We’ve got a really big secret, can you keep it? The Kingdom of Bhutan is one of the best places to travel right now! Relatively off-the-beaten-track and full of magical gems, the capital city of Thimphu is nestled in the Eastern Himalayas at 7,874ft high. As far as capital cities go, it’s very small with a population of around 100,000 people. It’s best known for its elegant temples, peaceful monasteries, spicy food and decorative houses. It’s also famously known as the only capital city in the world without any traffic lights, and yet traffic seems to flow relatively seamlessly. Here are the best things to do in the mystical capital of Bhutan:
1. Visit a Buddhist Monastery
Bhutan is a primarily Buddhist and Hindu country, and one of the best things to do in Thimphu is to visit the exquisite Trashi Chhoe Dzong Buddhist monastery. It lies north of the city and the elegant monastery hosted the coronation of the fifth king in 2008. It’s a beautiful example of Bhutanese architecture.
2. Buy Bhutanese Textiles
If you’re looking for an amazing souvenir or gift, you should consider bringing back some Bhutanese textiles. Bhutan has a rich history of textiles and weaving, and you can buy stunning handmade and embroidered throws, cushions and tablecloths in many shops and markets in Thimphu. You can also head to the city’s Textile Museum, which will take you through a detailed history of the industry from the 1600s to the present day.
3. Take a Hot Stone Bath
Bathing in hot stone baths is an important part of Bhutanese culture and while you’re in Thimphu you absolutely have to take a dip in some of its warm waters. Visit one of the city’s spas for a traditional hot stone bath, which is based on the basic elements of fire, water, and earth. In many of the city’s spas, locally sourced stones are heated until they are red hot and then put into a bath of water and herbs. These hot stone baths are said to be great for health, and extremely soothing for muscle problems and arthritis.
4. Sample Bhutanese Cuisine
While Bhutanese cuisine has been heavily influenced by neighboring countries such as China and India, it still holds its own distinct flavor. Many love Bhutanese food as it packs the same punch as Indian and Chinese food, with a lot less oil, making it feel like a lighter meal. Top dishes to try include Ema Datshi, which is the national dish of Bhutan. It’s a delicious mix of chili, cheese, onions, and tomatoes that have been stewed like a curry. Warning: Bhutanese chilies rank high on the Scoville Heat Scale, so have a drink to hand before you dig in. Other foods to try include momos, which are Bhutanese dumplings, and Jasha Maroo, which is a spicy chicken dish. There are plenty of restaurants in the capital of Bhutan where you can sample its cuisine.
5. Stroll through Thimphu’s Markets
Thimphu is an incredibly colorful city, and no trip to the capital would be complete without walking past its lively markets. Head to the Weekend Market on the banks of the Wang Chhu River, where you’ll be overwhelmed with smells and colors. At the market, you can buy everything from tropical fruits through to potent chillis, wild honey, herbs, Buddha figurines, colorful masks, and textiles.
6. Witness the Perfect View
Visit Kuensel Phodrang Hill for an amazing, panoramic view of Thimphu. At the top of the hill, you’ll find the big bronze Dordenma Buddha, overseeing the city below. The bronze Buddha, which is 164 feet high, cost an enormous $47 million USD to construct and is one of the largest Buddha statues in the world.
7. Check the Time
Pay a visit to Clock Tower Square, which is one of Thimphu’s most famous landmarks. The tower has four clocks, one on each side, alongside beautiful carvings and paintings — some depicting the mystical dragon. In Bhutanese culture, the country is known to be the Land of the Thunder Dragon, so you’ll find dragon painting across the city. Take a seat on a bench in the square and watch passers-by. Sometimes there are music concerts hosted in the square.
8. Explore the National Library
The National Library of Bhutan is a beautiful building and is home to a collection of thousands of Bhutanese and Tibetan books, xylographs and manuscripts. It’s known to have one of the largest holdings of Buddhist Literature in the entire world and the building’s architecture is great for budding photographers.
9. Spot Takins
Head to the Motithang Takin Preserve, which is a fifteen-minute drive from Thimphu’s main bus station. Here, you’ll find a wildlife reserve that was built to protect the country’s national animal, the Takin. For those who aren’t animal aficionados, the Takin is a goat-antelope that’s found in the Eastern Himalayas.
10. Visit Tashichho Dzong
Another top thing to do in the capital of Bhutan is to pay a visit to Tashichho Dzong, which is an impressive structure currently home to the throne room and seat of the government. It was originally built in 1641 and has suffered at the hands of a few fires over the years. Today you can explore sections of the structure and enjoy its well-manicured gardens.
And if you’re looking for a place to stay during your trip to Bhutan, we’ve rounded up some of the Best Airbnbs in Bhutan for the adventurous.