Bhutan with Lingkor Tours & Treks

We took a most memorable 8-day tour of Bhutan in September ’04, thanks to the efforts of Lingkor Tours & Treks (P.O. Box 202, Thimphu, Bhutan; phone 975-2-323417, fax 975-2-323402, e-mail or visit A Buddhist monk referred us to Lingkor and through e-mail we set up a customized itinerary with Tenga at Lingkor before leaving the U.S.

We elected to do a tour for two persons, even though the government-set cost ($230 per person per day) would be more than the cost of joining a larger group. One of our priorities was to learn more of Bhutan’s traditional medical practices, since my wife is an acupuncturist and we were combining this visit with a conference on traditional Chinese medicine in China.

After the China part of our trip, we flew to Bangkok and stayed overnight at the Quality Suites Airport Hotel Bangkok (phone 66 2 982 2022) because of our early flight the next morning. The hotel was adequate for our short stay, reasonable in cost ($45 Internet rate) and a short drive from the airport. Lingkor had arranged for our visas and airline tickets on Druk Air (the only service to Bhutan) to be waiting at the Bangkok airport.

On arrival in Paro we were met by our driver, Sonam, and our guide for the tour, Raj, who was friendly and knowledgeable.

The next day we drove to the capital, Thimphu, for one of the highlights of our trip, the ongoing 3-day Thimphu Tsechu. At this annual Buddhist festival, held at the immense dzong, a fortress-like monastery, hundreds of Bhutanese gather in the courtyard to watch beautifully costumed monks perform traditional dances.

In Thimphu, a visit had been arranged with the director of the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, who gave us a tour of the clinics and museum. We also saw the School of Traditional Arts, the Folk Heritage Museum, a nunnery and several other interesting sites.

The next day we commenced a 3-day tour of the west and central parts of the country. The mountain passes, rice paddies and traditional farmhouses were spectacular en route. Roads were paved but narrow — and we never knew if a truck or bus was around the next corner.

The dzongs, which serve as both monasteries and district administrative offices of the government, contain truly impressive Buddhist art and architecture.

Tourist hotels must meet government standards of quality. We found them all good, with friendly staffs. At Trongsa, we stayed two nights at the Yangkhil Resort, a new hotel set high above the river valley. Everywhere the menu was consistent, with chicken, pork, rice and vegetable dishes, adjusted for Western tastes. Optional was the national staple of chiles and rice.

Raj took us to several sites off the beaten path. One, the Gangtey Gompa monastery in the Phobjikha Valley, is undergoing a major structural restoration. We were able to walk through the monastery and see exposed ancient structure and artwork dating back to the 1600s as well as large, hand-carved timbers ready for installation.

Overall, we had a very good experience with Raj and Lingkor Tours & Treks. We left the country quite impressed with Bhutan’s policies, which provide the visitor with a quality experience while preserving the culture and environment.

— RICHARD SHEARER, Greenwood Village, CO