Festivals of the Thunder Dragon

From: $4,999

per person dbl occ

Dates: Mar-Dec - see all dates

Total Days: 14

Activity Level: 2

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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.

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