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Cycling, Kayaking & Trekking Through Bhutan, The Last Shangri-la - Updated 2020

Cycling, Kayaking & Trekking Through Bhutan, The Last Shangri-la

In a country full of incense, prayer wheels, and monks in dzongs, Bhutan might not be the first place you’ll think of when you think of adventure sports. Bhutan seems all about peace and serenity. Adventure sports is all about speed and adrenaline. Bhutan though, quite surprisingly, has created a niche for itself in this category.

Very recently, Bhutan opened its doors to tourism, giving people a peek of its unique traditions and Buddhist culture. The topography is also quite diverse because of the altitude. There are icy mountains, dense forests, and rich wildlife. Adventurers find an unexplored country that is both safe and challenging enough for their tastes. If you think about it, Bhutan is secure, clean, and has very little external hazards such as traffic and pollution. It can be nirvana for the typical outdoorsman. From trekking, hiking, mountain biking, or rafting, you’ll find that Bhutan has a lot of undiscovered terrain that becomes the perfect playground for the adrenaline junkie at heart.

1. Cycling

Punakla, Punakha, Bhutan (8026018330)
Source: Photo by user Christopher Michel used under CC BY 2.0

If you want to be closely immersed with Bhutan’s unique lifestyle, there’s nothing more intimate than seeing it on a bike where you can spot both the budding modern and rural life of the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Here are two routes that you might want to explore:

a. Paro - Thimpu - Phunakha - Paro

This route covers about 170 kilometers of majestic landscape in seven days, four of which are spent on the bike, and three of which spent sightseeing. The starting point is Paro where the airport is located. If you want to hit the ground running (so to speak), you can spend the first and second days sightseeing and enjoying sights like your first glances of dzong architecture, a farmer’s market, or trying out your first few Bhutanese meals. The most scenic and perhaps most difficult part of the ride (remember, no reward without sacrifice) will be in Phunakha with a 3,050 meter altitude and the Eastern Himalayas as your view.

b. Black Mountains - Phobjikha - Trongsa - Bumthang

For those who want a little more challenging ride, you can continue the ride from Phunakha to Eastern Bhutan. The Black Mountains are the toughest part of the ride. The Black Mountains are where Western Bhutan meets Eastern Bhutan. The view is dominated by pine and bamboo forests. Pretty soon, the Black Mountains will become just a backdrop as you pedal through Lawal going to Pela La with an elevation of around 3,500 meters. The road going down to Bumthang is a relaxing ride. You can pass by Jakar, which is mostly flatland, and after reaching the Dochula Pass, you can just ride the bus back to Paro.

Bhutan Cycling Tours

Price: 2,300 USD

Duration: 7 Days

Website: Bhutan Cycling Tours

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Bhutan and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Bhutan

2. Kayaking

NF-04(Sveta in Bhutan)
Source: Photo by user NatFed used under CC BY-SA 4.0

The raging waters of Bhutan are clear and unpolluted. The icy Himalayas also ensures that there is constant water supply to feed the rivers. Bhutan has six powerful rivers that are ready for kayaking or rafting: the Sunkosh, Mangde Chhu, Wang Chhu, Tsang Chhu, Kuri Chhu, and Dangme Chhu. There are easy and difficult routes.

Here are two routes for kayaking and rafting:

a. Paro Chhu (Bondey - Isuna Bridge)

If you’re a beginner and want to go easy on this particular trip, the Paro River or Paro Chhu (‘chhu’ means river) is the right choice. It offers a great view of the rural meadows and gorges of Bhutan. The rapids are soft and easy, and you can spend most of the time enjoying the scenery such as the iron bridge at Lakhang where colorful prayer flags and paintings hang on the rails, and the canyons and river banks before reaching the small village of Chhuzom.

b. Mo Chhu to Tashitang Devil’s Gorge Section

The Mo Chhu, Mo River or Female River is recommended for those who are more used to handling rapids as it has medium and high river flows. There are some parts that are too steep for kayaks, so the guides recommend taking only a raft. The best season to try conquering the Mo Chhu is from February to December. It can take about five to seven hours on water to conquer 12 kilometers of this river in Western Bhutan. Don’t be disappointed by the flat waters that mark the start of the Devil’s Gorge. This is quite deceptive. The whole run is considered a Class V in terms of difficulty, and there are no roads should you decide to make your way back in the middle of it all. So be prepared to commit to the whole stretch or none at all.

Bhutan Kayaking Tours

Price: 3,995 USD

Duration: 9 Days

Contact: 541 4509855

Website: Bhutan Kayaking Tours

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Bhutan and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Bhutan

3. Trekking

Historic Eco Pad Yatra in the Himalayas in 2009
Source: Photo by user Drukpa Publicatio... used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Bhutan’s landscape is home to a lot of national wildlife parks. And because it’s one of the most remote kingdoms on earth, with most of its area still forested, the adventurer should have plenty of options when choosing routes.

Here are two treks that you can choose from:

a. Druk Path

The Druk Path is the most populated route in the country as it offers a bit of everything in terms of natural wonders. The whole trek takes about six days, where the trekker will pass through lakes, forests, rhododendron forests, ridges, and some heritage sites as well including ancient dzongs, lhakhangs, and small rural villages. The government planned this path for beginners as rest camps are quite near each other. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see Mt. Gangkar Puensum, the highest unscaled peak in the world.

b. Merak Sakteng Path

For those who want a more isolated view of Bhutan, the Merak Sakteng Path is for those who want to witness the semi-nomadic lifestyle of the ethnic tribes found in this area such as the Gengu, Merak, Sakteng, Thakthi, and Joenkhar. These tribes usually live in high altitudes. The path will also give you the chance to pass through the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in Trashigang, Eastern Bhutan.

Bhutan Trekking Tours

Price: from 2,000 USD

Duration: 7 Days

Contact: +1300 367 875

Website: Bhutan Trekking Tours

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Bhutan and also compare the prices with airbnbs in Bhutan

Yes, there’s adventure tourism in Bhutan

Visitors to Bhutan should keep in mind that it’s impossible to do activities such as trekking, kayaking, or mountain biking on their own in Bhutan due to the requirements by Bhutan’s Tourism Council, which highly regulates tourism. Nevertheless, adventurers will be satiated just entering and exploring this country’s rustic and almost undisturbed landscape. Quite assuringly, it’s not a terrain that many people will be able to reach. And the adventurer at heart will surely be happy with that.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Johanna Michelle Lim is a brand strategist, creative director, and travel writer based in Cebu City, Philippines. She swims in jellyfish-infested oceans, treks through mountains, rides rickety...Read more

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