Mangy and Monkey Girl go to Bhutan

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Mangy, Apr 24, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. Mangy
    • Original Member

    Mangy Gold Member

    We were very excited about going to Bhutan for a holiday. We had booked the trip for 2010, but had to cancel because I (Mangy) had Saudi Arabian visa issues (unrelated to the trip). So, this year we booked it again and kept our fingers crossed that we’d actually get to go!

    This second booking proved to be a little bit more problematic. Drukair – Royal Bhutan Airlines, the national airline of the Kingdom of Bhutan – had decided to change their schedule. So, instead of a simple Riyadh-Delhi-Paro-Delhi-Riyadh routing, we needed something more complicated and expensive to fit in with our work schedule. This turned out to be Riyadh- Mumbai-Kathmandu-Paro-Kolkata-Mumbai-Riyadh. In 2010, we booked the Riyadh to Delhi return leg in J class on Jet Airways. Unfortunately, due to the different routing (and 2 one-way tickets), the extra expense associated with J class wasn’t worth it. So, it’s economy all the way!

    After very last minute rushed packing (all carry-on), we got dropped off at Riyadh airport with time to spare. The check-in lines were long and chaotic, as one would expect at RUH, especially on a flight to India. Fortunately, I questioned an agent that was walking by if it would be possible to purchase an upgrade on the flight to Kathmandu (upgrades are often cheaper at RUH). He took our documents and opened a new counter. The flight was full in J class, but he checked us in anyway, saving us quite a bit of time and hassle in the queues.

    We breezed through immigration and security and now had some time up our sleeve. A quick look at the board showed that we were delayed 30 minutes until 12:30 a.m. We went to the recently opened Costa Coffee shop (they just opened a Starbucks also – it used to be almost completely barren, so even Starbucks is a welcome addition) and ordered a muffin and a couple of coffees and settled down to read until boarding. Ever restless, I started playing with my new camera and realized that we had left the 16GB SD chip at home in our haste. That meant that I had to walk over to the next terminal to locate a new chip (MG kept reading & sipping her latté). I returned 20 minutes later with 2 x 8GB chips (as we anticipated Bhutan to be quite photogenic), which cost about $35 each. Lesson learned.
    2011 - Bhutan (AJL) 003-Optimized.jpg RUH

    Boarding was prompt and we quickly settled into seats 14B and 14C on Jet Airways flight 9W-0523. We would be flying to Mumbai on a Boeing 737-800. Monkey Girl (center seat) promptly fell asleep, while I (aisle) was subject to numerous bags hitting me as people continued to file onboard.

    2011 - Bhutan (AJL) 004-Optimized.jpg

    View from the aisle

    The take-off was smooth and we were on our way. Dinner was quickly served and was actually quite nice. It consisted of a chicken korma, with rice, lentils, chapatti, pickles and a dessert. One of the most substantial meals I have had in Y class for a long time. I ate mine while MG slept soundly.

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    During the short flight (), I got to see the sun come up and then a short time later we landed in Mumbai where we were promptly led through transit to the gate of our next flight to KTM. Since we weren’t leaving the airport, and were in transit less than 24 hrs, we didn’t need an Indian transit visa. The rules for this exemption are important and nice to know – in hindsight. Anyway, the airport was very quiet at this hour, so we madea note of the restaurants and massage places for our return leg when we (thought we) had more time. We only waited about 30 minutes and then it was time to board. We queued up with everyone else at the gate and when our boarding passes were scanned, after a quick check on the computer, seats 10B and 10C (bulkhead) were scratched out and changed to 1C and 1D; ‘Economy’ was promptly crossed out and replaced with ‘Premiere’. A great start to our next leg. Presumably, credit must go out to the check-in agent in RUH – thank you very much!
    The layout of the J class cabin was pretty standard for a short-haul flight: 4 abreast with some increased pitch, width and angle of recline. Nonetheless, we were happy to be up the front and proceeded to enjoy the flight.
    2011 - Bhutan (AJL) 023-Optimized.jpg
    J Class Seat

    The menu was quite nice for this short flight. I had the Frittata, while MG had the Poori Bhaji. Both were nice (we shared) although the Poori Bhaji was definitely the better choice. The service on this flight was very good. I would recommend Jet Airways to anyone flying to, or within, India (along with Kingfisher).
    2011 - Bhutan (AJL) 017-Optimized.jpg

    2011 - Bhutan (AJL) 016-Optimized.jpg
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    2011 - Bhutan (AJL) 021-Optimized.jpg Frittata

    2011 - Bhutan (AJL) 022-Optimized.jpg Poori Bhaji

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  2. Mangy
    • Original Member

    Mangy Gold Member

    We landed in KTM on time. Unfortunately, we were unable to get VOA forms on the plane; however, these were promptly filled out and there were no lines for VOA arrivals (being the first to disembark certainly helped). We paid the $5 for a transit visa, and, since we had only carry-on, we were outside within 10 minutes. We walked passed all of the offers for taxis and looked in vain for a sign with our names on it. We had forgone Dwarika’s Hotel on this trip as we wanted to be right in Thamel because there were several things that we needed to purchase, including a down sleeping bag for MG. Therefore, we chose to stay at the ever reliable Potala Guesthouse. It would be harder to find a cleaner, friendlier guesthouse in the heart of Thamel for $20/night including the airport pickup and VAT/service charges.

    Quickly, some other drivers asked us where we were heading and kindly called our driver for us. We waited (a tad impatiently) for about 15 minutes for him to arrive and then we were on our way. The drive into KTM was, as usual, dusty, noisy and chaotic – one of the reasons we like KTM. Once at the guesthouse, we were quickly checked in (very efficient and friendly staff), and then taken to our room on the second floor (1st floor above ground). The room was great: clean, attached bathroom, 24-hr hot water, away from the street and facing the lovely courtyard garden. While MG freshened up, I popped down to the restaurant, ordered a beer (my first for the trip) and sat out in the garden, enjoying the spring sunshine.

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    First beer of trip

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    Courtyard garden at Potala Guesthouse

    One beer down, we ventured out into the bedlam that is the Thamel district in KTM. We spent the afternoon eating momos (Tibetan dumplings), shopping for a sleeping bag and other travel gear we can’t get in RUH, and buying coffee. Himalayan Java is an excellent coffee shop in KTM (great coffee and chilled out vibe from the pandemonium that is Thamel) and it was here that we added to our cabin baggage with 6 lbs of freshly roasted, Nepali coffee beans. If nothing else, my clothes smelled great.

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    Thamel street scene

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    Himalayan Java

    In between purchases, we stopped in for a couple of drinks at rooftop bars (certainly a novelty for us coming from RUH!) and noted some new restaurants that we may want to return to for dinner. After looking at a few places, MG discovered a tiny ‘restaurant’ called the Momo Cave down a tiny candlelit laneway. It seemed to be more part of someone’s house, but it was very clean and romantically lit. We had a great meal of more momos and Thukpa (Tibetan soup). I had a Ghurka beer and MG popped the top off a ½-bottle of Italian white wine that she had spied for sale at a local shop. Then we bar hopped for a couple of hours. Great food/atmosphere and we were having a wonderful start to our trip.

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    Monkey Girl having a cocktail or 2

    Trip expertly arranged by:
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  3. calvinoeh
    • Original Member

    calvinoeh Milepoint Guide

    Thanks for sharing!!
  4. kwai
    • Original Member

    kwai Gold Member

    Looking forward to the rest of trip. :)
  5. milchap
    • Original Member

    milchap Gold Member

    I enjoyed the report. Thanks.
  6. Mangy
    • Original Member

    Mangy Gold Member

    Trip expertly arranged by:
    The following morning saw us leap out of bed at some ungodly hour, since we had to repack our additional purchases (coffee, sleeping bag, jackets, souvenirs, etc.) and make our 09:10 flight to Bhutan. Heads were a little sore since we hadn’t had a drink of the brewed/fermented variety since our last trip out of Saudi Arabia, way back in February (to Lombok, Indonesia).

    The driver was waiting downstairs, and, due to the light traffic, we made it to the airport in no time at all. Two counters were open for our DrukAir flight to Paro – neither of them moving particularly fast. It is at this point that MG starts to feel a little worse for wear (perhaps mixing cocktails wasn’t such a wise idea!). We eventually check in (still carry-on only), but were unable to get a J class seat or any seat on the left side of the plane (for the views). Now we had to deal with security. Security at KTM is taken quite seriously, if not efficiently. The queues were long and slow, but after quite some time, we got our bags X-rayed and made it through the metal detectors. Then, for some strange reason, they make everyone unpack their bags and then go through them all manually. MG had done well to fit her stuff into a carry-on in the first place. I am sure she wasn’t over the moon to have to do it again. [MG note: she wasn’t!]

    Once that ordeal was taken care of, we set off in search of something to eat. Unfortunately, nothing at all was open in Kathmandu when we left the hotel (we cannot get our fill of momos). Sadly, the only food that we could locate was in an extremely overpriced restaurant upstairs. Our breakfast there proved to be the most expensive meal I think that I have ever eaten in Nepal. And, to top it off, it didn’t even come with toast! However, eggs, (real!) bacon, juice, coffee and a croissant did the trick and even MG was feeling better by this stage.

    Boarding was on time and we were able to enter through the rear. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, we then sat on the tarmac for approximately one hour. Not my favourite hour of the trip. Finally, we took off and almost immediately, those on the LHS of the plane had spectacular view of the Himalaya. Those of us on the RHS didn’t, but MG took the initiative and passed her camera across where some kindly soul snapped a couple of pix.
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    View from the wing - Kanchenjunga is the main peak in the distance

    For a flight that lasts about an hour, service was great. First they distributed a light lunch of water/chicken sandwich/Kit Kat and then they provided a full beverage service. I had a nice glass of white wine (to settle the stomach), while MG passed on everything that wasn’t water.

    Soon it was time to land. The approach to Paro is quite beautiful – wooded hillsides and a meandering river. The landing couldn’t have been any smoother. In fact, it was the smoothest landing I have experienced in quite some time. The airstairs were soon rolled up to the plane and it was time to disembark. I managed to get a few pictures from the top, and indeed, we managed quite a few from the apron, where people seemed to mingle. Everyone was in great spirits. I then realized that I had left my sunglasses on the plane; however, they were happy for me to walk back on and retrieve them.

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    Paro Airport
    Since we were now last into the terminal, and with no other flight arriving within the foreseeable future, we decided not to join the immigration line, opting for a seat on a bench instead. While waiting for the line to dwindle, we walked around and managed to snap a few more pix of the plane (Airbus A319) from the apron. Then, once the line was almost clear, we lined up and were quickly processed. We then made our way outside, stopping to pick up a liter bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream on the way (for medicinal purposes).

    Once outside, we were met by our guide and driver, and driven the 15 minutes to our hotel for the next 2 nights: the Gangtey Palace Hotel. This hotel came recommended, and, according to their website, “was built over a 100 years ago by His Highness Dawa Penjor, Uncle of the first King of Bhutan and Kusho/Penlop (Governor) of Paro Valley. The Palace belonged to the Royal Family until the 1930s when it was given to a member of a prominent aristocratic family, Raja S.T Dorji. Today, his grandson is the present owner. In 1928 the Paro Penlop Tshering Penjor constructed the courtyard and renovated the central structure as the residence for the King of Bhutan when he visited Paro.”
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    Gangtey Palace Hotel
    We loved this hotel. It had atmosphere, great food, friendly staff and a cozy bar for drinks in the evening. It also had amazing views and great terraces from which to enjoy them. We were staying in the old wing in room 210; however, we would recommend staying in room 303, as it is one floor higher and would have better views of the fort (Rinpung Dzong), and watchtower (Ta Dzong), etc. The room was really lovely: spacious and airy, spotlessly clean, and tastefully decorated with antiques. However, we hardly spent any time in the room, and would probably get a smaller one next time.
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    After a delicious lunch and a nice cold beer, we then spent a few hours looking around Paro town itself. Not a terribly exciting town in its own right, but it is quite quaint and in a nice setting in the Paro valley. After a few hours of walking around (we stopped in at the one supermarket in town for some provisions), it was back to the hotel for a rest, dinner, and a couple of drinks in the bar.
    2011 - Bhutan (AJL) 091-Optimized.jpg Lunch on the terrace

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    View from the hotel bar - Rinpung Dzong in the distance

    2011 Bhutan SCG 1 023-Optimized.jpg Main Street Paro

    Trip expertly arranged by:

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  7. milchap
    • Original Member

    milchap Gold Member

    I probably will never make it to I am travelling vicariously through your trip report. Well done.!
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  8. Mangy
    • Original Member

    Mangy Gold Member

    Never say never:)
  9. milchap
    • Original Member

    milchap Gold Member

    There is too much on my list and I can safely say never. :D As I am seventy, I probably have ten years left to travel.
  10. Mangy
    • Original Member

    Mangy Gold Member

    If I get to Winnipeg this summer, hopefully we can grab a beer:)
  11. milchap
    • Original Member

    milchap Gold Member

    It is a deal. Just let me know. :)
  12. ACMM
    • Original Member

    ACMM Gold Member

    Enjoying the reports! Thanks for posting!
  13. Mangy
    • Original Member

    Mangy Gold Member

    Thanks for reading
  14. neuatomic
    • Original Member

    neuatomic Silver Member

    +1! Can't wait for further entries!
  15. Kaanapali
    • Original Member

    Kaanapali Gold Member

    Was definitely our pleasure to read these posts Mangy....especially to a part of the planet it is doubtful my wife and I will ever get to....
    Am eagerly waiting for further installments :)
  16. Emos-closet
    • Original Member

    Emos-closet Silver Member

    Thank you, thank you , thank you! Awesome report! I have always wanted to travel to Bhutan...your trip report makes me feel like I am !
  17. secretsea18
    • Original Member

    secretsea18 Gold Member

    I am loving your trip already.... can't wait for the next installment! :)
  18. Chimpy
    • Original Member

    Chimpy Gold Member

    Great trip report Mangy, you will have to come on holiday with me so you can write mine.
    I loved the photographs. I did not know monkey girl was a bit of a drinker :)
  19. BWIflyer
    • Original Member

    BWIflyer Silver Member

    I have been to Sikkim and Nepal, but not Bhutan. Would love to go there some day. Loved your pictures. Sometimes in that part of the world, they don't let you take pictures in the plane or at the airport. Puri and Bhaji is very tempting.
    I love new Zealand and Australian wines and haven't been there either. Would like to go there.
  20. Mangy
    • Original Member

    Mangy Gold Member

    Sikkim is a place that I would like to visit (Along with a few other Indian places near the Burmese border - Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, etc.
  21. Mangy
    • Original Member

    Mangy Gold Member

    Thank you for the kind comments. Hopefully, I can get another instalment posted today:)
  22. Monkey Girl
    • Original Member

    Monkey Girl Gold Member

    She's not; but because 90% of the year she can't, she makes up for it on holiday! :eek:
  23. Monkey Girl
    • Original Member

    Monkey Girl Gold Member

    I'm busy editing away...
  24. boxedlunch
    • Original Member

    boxedlunch Silver Member

    Mangy - your report reminded me of some wonderful Bhutan memories....the combination of momo, chillis, and a Druk 11000 can't be beat!
    OY-JFS, TravelMusing, stimpy and 9 others like this.
  25. Mangy
    • Original Member

    Mangy Gold Member

    I totally agree. Looking forward to doing the 24day Snowman trek on my 50th birthday:)

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