Journey to the last Shangrila, Bhutan - Day 1 (Paro)

Finally the long waited Bhutan trip. Why a long waited holiday? Flights into Bhutan are limited so I booked this trip 6 months in advanced. Why would I want to visit Bhutan? I get to know about this country when Hong Kong celebrity couple Tony Leung and Carina Lau tied the knot in Bhutan on 21 July 2008. Bhutan was also rated one of the top 10 countries in 2012 by Lonely pPanet. Bhutan is slowly opening its door to foreigners and there is so much to explore in this magical, charming and mystical country.

I signed up the 7 days magical Paro festival tour with Druk Asia. Itinerary included Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Gangtey.   

Click here to read day 1day 2day 3day 4day 5day 6 report


Early departure

Yawn~ It was an early morning flight at 6:30am.


Singapore - Paro (Bhutan) via Kolkata (India)

Flights from Singapore to Paro takes about 5 hours with stop over at Kolkata India. Druk air does not offer web check-in option, you will need to inform them your seat preference at airport check in counter. So try to be there early and request to sit on the left hand side on the flight into Paro and right hand side on the flight on the return. You will get the best view of Himalayas in distance. I reached Changi airport at 4:30am and I was given seat 12 and it is just right above wing =_=''' Please avoid row 5 - 12.


Druk Air (Royal Bhutan Airlines) Bhutan national airline




Druk Air (Bhutan national airline) is the only airline fly direct from Singapore to Bhutan via Kolkata. Flights into Paro are limited, therefore advanced booking is highly recommended. You can reserve your ticket from Druk Air website directly or you can ask your travel agent do it for you. 

Tashi Air (Bhutan first private airline) is another airline which connects Bhutan with the rest of the world, to be precise, only 3 countries - India, Nepal and Thailand.

The plane was an Airbus A319. It's a 2 x 2 seat arrangement in business class and 3 x 3 in economy. Pillow and blanket are provided in business class. The price difference between business and economy class is only few hundred dollars. Bhutan King doesn't have his own private jet and he takes Druk Air whenever he travels. Try to get business class if you are going to Bhutan, maybe one day you may meet him.

In-flight entertainment is not available, so you may want to bring along your tablet. I think Druk Air is planning to implement entertainment system by end of 2015. 



Breakfast was served an hour later after taking off. It's not bad just like other airline. This is non-vegetarian version, they do serve vegetarian meal too.


Light meal (sandwich, chocolate cake and mango juice) was served after leaving Kolkata. Stop over at Kolkata took about 40 - 50 minutes and those who are going to Paro from Singapore do not need to leave the plane at Kolkata. Cleaning the plane and checking of hand carry luggage will be done during this 50 minutes. 


Himalayan mountain can be seen at the far end of the clouds on the left hand side of the flight into Paro. It looks more stunning if you are flying from Kathmandu into Paro.


I sat on the left side instead of right on the way back to Singapore and I was amazed by the view, snow capped mountain.



Arrival in Paro

Paro airport is the only international airport in Bhutan. It is also one of the world's most difficult for landing and take off, so dangerous that only 8 pilots in the world are certified to land there. All flights are only allowed to fly in and out from Paro airport during daytime. Paro valley is wider than Thimphu valley, thus they build the international airport in Paro instead.

Phew, I reached Bhutan in one piece. Look at the spectacular Paro valley right before touching down. It is deep and narrow.


Paro airport doesn't look like an airport at all. It is probably the most charming airport in the world.


Many tourists started snapping photos as soon as jumping off the plane. Tourists are free to roam around.


Upon stepping out from airport, our tour guide and driver were waiting outside with my name display. I was warmly welcomed by them and they were friendly.

I was brought to a restaurant for lunch in Paro town after checking in hotel, Uma by COMO Paro. I don't remember the name of this restaurant, it is located on 2nd floor. Many tourists were brought  here and lunch was served in buffet style. All meals included in the package are all served in buffet style.


There were red rice, some sauteed veg and one meat dish. Food didn't look very appealing but it taste quite good actually. And it's definitely healthier, Bhutan farmers do not use fertilizer and only cow dung. It's 100% organic.



Weather

Weather was fantastic when I was there. Blue sky, no rain, cool but not cold. Most of the time I was wearing short sleeve T-shirt with cardigan (sometimes without) during daytime and fleece jacket at night.

Put on some sunscreen, UV is very high up there! My gosh, back of my neck got sunburnt. 


Pato Town - Kyichu Lhakhang - Paro Dzong - Ta Dzong

First day we wanted to take it slowly to kick start the trip so we did not include a lot of attractions.


Paro Town

After lunch, we took a stroll around Paro town. The main street is lined with traditional wooden shops and restaurants. There is taxi service in Bhutan too.



Salon in Paro town, just below the restaurant we went.


Convenience shop which they call it general shop


Farmers' market. You will find a lot of locally grown vegetables, fruits, cheese, chili, dried fish, rice, asparagus and etc.




Kyichu Lhakhang

It is also known as Kyerchu Temple or Lho Kyerchu. It is one of the oldest temple in Bhutan.


"Kyichu Lhakhang is a Buddist temple in Paro. It is one of the oldest monasteries in the country built in the 7th century by Tibetan King Songsten Gampo. The story goes that a giant demon lay across the whole area of Tibet and the Himalayans and was preventing the spread of Buddhism. To overcome her, King Songtsen Gampo decided to build 108 temples which would be placed on all the points of her body. Of these 108 temples, 12 were built in accordance with precise plans. Thus, it happened that in about the year AD 638 the temple of Jokhang in Lhasa was built over the heart of demon. There is a belief that the two orange trees in Kyichu Lakhang bear fruit throughout the year." - source from http://www.drukasia.com/bhutan/bhutan-landmarks/kyichu-lhakhang/

According to the legend, these 108 temples were built in one night.

Giant prayer wheel at Kyerchu Temple


Prayer wheels at Kyerchu Temple


Many stray dogs were seen in Bhutan. They bark at night, the damn whole night! Well, I was not really bothered by them. Some hotels provide ear plug. You may want to bring your own.


They are actually quite friendly.



Archery, national sport

We saw a few men playing archery on the way from temple to Paro Dzong. Archery was decalred as Bhutan national sport in 1970s. Tournaments and competitions are held throughout the country every weekend. No woman play archery in Bhutan. 


These men danced and sang after one of their team members managed to hit the target. You may notice that there were many colourful flags around their waist. The shooter will get one flag everytime  when they manage to shoot on the target. The more flags one has the better shooter.



Paro Dzong (Paro Rinpung Dzong)

Dzong, it means monastery, fortress and regional administrative office. Dzong can be found in Tibet, Bhutan and northern border of India.

Paro Dzong is one of the famous Dzong in Bhutan and was built in 16th century by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. This place is also where the Paro Tshechu held.

It is built on a steep hill.


Bridge entrance into Paro Dzong


On the way up to Paro Dzong. Many steps and slopes in Bhutan. Be prepared. I stopped to catch my breath every few steps. 


It was a Sunday when we first arrived Bhutan and it was also state funeral of Singapore late first Prime Minister Mr. Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore. All Bhutan national flags were half mast on this day. Bhutan 5th King had also went Singapore to pay final respect to Mr.Lee.


Monks in Paro Dzong





National Museum (Ta Dzong)

We supposed to visit Ta Dzong (National Museum) but it was closed on Sunday so we planned to revisit it when we came back from Thimphu. I will update this part later on day 6.


Hotel
Uma by COMO Paro. Read the review here.



Interested to visit Bhutan? Read my post here - How to plan your Bhutan trip? Click here to read day 1day 2day 3day 4day 5day 6 report







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3 comments

  1. beautiful write-up for a beautiful country.and beautiful pics...i m going to Bhutan in moth of June this year..hoping for a really relaxing vacations..

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    Replies
    1. Hi I'm sure you will enjoy your holiday in Bhutan, it's an amazing place.

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  2. Thank for your info! I m planning for a trip there! The info is great! Love your pictures

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