17 Things to Do in Bhutan on Your First Trip

17 Things to Do in Bhutan on Your First Trip

Find out what’s there to see and do in the world’s happiest country!

The kingdom of Bhutan isn’t a conventional holiday destination, but don’t let that stop you from visiting this stunning country! Bhutan is most commonly known for its Gross National Happiness index, which traces the country’s development based on its citizen’s wellbeing and quality and life, a stark contrast from the gross domestic product that is the measure of development for the rest of the world. It is no wonder that Bhutan earned its title as the world’s happiest country.

Interested to take a peek and experience what Bhutan has to offer? Here’s a list of things to see and do on your first visit:

1. Hike up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery

things to do in bhutan

Image credit: Carsten ten Brink

A quick Google search of Bhutan would probably give you images of this splendid temple. Also known as the Paro Taktsang, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is one of the most sacred and popular monastic sites for pilgrims, and equally well-explored by tourists. Perched over 3,100 metres high on a steep cliff wall above Paro Valley, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view from amidst the clouds!

2. Visit the Buddha Dordenma statue

Image credit: Saurabh Chatterjee

This gold-gilded bronze statue standing at 52-metres tall is one of the largest Buddha rupas in the world. Besides the sheer immensity of the statue itself, the site is also a great vantage point overlooking the city of Thimphu below.  

3. Go whitewater rafting

Image credit: Zachary Collier

Add some thrill to your trip and cascade down the rivers of Bhutan! The rapids of the Po Chu River and Mo Chu River are both perfect for moderate to high difficulty levels of white water rafting. To top it all off, the whole adventure will be made even more memorable by the scenic natural landscape and pristine waters surrounding you as you race down the river.  

4. Trekking in the Himalayas

things to do in bhutan

Image credit: sprklg

For the adventure lovers, don’t miss the opportunity to trek in the Himalayas when you’re in Bhutan! In the north territories of the country lie the sub-alpine Himalayan mountain ranges, where there are plenty different kinds of treks for varying levels of expertise.

5. Do some bird-watching

Image credit: David Cook

Bhutan definitely stands out for its luscious rich forests and thriving biodiversity. It is no wonder that the country is a sanctuary for over 670 species of birds! Go on a bird-watching tour and spot some beautiful and rare species roosting in the natural landscape. Moreover, if you’re travelling in November, you can catch the Black-Necked Crane Festival, the annual festival celebrating the arrival of the endangered bird during their winter migration to Bhutan.

6. Visit Chimi Lhakhang Temple

things to do in bhutan

Image credit: Saurabh Chatterjee

The Chimi Lhakhang Temple is definitely a quirky and unique experience to have when visiting Bhutan. The temple was blessed by Drukpa Kunley, the “Divine Madman” saint who was known for his eccentric and unorthodox ways of teaching the Buddhist doctrine. Following his bizarre wisdom, you’ll find that the walls and roofs leading up to the temple have been decorated with cartoon paintings and sculptures of penises! This preoccupation with phallic imagery is believed to ward off evil spirits as well as act as a blessing of fertility to help women conceive.

7. Spot takin at the Motithang Takin Preserve

Image credit: Caleb See

The Takin is a peculiar goat-antelope native to Bhutan, and is also the country’s national animal. Visit the Motithang Takin Preserve, formerly a zoo that has been converted to a wildlife reserve, to observe these majestic creature roam freely in the forests.  

8. Admire sacred relics at Punakha Dzong

Image credit: shiva1o8

Built in 1673, the Punakha Dzong fort-monastery is the second oldest Dzong in Bhutan, and houses ancient sacred relics from when it was constructed. Known locally as the “place of great happiness”, the site features ancient Buddhist art and architecture that tells about the life of the Buddha. The striking grand structures of the dzong is certainly not one to miss!

9. Hit a bullseye at Changlimithang Stadium and Archery Ground

For the sports enthusiasts, head to the Changlimithang Stadium to shoot some bullseyes. Archery is the favourite sport of the locals in Bhutan, with the sport dating as far back as 600BC! Traditionally, players used arrows and bows made out of bamboo to hit their targets, before developing to the modern equipment we are familiar with today. If playing the sport isn’t your thing, there are competitions and practices held on the stadium grounds everyday free for all to observe.  

10. Honour Bhutanese soldiers at Dochula Pass

Image credit: Mashrik Faiyaz

Getting to and from Thimphu and Punakha cities, you’ll be greeted by a mountain pass of 108 shrines overlooking the valley. These stupas were built to honour the soldiers who died in battle against the Assamese insurgents from India in 2003. Besides being a pitstop to pay respects to the fallen soldiers, the Dochula Pass also offers an amazing view of the snow-laden Himalayan mountains and unspoilt stretches of natural landscape on a clear day.

11. Suspension Bridge over Po Chhu River

Image credit: Timothy Neesam

The suspension bridge hangs across the rapid Po Chhu River, connecting the town centre of Punakha and the Punakha Dzong. With colourful prayer flags draped over the rails on both sides, it’ll definitely make for a great photo for your Instagram feed!

12. Indulge in the local cuisine

Image credit: Juan Carlos Madrigal

A trip to Bhutan isn’t complete without tantalising your taste buds with the local food! A top favourite of locals is the Ema Datshi, Bhutan’s national dish made out of chillies and cheese. Other must-try local delicacies include Kewa Datshi – potatoes served with cheese – as well as the Jasha Maroo (spicy chicken stew) and Momos (dumplings).

13. Relax in a natural hot spring

After a long day of sight-seeing, sit back and enjoy yourselves in one of the natural hot springs around the forest outskirts of Bhutan. These springs are not only used for relaxation, they are believed to hold healing properties, after receiving blessings from the Buddha and Boddhisattavas. Tourist-favourite hot springs like the Gelephu Tsachu and the Gasa Tsachu are especially popular during the winter so plan your trip wisely!

14. Celebrate with the festivities

Image credit: David Orgel

Traditional festivals are often held in Bhutan to commemorate the ancient Buddhist culture, celebrate the vibrancy of the country, and even welcome the change of seasons. Regardless of its purpose, these festivities are colourful, spirited bursts of expressions guaranteeing an amazing experience. Some of the biggest festivals include the Nimalung Tshechu Festival, a 10-day celebration of culture at Bumthang valley, and the Dochu La Wangyal Festival which features the famous traditional mask dance.

15. Stay on a village farm

Image credit: Birger Hoppe

For us city-dwellers, why not step out of our comfort zone and attempt living on a local Bhutanese farm! Take your pick from a multitude of farm stays where you can experience authentic rural living and better understand the daily lives of the village locals.

16. National Museum

Image credit: Arian Zwegers

The National Museum of Bhutan is the place to go for a survey of Bhutan’s incredible cultural history. Located in Paro town, the museum houses exquisite Bhutanese art, statues, and specimens that all elegantly record the developments from the country’s humble origins to what it is today.

17. Interact with the locals

Image credit: Photo RNW.org

Lastly, what better way to experience a country than to interact with its locals? As mentioned, Bhutan’s focus on quality of life has certainly led to a diametrically different mode of living from what we are familiar with. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from the people of the happiest country in the world!

With all these interesting things to do and places to visit, there’s no excuse to pass up on a trip of a lifetime to Bhutan! See you there!

About Author

Stephanie Lauw
Stephanie Lauw

Stephanie is an English literature and film student who has succumbed to the occupational hazard of over-analysing her favourite TV shows. She enjoys theatre and music, and dabbles with both by writing bad plays and experimenting with her band. Her current dream is to island hop the filming locations of all the seasons of Survivor.


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