Festival Photography with Mark Tuschman
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Festival Photography with Mark Tuschman
Find out more


Festival Photography with Mark Tuschman
Find out more


Festival Photography with Mark Tuschman
Find out more


Festival Photography with Mark Tuschman
Find out more


Festival Photography with Mark Tuschman
Find out more


Festival Photography with Mark Tuschman
Find out more


Festival Photography with Mark Tuschman
Find out more

Home Destinations Bhutan Bhutan Festival Photography Tour

Sacred Dances, Bhutan Photography Tour Itinerary

September 27

Arrive Bangkok

En route to Asia, crossing the International Dateline and losing one calendar day.

Bangkok Arrival Notes
Upon exiting aircraft, meet escort inside terminal area (escort will be holding a placard with your name) who will guide you through expedited Fastrack immigration*, baggage claim (escorted transfer may also be provided to hotel kiosk or connecting flight, by arrangement). If you've a longer delay in Bangkok, we recommend dining during your layover in Bangkok. Day rooms and spa are also available. The airport also has excellent wifi, but you must register and obtain access information at an information kiosk.

Novotel Airport Hotel

Mr. Supakorn Saripha • (66-81) 797-1722—Mobile (24-hours)

Bhutan Sand Painting Icon

September 28

Bangkok to Thimpu

Bangkok Departure Notes
Please check in two hours in advance for your flight to Bhutan at Druk Air on the 4th Level at at Row W (last row on the right from taxi entry). At the Druk Airline counter request for left side window seats and avoid seat numbers 11 & 12, as the airplane wings obstruct the views from these seats. After check-in, business class passengers can proceed to the business class lounge at G-wing on Level 3 of the airport (ask your check-in clerk for directions).

This early morning flight from Bangkok into Paro is one of the most spectacular and mesmerizing in the world. As your aircraft enters the Paro valley, look down and you will see the Paro Dzong overlooking the Paro Chu (river), with Ta Dzong, (watch tower), now the National Museum.

* Visa on Arrival Authorization required in advance (arranged with Indochina Travel)

After arrival into Paro's high altitude airport in the Kingdom of Bhutan (“Edge of the Earth”), clear customs and immigration,* and meet escort to transfer into Paro for breakfast orientation at the Sonam Trophel Restaurant. Afterwards, briefly strolling around downtown Paro and an optional visit to the National Museum of Bhutan located in the watch tower of Ta Dzong. The museum is home to a variety of Thangka art canvases, Buddhist relics, Paro artifacts and rare stamps. We recommended the museum for those who want to learn about the history and culture of the Bhutan before heading up country. before departing to the capital city, Thimphu (46 miles - about 1.5 hrs).

Jakar Dzong

Our drive today out of Paro travels through one of the country’s loveliest valleys Sights along the route include a 15th century Tamchog Temple, ancient Buddhist Stupas and a 17th century fortress, Semtokha Dzong.

With a population just over 50,000, Thimphu is small and like no other capital city; set in a unique valley, with distinctive architecture reflective of the harmony of tradition and modernity. The capital Thimphu itself sprawls up the wooded western hillside of the Wang Chhu and is the center of government, but also religion and commerce. A city with no traffic lights where police still direct traffic at intersections, yet it is the largest city in the country and seat of the government as well as the main hub of commerce. After hotel check-in, sightseeing in central Thimpu sights and shops.

After arrival, enjoying lunch at your resort or in town. We are here for the festival, but there are several formal sights of interest in pleasant Thimpu we can visit, much of it by foot, including:

Institute of Traditional Medicine. Bhutan has long and rich tradition of medicine based on natural remedies derived mainly from plants and earth, and animals. This institute has facility for out-patients, training, research and production of traditional medicine. The institute has an exhibition room that imparts excellent look into the tradition.

The School of Traditional Arts and Crafts. The school offers a comprehensive eight-year course in the techniques of traditional art in religious and secular paintings, woodcarving, clay sculpture and traditional mask making. One can see students working through progressive levels practicing the precise rules and traditions of Bhutanese art.

Thimpu, Bhutan

The Folk Heritage Museum. Established in 2001, an interesting museum housed in an older traditional house. The museum is a walk through the changing rural traditions, habits and crafts, compared with those of the past.

Textile Museum. Established in 2000, this is one of a new theme of museums in the city. It is dedicated to the rich skill of Bhutanese weaver, who are primarily women that traditionally clothed the family before the availability of machine made fabrics. The museum has a good collection of samples including rare pieces and antiques, some belonging to the royal family.

Jungshina Handmade Paper Factory where we can witness traditional paper making technique from bark of Daphne plants. Bhutan in ancient days was the biggest supplier of paper in the Himalayan region for printing religious scriptures and prayers. Even to this day handmade paper continues to be favored for the same as mass machine printing of prayers is inconvenient due to its rough texture. It has also seen a new use in modern arts and artifacts.

Sangaygang Hill shrouded in hundreds of colorful flags with a great view over the capital city. We can walk a short distance from here to the National Animal Sanctuary to see the unique Takin, the national animal of Bhutan.

Buddha Point provides even more spectacular views of the Thimphu valley. But a short drive from town, there is a huge statue of the Buddha cast in bronze, sitting atop the Kuensel Phodrang hill. On our way down, we can also visit the Zangthoperi Lhakhang in Lower Thimphu, which has some colorful and interesting murals and treasures on display.

Changangkha Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Thimphu, built in the 15th century. Dedicated to the Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist spirit of compassion, the temple offers panoramic views of the entire valley.

In the evening the National Memorial Chorten is a nice place to observe how the locals recite prayers at dusk. The stupa was built in 1974 in memory of the third king of Bhutan.

National Handicrafts Emporium was founded by the Princesses Ashi Sonam Choden Wangchuck forty years ago to support the local cottage industry. Today it is a place sourcing indigenous products from different parts of Bhutan of high quality and are available at modest prices.

If it is the weekend during your visit, we will explore the local market where locals gather to sell their vegetables, traditional masks, textiles, incense, and jewelry. The market is one of the best place in Bhutan to buy traditional crafts. There is often an archery competition taking place nearby we can photograph.

In the late afternoon, resting at the resort before dinner.

Taj Tashi

Bhutan enjoys a robust GSM cell phone access for roaming mobile phones in almost the entire region between Paro and Punakha

The official language in Bhutan is Dzongkha. However, English and Hindi is widely spoken and most signs are bilingual.

Autumn begins in September. The end of monsoons brings clear Himalayan skies and festival season, with several big celebrations this month. Weather is typically very mild and clear with fall colors everywhere and the sky at its clearest, affording magnificent views of the Himalayan range.

Bhutan Dzong The first thing that strikes you after arrival in Bhutan is the dress that everyone around is wearing. The colorful dress of the men is called the gho which is something similar to the Scottish kilt. With length up to the knee, and the upper part of the dress wraps around the body and loosened as per the size & fitting. There are many pockets in the inside. Its surprising how much can be stored in these pockets. The women wear the kiras which are full length unstitched garments fastened at the shoulders by two hook like clips called komas and a waistband which is also of a similar cloth. Added to this is a blouse and a jacket which completes the dress. The range of colors is varied and the dress material fine. By law, and custom, every government worker, every teacher and almost everyone holding public office has to wear the traditional dress. Even school uniforms conform to this dress code.

You'll soon no doubt notice that this same uniformity spills over into architecture; every building has to have the basic traditional form. This is mandated by law so there are no "modern" looking buildings. There is a degree of uniformity and tradition that shows through.


Taj Tashi

Taj Tashi, Thimpu Bhutan

A spectacular addition to the Indian-owned Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces. The Tashi blends Bhutan’s traditional Dzong architecture and modern design. Adorned with classical hand-drawn Buddhist murals, its 66 elegant and spacious guestrooms afford guests striking highlights of the region’s art and color, and offer breathtaking views of the mountains that rise above the Thimphu valley.

The Tashi has 66 luxury rooms and suites, restaurants serving Bhutanese and Continental fare, lounges, bars, spa, a heated indoor swimming pool and fitness center, and Bhutan’s first golf course.

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September 29 & 30

Thimphu Drubchen

Over the next two days, attending one of Bhutan's celebrated festival, the Thimpu Drubchen. The festival commemorates the birth of Bhutan’s patron saint Padmasambhava who introduced Buddhism to the Kingdom. The festival is spread over three days with the local people coming from all over, dressed in their finest clothes for the festivities known as Tsechus. It is believed that the ones that witness the festival will be bestowed with luck and their wishes will be fulfilled though because the festival's purpose is mainly to appease the protecting deities, it is considered very sacred and was not open for travelers until recently. While the underlying purpose is spiritual, dances are more often like plays where good triumphs over evil or depict significant historical events.

The sacred Thimphu Drubchen (popularly known as Thimphu Dromchoey) are performed at the Thimphu Tashichhodzong monastery. The sacred masked dance is dedicated to appeasing the protecting deity of Bhutan, Pelden Lhamo, a dance ceremony that was instituted between 1705 and 1709 by Kuenga Gyaltshen, the first reincarnation of Jampel Dorji, son of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. According to legend, Pelden Lhamo appeared before him and performed the dances while he was in meditation. Based on these dances, Kuenga Gyeltshen initiated the dance ceremony.

Each evening, our group will have a photo review during which each of us will choose 3-5 photos thatwe feel expresses our vision, or fell short, and would like feedback.

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October 1

Thimpu to Punakha

After breakfast, driving to Punakha Valley (51 miles - about 2 ½-3 hrs) crossing over the renowned Dochula Pass (10,300 feet), where on a clear day a whole range of inner Himalayan peaks can be viewed, including the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, Gangkhar Puensum at 7,541 meters.

From the pass the road descends through blooming giant magnolias, fields of rhododendrons and many other flowers during the later fall season. The area is also a paradise for bird watchers. Less than two hours from the pass we will enter the much lower and warmer valleys of Punakha and Wangdue. before reaching Punakha, pause for lunch and visit to a nearby fortress with a rustic charm. We'll also stop at a local farm to meet with a family.

Punakha Dzong Bhutan
Punakha Dzong

Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan until 1955, is a picturesque town surrounded with snow capped Himalayan slopes known for the massive Punakha DzongKnown in ancient times as the Druk Pungthang Dechhen Phrodang or “the palace of great happiness”, the Punakha Dzong was the second dzong to be built in Bhutan. The fortress-monastery was built in 1637 by Shabdung Nawang Namgyal in a commanding position at the confluence of the Po Chhu and Mo Chhu (Father and Mother rivers). It once served as the seat of the Kingdom's government and is now the winter home of Je Khempo, the head abbot of Bhutan, along with a retinue of about 1,000 monks.

After hotel check-in, followed by lunch and a short rest in the hotel, enjoying a short hike of about one hour through local farms and villages to the monastery, Chimi Lhakhang. The site was built in 1499 by the 14th Drukpa hierarch, Ngawang Choegyel, after the site was blessed by the "Divine Madman" the maverick saint Drukpa Kinley (1455–1529) whose legacy was many legends for his unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism by singing, humor, and outrageous behavior, often bizarre, shocking, and with sexual overtones (Drukpa Kuenley is one of the most revered and followed saints in Bhutan, and his symbol – the phallus – will be noticed in various forms within Bhutanese houses and restaurants. One of the most odd aspects of the temples is its place as a pilgrimage site for women who come seeking blessings for children and will receive a thump on the head by the presiding Lama with a 10-inch ivory, wood, and bone phallus as well as the bow and arrow supposedly used by the Divine Madman himself.

After refreshing tea at the temples teahouse, return to resort to relax before this evening's presentation of photos  the group.

Uma Punakha


Uma Punakha

Punakha Valley, Bhutan

Uma's second hotel in Bhutan is an intimate luxury lodge located at the far western end of the lush Punakha Valley. From a picturesque base overlooking a snake-like bend in the Mo Chu river.

The villas were designed by Bali-based architect Cheong Yew Kuan (site of another COMO property). The Uma provides a luxury accommodation in this less-visited area of Bhutan, about a five-hour drive from Paro. From its large balconies Uma Punakha offers magnificent views of some of Bhutan’s most celebrated landscapes and easy access to nearby historic sites, including the famous Temple of the Divine Madman and the massive Punakha Dzong.

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October 2

Wangdue Tshechu Mask Festival
Wangdue Mask Dance

The Wangdue Tshechu (festival) was found by 4th Temporal Ruler of Bhutan, Mr. Tenzing Rabgye (1638-1696) to commemorate the birth of Guru Padmasambhave the lotus born for the benefit of the people of the kingdom and especially for shar, Wang and Their. The Tshechu is known for the Raksha Mangcham or the dance of the Ox Twhich, mask and sword dances, that are be danced by monks and laymen. It concludes with the unfurling of the Guru Tshengye Thongdroel.

Wangdue Festival ThingdrelToday, rising for dawn photography, witnessing the large number of pilgrims in Pnuakha for the festival receiving their blessing from monks, performing rituals and lining up to view the festival Thongdrel, a large tapestry unveiled during tsechus. They are equivalent to Tibetan thangka paintings. Thongdrels typically depict a seated Guru Rinpoche surrounded by holy beings.

Thongdrels are composed of two silk layers, the painting itself and a yellow drape that covers and protects it. Thongdrels are displayed once a year as the highlight of the tsechu festival of a district or province. The painting is not allowed to be struck by the direct rays of the sun, and it is unfurled at around 3:00 in the morning and rolled back up by about 7:30 AM. Those viewing are said to liberated from the sufferings at the glimpse of Thongdrel.

Balance of day attending the first day of the Wangdue Tshechu (festival) marked by dances by monks:

Wangdue Tshechu Schedule Day 1

Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag)

Dance of the Terrifying Deities (Tungam)

Dance of the Raksha from the monastery of Dole (Dole Raksha Cham)

Dance of the Rakshas and the Judgement of the Dead (Raksha Mangcham) 

Dance of the Drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Nga Cham)

Shawa Shachhi - Lencham : Dance of the Stag and the Hounds (2nd part)

View Full Wengdue Tshechu Program from 2013

Spiritual Bhutan

A prayer wheel is of a hollow metal cylinder, often beautifully embossed, mounted on a rod handle and containing a tightly wound scroll printed with a mantra.

Prayer wheel, Bhutan

Prayer wheels are used primarily by the Buddhists of Tibet and Nepal, where hand-held prayer wheels are carried by pilgrims and other devotees and turned during devotional activities.

According to Tibetan Buddhist belief, spinning a prayer wheel is just as effective as reciting the sacred texts aloud. This belief derives from the Buddhist belief in the power of sound and the formulas to which deities are subject. For many Buddhists, the prayer wheel also represents the Wheel of the Law (or Dharma) set in motion by the Buddha.

The prayer wheel is also useful for illiterate members of the lay Buddhist community, since they can "read" the prayers by turning the wheel.

Prayer wheels come in many sizes: they may be small and attached to a stick, and spun around by hand; medium-sized and set up at monasteries or temples; or very large and continuously spun by a water mill. Prayer wheels at monasteries and temples are located at the gates of the property, and devotees spin the wheels before passing through the gates.

The external cylinder of a prayer wheel is made out of repoussé metal, usually gilded bronze. The wheel is supported on a handle or axis made of wood or a precious metal. On the outside of the cylinder are inscriptions in Sanskrit (or sometimes Tibetan) script (often Om mani padme hum) and auspicious Buddhist symbols. This outer part is removable to allow for the insertion of the sacred text into the cylinder. The uppermost point of the prayer wheel forms the shape of a lotus bud.

The cylinder contains a sacred text written or printed on paper or animal skin. These texts might be sutra or invocations to particular deities (dharani or mantras). The most common text used in prayer wheels is the mantra Om mani padme hum.

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October 3

Wangdue Tshechu Mask Festival

Continued photography and attendance of Wangdue festival dances throughout the day.

mask dance Wangdue, Bhutan

Wangdue Tshechu Schedule Day 2

Dance with Guitar (Dranyen Cham)

Dance of the Heroes (Pachem)

Dance of the Lords of the Cremation Grounds (Durdag)

Dance of the Ging and Tsholing

Dance of the Drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Nga Cham)

Dance of the Eight Manifestation of Guru Rimpoche (Gguru Tshen Gye)

  View Full Wengdue Tshechu Program from 2013

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October 4

Punakha Dzong
Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

This morning visiting Bhutan's most recognized temple after the Tiger's Nest, the Punakha Dzong, one of the most beautiful Dzongs in the country. "Punthang Dechen Phodrang" (The Palace of Great Bliss) was built in 1637 by the Zhabdrung as a war fortress. Today, it is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and the dzong showcases the finest examples of Bhutanese arts and crafts along its walls and interiors. Of special interest is the Kuenrey, a temple at the far end of the Dzong with awe-inspiring giant statues of the Buddha, flanked by the Guru and the Zhabdrung, and a ceiling of hundreds of beautifully painted dragons adorning it. Here are also the most beautiful paintings of the 12 episodes of the life of the Buddha (Zedpa Chuni).

After Punakha Dzong, return from the Punakha Valley to Thimpu to witness and photograph the Thimpu Tshechu at the Tashichho Dzong. Today is the Shacham (stag dance) where dancers wearing knee length costumes and stag masks perform a dance depicting the subjugation of the evil wind king by Guru Rinpochhe, the Pelage Gingsum (The three kings of Ging), depicts the victory of good over evil, and the Pacham (dance of the heroes) shows how the people who have performed good deeds are led to Guru Rinpochhe after their life on earth has ended.

The most important dance in the festival is considered to be the Guru Tshengye Dance, where it is believed that the Guru manifests himself in the dancers who represent his eight manifestations and blesses the onlookers.

View Full Thimpu Tshechu Program

 The weekend market is also on this day in Thimpu and we will explore upon arrival.

Taj Tashi

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October 5

Thimpu Tshechu

Mask dance, Thimpu fesitval tour

On this second day of the Thimpu festival, rise early to photograph assembly before the dances begin. After, watching the spectacular Zhana Cham, where dancers representing yogis who have the power to take and recreate life, are dressed in large black hats and brocade, and then dancers perform a victory dance with drums following the destruction of evil.

The masked dances typically are moral vignettes, or based on incidents from the life of the 9th century Nyingmapa teacher Padmasambhava and other saints. Today's program of dances includes:

Black Hat Dance (Shana)

Dance of the 21 Black Hats with Drums (Shaa Nga Cham)


Dance of the Noblemen and the Ladies (Pholeg Moleg) 

Dance of the Drums from Dramitse (Dramitse Nga Cham) 

Dance of the Stag and the Hounds (Shawo Shachi) 

View Full Thimpu Tshechu Program

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October 6

Punakha to Paro

On the final day of the Tshechu are introduced more menacing dances. Durdag is performed with skull masks and depict the lords of the cremation grounds subjugating the demons who harm tantric Buddhism, Tungam is again performed with terrifying masks, and depict Guru Rinpochhe waging a war against demonic powers, and Raksha Marcham depicts the judgment of the dead.

After the festival, returning to Paro via Chuzom and Tamchhu Lhakhang, retracing our path over the Dochu La for a second glimpse of the Himalayan range. Returning to the Chuzum (river confluence) we catch a glimpse of the three shrines in Nepali, Tibetan and Bhutanese style which were built to ward of evil spirits near the checkpoint. Time permitting the journey can be broken with a visit to Tamchhu Lhakhang built by Thangtong Gyalpo, the so-called Iron Bridge Builder. This former saint from the 14th century introduced the art of building suspension bridges with iron chains and the only way to reach his temple is by one of these bridges.

On the final leg the road snakes alongside the Pa Chhu river, through apple orchards and rice paddies, past quaint homesteads to our home in the mountains, Uma Paro. After check-in, the rest of the day relaxing around the lodge, enjoying the facilities or trying an activity like the Bhutanese national sport of archery or a traditional Bhutanese Hot Stone Bath.

Uma Paro • Paro Town • Deluxe


Uma Paro

Uma Paro, Bhutan

The Uma Paro enjoys a splendid hillside location with panoramic views over the Paro Valley. The villas are a blend of Zen and luxury, offering high ascetic without decadence. The design of Koichiro Ikebuchi is spacious and open, basking in natural light. Interiors offer simplicity with traditional Balinese styling.

Como's freestanding villas include a traditional outdoor Bukhari wood burning stove, an outdoor hot stone bathtub as well as private spa treatment areas.

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October 7

Haa Valley

Haa Valley, Bhutan

This ancient path was used by rice planters from the Haa Valley on their way to Paro during the rice planting season. Although relatively short and reaching modest altitudes, it is a wonderful walk that delivers in all ways - great views, dramatic scenery, cultural interaction.

JakarEarly start for the drive to Haa via Chele La (pass) which at 3,810m, is the highest road pass in Bhutan, snaking upwards through blue pine and rhododendron (Etho Metho) forests for about 20 miles. On a clear day the view sweeps away to the snow-dome of Bhutan’s highest peak Mt Jhomolhari (7,314 meters).

After a bracing walk along he prayer flag bedecked ridge we descend all the way down to Wangchulo Dzong, the seat of the 1st and 2nd kings of Bhutan. Having visited the bazaar it is a short trek along the Haa Chhu (river) to a picnic spot.

Climbing back up to the road head we enjoy the drive back to Lhakhang Karpo (the White Temple), many young monks await to offer a warm, noisy welcome. The Haa valley only opened to foreigners in 2002 due to its proximity to the border with Sikkim and Tibet. This unspoilt valley harks back to a simpler more traditional time and we'll visit local farms and villages, meeting with locals typically removed from the other travelers.

In the afternoon, return to relax at the Uma. This evening, we will share presenting our photos in the pleaant lounge of Uma after dinner.

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October 8

Taktsang Palphug Monastery (The Tiger's Nest)
Tiger's Nest, Bhutan

In the morning, hike to the famous “Tiger's nest monastery” — Taktsang Palphug — an image recognized around the world, a picturesque symbol of Bhutan, and one of the most sacred monasteries in the Himalayas. Completed in 1692, the temple hangs on a cliff at 3,120 meters (10,200 feet), some 700 meters (2,300 feet) above the bottom of Paro valley. The name Taktsang (stag tshang) means "Tiger's lair", the legend being that Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) flew there on the back of a tigeress, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet.

Hiking to the monastery viewpoint (about one hour or two to actually visit the temple itself), our total hiking and visit should be from about 7:30 to noon with tiem allowed for photography (if time and energy levels allow, we can head further up the mountain to visit several remote temples and monasteries). After lunching nearby the hike's end, return to the Uma for a relaxing massage or continue to visit Drugyel Dzong, in the northern side of the valley, and the 8th century Kyichu temple.

Taktsang Hiking Notes
We depart from the hotel lobby at 6:45 a.m. for the 40-minute drive to the foot of the mountain (atop which perches Taktsang Palphug monastery), to start the hike early before the crowds. Pack lightly but bring warm socks for walking the monastery. About halfway, there is a cafe rest stop to fuel up with tea, before conquering the latter section, arriving about two hours after we began our hike depending on how often we stop to photograph. Note: horses may be hired to assist ascending to Taktsang, but accidents have occurred and is not recommended.

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October 9

Paro to Bangkok

After savoring a last sunrise over the valley and breakfast on the veranda, return to Paro airport (ten minutes) and after farewells with guide, depart for Bangkok. After arrival in Bangkok, meet escort for expedited transfer to airport hotel kiosk (300 yards by foot or shuttle every 10-15 minutes).

Bangkok Arrival Notes
Upon exiting aircraft, meet escort inside terminal area (escort will be holding a placard with your name) who will guide you through expedited Fastrack immigration*, baggage claim (escorted transfer may also be provided to hotel kiosk or connecting flight, by arrangement). If you've a longer delay in Bangkok, we recommend dining during your layover in Bangkok. Day rooms and spa are also available. The airport also has excellent wifi, but you must register and obtain access information at an information kiosk.

Log jay gay (we'll meet again), and thank you for traveling with us!


Inclusive: Bhutan visa processing, most meals (almost all breakfast and lunches are included as well as dinner on two evenings), all transfers and ground transportion described in itinerary, deluxe accommodations, entrance fees, guides, bottled water, and tourist development fund fee.

Non-Inclusive: International airline unless arranged by Indochina Travel, trip cancellation insurance, emergency air evacuation insurance (required), gratuities for guides and drivers (customary), personal expenses, beverages.

Why choose Indochina Travel? We take you to places, organize experiences, and introduce you to local people that no one else does. Whether celebrating an anniversary or planning a family trip, our journeys offer unforgettable experiences in Vietnam, the Land of Nine Dragons.

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