Travel to Bangkok, Thailand
Mar 16 - 18
Fly to Bangkok, Thailand for an overnight. Lose a day if going east across the International Date Line.
Travel to Bhutan and explore scenic Himalayan passes surrounded by courting birds amid springtime flowers and experience a colorful Buddhist festival. Bhutan is a birder’s paradise during the spring courting season, with up to 400 bird species possible, and it’s the best time to see the rare satyr tragopan. Travelling through this mountainous gem covered with blooming rhododendrons located between India and China, you are engulfed in Bhutan’s strong culture, not only in its unique architecture and abundant prayer flags, but also in its adoration and respect for nature. Visit dzongs and monasteries, including a hike to the famous, cliff-side Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Explore the sub-tropical southern regions to discover the diverse range of species that reside there. Guided throughout by our Bhutanese leader, Hishey Tshering, you will experience the wonder and beauty of Bhutan.
• Spend almost three weeks witnessing Bhutan’s vibrant bird and plant life alive with springtime brilliance.
• Search for the rare white-bellied heron and satyr tragopan plus intriguing mammals like endemic golden langur.
• Witness a Buddhist festival with colorful costumes, brightly painted masks, and traditional folk music.
• Visit the Tiger’s Nest Monastery and other temples to experience Bhutan’s Buddhist culture.
Itinerary Updated: May 2018
|Mar 16 - 18||Fly to Bangkok, Thailand. Lose a day if going east across the International Date Line.|
|Mar 19||Fly from Bangkok to Paro, and drive to Thimphu.||Hotel in Thimphu||L, D|
|Mar 20 - Apr 7||Explore the natural and cultural wonders of Bhutan.||Various lodges in Bhutan||B, L, D|
|Apr 8||Fly from Paro to Bangkok for overnight.||B|
|Apr 9||Fly home. Gain a day if going west over the International Date Line.|
Hishey spent his lifetime promoting and preserving nature in Bhutan through many guiding and conservation efforts. He worked for the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature and the International Crane Foundation on bird issues. His belief in "Gross National Happiness" and extensive knowledge of culture, birds, and wildlife make him one of the most sought-after guides in Bhutan for over 15 years. Hishey will be helped by an assistant guide and driver.
Fly to Bangkok, Thailand for an overnight. Lose a day if going east across the International Date Line.
Fly from Bangkok to Paro, Bhutan with views of Himalayan peaks towering through the clouds. Hishey will meet you in Paro to start your journey through Bhutan.
Bhutan is a country and culture that embodies in living in the moment. It is a nation experiencing rapid growth and a newly emerging tourist industry, so the itinerary too must be flexible to take advantage of the best Bhutan has to offer. Your safari will start and end in Paro, driving through seven districts (or dzongkhag) to visit the best regions for bird watching, acrobatic langurs, beautiful spring blossoms, and unique cultural experiences. Hike to Bhutan’s famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery and see many other unforgettable sites. Read on for highlights of each district you visit.
Paro ~ Chele La Pass, Paro Valley, Tiger’s Nest Monastery
Scenic Chele La Pass is the highest road in Bhutan (close to 13,000ft) with excellent views when skies are clear. A pre-dawn departure could uncover nocturnal species such as gray nightjar or leopard cat. Explore different habitats as you climb to the pass and search for three different species of pheasants. Explore beautiful Paro Valley and the ruins of the Drukgyel Dzong. The valley’s blue pine forest is home to laughingthrushes (black-faced and chestnut-crowned) and chestnut-tailed minla, ibisbill may also be seen patrolling the Paro River.
Bhutan’s most famous site is the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, impressively built on the side of a cliff just west of Paro. Halfway up you may relax at a cafe and enjoy the view of the monastery across a gorge. If you continue, you will discover increasingly dramatic views leading to a picturesque waterfall and bridge just below the monastery. You may tour the inside and see the rocks protruding from within, however photography is not permitted inside. Keep an eye out for monkeys playing in the trees near the trail.
Thimphu ~ Dochu La Pass, Capital city of Thimphu
Dochu La, at 10,000ft, is one of the most scenic passes in Bhutan. On a clear day, Dochu La affords superb views of the Himalayan range to the north. Colorful birds such as fire-tailed myzornis, red-tailed minla, Gould’s sunbird, and green-tailed sunbird complement the vivid blossoms of rhododendrons and magnolias that dot the hillside. In addition to the natural scenery, visitors to the Dochu La are drawn to the 108 Buddhist stupas (a place for meditation) built on a hill decorated by colorful prayer flags. In Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu, you will have an opportunity to explore more natural and cultural attractions. Visit a weaving shop and traditional papermaking workshop to witness students learning these respected crafts. See the national mammal, the takin, protected in an extensive nature reserve on the edge of town or take an optional hike up to the Cheri Monastery.
Jigme Dorji National Park
Explore Jigme Dorji National Park, the second largest national park in Bhutan, covering parts of five districts (Gasa, Thimphu, Punakha, Paro, and Wangdue Phodrang). You may encounter Assam macaques, common grey langurs, and goral (a native goat), as well as many birds, such as the crested kingfisher, rufous-bellied woodpecker, and oriental and large hawk cuckoos. With luck, you’ll see the rare yellow-rumped honeyguide feeding on the honeycomb of rock-bee hives.
Punakha ~ Punakha Dzong, search for White-bellied Heron
Travel alongside the mighty Puna Tsang Chu River to the town of Punakha, home to the majestic Punakha Dzong, the winter residence of the central monastic body. Search along the river for Pallas’s fish eagle and the white-bellied heron, the world’s rarest heron. In the semi-tropical zone of this district, look for mountain hawk eagle, great barbet, and the rare Ward’s trogon.
Wangdue Phodrang ~ Pele La Pass, Phobjikha Valley
Take in spectacular views over Pele La Pass between the districts of Trongsa and Wangdue Phodrang. Monals, a type of pheasant, satyr tragopan, and the great parrotbill are possibilities here. You may also encounter mammals, like goral and serow, wild herbivores that do well in these habitats around Pele La. Descend into the glacial valley of Phobjikha, known as the “Valley of the Cranes.” Phobjikha Valley has the largest wetlands in Bhutan and is one of the winter homes of roughly 350 rare and endangered black-necked cranes. These cranes typically start to arrive here in the end of October and migrate back to Tibet in early March. Though unlikely, you may see a crane or two still lingering. The annual presence of the cranes has made Phobjikha one of the most important wildlife preserves in the kingdom. Find brilliant sunbirds feeding on insects in the rhododendron blossoms among unique larches endemic to the Himalayas.
Trongsa ~ Trongsa Dzong, Golden Langurs
Trongsa is best known for the Trongsa Dzong, the largest dzong in Bhutan. Take in the beautiful surroundings and impressive architecture, learn about the dzong’s historical importance, and perhaps see Assam macaques climbing the walls. If open, you’ll also visit the Tower of Trongsa Museum. The watchtower, up on the hill, has great views and interesting cultural and historical artifacts. The district is also a good place to find rare golden langurs, a primate found only in Bhutan and parts of India.
Bumthang ~ Orgyencholing Palace, Chumey Valley
In addition to spectacular landscapes covered in rhododendron blooms, a highlight of your exploration of Bumthang will be the Orgyencholing Palace, which has been converted into a fabulous museum providing insight into the times prior to the establishment of hereditary monarchy in 1907. Search for new bird species in the blue pine forests of Chumey Valley including the stunning, iridescent Himalayan monal, a pheasant that frequents the Tharpaling Monastery. Beautiful rosefinches and rufous-breasted accentor may be seen foraging in the open fields with the Himalayan griffon soaring above.
Mongar ~ Bird diversity in lowland forests, Thrumshingla National Park
Mongar is the easternmost and lowest elevation of the districts on your safari and is one of the best places for birding in Asia with its rich, subtropical, broadleaf forests. Look for blood pheasants and flocks of snow pigeons flying across the valley or foraging in the farmlands. Travel through Thrumshingla National Park and a variety of ecological zones between Bumthang and Mongar, stopping for a hike through rhododendron forest at Thrumshingla Pass. Search for satyr tragopan, rufous-necked hornbill, and other birds that flourish in the lowlands of Bhutan. Hishey loves birding in this area so much he built Trogon Villa in Yongkhola, so his tour groups would have a comfortable base, from which to explore this wildlife-rich region of Bhutan. In addition to abundant bird life, search for capped langurs swinging playfully in the trees. A night drive offers you the opportunity to see nocturnal species.
During your time in the Zhemgang District, along the Zhemgang-Tingtibi Road, you may find many special species, like fire-tailed myzornis, cutia, sultan tit, yellow-cheeked tit, several species of fulvettas and laughingthrushes, golden babbler, rust-fronted barwing, red-headed trogon, beautiful nuthatch, blue-bearded bee-eater, pin-tailed pigeon, white-browed and speckled piculet, and more. Spend time watching the endemic golden langur that is common in this region and encounter the black giant squirrel and yellow-throated marten while exploring the mixed broadleaved evergreen forests at elevations from 2,000 to 8,000ft.
The majestic Indian peafowl is quite common around the Gelephu region, which borders the Indian State of Assam. You may encounter all four species of hornbills found in Bhutan - the rufous-necked, great, wreathed, and oriental pied-hornbill. Other large colorful birds you may see in this region are the Indian roller, dollar bird, red-naped ibis, parakeets, and several waterbirds.
Panbang and Nganglam
This region has recently become accessible to tourists now that new roads connect it to the rest of Bhutan. The Royal Manas National Park, the oldest park in Bhutan, lies in this region and is situated along the magnificent emerald Manas River. This park is known for its remarkable, diverse flora and fauna where more than 70% of Bhutan’s bird species are found, three of which are critically endangered: white-bellied heron, white-rumped vulture and red-headed vulture. The number of species within the park includes 558 species of flora, 65 species of mammals, 60 species of fish, and 180 species of butterfly. You’ll experience the dense towering mountains punctuated with rivers and small streams in extensive tropical monsoon forests, patches of natural grasslands, moist tropical forest, and dense oak forest.
Bhutan’s festivals and Buddhist culture
Bhutan is a country of festivals. The most important are the religious dance festivals, known as Tshechus, which are held in different districts throughout the year. In a swirl of color and noise, the gods and demons of Buddhist mythology come to life. Mask and sword dances and other rituals are performed by monks and villagers. The performances have deep religious significance but are not somber affairs. The atsaras (traditional clowns of the Tshechu) add color and merriment to the festival with their bawdy antics.
The Buddhist culture of Bhutan is visible throughout the country, with prayer flags and stupas adorning hillsides and mountain passes. Hishey will enlighten you with stories of his country’s history, including the arrival of Buddhism and Bhutan’s peaceful transition from monarchy to democracy. He’ll interpret tales depicted in the brightly painted murals covering walls in monasteries and dzongs. Because of the strong connection to nature, the country’s cultural history is strongly tied to its natural history.
Hishey will transfer you to the airport for your group flight from Paro back to Bangkok. Overnight in Bangkok or connect with a late-night flight homeward.
Arrive home, depending on your flight schedule. Gain a day if going west over the International Date Line.
Travel to Bhutan and explore scenic Himalayan passes surrounded by courting birds amid springtime flowers.
|Type||Cost Per Person|
|Trip cost, double occupancy||$8,825|
We reserve the right to charge for cost increases that occur between when we set tour prices and the date of travel, for example, changes due to the cost of lodging and transportation. If you are a single traveler and you desire, we will find a roommate for you. If we cannot find you a roommate, we may charge you a single supplement. Single rooms are subject to availability.
|Payment||Due Date||Amount Per Person|
|Deposit||Due now to reserve your space||$500|
|Second||May 1, 2018||$2,000|
|Final||October 1, 2018||Remaining balance|
Payments will be due based on the schedule above. All reservations require a deposit to confirm reservation of your space. For reservations made after a due date, all past payments will be due with registration. By sending your initial deposit, you agree to accept our payment schedule and cancellation policy as a contract. If payments are still outstanding two weeks after the due date, your space may be forfeited.
Until the Final Payment due date, deposits are refundable except for a cancellation fee of $150 per person, which can be applied toward another tour if reserved within six months of the cancelled trip’s departure date. Cancellations are non-transferrable. No refunds are given after the Final Payment due date.
March is the dry season, but some rain is likely and overcast skies are common. Temperatures can vary greatly throughout Bhutan, and during March–April winds can be strong and make it feel cooler than expected, so be prepared for both cold and hot temperatures. Expect daytime temperatures in the 60’s°F at higher altitudes to the 80’s°F at lower altitudes in the southern region. Expect early morning and nighttime temperatures in the 40’s°F at higher altitudes to the 60’s°F at lower altitudes in the southern region.
You will visit high elevations; your overnights at these high elevations range from about 4,500ft at Punakha and Yongkhola to about 9,500ft at Phobjikha. Most walks are under a mile with some up to 2mi at a slow pace with stops to observe wildlife. The most strenuous activity is the optional hike up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery (10,240ft). Most of the trail is steep with switchbacks or stairs, but you can stop halfway at a viewpoint and decide if you want to continue or just enjoy the view from there. The hike up and back can take about 3–4 hours depending on your pace and how much time you spend at the monastery.
Unless listed as included, airfare is not included in trip costs. Detailed logistical information and the contact information for our recommended flight-ticketing agent are included in the Trip Materials we will send you. Please let us know if you are arriving earlier or staying later as we are happy to assist you with any extra overnights that you might want to arrange.
Flights you (or a travel agent) book: Arrive at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) in time for an overnight on March 18 to connect with our early-morning group flight to Bhutan on March 19. Depart Bangkok (BKK) anytime on April 9.
Flights we book for you: There is one domestic flight during the safari between Bumthang and Paro (included in the trip cost) and we will also book the round-trip flights between Bangkok (BKK) and Bhutan. The cost of this round-trip booking will be added to your invoice.
The Kingdom of Bhutan is the size of Switzerland, nestled between Tibet and India, and is truly one of Earth’s most remote countries. Over 60% of the country is still forested with farms dotting the countryside. Bhutan has 20 peaks over 23,000ft, a wonderful place to photograph stunning mountain scenery, while also seeing spectacular birds and charming mammals. The Buddhist philosophy of respect for all living things alongside a progressive governmental approach to environmental preservation and promotion of Bhutan’s unique culture and traditions have maintained an environment where wildlife flourishes.
Bhutan lies in an area designated as one of the world’s top ten biodiversity hotspots. Over 600 species of birds live in Bhutan, including some of the most exotic and rare species in the eastern Himalayas. Because of their abundance, birds are the large majority of wildlife we encounter. Bhutan is also home to at least 165 species of mammals, including langurs, macaques, red pandas, Himalayan black bears, alpine musk deer, and in the alpine meadows, takins (endangered) and yaks grazing on grasses along mountainsides. You may find tiger tracks along the bases of the foothills to above the tree line, although this predator is seldom seen.
Generally, October–December and March–May are the best times to visit Bhutan – rainfall is low and temperatures are conducive to active days of sightseeing. (The Monsoon season occurs June–August.) Choosing spring or fall will depend on your priorities. In the fall, days are usually very pleasant with clear skies and sunshine, providing the best opportunities to view Himalayan peaks. November–December is the best time to see black-necked cranes, and spring is the best time to spot a satyr tragopan. In the spring, the mountains are covered with blooming rhododendrons and the bird life is more numerous and more active, although overcast skies and wind are more common, especially at passes. Spring safaris tend to yield about twice the number of bird species compared to fall.
A dzong is a fortress, which continues to serve as Bhutan’s administrative and religious center. You’ll also see monasteries, including the famous Tiger’s Nest, and smaller chortens (stupas), all of which are important features of Bhutan’s religion and culture. You will have opportunities to examine traditional Bhutanese arts and crafts, which represent a vital aspect of Bhutan’s living heritage as well as its spiritual and intellectual life.
Until recently, Bhutan’s remoteness, steep terrain, and tightly controlled tourism ensured that its incredible beauty and fascinating people remained known only to a few. Bhutan was closed to outsiders until 1960; its first roads were built in 1961 and no tourists were officially permitted until 1974. Bhutan is a developing country, yet its unique agrarian Buddhist culture is still intact. You will encounter red-robed monks and herders with their cows or yaks on the road along with vehicles.
All lodges and hotels have electricity and private bathrooms with showers and flush toilets. Lodging throughout the safari is comfortable and ranges from deluxe hotels to simple and rustic lodges in remote locations. All have the architectural style characteristic of Bhutan and many have beautiful grounds and/or views to take in.
You will drive across Bhutan in Hishey’s “Grus Mobile,” a roomy, 22-seat Toyota Coaster bus with large windows that open. Although you’ll often stop to enjoy the pristine Himalayan air and to photograph the stunning scenery, you may at times have to photograph from the vehicle. Expect winding mountain roads and sometimes slow, bumpy drives, depending on road conditions. In Bhutan distances are usually estimated by time rather than by mileage (the average driving speed is 15mph), and roadwork is wide-spread in developing Bhutan. Because you look for birds along the roads you may spend a full day traveling from one destination to another.
"What a fabulous country and what a wonderful time we had! The trip met every expectation - a great blend of birds, culture, hiking, friendly people. +++."
"There is something really special about being in an unfamiliar place and seeing it through both the eyes of people who love their country and the natural wonders the country has to offer."
"The Bhutan trip was far beyond our expectations and a deeply moving experience. Hishey was the best guide ever."