Solo travel in Bhutan is a unique experience. Not because the mountains open your heart and enter your soul and all that jazz. It is a different experience because everything is so confusing. When you are in a group or traveling through an agent, your papers and requests are taken care of by different people in charge of different tasks. But when you are traveling solo, half of your time is spent getting paperwork done and making sure that you are not overstaying your welcome. Who knows what may happen.
I entered Bhutan after two failed attempts. When I was in Thimphu, my entire plan was centred on getting another permit for Punakha. I woke up in the morning, went to a cafe, played with their cat and then sprinted across the permit office to ask them if they’ll allow me to visit Punakha. The lady rejected my form citing a few mistakes and I had to write everything again.
It takes half a day to process your permits so you have 3-4 hours to explore the town. Since I have solo traveling Bhutan on a budget, I didn’t have money to hire a taxi so I decided to walk around.
Walking Around Thimphu Seeing Places
Many attractions in Thimphu have entry tickets. The prices vary depending if you are from a SAARC nation or not. Despite this, the minimum entry charges are INR 300 per person. To these places, I said no and only saw from the outside.
Buddha Dordenma Statue, Thimphu
Buddha Dordenma Statue is a giant sculpture of Buddha on top of a hill. I must confess that despite being one of the must visit places in Bhutan, I didn’t go there. The taxi asked for 800 nu (INR 800) for a round trip and I felt like a huge hole burning in my pocket. I satisfied my soul looking at the statue from my Hotel’s balcony (yes, my hotel had a balcony). I didn’t visit the statue on my first visit but why leave it from this list?
The statue is nestled in the 100-acre forested Kuenselphodrang Park. You will need a taxi unless you are a trekking enthusiast and have an entire day in your hand. But they say that the view from top of the hill is majestic. The statue also has a meditation hall with 1,25,000 smaller Buddha statues made of bronze and gold. Each of these statues is filled with sacred relics and mantras. As I am writing this, I am also regretting why I didn’t visit the statue so I’d stop.
Changangkha Lhakhang is a traditional Bhutanese temple built in the 12th century by Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo. It is believed that the Deity Tamdrin bless and protect the children. The place is very beautiful with ornate designs on walls and doors. The best part was the the entrance was free and yet I found it to be the best place ever.
Royal Takin Preserve
Takin is Bhutan’s national animal. The Royal Takin Preserve also called the Motithang Takin Preserve as it is located in Motithang area of Thimphu. The preserve is spread across an expansive area and a small hike is needed to explore it completely. Apart from Takins, you’ll also find beautiful flowers and herbs growing all around.
Folk Heritage Museum
The Folk Heritage Museum, Thimphu, is located inside a 3 storied 19th-century Bhutanese house. It was set up under the initiative of the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk in 2001 with the intention of showcasing the lifestyle of Bhutanese people. Folk Heritage museum was another lovely place because the entrance was only INR 30 for SAARC nationals so yey.
Tashichho Dzong is the headquarters of The Central Monastic Body of Bhutan. It is located on the banks of Wang Chu River and has a gorgeous aesthetic. It is one of the best photography spots in Bhutan so if you are a camera enthusiast then you’d love this place.
The Dzong is only open for tourists for an hour between 5:30 PM and 6:30 PM so make sure that you plan accordingly.
National Memorial Chorten
National Memorial Chorten was the first place that I went to after arriving in Thimphu. I reached there, saw a huge line outside the ticket counter which read 300 nu for SAARC Nationals. So I clicked a few photos from the outside and walked away.
National Memorial Chorten was built in the memory of Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. It was built in 1974 and renovated in 2008. The premises are beautiful and worth an early morning visiting assuming that tourists start arriving after 10 AM.
Apart from this, there are many small and interesting places in Thimphu. If you are traveling solo in Bhutan, you’d find a lot of traditional houses with interesting architecture everywhere. Just take a stroll instead of making an itinerary and explore the town. The market area near permit office is also an interesting spot to observe the day to day Bhutanese life.
Taxis are available everywhere in Thimphu. No one will overcharge you for anything so it is not worth negotiating. The locals are nice and very helpful.
Apart from exploring the attractions, don’t forget to visit a couple of cafes in Thimphu market. I will write a seperate blog about these cafes but I would recommend Ambient (with the cat) and Busy Bean for amazing coffee and cakes.
Hope this guide for solo traveling in Thimphu