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Explore the mountain kingdom of Bhutan

Bhutan, known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is an isolated mountain kingdom in the Himalayas, where dress, architecture, and food are still ruled by age-old traditions.
Image: Golfer Takes A Swing At The Royal Thimpu Golf Course May 20 2000 In Thimpu Bhutan Th
A golfer is seen taking a swing at the Royal Thimpu Golf Course in this file photo in Thimpu, Bhutan.Paula Bronstein / Getty Images
/ Source: Sherman's Travel

Book by: ASAP
Travel by: Various through 2008

The deal
Bhutan, known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is an isolated mountain kingdom in the Himalayas, where dress, architecture, and food are still ruled by age-old traditions. You can travel for days through its pristine pine forests, follow the paths of ancient warrior monks, and visit hilltop monasteries on a trip to this far-flung nation. Given it only recently opened to foreign tourists, Bhutan remains highly regulated and quite pricey. But seeing this Shangri-La before the masses do is absolutely worth the splurge.

Whirlwind tour of Bhutan
iExplore offers an affordable Bhutan package, starting at $2,795 for an eight-day exploration, with various 2008 departures. The price is based on four people traveling; it goes up to $3,150 for a two-person trip. This privately guided tour covers lodging in upscale guesthouses, with daily breakfast and dinner plus several lunches; sightseeing and excursions; and entrance fees/permits. Highlights include a tour of the National Library in Thimphu with its collection of Buddhist texts and manuscripts; exploring the scenic Bumthang Valley, home to ancient Buddhist temples and monasteries; and a visit to a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse.

Catch Bhutan’s colorful festivals
For an in-depth exploration of Bhutan, we recommend the 14-day festival tour by Mountain Travel Sobek. This cultural odyssey gives you a glimpse of traditions that are slowly vanishing from the rest of the Himalayan world. The price of this foray is $4,075 (based on 5-15 members), plus $785 for internal airfare (roundtrip from Bangkok). The pinnacle is the Tsechu religious festival that features masked dance-dramas by whirling dancers in colorful costumes. The tour will also explore Bumthang Valley, Bhutan’s cultural heartland. The three available departure dates are March 16, October 5 and November 8, 2008.

Savor the essence of Bhutan
For a more active Bhutan holiday, we recommend the 17-day Geographic Expeditions package that shows you the essence of Bhutan. Priced at $5,295 for five 2008 departures (March, April & September–November), this trip involves staying in local guesthouses; making day hikes to remote villages and hidden valleys; and taking a close look at the creation of Bhutanese art forms like textile weaving and wood carving. All the departures except the October trip involve attending one of the traditional festivals. Note that this package starts and ends in Thailand’s Bangkok; the airfare incurs an additional cost.

Bhutan’s luxury guesthouses
In the last three years, Bhutan has witnessed the unveiling of two luxury guesthouses that have made it a truly exclusive destination. At Como Hotel & Resort’s five-star Uma Paro, traditional Bhutanese features seamlessly blend with modern amenities. The stunning Shambhala spa itself makes a stay at this understatedly opulent spot worth the hefty cost. Breakfast-inclusive rates start at $250/night.

The other plush property is Amanresorts' Amankora which, claims Travel + Leisure“lures hikers back from high Himalayan passes to heavenly rustic rooms with rammed-earth walls and terrazzo baths. The spa, set in an ancient pine forest, offers treatments using local herbs and body scrubs given with yak-hair mittens.” Rates start at $1,070/night, with all meals and airport transfers.

The dollars
See details above. Government taxes and fees, which can be high, are additional.

The catch
None of the quoted rates include international airfare to Asia.

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