Overall the trip in Bhutan was very good and at times excellent. We have summarised our feedback below: Itinerary
The itinerary was what we had planned with you and it was overall more than hoped for, given the limitations of being a visitor in Bhutan. We found staying places two nights or more allowed time to experience Bhutan better and worked well. The mixture of day walking and visiting lhakhangs and dzongs/museums/textile or other crafts etc was a good balance.
Owl trek was a lovely trek, all three days; it’s altitude limited exploration at 12,000 feet was too rapid acclimatisation for myself. We were thrilled that the raptor and Himalayan monal sightings at Kichipu were exceptional and we have fantastic photos of steppe eagles. Our group, the kitchen boy saw the red panda on the first day and we had many sightings of their scats. We suggest it might work better to reverse the owl trek route as allows more time to take in the ridge views and wildlife/birds. No owls on 1st night, really not surprised given the clear evidence of frequent use of the campsite.
Manas Park trip was a disappointment; long, long days travel in the car. We did not walk some of the eco-trail from Gomphu to Manas. We just had a wildlife exploration around the park centre itself and the adjacent river area and forest on the first full day @ Manas. There is very little to see and our guide was reluctant to explore more than 200 yards or so on the footpaths around the NP centre given his conversation with Ranger. In fact the ranger said that a wildlife photographer had been in their camp for 2 weeks and not photographed anything, a fact that he seemed rather pleased with.
We would say do not offer this option at all as unless you actively engage in the local Gomphu to Manas trail in part. As visitors you end spending all the time by the road; walking and camping, entirely understandable however there was another option of the trail we did not access and the block seemed to be the guide.
There was another Wind horse group at the Manas camp area, who had visited Gomphu. This would probably offer a better option, however we only have the official eco-trail guide to refer to on this point. We were unable to get any information from the guide on this option.
Second full day. Given this was just to wander around unexplained locations, we suggested we depart earlier from Manas and camp closer to Tingtibi on our return. Our guide was fine with this idea which indeed then happened. He would not go and explore Gomphu/hornbills there (spotted by other WH group)/walk even though it was only nine km on a side road from the road. This option of returning earlier and closer to Tingtibi made the journey the next day to Gelephu much more bearable. This option would have been incredibly long a day and we would suggest too long, given the road state etc.
We struggled at times with the guide Namgay to let us
Spend more time
in the lkahangs etc. we realise in some places he had a lot to get through but there were also days such as the first day in Bumthang when he had agreed with us to cut out some of the lhakhangs as too many, rushed us through the ones we had agreed then wondered what we would do after lunch!
doing wildlife viewing e.g. along rivers or in valley spots, on the trek, Day 2/3 we really needed to go slower to take in the scenery and sightings
walking for longer
at times the guide was tricky to negotiate slight variations or different options; for example:
we had not realised the option to have a packed / take hot lunch with us and would have preferred this option often. We dislike eating lunches in tourist type hotels. We did eventually achieve this option and improve the experience
We did on some occasions negotiate a change or possibility of a stop to take pictures etc, this improved our exploring experience to better.
Excellent in all ways
Paro; Gantey Palace hotel was brilliant location and views with it history. Food good and staff helpful. Room warm and cosy.
Thimphu: Namgyay Hotel – excellent spacious room and town location good. Food terrible, room warm and very pleasant and quiet… no dogs heard.
Punika: lovely family hotel with good location and food ok. Warm room
Phobjika: Crane festival; room basic but sufficient; cool/to hot ana needed to use fire; run by fairly disinterested staff, food OK….. so OK/not great.
Bumgthang: Mountain Resort; room excellent, warm; food good with access to local cheese, good location as able to walk into town etc
Trongsa: Lovely family hotel; very helpful, food superb, warm and great view of Dzong.
Treks/camping: initial tent poor as too small height wise, awkward shape and staff struggled to use a complex tent that needs lots of guy rope adjustments. Moisture/ventilation issues meant the sleeping bags became wet. More icing on the inside of the tent at higher altitiudes.
We swopped to the older A frame tent for the treks and the luxury tent for two nights at Manas, both of which were excellent for our needs.
Gelephu: hotel rooms spacious and comfortable; bathroom plumbing nonfunctional, food very limited.
Driver superb for driving skills; very safe driver. Very helpful at all points. Delightful driver and very knowledgeable about English literature. Five stars; very approachable
Sadly the only weak part of the trip
Failed to meet us arrival as no notification from office of air flight change is what we understood from him
He had had no breaks between guiding trips. He was going from our trip to the next guiding trip with just an overnight break at home in Thimphu
Was clearly bored with guiding; offered a bare explanation on the cultural sights and often limited time which resulted in us insisting on going back to a set of lhakhangs in Bumthang for longer. He often lacked a real interest in sharing what we were looking at especially around some of the shrines and their range of statures, paintings and the historically perspectives. For example interpretations of some of the wall paintings or the style of art work etc.
We wanted packed lunch and drinks en route on occasions so we could drink in Bhutan; that we achieved more from Bumthang; he could be very rigid/fixed at times in attitude to timings and we had to leave a place when he said we had to leave it.
He has done Taksin walk 18 times this year!
He was knowledgeable on bird identification, flora but struggled on common butterflies. Fairly limited on mammal knowledge other than identification, so bird guiding skills were good. We did see a lot of birds we had not seen before and he was able to use bird calls to guide their location and identification.
He was not easy to negotiate variations like stops on the journey as previously mentioned.
Very helpful at the crane festival; we got a good view spot and programme itinerary.
Bring acetazolamide on the trek and Dr Cole did get mild altitude sickness that limited her. It would have been helpful, rest did the trick.
Bring Wind Horse books
Good at logistics so things flowed well especially around the trekking. But in summary we think he needs a break from guiding, he joined us with just a 2 hour break from the previous group and left us to take another group with 1 day’s break.
Mohan and team; trekking team
Absolutely excellent; great food and lots of drinks, tent care and our care was superb and always friendly and helpful; possible the best we have had, so please tell them.
Would do it again and recommend it except for Manas Park; we never understood why we could not camp at Gomphu and walk some of the ecotrail designed for such visitors as ourselves. WWF funded sites in Bhutan in Manas Park and Tang valley were not used; for picnics, camping or trailing; seems odd.
Overall…. Great trip, weather and well organised; the weak point was the guiding…… and we did not let this spoil the trip.