Bhutan and Thailand Adventure with World Expeditions
This is not a travel log where the events of every day are detailed. Instead, I have presented some of the highlights, lowlights, unusual, humorous and embarrassing events of the trip along with relevant photos and some opinions.
Others may have seen things differently but this is the way I saw things. Anything I say about anyone or anything is purely in fun. Some information and photos I obtained from others on the trip. I may have enhanced some of the information I gathered. Anything that is blatantly incorrect please let me know. All photos used have been converted to a smaller size for faster downloading.
Words, photos or video can never convey the visual impact and "feeling" of some of the places we visited. You have to be there.
Dorji was our primary guide in Bhutan. Highly intelligent and
articulate he became part of our families. Passionate about
Bhutan and its culture, flora and fauna, he had an answer for
every question we asked. We even got to meet his 8 month old
daughter at the end of the trip. See this
photo. Numga was our other guide who was just as enthusiastic
as Tandin. See this
The drivers of the vehicles attached to each team in both Bhutan and Thailand were also excellent. I could not fault their support. In Bhutan, I think their names were Kinzung and Pema.
Smoke. As of May 2013, it is the only country in the world that completely bans the sale and production of tobacco and tobacco products. Under the law, any individual found selling tobacco can face imprisonment for a period of three to five years. I did see one older person smoking in the countryside.
Traffic lights. There was a set in Thimphu, the capital, but they were removed. There is lots of traffic in Thimphu but it is controlled by police. See this photo.
Cars. When we were visiting there was a ban on the importation of cars. Apparently, this happens from time to time to limit the number of cars in the country.
Fishing. It is banned because the Buddhist culture does not kill anything. I asked if they allow one to catch fish and then let them go but did not receive a definite answer.
Beggars. I was not accosted by any in Bhutan or Thailand. In Bhutan, I did see a few people sitting beside prayer wheels with a donation tray but they did not actively accost me. Ironically, the first beggar I was accosted by was at Southern Cross station when I returned to Melbourne.
Cappuccino machines. Despite looking everywhere we could not find one. There was espresso and filtered coffee and it was usually very strong. Tea was usually very weak.
Ice creams. Very few places sell them.
People hassling you to buy something. This is different to all other Asian countries.
Tourists. I saw very few. They were clustered in some places (like the Tigers Nest monastery) but nothing like in other Asian countries.
Motor scooters. Very few.
Push-bikes. Only saw a few.
Tuk-tuk's. Did not see one. Taxis are plentiful and very cheap. Norm took a taxi to the Budd in Thimphu and only cost the equivalent of AU$5 for 1 hour including 30 mins waiting time.
Ski Resorts. There are none in Bhutan but there is lots of snow.
Free-ways. Except for a few valleys, I don't think there is anywhere in Bhutan where the land is flat enough for any long dual lane free-ways. I did see a concrete overpass in Thimphu.
Public Swimming Pools. I was told there is a heated one in Thimphu but did not see it.
McDonald’s, KFC, Pizzas or any of these Western take-away places.
Chocolate. Difficult to get in some places.
Doughnuts. I looked in a few bakeries but could not find any iced doughnuts like what we have in Australia. At Bangkok airport on our way home I purchased a doughnut but it was terrible.
Casino. There is a small amount of legalised gambling allowed but only due to the influence of nearby India. In general, gambling is actively discouraged.
All signs are in English and it is taught in all schools as the second language.
Building regulations seem non-existent.
Helicopters. There are plans to purchase some.
The King has been known to ride a bicycle so we did put out an invitation for him to ride with the Ghostriders but we got no response.
The downhill rides in Bhutan. They were exhilarating and the views spectacular. The best was 52Km, a drop of 2,000m in about 2.5 hours. We even passed cars and trucks on the way down. We did slip and slide a bit around corners and over gravel and hit numerous potholes but nobody had an accident. In the case of the riders in the front, we were going as fast as we could. Simon "ululated"*** every time he passed a vehicle or people and some even ululated back. I could not ululate but Ray and Tandin could.
Visit to the "Tigers Nest" in Bhutan. A monastery built on rock face. Long difficult walk to get there but well worth it. Gonny and Peggy took a horse ride part the way, walked the rest and walked back down. They had a fire in the monastery in 1998 and it was restored. I could not see any signs of a fire and the "new" beams looked very old. However, I was told that old beams were sourced for the restoration.
Air-conditioning in Thailand.
*** Ululating is a loud, long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound resembling a howl with a trilling quality. It is produced by emitting a high pitched loud voice accompanied with a rapid movement of the tongue and the uvula. Simon was very good at it. See youtube for examples.
On our very first night, we had to stay overnight in a hotel in Bangkok called the Convenient Grand Hotel. They did provide transfers to and from the hotel but I would not recommend the hotel. It was a long way from the airport and the city centre. They provided us a breakfast in the morning but it was terrible. My perception of the hotel may be tainted because we arrived there about 9.30 PM and left there at 4.00 AM to catch the plane to Paro.
Heat and humidity in Thailand.
We Feel Safe
Meals and Food
The best food was our first night at the Boutique Raft Resort in Thailand. We all started off by ordering our own selections. Seen, our guide, then ordered a huge selection of other foods. In the end we had more than enough and it was delicious.
The food at the Khin Lom Chom Sa Phan restaurant in Thailand was excellent. Focusing on seafood they had a vast selection and the service was fast and the food good quality. An open deck beside the river with a view of an unusual bridge across the river.
Lost, Broken, Embarrassing and Mistakes
I lost my wallet in Thailand. I panicked and cancelled my credit cards only to remember where I may have left the wallet. The next day Dennis located it where I thought I had left it. Thanks to everyone for their concern.
At the end of the trip, I left my helmet and attached rear view mirror with the guide in Thailand.
Norm left his two drink bottles in Bhutan as a donation.
In Thimphu we visited the largest Buddha in the world. On the way back we stopped at a scenic point for photos. Someone noticed that Ray was missing. We had forgotten him!. Drove back up and found him walking back. He took it very well.
Dennis had a camera mounted on the handlebar of his bike and the mounting broke on one of our downhill rides in Bhutan. The camera hit the ground but was not damaged.
President Failed Us
Price of Fuel
Tour De Bhutan
Fascination With Phallic Symbols
The hotel Dewachen where we stayed in the Phobjikha Valley in Bhutan for 2 nights. Set high on the side of the valley with a magnificent view it was a beautiful and magical place. The Phobjikha valley is home to the rare black necked cranes from Tibet who spend the winter there. Massive rooms with valley views. Even the shower had a view of the valley through a small window. In terms of atmosphere it was probably one of the best places I have ever stayed in. No TV or internet and the power went off on the first night after a huge rain downpour. Power had not come on before we left but it didn't matter. They had a generator (they turned it off at 9 pm) and they cooked some things on the wood fire in the dining room. We had wood heaters in our rooms which most of us lit. It was booked out by us and a group of Americans. A room with twin beds costs approx $60 AU per night including sales tax and service charge. See this photo.
The Boutique Raft Resort in Thailand where we stayed for 2 nights. Hotel units set on rafts on the River Kwai each with a private view to the river. See this photo (from their brochure).
Interesting and Unusual Things
Saw some seats with no backs or bottoms at the archery field in Paro (Bhutan). Very uncomfortable to sit on. See this photo.
Television was only recently introduced to Bhutan. At Bangkok airport, whilst waiting to check in for our flight to Paro, there were lots of passengers with flat screen televisions taking them back to Bhutan.
Is parking bikes the same as parking cars? See this photo. The sign says "NO PARKING IN FRONT OF DUTY ROOM" but they do not ask us to move on.
Many prayer wheels in valleys where there was a water source were powered by the water and thus were in continuous operation.
In the Phobjikha valley in Bhutan, Norm and myself went for a walk one afternoon and on the way back were hailed by Tandin and Numga (our guides). They were in a house/shop having drinks with some friends. We joined them in the house and stayed for an hour or so having a good "Harry" chat. Saw their friends a few days later in the Dochula restaurant near the Dochula pass where we erected the prayer flags.
On the same walk as above, we were aware of a young girl (about 15) walking behind us. She asked us where we were from and we ended up having a long discussion with her which I found very interesting. She spoke good English. She was wearing glasses and I wondered how far she had to go for the optical care given that the valley is very remote.
Many of us tasted the local "Druk" beer. It was very good but had an 8% alcoholic content.
See this photo of the best house I found (in Thailand).
The spider and the frog. Took this photo at the Chimi Lhakhang temple. Expected the frog to eat the spider but it didn't. The "Divine Madman" built the temple. It is famous for infertile women to visit to pray for children.
See these photos of interesting signs.
The curious looks we got from some locals as we rode past, in file, in our bright Ghostriders jerseys was amusing.
One evening in the dining room at the hotel in Paro we were joined by a group of people all dressed in white jumpsuits. They were on a "retreat" and did not talk. It was a bit strange.
After we visited the Cheri monastery out of Thimphu we had lunch and then played a game of throwing these large darts at a target.
See this photo of a mailbox in a remote area in Bhutan. The box was mounted high near the roof line and you would have needed a chair to reach it.
See this photo of a staircase carved out of one piece of wood. We saw lots of these.
Lastly, what do you make of this photo. It looks a bit ghostly to me.
Black Necked Crane
Guns of Thimphu
Most Difficult Landing in the World
Longest Suspension Bridge in Bhutan
Dogs have a free rein in Bhutan and don't seem to be owned by anyone. During the day they sleep and at night roam the streets and bark incessantly.
Did not see that many cats.
Did not see many chickens running around. Was told they keep them locked up because of roaming dogs.
In Bhutan on our last day we were privileged to be entertained by the Tshangyang Wangpoi Duedtse. Male and female dancing and singing accompanied by instrumental backing. It was very good and lasted about an hour. We were fed tea and pastries during the performance and I purchased their DVD. Afterwards we were offered Australian wine and each given a gift of a scroll. The head of Bhutan team who we had not yet met intended to meet us but was ill. It was a fantastic and emotional end to our Bhutan adventure. See these photos. When we first arrived in Bhutan and got settled in the minibus, we were all presented with a white scarf. A lovely start to our adventure. Some of us wore the scarf’s later on.
In the town of Punakha in Bhutan some of us decided after dinner to visit a bar in the town. Our guide took us to a bar he knew. We had the privilege to be entertained by a talented local singer playing his guitar. See these photos.
Other Things We Did
Watched the lowering of the flag at the monastery near the King's palace in Thimphu. Lots of marching by the guards. Afterwards we visited the monastery.
Norm and I walked to the Stupa in Thimphu one night after dinner. Another evening we walked around the block and through some of the dimly lit areas in Thimphu.
Did a nature walk in the Phobjikha valley. About a 3 hour walk from the hotel through the nesting grounds of the Black Necked crane, a forest, a village and a steep ascent to the Gangtey monastery.
Tandin gave us all prayer flags to erect at the Dochula pass (3,200m). At the time it was very misty and cold and there were thousands of other flags already there. See these photos. A few days later we passed through the same pass and the weather was clear.
Visited the National Museum of Bhutan in Paro. I found it interesting.
Visited a farm house in Paro. Had a drink of something there which I did not like. See this photo. Watched some monks chanting (and then we had to give a donation).
Others visited a school in the Phobjikha valley in Bhutan. They said it was very interesting.
Canal cruise in Bangkok. Some areas reminded me of the canals in Venice complete with sludge, rubbish and decrepit buildings. I wonder where the sewerage ends up. See these photos.
Visited Wat Arun (The temple of Dawn) in Bangkok at the end of the canal cruise. Afterwards, we decided to walk back to our hotel which took a few hours. It was very hot but an interesting walk.
Visited an elephant park on one of our rides. See these photos.
Visited the Lawa cave on one of our rides.
Visited the Muang Sing historical park at the end of our riding.
Dennis and I walked to the "Grasshoppers Adventures" office in Bangkok one morning. This company was used by World Expeditions to conduct the cycling tour in Thailand. The owner, Jason, is an Australian and lives in Tecoma (in The Dandenongs). See this photo.
Dennis and I went to the PatPong night market in Bangkok
French and American tourists
Buildings and Locals
Best Afternoon Tea
Roads and Roadwork
Bikes and Riding
The rides we did were:
In Paro we rode from the hotel and back to the ruins of the Drukyel monastery at the top of a valley. About 34km.
From Paro to Thimphu along the best road in Bhutan. About 60km.
From Thimphu to the base of the Cheri monastery and back. About 32km.
From Thimphu via the Dochula Pass to Punakha. About 65km
From Punakha to the Punakha monastery and back. About 16km.
From the Lawala Pass to the town of Gangtey in the Phobjikha Valley. About 10km.
From the Lawala Pass to the town of Wangduephradong. About 50km.
From Kanchanaburi near the bridge over the River Kwai to the Boutique Rafts Resort. About 35km.
From the Boutique Rafts Resort to a suspension bridge. About 40km. This day involved extensive riding through farming and bush areas and was interesting.
From the Boutique Rafts Resort to the Maung Sing park. About 60km.
Phone Reception and WiFi
Gonny Turned 62
Is Not What It Seems
bins and litter
Markets and Handicrafts
In Punakha beside the Damchen Resort where we stayed for two nights we visited the local produce market that occurs every Friday. It was fascinating. Weird, cheap vegetables and fruit. Mangos 40c each. Scales with rocks as the balance weights. Faulty produce was thrown into a vacant area where the cows later consumed it. See these photos. Saw a lady spooning a white liquid from a huge container into small bottles which she sold. It was labelled eye ointment. Everyone had mobile phones.
There were many small handicraft shops in the main streets of Paro and Thimphu but I was not very impressed with them. Some of the souvenirs were tacky. Like the miniature solar powered prayer wheel. There were four others that I did like:
In the Dochula restaurant near the Dochula pass where we erected the prayer flags and rode through. In particular, Gonny and myself purchased magnificent hats that had been embroidered by local women working in a room near the restaurant. See this photo.
In the main street of Thimphu we were taken to a shop run by the Government. Good quality but a bit expensive. Some of us purchased items.
After our visit to the monastery out of Punakha we rode to the Nazhoen Pelri Skills Training Centre for disabled children and youths. See this photo of their sewing room. Good quality merchandise and we purchased some items.
A weaving centre in the Phobjikha valley in Bhutan. Items made by local women. Norm and I purchased large cloths. The cloth I purchased was about 1m x 2m, brightly coloured with some gold threading. I met and talked with the lady who made it. She told me it took her one and a half years to make. At $350 US it was the most expensive item I have ever purchased overseas but well worth it. We are using it as a bedspread.
The hotel Olathang in Paro where we stayed for three nights. A lovely hotel overlooking the Paro valley. Twin units set in the grounds. For two nights, Norm and myself had a unit with a balcony overlooking the valley. See this photo. Service was excellent. You could get a cup of tea anytime in the reception area. Large rooms and large dining area.
The hotel Riverview in Thimphu where we stayed for two nights. Just a typical large hotel. Nice view of Thimphu, service was good, everything worked and it was not far from the city centre. See this photo.
The Damchen Resort in Punakha beside the Punachu river where we stayed for two nights. Rooms very small and some of the reception staff lacked English skills but it was OK.
The Nouvo City hotel in Bangkok where we stayed for two nights. An OK hotel. It did have a very good breakfast and a pool on the roof which Norm and myself used one afternoon. We used the attached restaurant a few times. Once we were the only ones there and we are sure the food was made elsewhere and brought in.
Price of Things
What We Did or Not Need or See
Thermals or warm hats.
I should have taken my gel bike seat and my clip-on pedals. I did take my clip-on shoes with recessed cleats.