Travel to Bangkok, Thailand
Oct 31 - Nov 2
Fly to Bangkok, Thailand for an overnight. Lose a day if traveling east across the International Date Line.
Discover this most scenic and nature-rich region situated on the edge of the vast Himalayan range. Join the quest for rare, black-necked cranes, white-bellied herons, vibrant pheasants, acrobatic langurs, and more. This mountainous gem between India and China engulfs you 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. Discover the diverse range of species inhabiting the sub-tropical southern regions. Experience the wonder and beauty of Bhutan through the eyes of our Bhutanese leader, Hishey Tshering.
Itinerary Updated: April 2023
|Oct 31 - Nov 2||Fly to Bangkok, Thailand.|
|Nov 3||Fly from Bangkok to Paro, Bhutan and then drive to Thimphu.||Hotel in Thimphu||L, D|
|Nov 4-22||Explore the natural and cultural wonders of Bhutan.||Various lodges in Bhutan||B, L, D|
|Nov 23||Fly from Paro to Bangkok to connect with flights home.||B|
|Nov 24||Arrive home.|
Hishey Tshering is an avid birder, a football (soccer) fanatic, and a keen conservationist. Prior to establishing the company (Bhutan Birding & Heritage Travels), Hishey worked for the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) as its Communications Officer. During his years at RSPN, he played a pivotal role in the protection of the black-necked cranes. In 1998 he worked with Dr. George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, on the first-ever color-banding and radio-collaring of the black-necked cranes to study their migratory route.
Fly to Bangkok, Thailand for an overnight. Lose a day if traveling 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 living in the moment. As this nation is experiencing rapid growth and a newly emerging tourist industry, the itinerary must be flexible to take advantage of the best Bhutan has to offer. Your trip will start and end in Paro. You will drive through many districts (or dzongkhag) to visit the best regions for bird watching, acrobatic langurs, beautiful mountain scenery, and unique cultural experiences. You will hike to Bhutan’s famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery and see many other unforgettable sites. Read on for highlights of each district you may 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 the skies are clear. A pre-dawn departure could uncover nocturnal species such as gray nightjars or leopard cats. Explore different habitats as you climb to the mountain pass and search for three different pheasant species. Explore the 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, and you may find ibisbill 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 to 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 ~ Capital city of Thimphu
In Bhutan’s capital city, Thimphu, you will explore more natural and cultural attractions. Visit a weaving shop and traditional papermaking workshop to watch students learn 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), plus many birds, such as the crested kingfisher, rufous-bellied woodpecker, oriental cuckoo, and large hawk-cuckoo. With luck, you’ll see the rarely-seen yellow-rumped honeyguide feeding on the honeycomb of rock-bee hives.
Punakha ~ Dochu La Pass, Punakha Dzong, search for White-bellied Heron
Drive from Thimpu through Dochu La Pass and enjoy one of the most scenic passes in Bhutan, at 10,000ft. On a clear day, Dochu La affords superb views of the Himalayan range to the north. In addition to the natural scenery, visitors to the Dochu La are drawn to the 108 Buddhist stupas built on a hill decorated with colorful prayer flags.
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 the river for Pallas’s fish-eagles and the white-bellied herons, the most critically endangered heron species in the world. In the semi-tropical zone of this district, look for mountain hawk-eagles, great barbets, and Ward’s trogons.
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, and great parrotbills are possible sightings here. You may also encounter mammals, like goral and serow, wild herbivores that do well in these habitats around Pela La. Descend into the glacial valley of Phobjikha, known as the “Valley of the Cranes.” This valley has the largest wetland in Bhutan and is one of the winter homes of about 350 black-necked cranes. These cranes typically start to arrive at the end of October and migrate back to Tibet in early March. The annual presence of the cranes has made Phobjikha one of the most important wildlife preserves in the kingdom. Listen to the cranes calling in the pine forest while flying overhead.
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 of the traditional fortress, learn about its 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 an ideal place to find golden langurs, an increasingly endangered primate found only in Bhutan and parts of India.
Bumthang ~ Chumey Valley
In addition to its spectacular landscapes, search for new birds in the blue pine forests of Chumey Valley including the stunning, iridescent Himalayan monal, a pheasant that frequents the Tharpaling Monastery. In the open fields, you may see beautiful rosefinches and rufous-breasted accentor with Himalayan griffons soaring above.
Mongar ~ Bird diversity in lowland forests, Thrumsingla National Park
Mongar is the easternmost and lowest elevation of the districts and is one of the best birding places 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 Thrumsingla National Park and a variety of ecological zones between Bumthang and Mongar, stopping for a hike through rhododendron forest at Thrumsingla Pass. Search for satyr tragopans, rufous-necked hornbills, and other birds that flourish in Bhutan’s lowlands. Hishey loves birding in this area so much he built Trogon Villa, so his tour groups would have a comfortable base 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. Watch the endemic golden langur, 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 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 hornbill, great hornbill, wreathed hornbill, and oriental pied-hornbill. Other large colorful birds you may find here 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 plant species, 65 mammal species, 60 fish species, and 180 butterfly species. 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. Masked 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 the 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.
Discover this most scenic and nature-rich region situated on the edge of the vast Himalayan range.
See additional photos from our participants.
|Type||Cost Per Person|
|Trip Cost, double occupancy||$11,270|
Costs are per person, double occupancy, not including airfare, singles extra. See Included and Not Included sections for more details.
If you are a single traveler, we will try to find a roommate for you, but if we cannot pair you with a roommate, we may charge you a single supplement. Single rooms cost extra and are subject to availability.
|Payment||Due Date||Amount Per Person|
|Deposit||Due now to reserve your space||$500|
|Final||May 24, 2024||Remaining Balance|
Payments are due based on the schedule above. All reservations require a deposit to confirm reservation of your space.
Until the Final Payment due date, deposits are refundable except for a cancellation fee of $150 per person, which can be applied toward another trip 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.
The weather in November-December is generally dry with clear skies but be prepared for a slight chance of rain or snow. Temperatures can vary greatly throughout Bhutan, so come prepared. Expect daytime temperatures in the 50s°F (10°C) at higher altitudes to the 70s°F (21°C) at lower altitudes in the southern region. Expect early morning and nighttime temperatures around 10 to 40°F (-12 to 4°C) at higher altitudes to the 50s°F (10°C) at lower altitudes in the southern region.
You will visit high elevations; your overnights at these elevations range from about 4,500ft at Punakha and Yongkhola to about 9,500ft at Phobjikha. You will need to get in and out of a Toyota Coaster bus and walk from 1mi to 2mi at a slow pace with stops to observe wildlife. This high elevation makes typically manageable activity more difficult. The most strenuous walk 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 to 4 hours depending on your pace and how much time you spend at the monastery. Please contact us if you have any health concerns that may make this trip challenging.
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Detailed logistical information is included in the Trip Planning Materials we will send you.
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The Kingdom of Bhutan is the size of Switzerland, nestled between Tibet and India, and is truly one of Earth’s most remote countries. More than 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 respecting all living things alongside a progressive governmental approach to environmental preservation and promotion of Bhutan’s unique culture and traditions has maintained an environment where wildlife flourishes.
Bhutan lies in an area designated as one of the world’s top ten biodiversity hotspots. More than 600 bird species live in Bhutan, including some of the most exotic and rare species in the eastern Himalayas. Because of their abundance, birds are the main wildlife you will encounter. Bhutan is also home to at least 165 mammal species, 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 to December and March to 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 to 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 to 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. In spring you tend to find about twice as many 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.
GNH is a government index that not only measures the happiness and well-being of the Bhutanese people but also intentionally guides policy. The four pillars of the GNH are fair and sustainable socio-economic development, conservation and promotion of culture, environmental protection (including constitutionally protecting 60% of the nation as forest land), and good governance.
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 trip is comfortable and ranges from deluxe hotels to simple and rustic lodges in remote locations; some may have only a squat toilet. 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 widespread. Because you look for birds along the roads, you may spend a full day traveling from one destination to another.
Our company ethos has always regarded conservation as inseparable from responsible tourism. We struggle with the dilemma that traveling worldwide expends climate-changing carbon. However, we wholeheartedly believe that traveling with us will cultivate your passion for conserving our beautiful world while stimulating each destination’s local economy. We encourage you to explore the various ways in which Cheesemans’ operates within this context:
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"Very happy that you had organized this trip as Bhutan had been on my bucket list, and particularly with Hishey and his team."
"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."