A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: jack_and_daisy

Farewell Bhutan, now for some R & R in Bangkok

Don't cry because it's over, Smile because it happened - Dr Suess

semi-overcast 30 °C

It's hard to write an end to a holiday. Although our travels in Bhutan concluded today, we still have a few days in Bangkok before we head home. We could not sleep in as John had planned a last minute trip to Drukgyel Dzong. The Dzong is in ruins today, but it was built in 1649. It was named Druk (Bhutan) gyel (victory) to commemorate the victory of Bhutan over Tibetan invaders in 1644. Unfortunately restoration work and equipment made it difficult for him to photograph the site to his satisfaction.

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Decided to risk a light breakfast before finalising our packing and preparing for our flight to Bangkok. Checked out and headed to the airport, arriving our customary three hours before departure time, only to be told that the flight check in did not open until two hours before. Started a queue and waited for nearly an hour until they opened security to allow us to check in. After checking in we proceeded to immigration but did not go through after processing. Instead we headed to the lounge which is in the pre-immigration side of the airport to wait for our flight. The Druk Air lounge was a nice surprise - comfortable seating, wifi that worked, light refreshments and even a cold beer for John. There was no public boarding call announcement, just a polite personal announcement that the plane had started boarding. We strolled back through immigration, went through another security scan for our cabin baggage and proceeded onto the tarmac to board the plane. Take off was actually 10 minutes early which apparently is not uncommon. If the weather is good they board the passengers quickly and take off as soon as possible in case the weather should change rapidly like we experienced on arrival.

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This time our transit stop was in the city of Guwahati, Assam, India - a place I had not heard about before. It's airport is tiny, not unlike the airport at Paro. We picked up a couple of passengers and were on our way again in 40 minutes.

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Enjoyed a nice lunch complimented with a Gin and tonic for me and a beer for John. There is no inflight entertainment on Druk Air but that didn't bother me as the view from the window was interesting and I had a good book to read. We landed in Bangkok a little earlier than expected, once again being bussed from the plane to the terminal. Immigration was very quick and our baggage came out quickly too.

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We had no trouble getting a taxi to the Royal Orchid Sheraton and made such good time to the hotel that we arrived in the middle of the cocktail hours. Whilst checking in I was served a lovely glass of white wine and John received a cold beer. This was a bonus as we expected to arrive well after the cocktail service had finished. We just love coming to this hotel and it didn't disappoint tonight with a friendly welcome and top class service. We were allocated a room on the 27th floor with stunning views over the Chao Phraya River, facing towards the famous Wat Arun.

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Our four night stay in Bangkok was all we could hope for. We spent our days browsing in the markets and shopping centres, cooling off in the swimming pools, cruising the big and small canals of Bangkok, indulging in delicious breakfasts, wicked afternoon teas and fun filled evening cocktails and dinners in the Club Lounge of the Sheraton. We unwound and relaxed and are now looking forward to returning home to our family and friends, arriving home just in time to celebrate our dear little grandson's first birthday.

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Posted by jack_and_daisy 17:39 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Chele La Pass and the Haa Valley

Travelling to dizzy heights

semi-overcast 17 °C

Well we have reached the last full day of our adventure and we were treated to a bit of a sleep in with a later start today. The hotel was without power when we departed due to a power failure through the night, so we were unable to enjoy our customary cuppa before departure. Attempted to get something to eat at the breakfast buffet but soggy toast and greasy eggs were far from appealing so I opted for a few pieces of banana and called it breakfast.

Set off at 9.00am to go to the Haa Valley. Made a brief stop in Paro town to pick up our picnic lunch before continuing on our way. Took the road out past the airport and started to climb up towards Chele La Pass - the highest pass in Bhutan at 3988m. Although the road is narrow and winding, it has a reasonable surface and there were only minor roadworks along the way. We loved the golden colour of the rice fields in the valley with the rice plants ready for harvest.

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Getting out at Chele La, there was a crowd of travellers, all of whom had stopped to take in the views, wander around the many fluttering prayer flags or just grab a snack from the ingenious vendors who set up shop here. I loved the atmosphere as well as the views and although a little chilly, I stayed out as long as I could stand it to take it all in. The views from this height were stunning and we could see down into the Paro Valley to the airport. Although not totally clear along the Himalayan mountain tops, we were fortunate to get a glimpse of the snow clad slopes of the tallest mountain in Bhutan, Mt Jhomolari (7314m). This mountain is to Bhutan what Everest is to Nepal.

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Driving over Chele La we started the steep descent into the Haa Valley. Views here were as equally stunning as down into Paro Valley and the road continued to be narrow and winding too. After three hours we finally reached the Haa Valley and stopped to visit Haa Dratshang, also known as the Lhakhang Kharpo (White Chapel) where the monks are housed. We were fortunate to hear a traditional musical prayer session being undertaken in the temple, complete with thumping drums, flutes and 2 metre long horns accompanying the rhythmic chanting of the monks. Was disappointed not to be able to photograph this but we have not been able to take photos whilst inside temples in Bhutan. Walking just a short distance behind the Dratshang we visited the small temple Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Chapel).

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Wangchuk, our guide, suggested we head to the Haa Chhu (river) to find a nice spot for our picnic lunch. He was a little disappointed that the spot he chose now has a helipad in the middle of it, but we didn't care. Placing a mat on the ground, he brought out a feast of hot dishes from a purpose designed thermos and set up our meal. Although it was a little bit breezy here, it did not spoil our picnic. At the conclusion of our meal, our driver Lobzeng cleaned up the plates and leftovers and fed them to the local dogs who had been hanging around expectantly throughout our meal. These poor looking creatures polished the lot off so at least today the excess of food was not wasted.

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We did a short drive through the town of Haa and then turned back to return to Paro.

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Stopping again at Chele La, we purchased some prayer flags to string up on the pass. John believed they would safeguard us on our flight tomorrow when we depart Bhutan and I liked that our prayers and a little bit of us would remain flying high on a mountain in Bhutan.

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Returning to Kichu Resort, we were disappointed to find the power had not returned. Made the decision to clean up and do some packing before the light in the room disappeared and we were forced to light candles. It was a little frustrating and John was at a loss without power to run the computer so he could sort out his thousands of photos. When we became stir crazy, we headed to the bar where there were more people to share our misery with. Wangchuk joined us for a drink and dinner and the crowd in the bar made for lively company. The power struggled to return to full capacity and we operated by candlelight until about 8.30pm when the service was restored completely. Funnily enough, we actually had a nice buffet meal tonight. The activities of the last few days were catching up with me and I struggled to keep my eyes open, turning in for an early night.

Posted by jack_and_daisy 19:35 Archived in Bhutan Comments (1)

Trek to Taktshang Goemba (Tigers Nest Monastery)

When everything feels like an uphill struggle, just think of the view from the top

sunny 17 °C

Awoke in the dark this morning, eager to get going on our trek to Tiger's Nest Monastery. Grabbed a light breakfast to sustain us before setting off. The day was a little overcast to start, with clouds covering the tops of the mountains and misting around the monastery. John was a little concerned as this was to be the highlight of the holiday and he feared his photos would not turn out as expected. Reaching the carpark where the hike commences we were on the trail before 7.30am. Quite a few people had the same idea to start in the cool of the early morning, but the crowd soon thinned out as we climbed higher.

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It was tough going uphill and we had to stop many times to catch our breath and ease our heart rate. Nevertheless the rewards came with spectacular views the higher we advanced. The sun came out along the way and the day turned out to be a cracker, with the earlier cloud lifting to reveal blue, sunny skies. The trail was also very colourful with thousands of prayer flags strung along the way. At the halfway point there is a cafe and we stopped here briefly for a rest on the way up. The more we walked, the tougher it got. There were some periods of respite when the trail dipped down for a while but that only teased us as it soon headed steeply upwards again. We met some lovely people along the trail and despite the difficulty of the walk, everyone was quite cheerful and supportive of each other.

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The relief and exhilaration we felt when we reached Tiger's Nest Monastery was only dampened by the thought we had to negotiate the same path back. In order to enter the monastery, we were required to check in all bags and cameras and pass through police security.

According to the legend related to this Taktsang which literally means "Tiger's lair", it is believed that Guru Rinpoche (the founder of Tibetan Buddhism) flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress. This place was consecrated to tame the Tiger demon. The tour of the monastery took us through the temple (where we were once again blessed with holy water) and to the internal cave where Guru Rinpoche was said to meditate for three months. We found it very interesting, enjoyed the spiritual atmosphere of the complex and marvelled at the feat of engineering that had anchored the monastery structure to the cliff face.

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Walking back, we continued to stop along the way to take photos as the sun moved around and made the monastery shine in the sunlight. John remained at the top viewpoint for a while longer to ensure he got the photos he wanted while I slowly walked back to the halfway cafe where we were having our lunch. Found a shady spot at the cafe and waited for John to return Today's buffet was surprisingly good considering the location. Lots of spicy food and one of my favourite dishes - potato with chilli and cheese with red rice. Our walk continued back down the trail after lunch and we reached the car park about 2.15pm. Not the quickest hike, but it was a journey - not a race. There were some local markets next to the car park and their prices were a great deal more reasonable than the souvenir shop on the trail near the cafe.

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At this point, both our bodies were aching and tired and John's knees were giving him "holy hell" so we asked to return to our hotel. Despite the pain, we were both elated with our effort and achievement in completing this challenging hike and finally putting a tick next the the Tiger's Nest Monastery on our bucket list.

We relaxed for the remainder of the day catching up on our writing, downloading photos and doing some much needed washing. Enjoyed a few drinks in the bar before the usual buffet dinner. Not even the ordinary buffet dinner served tonight could spoil the day for us and we will remember it for a long time to come. No trouble getting to sleep tonight.

Posted by jack_and_daisy 08:21 Archived in Bhutan Comments (1)

On the road back to Paro

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations

sunny 21 °C

For some reason I find it difficult to sleep in. The expectation for the day ahead gets me up and going - I only wish I could bottle this and take a dose each day when I get home. We have the packing routine down pat by now and after another lovely breakfast at the Dhensa Resort, we are on the road by 8.30am. I didn't feel that the road had improved but at least this time it was not raining.

Could not resist another stop at Dochu La pass as we both loved the views and wandering around the memorial chortens. Naturally there were a few more photos taken just in case we missed something the first time through.

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Nearing Thimphu we made a short stop to visit the Simtokha Dzong, said to be the first dzong built in Bhutan. Strategically built on a projecting ridge with deep gullies, the Simtokha Dzong overlooks the Thimphu Valley.

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Reaching Chuzom where the Paro Chhu and Wong Chhu meet, we stopped and walked over the bridge spanning the rivers. Because Bhutanese traditions regards such a convergence of rivers as inauspicious, there are three chortens here to ward off evil spells in the area. Each chorten is in a different style – Bhutanese, Tibetan and Nepali. Whilst waiting here, I witnessed my first Bhutanese road accident, a minor incident thankfully.

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It was not long until we arrived in Paro where we stopped first for lunch. Today's restaurant was pretty ordinary which is more the norm than the exception. In fact, we have been very disappointed with a lot of the meals we have been served. The lack of choice being the biggest annoyance and we wished we could just have a simple sandwich or hamburger on some days.

Following our lunch we toured the National Museum, which didn't do much to spark my imagination although the views from its location at the top of a hill were impressive. Next stop was Paro Dzong, a quick tour here, interesting history but I was feeling too weary by this stage to take it all in.

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Arrived at the Kichu Resort and went to check in. The room we had requested was not available and they allocated us the worst room in the resort - Room 23 - which not only faces the most ordinary wall, but is right by the highway - the two things we had wanted to avoid. There were several rooms not yet occupied but they refused to let us move to one of them. Thankfully our travel co-ordinator from Enchanting Travels contacted us when she found out about the situation and somehow we were finally able to move to a better room with a garden view. Turns out another guest disliked the hotel so much that they refused to stay here.....maybe we should have done the same. Whilst our room was in a better location, it was still very ordinary and had seen better days. Thankfully it had a reasonably comfortable bed and running water.

We cut our losses and headed for the bar before dinner. Several other groups congregated here and it made for a convivial atmosphere. Tonight's buffet was mostly Indian dishes and we found it very good. We returned to our room following dinner to prepare for tomorrow's hike to the Tigers Nest Monastery, praying for good weather for what we hoped would be the highlight of our tour.

Posted by jack_and_daisy 08:33 Archived in Bhutan Comments (1)

Punakha hikes and becoming a Bhutanese lady

Special meeting with a friend and dressing in a Kira

sunny 24 °C

Woke to a misty morning that turned into a fog surrounding our beautiful hotel. Enjoyed the best buffet breakfast to date, with a delicious chilli flavoured omelette made to order as well as the lightest apple muffins that just melted in my mouth.

We set off early to drive to the start of the track that would take us to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten. The Chorten stands majestically on a ridge above the Punakha valley. From the car park, you have to cross a suspension bridge decorated with fluttering prayer flags and a great spot for the first photo of our hike. You beging the walk through rice fields before you start climbing a moderately inclined trail surrounded by pine trees. It takes about 1 hour from the car park to hike up to the temple, and 30 minutes to hike down. About half way up there is a large prayer wheel in a hut where we stopped to catch our breath and cool off as it was extremely hot walking in the sun today. A couple of elderly locals were sitting in the hut praying and reading. One was a cheeky chap and we had a bit of fun with him before continuing on. Although it was not a long walk up compared to others we have done, the heat today was draining and it was a relief when we reached the top. The Chorten is a stunning monument built by Queen Mother and dedicated to the King and for the well being of Bhutanese. We were able to climb to the top of the monument where we had amazing views of the countryside. Thankfully the return trip was easier but the heat had not abated.

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Stopped for lunch in a restaurant at Sopsokha, perched high on a hill with a view down to Chimi Lhakhang, the site of our next hike. The monastery is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who was known as the Divine Madman for his unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism by singing, humour and outrageous behaviour. From the restaurant it was a 20 minute walk through rice fields along a dusty track and a small village then a short uphill climb to reach the monastery. On arrival we were lucky to see a group of young monks studying on the grassed area of the complex under the shade of a huge tree. They were chanting their lessons over and over in order to learn their scriptures and I was amazed how young some of the monks were. We toured through the complex and visited the temple which is known as the Temple of Fertility where young couples wishing to have children come to pray. Wandering back along the same track we stopped to watch the locals harvesting rice for a while, before returning to our hotel for a well earned rest.

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Late this afternoon we had some special visitors. I had been corresponding with a Bhutanese lady named Rinchen who I discovered when searching for Bhutanese people with similar interests to my own, namely knitting and crochet. Rinchen, who has a blog herself called "Bhutan Knit N Crochet", very kindly responded to my initial contact. She had been very helpful in providing me with advice regarding travel to Bhutan and we had also been discussing our crochet interest and learning a bit about each other along the way. So I was very excited to find we were going to be able to meet face to face. Rinchen arrived with her lovely husband, Karma Tenzin and we immediately all hit it off. She had heard that I had not had a chance to try on the traditional female dress called the Kira and had thoughtfully brought one with her for me to try. What an experience it was, and not an easy garment to get into. There are three stages to the outfit and then it is completed with jewelled hooked chains and Rinchen even bought her mother's pearly jewellery to complete the outfit. I felt so elegant and honoured to wear this special garment and I did not want to take it off. We learned so much about each other in the short time we spent together and it was one of the highlights of our holiday to meet with Rinchen and her husband. All too soon they had to depart but I have the memories of this special encounter to take home with me.

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We dined at our hotel this evening which for once, offered a'La Carte dining - a nice change. It had been a very tiring day for us and we once again turned in for an early night.

Posted by jack_and_daisy 23:09 Archived in Bhutan Comments (4)

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