasteries or explore the capital's sites.
  • Day 3 - See sweeping views from Dochu La and visit the Temple of the Divine Madman.
  • Day 4 - Travel over Pele Pass for views of Chomolhari, hike to Rukubji Village.
  • Day 5 - Tour Trongsa's magnificent dzong and observe weavers making "yahtra."
  • Day 6 - Hike through agricultural valleys to visit various temples and villages.
  • Day 7 - Witness a famous Bhutan "teschu," with spiritual masked dances.
  • Day 8 - From Kungarabten, hike to the Monastery of Nuns.
  • Day 9 - Hike from Phobjikha Pass to the beautiful Gangtey Monastery .
  • Day 10 - Returning to Thimphu and spend the afternoon exploring the capital.
  • Day 11 - Hike to Phajoding Monastery (12,000'), with great views of the capital.
  • Day 12 - Visit Drugyel Dzong, Bhutan's National Museum, and Paro's Rinpung Dzong.
  • Day 13 - Hike to Taksang Monastery, perched 2000' above the valley floor.
  • Day 14 - Say a final good-bye to this tiny Himalayan Kingdom.

See full itinerary

Trip Itinerary and Details

Important Notice: Day 1 is the day you should plan to arrive at the meeting point for the trip. This may require departing your hometown one or more days in advance and traveling on an overnight flight.

  • Day 1 - Arrive in Paro and travel to Thimphu, Bhutan's capital.

    Our trip begins with a morning flight on Druk Air from Bangkok, Thailand to Paro, Bhutan. The flight is a beautiful and fitting introduction to the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Upon arrival in Paro you are met by your Bhutanese leader and transferred to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan and home of the revered Bhutanese Royal Family. If time permits, we will take the opportunity to walk around the capital. Dinner included.

    Drive time: 2 hours.

  • Day 2 - Hike to nearby monasteries or explore the capital's sites.

    Two options are available today: day hiking or sightseeing in Thimphu. The hiking option takes us to several monasteries around Thimphu. We begin by crossing a lovely traditional bridge that spans the Wang Chhu River and start our hike uphill towards Cheri Monastery. We may come across tame deer and soaring birds that are looked after by the monks. Built in 1620 by Shubdrung Nawang Namgya, this is the first monastic establishment in Bhutan. Following our exploration at the monastery, we walk to our waiting vehicle for a quick drive to our next hike to Tango Monastery. This temple was founded in the 13th century by Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa and built in its present form by Tenzin Rabgye, the 4th Temporal Ruler, in 1688. After a picnic lunch, we hike to Pangri Zampa, two imposing white buildings in a grove of giant cypress trees. This temple was founded in the early 16th century, and presently it houses the monastic institute for astrology studies.

    For those interested in seeing more of the city, the Thimphu market provides a lively scene, with vendors from the region selling fresh produce and indigenous crafts such as religious objects, baskets and fabrics. Our next stops are the Zangdopelri temple and Changlimithang where you can witness young Bhutanese practicing the game of archery. Other places of interest include a visit to the Medicine Institute where traditional medicines are prepared according to ancient practices and the Institute for Zorig Chusum (the 13 arts) where young Bhutanese are trained in traditional crafts such as weaving, Buddhist painting, wood carving and sculpture. Overnight in Thimphu. All meals included.

    Optional Hiking: 3 hours; Terrain: dirt paths, some with moderate inclines.

  • Day 3 - See sweeping views from Dochu La and visit the Temple of the Divine Madman.

    After breakfast we begin our drive to Punakha via the Dochu La (la means pass). The road climbs steeply through a forest of pine and cedar and, if the weather is with us, the panoramic view of the Himalayas from the pass (10,460') is absolutely spectacular. Then it's all downhill on a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Punakha (4,162'). We take time to walk to the Chimi Lhakhang temple. Both ancient and infamous, this monastery was built in 1499 by one of Bhutan's favorite Buddhist saints, Lama Drukpa Kunley, often called the "Divine Madman" for his outrageous teachings. After lunch we will proceed to Punakha town to view the majestic Dzong (fortress), situated between the two rivers Pho Chu and Mo Chu (Father and Mother river). This fortress is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan). In the past this Dzong was the capital seat of the Kingdom. Overnight in Punakha. All meals included.

    Driving: ~3 hours; Hiking: 2-3 hours; Terrain: flat to moderate inclines.

  • Day 4 - Travel over Pele Pass for views of Chomolhari, hike to Rukubji Village.

    Our drive today to Trongsa is a long and beautiful one with hiking opportunities along the way. Leaving Punakha, the road winds through the fertile, central valleys to Wangdue Phodrang and then to Pele la Pass (10,824') which is traditionally considered the boundary between West and East Bhutan. There are views of the big mountains, including one Bhutan's most recognized Mount Chomolhari (23,995'). A hike downhill for 2 hours, through a forest of dwarf bamboo, brings us to Rukubji Village. We visit the village temple and have a picnic lunch before continuing our drive to the Trongsa Valley. A lovely hotel with fantastic views of the Trongsa Dzong and surrounding countryside is our home for the night. All meals included.

    Driving: 6 hours; Hiking: 2 hours; Terrain: gradual descent on a trail through forest.

  • Day 5 - Tour Trongsa's magnificent dzong and observe weavers making "yahtra."

    Today we explore the huge Trongsa Dzong. Built in 1647, this Dzong is a masterpiece of architecture, and its strategic location, perched on a narrow spur that juts into the gorge of the Mangde River, gave it great power over this part of the country. The view from the Dzong extends for many miles and in former times nothing could escape the vigilance of its watchmen. From the Dzong we walk to the local bazaar. Our journey continues with a drive east over the Yotongla Pass (11,154') and into the first of four valleys of Bumthang known as Chumey. Here we visit the Domkar Palace, originally built to be the summer palace of the 2nd King of Bhutan, Jigme Wangchuk. Next, we're onto the village of Tsungney to observe weavers creating the famous Bumthang fabric known as "yathra" before arriving in the Choekhor Valley for the evening. All meals included.

    Driving: 2.5 hours; Hiking: 2-3 hours; Terrain: gradual ascent on a path.

  • Day 6 - Hike through agricultural valleys to visit various temples and villages.

    Bumthang is the general name given to a complex of four valleys - Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. Choekhor and Chumey are agricultural valleys while Tang and Ura depend mostly on animal husbandry. From our hotel we begin our walk around the Choekhor Valley towards the Jambay Lhakhang temple through scattered and clustered villages of Jakar. A Tibetan king, Songtsen Gonpo built this temple in the 7th century. Next we visit Chakar Lhakhang, which was built in the 8th century and was the castle of King Sindhu Raja who used to rule the Bumthang Valley. Continuing our hike, we come to Kurjey Monastery. It is here that the great tantric saint Padmasambhava meditated and subdued a local deity known as Shelging Karpo. Hiking north, we cross the Chamkhar River over a suspension bridge and arrive at Tamshing Lhakhang, built by Terton Pemalingpa in the 1500s. We have some time to explore the area before returning to our hotel for the evening. All meals included.

    Hiking: 2-3 hours, Terrain: village paths, with some up and down.

  • Day 7 - Witness a famous Bhutan "teschu," with spiritual masked dances.

    It's festival day! During the festival various spiritual mask dances are performed. Local villagers participate by wearing their finest dress – this is the annual event at which to be seen. The origin of these religious dances dates back as early as the 8th century AD when Guru Rinpoche, the revered Buddhist Saint, used these tantric and magical dances to subdue evil spirits and demons. The mask dances performed today, during Tsechu (festivals), have similar meaning and also give a visual aspect to religious teachings to help people understand them. These dances are believed to ensure the well-being and happiness of all living things. All meals included.

  • Day 8 - From Kungarabten, hike to the Monastery of Nuns.

    This morning we begin our drive to Trongsa (2 ½ hours) and then continue south to Kungarabten, once the winter retreat of the royal families. We will visit the small winter palace, and then start walking towards the Monastery of Nuns that is located in the hills above. This monastery is the home to over one hundred nuns who study and meditate here. We will visit the shrine, hostel, and maybe join for a short prayer with the nuns before returning to the hotel. All meals included.

    Driving: 2.5 hours; Walking: ~1 hour, gradual ascent.

  • Day 9 - Hike from Phobjikha Pass to the beautiful Gangtey Monastery .

    As we continue heading west, we make a detour at Pele Pass into the glacial valley of Phobjikha. This is, hands-down, one of the most beautiful spots in all of Bhutan. It is the winter home for the hundreds of endangered black-necked cranes that migrate here from the Tibetan plateau. We enjoy a truly wonderful hike (primarily downhill with views of the valley) from Phobjikha Pass to the magnificent Gangtey Monastery which overlooks the valley. If we are lucky, we may even encounter the precious Red Panda. Overnight in Phobjikha Valley. All meals included.

    Driving: 2-3 hours; Hiking: 2 hours; Terrain: rolling but primarily down hill.

  • Day 10 - Returning to Thimphu and spend the afternoon exploring the capital.

    This morning we continue on to Thimphu, making several stops en-route for photos and leg stretches. Dining at the Dochu La café, we have terrific views of the northern snowcapped mountains (weather permitting). Upon arrival in Thimphu, our afternoon is free for shopping and exploration. All meals included.

    Driving: 4 hours

  • Day 11 - Hike to Phajoding Monastery (12,000'), with great views of the capital.

    After breakfast we begin our hike uphill to Phajoding Monastery which is situated at around 12,000 feet. It is a large monastic complex with 10 shrine rooms and 15 monastic residences, many of them used for extended meditation retreat. This monastery was founded in 13th century by Togden Phajo Drugom Shigpo, a saint from Tibet. The view of the whole valley and the capital city is fantastic. Overnight in Thimphu. All meals included.

    Hiking: 2-3 hours; Terrain: mostly up hill on a dirt path.

  • Day 12 - Visit Drugyel Dzong, Bhutan's National Museum, and Paro's Rinpung Dzong.

    We depart for Paro this morning for a day of sightseeing, including a visit to Drugyel Dzong from which, on a clear day, there is a magnificent view of Mount Chomolhari (23,995'). Hiking around the fortress is a leisurely and beautiful walk. Drugyel Dzong was built in the 17th century by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel, the spiritual leader of Bhutan. It is believed that through the meticulous power of Shabdrung the Bhutanese were able to defeat the Tibetans seven times. The name Drugyel Dzong means "victorious fortress." We visit the National Museum of Bhutan as well as Paro Rinpung Dzong, one of Bhutan's most impressive and well-known fortresses. Overnight in Paro. All meals included.

    Walking: ½- 1 hour; Terrain: dirt path.

  • Day 13 - Hike to Taksang Monastery, perched 2000' above the valley floor.

    After breakfast we take a short drive from Paro to the trailhead at the base of Bhutan's most famous monastery, Taktsang, the Tiger's Nest. Built in the 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 2,700' into the valley below. It is said that Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress from Singye Dzong in Lhuntse to meditate in a cave where Taktsang Monastery now stands. Our two to three hour steep hike through the forest brings us up to the famed viewpoint overlooking the monastery. Return to Paro for our final evening and farewell dinner. All meals included.

    Hiking 4-5 hours; Terrain: dirt path, some stairs; Elevation gain/loss: ~2,000 feet.

  • Day 14 - Say a final good-bye to this tiny Himalayan Kingdom.

    We say our good-byes to Bhutan today and board our flight back to Bangkok. Any flights departing Bangkok to home or elsewhere should be booked for tomorrow to account for any flight delays from Paro. Breakfast included.

    Note: Bhutan requires all passports to be valid for 6 months beyond the last day of your trip (Day 14 of this itinerary).

Note on Itinerary

Although we do our very best to adhere to the schedule above, the itinerary is subject to change for numerous reasons beyond our control, including weather and terrain conditions.

Air Travel

Please check with us before purchasing your airline tickets to ensure your trip has the necessary minimum number of participants required to operate.

Price Includes

Double-occupancy accommodations; meals as noted in the daily itinerary, private transport within Bhutan as per the itinerary, monument entrance fees and government taxes, Bhutanese visa fee, services of a skilled bi-lingual guide throughout.

Not Included

Airline transportation; pre- or post-trip hotel and meal costs; cost of obtaining a passport; insurance of any kind; medical immunizations, optional gratuities to your guide and driver, monastery donations, items of a personal nature such as beverages, alcohol, laundry, international phone calls and internet use.

Special Payment and Cancellation Policy

In addition to the $400 deposit required to reserve your space (fully refundable up to 91 days prior to departure) the cost of your flight on Druk Air from Bangkok to Paro (mandatory add-on cost and subject to change) is also due at the time of registration. This payment is due in full and is non-refundable unless REI Adventures cancels your departure for any reason. Upon your registration, we purchase your air tickets immediately as seats into Bhutan are very limited. If you needed to cancel your trip for a reason covered by travel insurance, this flight cost would be reimbursable by that plan.

Qualifications

This trip is rated Easy Active [2]. Many days have short walks and trail hikes at altitudes between 4,000' and 10,000'. Day hikes generally take 2-3 hours. Except for the high altitude and the very remote location, this is not a particularly strenuous trip nor is it a trekking itinerary. However, this is a trip for active people in good health who are strong walkers and/or hikers.

Weather

Bhutan's weather varies with the altitude and can change greatly within a 24-hour period. Paro, Thimphu, Trongsa, Bumthang and Phobjikha are at altitudes of 8,000' - 9,000'. Daytime temperatures generally range from mid-50s to upper 60s. Evenings are 40s-upper 50s. When the sun is shining the temperatures can be much warmer (70s – low 80s). The central valleys of Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang enjoy a semi-tropical climate due to their lower altitude and as a result will be warmer in temperature. Rain and thunderstorms are a possibility at any time of year as is occasional snowfall at higher elevations. The majority of our departures take place during the periods offering the best weather (March-May and late September – late November).

The June departure occurs during the southwest monsoon season (June –September). During the monsoon, heavy rain falls almost every night. During the day there may be long periods without rain. The views of the higher peaks are not as prevalent as during the spring (pre-monsoon) and fall (post-monsoon) periods. Yet, the scenery is verdant, the markets bursting with fresh fruit and vegetables, and the festival just as spectacular as any other time of year.

Single Travelers

If you are traveling alone and specifically request single accommodations, you will be asked to pay the single supplement fee. There is no single supplement fee for those willing to share accommodations, and we will assign you a roommate of the same gender if possible. Please be advised that there are a limited number of single accommodations available.

General Information

This trip is subject to the booking information set forth in the current REI Adventures Reservation Information. Please read this information carefully and call us if you have any questions. A full gear list and pre-departure information is sent upon sign-up. We highly recommend the purchase of travel insurance through REI Adventures. If coverage is purchased at the time of your initial reservation, the 'Pre-existing Conditions Exclusion' is waived (certain exclusions apply).

We look forward to having you join us for the trip of a lifetime! Why wait? Space is limited, reserve your adventure today.

Festivals of the Thunder Dragon Gear List

The key to staying comfortable on an active trip is layering. To get maximum comfort with minimum weight, you need versatile layers that mix and match to create the right amount of insulation, ventilation and weather protection.  This gear list was created to help you choose your clothing and gear for this trip.  Try to bring only what is necessary, as this will help you and the field staff.

Luggage Weight Restrictions

Druk Air imposes a 44 pound weight restriction for the combined weight of your checked luggage and carry-on bag. Carry-on luggage is limited to one bag only, with a maximum weight of 11 pounds, which is factored into your total weight allowance of 44 lbs. Druk Air limits carry-ons to 100 cm (39 inches, combined length, width, height).

Gear Checklist

Official Papers
  • Valid passport
  • Copy of first page of passport
  • Airline tickets
  • Visa form for Bhutan (bring with you)
Luggage (see weight restrictions)
  • Duffel bag or soft-sided luggage
  • Daypack to carry your camera, water bottles, rain gear
  • Luggage tags and locks
Travel Wear
  • Bring a few lightweight, easily washable items for travel & city wear
Outerwear
  • Waterproof rain jacket
  • Waterproof rain pants
  • Midweight fleece or wool sweater or jacket (evenings are cool)
Footwear
  • Hiking boots, sturdy, water resistant, broken in
  • Comfortable walking shoes for travel and town wear
Clothing
  • Hiking pants, lightweight (Capri length is okay for women)
  • Skirt (recommended for women)
  • Hiking shorts (men only - longer to the knee)
  • Long-sleeve synthetic shirts
  • T-shirts, synthetic are best
  • Light or mid-weight thermal underwear tops and bottom, synthetic or wool
  • Hiking socks / liners
Clothing Accessories
  • Sun hat
  • Warm hat
  • Bandana
  • Lightweight gloves or mittens
Travel Accessories
  • Two 1-quart water bottles or hydration system of equal capacity
  • Flashlight / headlamp and extra batteries
  • Ear plugs
  • Small quantity of favorite energy snacks
  • Sunblock and lip balm with high SPF
  • Sunglasses
  • Toiletry kit (small travel-size items)
  • Personal first aid kit
  • Ditty bag: ½ compact roll of toilet tissue, Ziploc bags, hand sanitizer, feminine hygiene products as needed. Carried in your daypack each day.
  • Trekking poles (highly recommended)
Optional Field Gear
  • Camera, memory cards and spare batteries
  • Electronics/battery charger, if applicable
  • Plug adaptors / converters as needed
  • Spare contact lenses or glasses
  • Reading and writing materials
  • Passport pouch or money pouch
  • Motion sickness remedies (winding roads)
  • Favorite energy snacks, small quantity

Things to Consider

  • Please remember to always pack essential items such as your passport, money, eyewear, a change of clothing, hiking boots and medications in your carry-on baggage in case your luggage is delayed.
  • Bhutan enforces a dress code at festivals. Collared shirts (short or long sleeve), long pants and/or long skirts and shoes are required. The following items are prohibited: flip flops, slippers, tank tops, jeans, hats, umbrellas, shorts, and short skirts.
  • Culturally sensitive dressing tips: For women, pants (or Capri length pants) and/or a skirt (mid-calf or longer; A-line style is best for hiking) is recommended. Tights, hiking shorts and sports tops are not advised unless worn under other clothing. For men, pants are best. Men may wear hiking shorts, but they should be longer, near the knees. Men should never go shirtless.
  • Cotton is wonderful in warm weather. However, once it becomes wet it will drain your body heat. Bring at least a couple of synthetics such as Capilene, MTS and Thermax.
  • Always test your layers before a trip. Your outer layer should fit easily over the inside ones without binding and bunching up.
  • Make sure boots are broken-in. Bring moleskin for foot treatment. Thin liner socks worn under regular hiking socks may minimize the risk of blisters. The liner sock should be synthetic, not cotton. Test your sock combination before you go on the trip.
  • Accommodation in Bhutan is not centrally heated. Portable electric heaters are generally provided in rooms. However, you may consider bringing an additional set of long underwear to sleep in for extra warmth. Plenty of blankets are provided.
  • For day hikes and sightseeing, bring a "toilet kit," a small ditty bag that includes a Ziploc bag of clean toilet tissue, a spare Ziploc to dispose of soiled tissue, and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. Note that toilet tissue must be discarded in a waste basket and not along a trail or in the toilet, as Bhutan's plumbing cannot accommodate it.
  • There are no reliable feminine health supplies available in Bhutan – women are advised to bring these from home.
  • Gifts: Please don't bring extra gifts as these are a burden to you and the staff while touring and hiking. The best gift is a conversation or tips where appropriate with staff.

Feel free to give us a call at (800) 622-2236 should you have any questions regarding the gear list. The staff at our stores and Direct Sales (800-426-4840) will also be happy to help you with gear questions. Or check out www.rei.com/learn. The Expert Advice section on our "Learn" page has great information to help you prepare for your trip.

REVIEW SNAPSHOT®

by PowerReviews
REI AdventuresFestivals of the Thunder Dragon
 
4.7

(based on 7 reviews)

100%

of respondents would recommend this to a friend.

Pros

  • Once in a lifetime experience (6)
  • Group camaraderie (5)
  • Guides (5)
  • Exceeded expectations (4)
  • Well organized itinerary (3)

Cons

    Best Uses

        • Reviewer Profile:
        • Casual adventurer (5)
        • Why Did You Choose to Travel with REI Adventures?:
        • Destination (4), Active adventures (3), All the details planned for me (3), I liked the itinerary (3), Travel with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts (3)

      Reviewed by 7 customers

      Sort by

      Displaying reviews 1-7

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      (1 of 2 customers found this review helpful)

       
      5.0

      Pinch Me, Am I Dreaming?

      By Lorirose

      from San Francisco

      About Me Casual Adventurer, City person, Over 40

      Site Member

      Pros

      • Accommodations
      • Exceeded Expectations
      • Guides
      • Once in a Lifetime Experience
      • Scenic Beauty
      • Well Organized Itinerary

      Cons

      • Hotels Far From Town

      Best Uses

        Comments about REI Adventures Festivals of the Thunder Dragon:

        There's a palpable difference in the atmosphere in a place that doesn't allow hunting and fishing. Cows (sans nose-rings and brandings) roam freely in towns and along trails and roadways, and dogs lay about snoozing by day. Many of the people wear the national dress and observe the conventions of their religious faith--unenamored of westernization and materialism. You begin and end the trip in Bangkok, such a contrast. In Bangkok, beware of friendly, English-speaking Thais who make you offers or give you sightseeing advice. They're most certainly working to get you to spend your money in a way you'd wisely rather not.

          • Why did you choose this trip?:
          • The dates worked with my schedule. Also, I thought it would be fascinating to visit a Himalayan country.
          • What was the highlight of your trip?:
          • During our hikes and along the drive across the kingdom, taking in the astounding natural beauty of this comparatively peaceful, forward-thinking country. Marveling at historical relics in ancient temples.
          • What would be your advice to potential travelers?:
          • Be open to changes in the itinerary, and make sure to make your own wishes known. If you go during the rainy season, you may be only one of two participants--like our "group"! Keep the smelly room fresheners plugged in. They're really mosquito repellants, and they work. Our hotels were far from town. Don't expect much non-touring time exploring on your own.

          (3 of 3 customers found this review helpful)

           
          5.0

          Great scenery - unique culture

          By Bob and Janet

          from Miami, FL

          About Me Casual Adventurer, Experienced travelers

          Site Member

          Pros

          • Amazing scenery
          • Exceeded Expectations
          • Insight to unique culture
          • Once in a Lifetime Experience
          • Superb guide
          • Well Organized Itinerary

          Cons

            Best Uses

              Comments about REI Adventures Festivals of the Thunder Dragon:

              Thanks to Bhutan's unique history of isolation, this trip gives the opportunity for a remarkable immersion in the culture of Himalayan Buddhism. Bhutan is a beautiful country, and REI and the local staff have done an excellent job of planning an itinerary that provides both a variety of scenic walks and hikes with an abundance of flowers and bird life, and the unhurried exploration of Buddhist temples, monasteries and fortresses. In fact, it was striking that each day brought new, surprising and vivid experiences. For us, the festivals gave a delightful sense of participating in the day-to-day life of the community. The Bhutanese people are very open and warm, and their casual acceptance of us at their festivals was unexpected and wonderful. We shared tea in their homes and wine in their local shops. The single east-west road is indeed rough and is constantly being maintained as a result of landslides and wash-outs. But nowhere else in the world have we met such patient, helpful, cooperative drivers and very, very importantly, our driver Jigme was not only an excellent driver but understood very well that speeding would have terrified us. Our guide Leki was just superb. His encyclopedic knowledge of Buddhism, the history of his country and the natural world of the Himalayas was most impressive and very helpful. Leki is a fine and patient teacher!

              • Why Did You Choose to Travel with REI Adventures?:
              • I Liked the Itinerary, Long time REI member
              • Why did you choose this trip?:
              • It gave us the opportunity to visit this unique culture before it is further transformed by the rest of the world.
              • What was the highlight of your trip?:
              • During our visit to the Tigers Nest monastery, a special ceremony in celebration of an auspicious day was in progress. Witnessing that ceremony in the temple was an incomparable experience.
                Another amazing and unforgettable event was Leki's wonderfully detailed explanation of the Buddhist "wheel of life" while standing in front of a spectacular painting of the same in the Trongsa Dzong.
              • What would be your advice to potential travelers?:
              • This is a unique and richly rewarding adventure, go before it's too late.

              (2 of 2 customers found this review helpful)

               
              4.0

              Fantastic trip

              By Britta

              from Minneapolis, MN

              About Me Casual Adventurer

              Pros

              • Amazing scenery
              • Great hikes
              • Group Camaraderie
              • Once in a Lifetime Experience
              • Window to unique culture

              Cons

                Best Uses

                  Comments about REI Adventures Festivals of the Thunder Dragon:

                  This is a good trip. Note that when REI says moderate, they mean moderate - it was less active physically than I expected. Other highlights: The visit to Taktsang. Walk through the Phobjikha Valley. Seeing the local religious festivals, especially at Domkar - amazing & fun.

                  • Why Did You Choose to Travel with REI Adventures?:
                  • Destination, Recommended by a Friend
                  • Why did you choose this trip?:
                  • Bhutan was said to be a beautiful country (it is!) and it has a unique culture - as a Buddhist Himalayan kingdom.
                  • What was the highlight of your trip?:
                  • Walks in the mountains.
                  • What would be your advice to potential travelers?:
                  • GO!

                  (4 of 4 customers found this review helpful)

                   
                  4.0

                  Good Trip

                  By Bay Area

                  from Oakland, CA

                  About Me Casual Adventurer

                  Pros

                  • Group Camaraderie
                  • Guides
                  • Very interesting culture

                  Cons

                  • Accommodations
                  • Horrible roads
                  • Uncomfortable Transport

                  Best Uses

                    Comments about REI Adventures Festivals of the Thunder Dragon:

                    The accomodations were pretty rough. The last night we didn't have any water so no shower or flushing of the toilet! If you don't expect much from the hotels,you won't be disappointed. The food also gets a bit redundant -- not a lot of variety. So be prepared.

                    • Why Did You Choose to Travel with REI Adventures?:
                    • Travel with Like-minded Outdoor Enthusiasts
                    • Why did you choose this trip?:
                    • I've wanted to go to Bhutan for several years and the time was right. I thought the itinerary looked interesting and covered many of the things I wanted to do and see in Bhutan.
                    • What was the highlight of your trip?:
                    • Day trip to Ura Valley (farthest east we got) and a stop at a grade school. The kids are so adorable. Bring supplies for the school! Any books written in English, pencils, erasers, etc. They don't have much!
                    • What would be your advice to potential travelers?:
                    • Be prepared to spend quite a bit of time in the car. Takes about 6-7 hours to travel 90 miles. Bhutan has different exchange rates for their money based upon the size of the bill. $50 bills and above get a better rate than those smaller, so if you bring bills, bring bigger ones. And make sure they are not torn -- they won't accept bills that have the slightest tear.

                    (4 of 4 customers found this review helpful)

                     
                    5.0

                    Bliss in the last mountain kingdom

                    By Pablito the Albanian

                    from San Francisco Bay Area

                    About Me Casual Adventurer, Experienced traveler, Strong hiker

                    Site Member

                    Pros

                    • Accommodations
                    • Activity Level
                    • Beautiful people
                    • Beautiful scenery
                    • Group Camaraderie
                    • Guides
                    • Intact culture
                    • Once in a Lifetime Experience
                    • Unspoiled environment

                    Cons

                    • Terrible roads

                    Best Uses

                      Comments about REI Adventures Festivals of the Thunder Dragon:

                      Bhutan is an amazing country. It's the last remaining unspoiled mountain kingdom. The Bhutanese don't practice Buddhism, they live and breathe it. If you're familiar with Buddhism as practiced in America, be prepared for something completely different, with ever-present demons and gods of all descriptions, with great gurus who could construct 108 temples in a single night or fly from Tibet to Bhutan on the back of a tiger.

                      I've been in many countries and seen folk dances performed by dance troupes all over the world, but Bhutan is the first country where I've been able to sit in a local festival and watch the dancers perform for themselves and other locals, not for us.

                      Beware that the roads are terrible. When our guide told us that a 30 km trip would take two hours, we we skeptical, but it was true. On the other hand, our drivers were amazing, and all the drivers in Bhutan were calm and courteous. I never heard a horn honked in anger, only as a warning when necessary.

                      There is hardly any crime in Bhutan. Although many of the people are very poor, we saw almost no begging, and no one appeared to be starving or homeless.

                      My only criticism of the itinerary is that it concentrated on "high" culture, such as temples and dzongs (combination forts, monasteries, and administrative offices), with no visits to farmhouses or small-town general stores. Our excellent guide, Tashi, had to wing it several times when the schedule of the festival was changed by the astrologer or a museum was closed because of an earthquake, and we got to see and do some of those things anyway.

                      Expect to go off the itinerary, and expect those to be some of your most memorable experiences.

                      The hikes are not extremely strenuous, but be prepared for hiking at 9 to 12,000 feet. You can actually skip the hardest hikes if you want to, but do not skip the last-day hike up to the Tigers Nest monastery. It looks amazing in photos, but it's even more amazing in person. Indescribable, in fact.

                      • Why Did You Choose to Travel with REI Adventures?:
                      • Active Adventures, All the Details Planned for Me, Commitment to Sustainability, Destination, Good Value, I Liked the Itinerary, Travel with Like-minded Outdoor Enthusiasts
                      • Why did you choose this trip?:
                      • A chance to see an unspoiled mountain kingdom, with the culture still intact, like Tibet before the Chinese took over.
                      • What was the highlight of your trip?:
                      • Tigers Nest monastery, festivals. Most of the highlights were not on the itinerary--see my general comments, below.
                      • What would be your advice to potential travelers?:
                      • A couple of practical things: Bhutan is a third-world country. Expect bad roads, unreliable power, drinking only bottled water. Do not expect cheap souvenirs. The Bhutanese create beautiful crafts, especially fabrics, but they get fair pay for their labor and you won't see low prices like you get in Thailand or Mexico. Be prepared for hiking at over 10,000 feet.

                      (6 of 6 customers found this review helpful)

                       
                      5.0

                      Over the top amazing!

                      By Vicki O

                      from Bellevue, WA

                      About Me Avid Adventurer, Curious explorer

                      Pros

                      • Cultural experiences
                      • Exceeded Expectations
                      • Group Camaraderie
                      • Guides
                      • Once in a Lifetime Experience
                      • Well Organized Itinerary

                      Cons

                        Best Uses

                          Comments about REI Adventures Festivals of the Thunder Dragon:

                          My husband and I took this trip in the fall of 2009.

                          It only took a few days for all of us on the trip to become a happy little band of travellers -- which is good because you do spend quite a few hours together traversing the country on a very comfortable little bus. Amazing scenery is everywhere and I think the only flat spot of ground in the country is used for the airport runway. Your excitement will start as you look through the windows UP at the mountains on the approach to the landing strip at Paro.

                          The major activities of the trip (visits to temples, dzongs, etc) are all amazing and amply described in the tour summary and itinerary so I won't dwell on them. You'll come home with thousands of pictures and won't be able to decide which are the best because it's really hard to take a bad picture in Bhutan. The festival (we attended the one in Jambay) really deserves a few extra words though. We spent many hours just a few feet away from the performers cozying up next to the local folks dressed in their best attire. The sights and sounds can't be adequately captured - you must be there! To go to Bhutan and not visit a festival would be a shame. Climbing to the Tiger's Nest was rewarding -- and seeing my husband being lectured by the local women on how NOT to hang a prayer flag was a hoot.

                          As always, some of the best experiences are not found on an itinerary: The evening spent in a back alley bar learning billiards from our guide, Leki, by the light of our headlamps; Dinner, dancing, and entertainment at a home in Thimpu; Playing makeshift bocce with fellow travelers drinking Druk 11000 beer before dinner.

                          Our group was made up fun loving, low-maintenance folks -- which is important in Bhutan. Sometimes the heat doesn't work, electricity goes off, or the food is... well... interesting. Do this NOW though before the whole world discovers Bhutan. And I'd say DO IT WITH REI too. Our guide, Leki, and driver, Dorji, were excellent and lots of fun. The trip was well organized and left just the right amount of time for individual exploring.

                          • Why Did You Choose to Travel with REI Adventures?:
                          • Active Adventures, All the Details Planned for Me, Destination, Good Value, I Liked the Itinerary, Past Experience With REI, Travel with Like-minded Outdoor Enthusiasts
                          • Why did you choose this trip?:
                          • Had wanted to visit the Himalayas for years and Bhutan is less touristed and appeared more culturally interesting than Nepal to us. Also, friends who had been to both Nepal and Bhutan recommended it.
                          • What was the highlight of your trip?:
                          • The festival and the climb to the Tiger's Nest. Wandering through temples and tzongs. Dinner and entertainment at the home of the owner of the local travel company.
                          • What would be your advice to potential travelers?:
                          • Be prepared for some of the most amazing sights and of your life and be willing to put up with some discomfort at times to experience them!

                          (12 of 12 customers found this review helpful)

                           
                          5.0

                          A trip you will never forget!

                          By Audrey

                          from Boston, MA

                          About Me Avid Adventurer

                          See all my reviews

                          Pros

                          • Activity Level
                          • Exceeded Expectations
                          • Group Camaraderie
                          • Guides
                          • Once in a Lifetime Experience

                          Cons

                            Best Uses

                              Comments about REI Adventures Festivals of the Thunder Dragon:

                              I can't say enough great things about this trip and Bhutan. The people, espcially the children, are VERY friendly, warm and you become immersed in their culture. The country is BEAUTIFUL; most of the towns we visited were surrounded by mountains, had a clear river running through it and terraced farm land for growing rice. We also saw some nice views of the Himalayas at most of the passes.

                              • Why Did You Choose to Travel with REI Adventures?:
                              • Active Adventures, All the Details Planned for Me, Commitment to Sustainability, Destination
                              • Why did you choose this trip?:
                              • I had not been to this part of the world yet and Bhutan offered the unique combination of a cultural experience and hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas.
                              • What was the highlight of your trip?:
                              • There were so many highlights ... we had a wonderful local Bhutan guide who did a great job giving us a good understanding of the history and culture. Hiking up to the Tigers Nest, experiencing the local festival, visiting the many decorative temples and dzongs are just some of the highlights.
                              • What would be your advice to potential travelers?:
                              • Visit as soon as you can! This country is unspoiled with not many tourists yet. It can be "rough" travelling with a lack of electricity / heat at times but it's part of the experience!

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