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The ‘Switzerland of Asia’ is a serene destination with almost no crowds

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Taktsang Monastery in Bhutan shows just how stunning this destination is (Picture: Getty Images)

Known as the ‘Switzerland of Asia’, the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan in South Asia is one of the most peaceful places on Earth.

The remote, landlocked country only opened its borders to outsiders in the 1970s, and has become known for its National Happiness Surveys, which residents are asked to complete every five years.

Prayer flags are strung for miles across gorges and hillsides – think epic landscapes, authentic dishes and hot stone baths as just some of the breath-taking offerings this untouched gem has to offer.

And, the place has some impressive eco-credentials too. Made up of more than 70% forest, it’s is the first carbon-negative country in the world.

Nick Pulley, the founder of Selective Asia, has spent more than 35 years travelling through Asia but has ‘never been anywhere more fulfilling’ than Bhutan.

‘It’s a serene, immersive, uplifting destination with remote, rustic barefoot luxury lodges, clifftop temples and treks rich in wildlife and Buddhist culture,’ Nick tells Metro.co.uk.

The Dochula Pass in Bhutan, located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu (Picture: Getty Images)

If you’re thinking about booking your flights, here’s the ultimate guide to the less-charted Bhutan…



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Nick says: ‘The first king of a unified Bhutan was crowned in 1907 and, although the country is a democracy, the king still wields a lot of power and is heavily involved in parliamentary decisions.

‘The current king is only the fifth king, so in many ways it’s a very young country with a fresh energy.

‘It is illegal to force any religion on anyone, and Buddhism is not a national religion but rather the country’s spiritual heritage.’

A curb on over-tourism

While other Asian countries, such as Japan, are being forced to implement measures to restrict tourists, Bhutan has always carefully controlled visitors.

Only around 40,000 tourists visited the country in the first six months after the pandemic – which puts it in stark comparison to Nepal, which received 500,000 visitors in the same period.

Bhutan manages to keep numbers purposely low, due to the fees tourists are expected to pay per day.

The Sustainable Development Fee is a daily levy which is collected as part of your visa application – and it comes in at a pretty eyewatering $100 USD per person, per night. So, if you’re planning to spend a couple of weeks in the country, the money can soon add up.

Nick says: ‘Because of the daily fee (about £80 pp per day), tourism footfall is low as is the impact on the country and the experience is therefore vastly enhanced.’

It means major attractions – including hiking trails – a rarely crowded.

Bhutan’s top attractions

Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan which is the only carbon-negative country in the world. (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Head to Paro at the start or end of your trip, because you’ll be flying to and from Paro International Airport, to tick off some truly stunning sights.

Just 10 minutes from the airport is the National Museum, the Rinpung Dzong fortress and the iconic Taktshang Goemba, otherwise known as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.

It’s also the home of the Paro Weekend Market which will give you an array of handmade souvenirs to choose from.

For food, Momo Corner offers fresh handmade dumplings – yes our mouths just watered too.



Fun fact

Bhutan is also known as the ‘land of the thunder dragon’.

Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and is home to the Thimpus Dzong on the Wang Chhu river – a government fortress. There’s Mojo Park and Grey area for after the sun goes down and you fancy a drink and a dance.

Gangtey Valley is home to the Gangtey Goemba, a gorgeous 17th-century monastery, but the region is the best for outdoor adventurers who wish to hike, cycle and trek their hearts out.

The Dzongs or monasteries are some of the main attractions in Bhutan (Picture: Getty Images)

If you feel like taking it one step further head 12 hours from the capital to Laya, the highest village in the entire country with stunning views of the Himalayas.

It’s a car-free village, which farms mushrooms and herds yaks and if you go in later October the Royal Highland Festival which features gift offerings and epic poem recitations.

Things to do in Bhutan

The country may put an emphasis on low footfall high quality tourism but that doesn’t mean there aren’t an abundance of activities to do.

Bhutan is great for camping due to the sheer amount of green spaces and lush forests. There is the option to stay in luxury villa tents in pine forests – think glamping – or you can camp more ruggedly at a higher altitude.

With little light pollution, think of the stunning views of the stars accompanied with the hearty cuisine Bhutan has to offer.

Iron Chain Bridge of Tachog Lhakhang Monastery on the Paro River, Bhutan (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

During the day treks and hikes are a great way to spend your time. Nick says: ‘It has world-class trekking. You can cross the entire country on foot on the Trans Bhutan Trail and it’s rich in birdlife.’ Bring your binoculars.

According to Lonely Planet those who love being outdoors should visit between late October and mid-March to see the famous endangered black-necked cranes that migrate yearly from Tibet.

The Trans Bhutan Trail has also been not long ago restored and until the 1960s it was the only way to travel the country and communicate. The past hundreds of years have seen it used by pilgrims, messengers, armies and traders.

@chloejadetravels

What is it like to hike Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan? With more and more people visiting the country of Bhutan, one of the more popular attractions is the Tiger’s Nest monastery. This hike was about 2-3 hours up since you’ll stop for tea or coffee, enjoy the scenery, take lots of photos, and it’s pretty steep too. There were many other tourists, primarily from India, mainly because of the ability to drive in from India. But also a handful from the UK, USA, and a few EU countries. The name “Tiger’s Nest” comes from the legend of Taktsang (Tiger’s nest). It began in 747 AD when Guru Padmasmbhava, known as the 2nd Buddha, chose a cave on a sheer rock face to meditate. Then, assuming a wrathful form, Guru Dorji Drolo, rode a tigress to subdue the evil spirits. It sits at 3,120m (9,678ft) above sea level, and is one of thirteen Tiger’s Nest caves in historical Tibet. It burned down in 1907 but was redone. Now all of the items for the cafeteria, as well as to the monastery itself for upkeep, need to be trekked up the mountain. It is very impressive and one of the main things to do in Bhutan. Should I hike Tiger’s Nest? How hard is Tiger’s Nest? Where is Bhutan? #bhutan #bhutanesetiktoker #visitbhutan #travelvlog #traveltheworld #tigersnestmonastery #himalayanmountains

♬ Natural Emotions – Muspace Lofi

Cycling is another great way to adventure around the kingdom. There’s something for every level too with smooth beginner trails and off-road biking on mountain trails.

Specialised tours operate in Bhutan which can tailor your cycling experience to your level and plan around the sites you’d like to see.



Different hikes you can do across Bhutan

  1. Dochula to Lungchutse Lhakhang Hike (2-3 hours)
  2. Changangkha to Buddha point Hike (1.5 -2 hours)
  3. Gangtey Nature Hike (1 hour)
  4. Paro Taktsang Hike (5-6 hours)
  5. Chelela and Kungkarpo Sky Burial (1 day)
  6. Zuri Goenpa Hike (5-6 hours)
  7. Bumdra Hike (5 hours)
  8. Phajoding Hike (6 hours)
  9. Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Hike 2
  10. Tango Monastery Hike (2 hours)
  11. Gangtey to Longtey Village Hike (4 hours)
  12. Bumthang Cultural Hike (2 hours)
  13. Ngang Lhakhang to Tahung Hike (6 hours)

Source: Bhutan Travel

Rafting is another great activity you can try on one of the seven major rivers in Bhutan: Puna Tsang Chhu, Wang Chhu, Sankosh River, Mangde Chhu, Mo Chhu and Drangme Chhu.

The rivers are ranked in difficulty so there’s no need to worry about getting in over your head.

Traditional sports is also something you might want to get involved in. Bhutanese archery, Khuru (type of darts), Soksom (javelin with a target) and Pungdo (shot put).

A valley view at Thimphu, Bhutan one one of it’s seven rivers (Picture: Getty Images)

Average cost of a trip to Bhutan

There is one downside to Bhutan and that is it certainly isn’t a budget destination.

Of course, you’ll need to factor in the aforementioned tourist fees, and flights aren’t cheap either.

There aren’t direct flights to Bhutan, so you’ll have to fly to Delhi, with the cheapest flights starting at £362 in March 2025 via Skyscanner, and then to Paro for a further £420.

Food, drink, accommodation and transport are all fairly cheap once you’re there.

Alternatively you can book with Selective Asia on their Bhutan in Brief tour which lasts eight days and starts from £2790 per person. It’s a tailor made trip with all accommodation, food, guides and transport included.

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