Bhutan Day 4: A Little Marketing and Bargaining

PUNAKHA - DOCHULA - THIMPHU - PARO

Hotel Lobesa Punakha
It was a cold, cold night in Hotel Lobesa. But the cheerful morning sunshine had warmed our hearts as it shoved the cold morning fog away from Punakha valley. This was the breath-taking view from our hotel room and we wished we didn't have to leave.

Hotel Lobesa Punakha
Getting ready for breakfast at Hotel Lobesa's beautiful dining hall.

Hotel Lobesa Punakha
Everyone at Hotel Lobesa was fantastic. Service was impeccable. And the owner of the hotel was behind the counter to see every guest out with a big smile.

Hotel Lobesa Punakha
Saying goodbye to this small but heart warming hotel.

Hotel Lobesa Punakha
Loading our luggage into the vehicle with our driver Mr. Sangye lending a hand. Another long road journey ahead with quite a distance to cover today. We had to get back to Paro by sunset, via Dochula Pass and the capital Thimphu.

Dochula Pass
After slightly more than an hour of bumpy road journey, we got back to Dochula Pass to have our tea and biscuits, and sharing our biscuits with our best friends.

Dochula Pass
Happy dogs waiting patiently for their biscuits.

Dochula Pass 108 Memorial Chortens
These would need no introduction if you have read my Day 3 post. Dochula Pass (and the 108 memorial Chortens) is an inevitable stopover between Thimphu and Punakha.

Dochula Pass 108 Memorial Chortens
All dressed up in Bhutan's traditional clothing today and enjoying the amazing views of the Himalayan mountain range.

Dochula Pass 108 Memorial Chortens
A must-have wefie at Dochula Pass with our amusing tour guide, Mr. Jigme (third from left) and driver, Mr. Sangye (second from right).

Dochula Pass 108 Memorial Chortens
Both Mr. Jigme and Mr. Sangye teaching us their traditional song and dance.

Dochula Pass 108 Memorial ChortensWho's local, who's not?

Dochula Pass
Dochula Pass - quite precisely at 3,100 metres above sea level.

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
After close to another hour of bouncy car ride, we reached the Centenary Farmers' Market in the capital Thimphu. Visiting local markets has always been one of our favourite activities as one could see, smell, touch and taste the local flavours and their way of life. It's marketing time...

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
Fragrant dried chilli, something we see in every meal and can't do without.

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
Ground dried red chilli powder. A must-have in Bhutanese kitchens.
Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
It's not all work. Children playing and entertaining themselves at a market's stall.

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
Fragrant incense powder. Don't be mistaken, they are not curry powder and don't start tasting them.

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
Deal...

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
A wide variety of incense at the market.

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
It is the largest domestic market for farmers in Bhutan, and has everything that a local home would need.

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
Completed in 2008, this 2 storey building is open only from Friday to Sunday every week.

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
Buying some local honey.

Bhutan boy
This extremely sweet and adorable child was quite fascinated by me and my camera (and possibly me in my Gho outfit).

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
Directly opposite the Centenary Farmers' Market is a small outdoor bazaar which sells local apparels, wares, and some souvenirs. Just take this wooden bridge across the river and the bazaar is just ahead.

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
A less fortunate individual begging on the bridge. It's rather uncommon to see beggars in the country.

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
Our tour guide, Mr. Jigme, sitting at a Kira store and getting on to his social media while waiting for us to satisfy our shopping desires.

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
Richly textured and colourful fabric, finely crafted and polished home ware.

Centenary Farmers' Market Thimphu
Bargaining at the shops with the help of our tour guide. To be honest, the shop owners remained so cheerful after all the haggling, or even if we didn't buy from them in the end. Even passer-by would join in the fun.

Bhutan children
Bhutan children
These lovable children were playing around me and posing for photos. Children in Bhutan are incredibly dear and adorable.

Bhutan children
The two joyous and delightful girls having fun with my camera and were more than happy to pose for a wefie.

Prayer flags Bhutan
Bought a few sets of traditional Bhutanese clothing after some dramatic and fun bargaining. Walking back across the bridge decorated with the same prayer flags of blue, white, red, green and yellow fluttering in the cool valley breeze.

Bhutan weaving
Our next stop was the Gagyel Lhundrup Weaving Centre. It was amazing to watch the skilful lady weave together the tapestry, thread by thread, millimetre by millimetre. No automation, no machines, no technology. Keeping the art, culture, heritage and skills alive.

Bhutan weaving
Bhutan weaving
A jaw-dropping collection of apparel, accessories and ladies' Kira - an ankle-length traditional dress consisting of a rectangular piece of woven fabric. Those in pure silk could start anywhere from USD2,000 to USD5,000 a piece. There were more exquisite ones in the glass showcase which we didn't ask further. And this weaving centre had also proudly made a Rachu (ladies' draped-over scarf) for Queen Jetsun Pema.

Bhutan restaurant
It was late lunch for us today, inevitably after a long day of shopping from the market to the bazaar and finally, the weaving centre.

Bhutan restaurant
As usual, the restaurant was clean and nice, with great service and fantastic Bhutanese food.

Bhutan people
A friendly couple manning a tiny provision store below the restaurant. Slowly but surely, the influence of western culture is starting to creep in.

Tashi Namgay Paro
It took us slightly more than an hour to travel from Thimphu to Paro. After such a fulfilling day of marketing and shopping, we decided to check-in our hotel and call it a day. And at 4.30pm, the sky was starting to turn dark. Our hotel Tashi Namgay sits on a sprawling ground with individual blocks sparsely scattered. Perfect place for some peace and tranquillity.

Tashi Namgay Paro
Hotel Tashi Namgay sits at the edge of Paro Chhu river. Pavilions, common spaces and the spa facilities front the mesmerising waterway. Across the other side of the river lies the Paro International Airport.

Tashi Namgay Paro
The grand lobby of Hotel Tashi Namgay, with the reception on first storey and the restaurant on the second storey.

Gho and Kira
Admiring what we've gotten today with our little bit of marketing and bargaining - several sets of Gho and Kira to bring Bhutan home.


Continue Day 5...
http://aikkianphotography.blogspot.sg/2017/05/bhutan-day-5-going-high-and-haa.html


GENERAL TIPS AND USEFUL INFO:

Date of trip: 6 to 14 December 2016

Accommodation:
  • Osel Hotel, Thimphu
  • Hotel Lobesa, Punakha
  • Tashi Namgay Resort, Paro
  • COMO Uma Paro, Paro (additional stay)
Weather in Dec is cool and beautiful. The sun can be harsh and intense in the day. A pair of shades and sunblock would be good to have.

It could get warm in the day, especially when trekking up the mountains for hours. The option to layer multiple light clothing would be more sensible and convenient than one thick and heavy jacket. Temperature typically ranged from 15 to 20 degrees Celsius in the day, to freezing temperatures at night. Some hotels may not have very effective room heater. Hence, bring warm pyjamas just in case. Consider bringing a hot water bag to snug under your blanket (Hotel Lobesa had provided 2 and they were God-sent on that freezing night).

When visiting temples, Dzongs and places of importance, long pants and collared shirts/jackets would be required. For ladies, please wear long pants/skirts throughout the trip. Several places would require shoes to be removed before entering. Consider the ease of footwear removal if you do not wish to spend excessive time meddling with shoelaces.
A set of traditional attire - the Gho and Kira will be prepared for all tourists. You may choose to wear it any day, or every day. The tour guide and driver will guide you through the art of wearing.

Road condition was bad, as most roads were under repair or construction. The terribly bumpy road surfaces coupled with windy mountainous roads was the perfect formula for some dramatic motion sickness. Prepare for the worse - motion sickness medication, sour plum, mints, Axe Brand medicated oil, Tiger Balm; arm with them all if you need. If you know you are going to fall victim easily, request to swap with the tour guide for a front passenger seat, which I did for some parts of the journey before becoming Singapore's vomiting icon.

Food was delectable and palatable. The 4 of us, 2 Singaporeans and 2 Taiwanese, had all enjoyed every meal with smiles and praises. Ask for their local condiments and chilli to add some exciting flavours to your meal. Staff at any restaurant would usually be happy to serve. Their local chilli cheese (Ema Datshi) would also fire up any bland meal you may find. Ask what your tour guide and driver are eating and you may be in for some flavourful surprises.

Tuesdays are "Dry Days", which means, no alcoholic drinks are available.


GETTING STARTED

Visit Druk Asia (https://www.drukasia.com/) and start planning using their wide range of packages as a starting point. Contact their friendly staff if you have any question or would like to customise any part of the itinerary. It's not necessary to follow the itinerary strictly. You could arrange with your personal guide and work out a more "free-and-easy" programme when you are there. But your guide and driver would always be with you as there is no other way to get around this country.

It's best if you book through Druk Asia and going as a small group with just your family or friends instead of booking tours through big travel agencies. You'll then be getting your own tour guide, driver and vehicle.

The USD200 (off-peak) or USD250 (peak) per person per night includes accommodation, meals, and everything one needs in a day, minus frills and shopping. Ample bottled drinking water is provided daily in your personal vehicle and there is really no need to spend a single cent except for souvenirs, or at the Centenary Farmer's Market (Thimphu), if you are a fan of local flavours and ingredients.

For info on entry visa, daily tariff, and FAQs can be found here:


SOME PHOTOGRAPHY NOTES:

The sun can be harsh and intense in the day during this season. As you can see from the photos, most days were cloudless, which means intense direct sunlight hitting on your subject. The extreme high contrast in highlights and shadows would be a constant challenge for your camera's dynamic range. A fill-flash could be needed to eliminate harsh shadows on faces.

Carry light as there will be a lot of walking. Below are some popular places and their timings (based on our poor physical condition and carefree pace):
  • Tango Cheri Monastery, Thimphu - 75 to 90 mins ascend, 60 to 70 mins descend.
  • Chimi Lhakhang, Punakha - 40 to 45 mins (one-way) across the valley, paddy, and uphill.
  • Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge, Punakha - 20 mins (one-way) from Punakha Dzong.
  • Haa Valley View Trail - 60 mins descend (optional trekking to lunch).
  • Tiger's Nest Ascend First Section - 40 mins by horse, or 90 mins by foot.
  • Tiger's Nest Ascend Second Section - 120 mins by foot only.
  • Tiger's Nest Descend - 80 mins + 50 mins (usually with lunch in-between).
Bhutanese are generally very friendly and approachable. Most would love to have their photos taken. They are indeed a happy bunch and do not be shy to ask for a picture (wish I had done that more). Regardless, respect their preference and personal space.

Some parts of temples and Dzongs do not allow photography, with or without flash. Please check with your tour guide if unsure before firing off like there's no tomorrow. Show necessary respect to the people, culture and religion, please.

And here's what I've brought and used for this trip (was a tough decision):
  • Nikon D750
  • Nikon AF 16mm f2.8D Fisheye
  • Nikon AFS 20mm f1.8G ED
  • Nikon AFS 50mm f1.4G
  • Nikon AFS 24-120mm f4G ED VR
  • Nikon AFS 70-200mm f4G ED VR
  • Sony RX100 III
  • Sony X1000V Action Cam
  • Samsung Gear 360 (paired with Samsung S7)
  • ONA Messenger Bag - The Union Street

SO, TO VISIT OR NOT? WHEN TO VISIT?

Still trying to read up endless travel blogs and wondering whether you should be visiting Bhutan, or when you should be? First, it's a myth that Bhutan is expensive, because the daily charges cover everything! Second, it's not true that it's hard to get a tourist Visa (in the case of Singaporeans). It could be more difficult to get an air ticket during peak season simply due to the limited flights into the country.

It doesn't matter if it's the Happiness you are after or the Thunder Dragon you are seeking; or for us, just the Dragon King we were hoping to meet, there is every reason to make a trip to this magnificent country at least once in our lives. Or is there even the need for a reason at all?

"It doesn't matter when you get married
as long as it is the right person."
His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck on his Royal Wedding, 13 Oct 2011 

As the King has rightly said, visiting Bhutan is perhaps as emotional and impassioned as his big day. It doesn't matter when, which season, as there is no right time or best time to visit this lovely country, because it is certainly the right and best place to be.

1 comment:

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