In the Kingdom of Bhutan, Thimphu is the capital and largest city. It is located in one of the country's five valleys and is protected on all sides by majestic mountains. It is the home of the country's Parliament as well as the base for the King. It's also a cultural hub for the nation. In the fall there are great festivals where people from all over the country come to pray, dance, and sing. There are ancient temples and monasteries, and all citizens abide by the national dress code, which consists of wearing robe-like garments. Many young people live in Thimphu, and there is a thriving nightlife. With its mix of old and new it's one of the most fascinating capital cities in the world. Here's a guide to what not to miss while you're there.
Note: All tourists in Bhutan are required to have a guide while they visit the country, so convey this information to your guide!)
Take in Spectacular Views at the Buddha Dordenma Statue
Overlooking Thimphu is one of the largest Buddha's in the world, the Buddha Dordenma statue. It is almost 170 feet tall (it sits on top of a giant meditation hall) and houses 125,000 other Buddhas inside it. All of them are made of bronze and then gilded in gold. This Buddha was erected to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the fourth king of Bhutan. You can see it from a distance when you're exploring the capital, but definitely drive up the mountain and visit it up close. The details and views are spectacular.
Snap a Photo of the Famous Bhutanese Traffic Police
Thimphu has the distinction of being the only capital city in the world without a single traffic light. While on most streets cars just fight it out or kindly give one another the right of way, at one crossing there is an official, dressed in a uniform and white gloves, directing traffic. He has a lovely hut, decorated in the national style, from which he works. He's as famous among locals as he is among tourists. Don't miss getting a photo of him.
Witness Takin, Bhutan's National Animal, at the Takin Zoo
The Takin, the national animal of Bhutan, is so rare many people believe it's a mythological creature. It's part goat, part antelope and found in the eastern Himalayas. They love living in bamboo forests at high elevations. The Bhutanese believe they are deeply spiritual and wise creatures. While it's highly unlikely you'll see one in the wild during your trip to Bhutan, you are guaranteed to see one in Thimphu's Takin Zoo (officially named the Motithang Takin Preserve) where they roam around on 8 acres of land.
See Bhutan's Government in Action at the Tashichho Dzong
If the Tashichho Dzong looks mighty that's because it is. Since 1952 it's been the seat of Bhutan's government. It houses the throne room and offices of the king as well as the ministries of home affairs and finances. Other government offices are in the surrounding buildings. The building itself dates back to 1216 A.D. and is surrounded by serene gardens and the Wang Chhu River. It is open to visitors after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends.
Buy Bhutanese Treasures at the National Handicrafts Emporium
Bhutan takes great pride in its hand-made products. The country has 13 official traditional arts and crafts that have been passed down from generation to generation. They include textile making, weaving bamboo, embroidery, painting, carpentry, and so much more. At the National Handicrafts Emporium you can browse a range of authentic items made in Bhutan. If you aren't done shopping head outside; there are more shops on the same street.
Start a Stamp Collection at Bhutan Post Office Headquarters
Now visiting a post office may seem strange, but in Bhutan it's a cultural experience you can't miss. Bhutan is known for its stamps. Many contain unusual designs or rare materials. Others commemorate world events. Bhutan's stamps are so well-known, profits from stamp collectors make up a significant portion of their economy. See these famous and exotic stamps at Bhutan's Post Office Headquarters in Thimphu. Buy your favorite and start your own collection.
When the sun goes down in Bhutan the locals love to do one thing: Karaoke. There are bars all over the capital city where you can sing your favorite songs all night long (don't worry about the language barrier, one of Bhutan's national). Mojo Park is a favorite amongst the Bhutan ruling class; you may just see a prince singing his heart out beside you.
Try Local Dishes at Orchid Restaurant
Traditionally Bhutan doesn't have a restaurant culture. Most people can't afford to eat out and locals have all their meals at home. But there are a few restaurants for visitors that recreate traditional dishes for you. One of the best is Orchid Restaurant, a family-own restaurant on the fifth floor of a building overlooking Thimphu's sports stadium. Don't miss trying Ema datshi (chili cheese in English), Bhutan's most famous dish. It's hot and spicy, but the locals promise it's good for you.
Browse Ancient Textiles at the Royal Textile Academy
Weaving is essential to Bhutanese life. Both men and women learn how to do it at early ages, and it's a valued skill. At this museum you can browse ancient textiles learning how they were made and preserved. You can find out what patterns mean and how the designs pay homage to spiritual and religious beliefs. If you want to try your skills you can even take a class and learn how to make your own textile to treasure long after you go home.