Thimphu (ཐིམ་ཕུག།) is the capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan, and with a population of around 80,000 is the nation's largest city.
Although the Thimphu Valley has supported small settlements for many centuries and a dzong has existed there since 1216, the city didn't really develop until the king declared Thimphu the new capital in 1961. Vehicles first appeared on the streets a year later, and slowly the city began to adapt to its role as the nation's capital. Currently the town is undergoing massive development. New tree-lined streets are being laid and the clock tower area in the center of the city has been transformed into a park-cum-open air theater where live cultural performances take place. In 2008, the national stadium was completed together with a new river-side park. The area around the dzong and government buildings is a particularly green and an attractive district.
Norzin Lam is the city's main thoroughfare and is lined with hotels, shopping complexes and hotels.
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The winter season in Thimphu is very cold but dry, while the summers are wet and humid. The best times to visit are from mid September to the end of October and from March to May.
Nearly all visitors arrive via plane from Paro, the country's sole airport, a 45 minute to 1 hours drive from the capital.
All inter-district buses arrive and depart from the city's bus station, located across the river from the city center. It is a six to seven hour drive (mostly through Chukha district) from the border town of Phuentsholing. Travelers should be aware that road-widening work will take place on the highway between Phuentsholing and Thimphu until 2011. During this time, there may be significant hold ups and other inconveniences. Work on the Paro to Thimphu section was complete in 2008.
Various private operators like Dhug, Meto and Pernya run Toyota Coaster services from Phuentsholing to Thimphu. These buses can seat 22 and are very comfortable. Advance reservation can be made at Phuentsholing Bus Station. Contact Mr.Phueba (Dhug Transport on 00975-17755175) for reservations (he speaks a little English/Hindi).
Once in Thimphu one can find various buses plying to other parts of the country.
The city center is small enough to negotiate on foot.
- Taxi: There is a set rate for taxis plying city routes. Maximum is around 60nu. There are taxi ranks on Norzin Lam (across from the cinema hall) and at the inter-district bus station. Taxis also cruise and can be hailed at any point.
- Bus. The city operates an efficient, albeit infrequent, public bus service connecting the down town with outer suburbs. The station for local buses is located just east of the the stadium on Chang Lam.
Although lacking the charm and culture associated with ancient capitals, Thimphu is well endowed with attractions.
Monasteries are referred to by their Dzongkha title of lhakhang or gompa.
- Changangkha Lhakhang. Constructed in the 15th century, this is one of the oldest temples in the Thimphu Valley, and is dedicated to Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist emanation of compassion. The temple affords wonderful views over the entire valley.
The National Memorial Chorten
- The National Memorial Chorten, located off Jangchhub Lam. A good place to visit in the evening when the locals are doing their evening prayers. The stupa was built in 1974 in memory of the third king.
- Zangthoperi Lhakhang, lower Thimphu (follow the path down from below the GPO). The present structure was built in 1960s and although lacking the charm of many of the older temples, Zangdopelri still possesses some impressive murals and art treasures and is worthy of a visit. The site of the temple was a former battle ground, and the temple was constructed there in order to pacify energies.
- Statue of Sakyamuni Buddha, sitting on top of Kuensel Phodrang hill is a 51.5mt bronze statue of the founder of Buddhism. The site also offers unobstructed views over the Thimphu Valley - especially stunning at sunset.
- The National Folk Heritage Museum, located behind the National Library. A traditional house that showcases rural life. Exhibits and cultural shows are held in the museum compound. Open: Mon-Fri 10:30AM to 4:30PM, Sa 10:30Am to 1PM and Su 11:30AM to 3:30PM. Entrance: 150nu.
- The Textile Museum, Norzin Lam, has a display of exquisite Bhutanese textiles from the 1600s to the present day.
- Trashi Chhoe Dzong. The present dzong was built in the 18th century by Shabdrung Rinpoche to house government officials. Later it was enlarged to accommodate both the monastic and civil bodies. Three times suffering severe damage from fire and once from an earthquake in 1897, much of the historic building dates from the rebuilding in 1902. To accommodate the national government and the central monastic body, the dzong was totally refurbished and enlarged in 1962, a year after Thimphu was designated the nation's capital.
- Simtokha Dzong. Built in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, Simtokha was the first dzong to be built in a unified Bhutan. Currently, it houses the country's main Dzongkha language learning institute. Simtokha is about 5km south of Thimphu.
Parks and preserves
- Takin Preserve, Motithang. The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan, and looks like a cross between a cow and a goat. Legend has it that the animal was created by the great Buddhist yogi, Drupa Kunley, and it can be found only in Bhutan and nearby areas. Taxonomists place the animal in a category of its own as it is not similar enough to any other animal to fit established categories.
- Botanical Gardens, Serbithang. Located on lush hillside about 10km from the city, the gardens offer a peaceful and relaxing environment to spend a few hours. Botanists will find the wide selection of indigenous trees and plants of interest.
- Coronation Park. Located on the banks of the river (near the city stadium), this 5.6 acres of parkland offer a pleasant and relaxing environment to stroll or to sit and watch the river flow by.
- Zorig Chusum School of Traditional Arts, near National Library. Zorig Chusum was established in 1971 to preserve the thirteen traditional arts of Bhutan, and visitors are able to observe students honing their skills. There is also a small gift shop selling work created at the school. The thirteen arts are paintings, carpentry,wood carving, sculpture, casting, metal work, bamboo carving, gold & silver work, weaving, embroidery, masonry, leather work and paper making.
- The National Institute of Traditional Medicine, Serzhong Lam. Tel:+975 2 324-647 - an excellent place to have any chronic ailments diagnosed and treated using herbal compounds. Ensure to keep the prescription. If the medicine is effective, you might want to order more in the future. Open 9AM-3PM Mon to Sat and 9AM-1PM on Sat.
- The National Library, Pedzoe Lam. Tel:+975 2 322-885 - houses a rare collection of Buddhist texts on the second floor, and there is a small selection of English books on Buddhism (mostly donated from Taiwan) and on Bhutan on the first floor. Open 9:30AM - 1PM & 2PM - 5PM Mon to Fri.
- Jigme Dorji Wangchuk Public Library, Top end Norzin Lam (left side). This small library has a good selection of English books, but appreciates donations of popular titles, especially those on Buddhism and Bhutan.
- Thimphu Drupchen (religious ceremony) 1-5 Oct 2011
- Thimphu Tshechu (religious festival) 6-8 Oct 2011
Bhutan's small population means demand for new and innovative goods is small. Basically, Thimphu has three kinds of stores: clothing, handicraft and hardware. Between these, there is a small assortment of stationary-cum-bookstores and supermarkets. Almost all stores stock the same goods, so if you cannot find the required items in the first couple of stores it is generally useless to persist. However, what the city lacks in variety, it adequately substitutes with friendliness. As the store keeper informs you that the goods you want are not available and cannot be ordered, you will inevitably be facing a warm and friendly smile.
Haggling at tourist-oriented shops is expected, but the margin for discount is small (unless you make a bulk purchase). However, store owners are extremely honest and there is little possibility to be cheated or offered an inflated price.
Be aware that most handicrafts sold in Thimphu are made in Nepal or other Himalayan areas. Exceptions are cloth items, some thankas and goods made of lemon grass oil. These are generally made in Bhutan.
- Yarkay Central. This shopping center located across from Hotel Norling on Norzin Lam has four good quality craft stores: Kelzang Handicrafts (Tel: 322-469) is the most commercial and sells a range of goods, including 'T' shirts; Druk Handicraft (Tel: 322-258) and Kurtue Handicrafts (Tel: 325-883) specialize in woven goods and Karchung (Tel: mobile 17607724) sells a small, but good quality range of art work and wood carvings.
- Blue Poppy Bhutanese (PO Box 1296. Tel:+975 2 326-752) is a handicraft store specializing in woven fabrics and paintings located in the Kawajangsa area of the city, near the indigenous medicine hospital. There are also other handicraft stores in that area - so if you are looking for souvenirs, it is a good place to visit.
- The weekend market in Chubachhu (across the river from the main town) has over 100 stalls selling hand woven cloth and other handicrafts.
- Gagyel Lhundrup Weaving Centre, Changzamtog. A weaving center employing around 20 professional weavers. Showroom on top floor.
- Handicrafts Emporium, top end of Norzin Lam (right side). A government run craft shop with a wide range of goods. Set prices. Specialized selection of books on Buddhism and local subjects on second floor.
- Lungta, opposite the post office. One of the largest handicraft stores in the down town area. Good selection of hand made goods from all over the Himalayan region.
- Traditional Carpets. Yangkhil Home Decor, KMT Building, Norzin Lam (diagonally across from Taj Hotel). Tel:+975 2 336-247. Probably the best selection of hand woven carpets in town.
- Taranyana Foundation. Top end of Norzin Lam (next to the town library). Tarayana trains and supports the vulnerable and disadvantaged to make traditional handicrafts. This shop is their Thimphu sales out-let. Like a lot of charity stores, the displays are drab and and unappealing and the selection of goods is limited. However, the quality of the handicrafts is excellent and they offer a more rustic and genuine feel that those on sale at the commercial handicraft stores.
- Tara Handicrafts . Located downtown, Tara offers a wide range of Bhutanese handicraft. DHL home delivery service offered.
- Junction, just below the Norzin Lam Traffic Circle. One of the few bookstores in Thimphu that has a real bookstore atmosphere. Junction has an excellent selection of quality novels and books on Buddhism.
- Kuenjung Enterprises, Khamsa Complex (just below the Traffic Circle). The largest book store in town, offering a good selection of books on Buddhism and Bhutan.
- Book World in alley behind immigration office. A good selection of English books, especially on Bhutan and Buddhism. Tel:+975 2 328-539. E-mail:[email protected]
- DSB Books Enterprises in Jojo Building near Druk Hotel has a wide selection of books in English - novels and children's books are a specialty. PO Box 435, Thimphu. Tel:+975 2 326-275, 326-276. E-mail:[email protected]
- Pekhang Books, next to cinema hall. A small bookstore with a wide selection of magazines.
It is important to note that most restaurants (including those in hotels) in Thimphu stop serving food between 9PM and 9:30PM.
- Hotel Ghasel, Norzin Lam (opposite the clock tower). Tel:+975 2 323-341. Mobile: 17117100. For those pining that backstreet Indian vibe, this vegetarian restaurant is the place to come. Under the sound of Hindi songs blasting from a TV, Ghasel produces delicious dosa and thali and a range of other Indian and Bhutanese specialties. Clean, fast service and cheap.
- MK Restaurant, Centrepoint Shopping Centre (next to the main cinema hall). Popular with Japanese and serves Japanese, Bhutanese, and Indian dishes. After you order your food you'll have quite a long wait, but, for the price, this is the best restaurant in town. Go for the Japanese food, but everything is tasty.
- Hotel Tandin, Norzin Lam, just past the first traffic circle(restaurant on the first floor). Delicious Indian and Bhutanese dishes at very reasonable prices.
- Cypress Restaurant, Norzin Lam (second floor - opposite Taj Hotel). A simple restaurant serving Bhutanese and Indian dishes - huge helpings at reasonable prices.
- Shelse Restaurant, Norzin Lam (diagonally opp the the Handicraft Emporium). Tel:+975 77207771 A amall place serving authentic Bhutanese cuisine. Try their homemade brew "Chankey" - a naturally fermented malt drink made from buckwheat and rice.
- Norzinn Fine Dining, On the main traffic circle (on your right past the traffic circle, on the first floor), ☎ 335656. Good food (Bhutanese, and also Indian), prompt service, helpful staff. Lounge sitting arrangement for the after dinner drink!
- Druk Pizza, behind Bhutan Observer Building (also known as KMT Building) at the top end of Norzin Lam. Tel:+975 2 334-543 or 17636589. Good quality pizzas on Italian style base with Bhutanese toppings plus a small selection of milk shakes and hot beverages. Free coke and a free pizza after your 10th is a bonus. Closed on Mondays.
- Jichu Drakey Bakery, Doebum Lam (a two minute walk from the swimming pool in the direction of the Memorial Chorten). An excellent selection of cakes and pastries. Take-out only.
- Swiss Bakery, Chorten Lam (above the main traffic roundabout). Sells tasty sandwiches, pies, omlets, jelly doughnuts, and excellent potato chips, among other baked goods and lunch treats. If you want a swiss cake roll, the ones here are the best in town.
- The Seasons Restaurant Pizzeria, Namsay Shopping Complex, Phenday Lam. Tel: +975 2 327-413. One of the few places in town that serves authentic pizza and Italian salads. Pizzeria also offers a good selection of filter coffees and has an outdoor patio. Closed Tuesdays.
- Tsok Dak Bakery, GF. Peling Building (directly behind Hotel Pedling). Tel:+975 2 337-961. A bakery serving a range of cakes and breads. Filter coffee available. Seating includes small terrace.
- Big Bakery a little bakery in Kawajangsa in front of the Ministry of Health. This is technically a Japanese bakery run by physically or intellectually challenged Bhutanese. Prices are high (Nu.45 for a sandwich, Nu.100 for a loaf of bread) but the quality is the best in town as of March '10.
- Cafe Klein, directly behind Druk Punjab National Bank (PNB). A small, but charasmatic restaurant serving pizza, bagels and other dough based goodies.
- Chopstick, 2nd floor, Centre Mall, Norzin Lam. Tel:+975 2 333-601. A small restaurant specializing in Chinese dishes.
- Baan Thai Restaurant, Top floor, Karma Place (complex with Bowling Alley) Tel:+975 17112456. Authentic Thai food in the heart of Thimphu. Fast and pleasant service, the cook is from Chiang Mai. Closed Tuesdays.
- Delicia, Just up the hill from JAICA (half-way between the memorial chorten and Shopper's Store). Little cafe with a beach theme that serves pastries, a few thai dishes, soft serve ice cream, and the best french fries in Thimphu. Open until 7pm, closed Wednesdays.
- Jikss Trokhang, 5F., S.D. Plaza, Norzin Lam. Tel:+975 2 333-099. A cool place to chill out. Main dining hall offers a relaxing and cozy environment, while the bar-cum-cafe (across the hall) offers live music (mostly Bhutanese and Indian rock). Serves Indian and Bhutanese dishes.
- Bhutan Kitchen, Located above the Benez restaurant. A restaurant that tries to give you a real authentic and traditional Bhutanese food experience, with traditional music and uncompromisingly Bhutanese food. A little expensive but worth it.
- Rabten Restaurant, Above the Chubachu roundabout towards Motithang, Tel: +975 2 323-587. The best traditional Bhutanese food you can buy in Thimphu. Cooks only on advance reservation, ideally at least 1 day in advance. Not expensive and utterly worth it.
- The Royal Dhaba, Changlam Square. Tel+975 17742488. Excellent food and fast service. Also, pleasant atmosphere, with the 1st floor arrangement of low seating and cushions giving the place a touch of the maharajah era.
Bhutan is not a place for coffee lovers as most cafes only sell the instant variety. Below is a list of places that sell the real stuff. However, only Ambient and Karma's have professional coffee machines. The others either sell only filter coffee or use an automatic coffee machine.
- Ambient Cafe, 1F R. Penjor Lodge, Norzin Lam (between the Traffic Circle and Clock Tower - opp PNB Bank). Tel:+975 2 325-578 An elegant and relaxing cafe offering a wide range of freshly brewed coffees, large selection of teas, fresh juice and innovative snacks and meals (try the delicious hummus plate). Ambient also provides an excellent selection of music and offers panoramic views over the city streets and mountains beyond. Free wi-fi.
- Karma's Coffee, 1F, Tashi Rabten Building (above Zangthopelri Complex), Phendey Lam. Tel:234 and 17181920. A chic cafe with music videos on flat screen TV and wi-fi. Karma's is one of the most professional coffee shops in Thimphu, offering a wide range of blends. Snacks and light meals available.
- The Arts Cafe, a block over from the main traffic circle, just below the Swiss Bakery. Tel:+975 2 327-933. A bright, airy and elegant cafe with courtyard. Serves simple and wholesome meals, though the delicious cakes, pies, and excellent filter coffee are the main draw. Closed Mondays.
- Khamsa Coffee, top floor, Cham Lam Plaza, Lower Thimphu. A smart cafe offering views over the surrounding mountains. Serves a variety of filter based coffees.
- Hotel Ghasel, Norzin Lam (Opposite Clock Tower). Tel:+975 2 323-341. Centrally located. Clean and pleasant rooms with attached bathroom and hot water facility, cable TV. Restaurant, bar and fast food facilities.
- R. Penjor Lodge, Norzin Lam (between Traffic Circle and Clock Tower - opp PNB Bank). Tel:+975 2 325-578. Centrally located. Clean and pleasant rooms with attached bathroom, cable TV and wifi. Restaurant and coffee shop facilities.
- Hotel Norling, PO Box 327 Norzin Lam. Tel:+975 2 322-997, 323997. E-mail:[email protected] A clean and pleasant facility located on the city's main street (Norzin Lam). All rooms with attached bathroom and TV. Very friendly and helpful service. Single - 490 Nu Twin - 650Nu.
- City Hotel,building #14, (Opp Clock tower), Norzin Lam. Simple rooms,r easonable rates.Single Nu.300-450 and Double nu.500-700.Complimentary bed tea. Indian, Nepali, Bhutanese dishes. Tel:975 77251429, 17795388 or 02 335-894.
- Wangchuk Hotel, PO Box 507 Changlam 17, Thimphu. Tel:+975 2 323-532, 325484. E-mail: [email protected] A pleasant hotel located near the city center and over looking the river and hills beyond. Sauna, massage and steam bath facilities. Standard single - 1,150Nu, standard double - 1,450Nu.
- Hotel Jumohlari, PO Box 308, Thimphu. Tel:+ 975 2 322-747, 325506. E-mail:hoteljumolhari.com . A modern facility in the city center. Massage and recreational facilities. Standard single - 2,000Nu, standard double - 2,500Nu.
- Hotel Druk, Tel:+975 2 322-966, 322977. E-mail:[email protected] A large city center hotel located adjacent to the Clock Tower. Health club with massage, sauna, steam facilities. Standard single - 2,000Nu, standard double - 2,500Nu.
- Hotel Motithang. Tel:+975 2 322-435. A pleasant hotel located on the mountain side above Thimphu. Wonderful views over the valley. A great place for people looking for peace and quiet or some inspiration.
- Taj Tashi, PO BOX 524, Samten Lam. Tel:+975 2 236-699. Opened in 2008, a large and centrally located hotel offering full amenities. Nightly rates start from US$275 (off season), US$350 (peak season).
- Amankora Thimphu, Near Kuenga Chhoeling Palace, Upper Motithang. Tel:975 2 331-333. Part of the Aman super luxury hotel chain. A sixteen room lodge offering five star plus facilities. US$1,000+
The area code for Thimphu is 02. When calling from overseas. dial: +975 2 XXXXXX
Internet cafes in Thimphu are linked to broadband. Connections are swift, though at around 60nu per hour quite expensive.
- Buddha Internet, Norzin Lam (diagonally across from Chopstick Restaurant). Has a large range of computers - excellent service - very fast connections.
- Hotel Norling, opposite the hotel reception room on the second floor - efficient and fast.
- JP Internet Cafe, Jojos Building - very professional.
- Go Go Internet Cafe, Lhaki Building (located in the building that houses the Bhutan Times offices), Hong Kong Market - remains open until around 11PM (the latest in town).
Getting things done in Thimphu is relatively straight forward. All offices are computerized and the staff are well trained and helpful. However, it is often said that Bhutan has one of the world's highest rates of meetings and workshops per working hours. This cannot be substantiated, but certainly meetings are very much part of the civil service culture here. In fact, it is often said that the last place you should begin a search for a civil servant is at his or her desk! As a result, you should be prepared to make several visits to an office in order to get a task complete as there is a very high possibility that the person dealing with your case will be out.
- Visa extensions and route permits are available from the Immigration Office at the top end of Norzin Lam (just past the Textile Museum). Route permits should be applied for at least one full working day before the intended date of travel. A photocopy of passport (pages containing personal information and Bhutanese visa) is required.
- Post Office. The central PO is located in the lower part of town on Chang Lam. It is a large and well organized facility that includes a philatelic department. Mailing letters/packages in Bhutan is usually very safe though, like elsewhere, anything of value should be registered.
- Banks. The three main banks in Thimphu are 'Bank of Bhutan', 'Bhutan National Bank' and 'Punjab National Bank'. The former is on Norzin Lam (mid way between the traffic circle and Taj Tashi Hotel), while the National Bank is located directly below the Bank of Bhutan, in the same building as the post office. The Punjab National Bank is on Norzin Lam, near the Clock Tower. All three banks provide money change service.
- ATM. Bhutan does not operate an international ATM service, though certain shops specializing in tourist goods accept payment by credit card.
- Western Union, Thimphu Post Office. This facility can receive transfer of funds from overseas, but cannot make payments from customers' personal accounts.
Embassies and Consulates
- Bangladesh. Tel:+975 2 222-362
- India, India House, Jungshina. Tel:+975 2 322-280
- Thailand. Tel:+975 2 323-978
Buses depart the inter-district bus station (across the river) throughout the day, though most, especially those heading to the east and Jakar/Bumthang leave between 6:30 to 7:30AM. As the inter-district buses are often full, it is advisable to purchase a ticket a few days in advance. Most districts are served by small Japanese Coaster Buses, which are comfortable and sturdy.
Shared taxis are a quick and comfortable means to travel to nearby places, such as Paro (150nu) and Punakha (200nu). Shared taxis depart from the inter-district bus station, and drivers approach potential customers. They depart once full.
Monastic complexes are referred to by their their Bhutanese title of 'gompa' not 'monastery'.
- Tango Gompa. About a hour drive from Thimphu down town followed by a one hour hike, this is one of Bhutan's historical monasteries in the Kagyu tradition. It was founded by the grandson of the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kinley, and houses some of his relics. The monastery offers spectaular viwes over the Thimphu Valley.
- Cheri Gompa. As is the first Drukpa Kagyu Monastery established in Bhutan and located at the site where Shabdrong Rinpoche gained enlightenment, Cheri is one of the most important monasteries in Bhutan. The structure itself is cut into the steep mountainside and has a very atmospheric stone stairway connecting its various levels. Located about an hour's drive North of Thimphu, the trek begins from a prayer flag covered bridge and takes about one hour. Tango and Cheri are about a one hour hike apart, and so are usually visited on the same trip.
- Phajoding Gompa. Founded in the 13th century by Togen Pajo, a yogi from Tibet, this monastic complex is a three hour hike from Thimphu (start from Motithang or BBS Tower). At a height of 3,640m, it commands excellent views over Thimphu. There is space for camping. Otherwise, the small Thujidrag Gompa (a forty minute walk from Phajoding) offers simple accommodation (often full at weekends) and cooking facilities - offer donation directly to monk in charge. Even if you do not plan to stay at Thujidrag, this cliff hanging monastery is still definitely worth a visit. Locally, it is famous for its sacred spring water. There are several sacred lakes in the area, though these are a full day's circular hike from Thujidrag.
- Paro - The location of the international airport and center of a sacred valley. Paro is a 45 minute to one hour drive from the capital - an easy day trip.
- Punakha - The former capital - a 90 minute journey.
- Jakar - A town at the heart of a sacred and beautiful valley. The journey from Thimphu takes between 9 to 11 hours. A minimum of three days are needed to do justice to a visit.
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