Traveling

Aric and I like traveling and in the past twenty years we have visited many countries. In this blog post I have collected all the trips we have made between 2002 and 2019. Most of these trips I have documented in reports, in which case I give the link with a short description and a few pictures.

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Europe, May 2002

Aric’s first trip in Europe. I had planned an ambitious itinerary, including Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France ūüėČ . In those days I didn’t keep a blog, so details have become vague. We traveled by car, stayed mostly in hotels, camping occasionally. We did Venice as a daytrip from Padua and took a train from Florence to Rome, because Aric absolutely wanted to see the Colosseum!

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Bali, February 2003

We visited Bali only a few months after the Kuta bombings, tourism had come to an almost complete standstill. I kept a diary and published four picture reports about various aspects of the trip: Nature, Culture, Sawah and Personal.

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Sydney, October 2003

In 2003 I didn’t have a MM2H visa yet, therefore I had to leave Malaysia every three months.. Originally we had planned a trip to Beijing, but finally we decided for a short holidays Down Under. Sydney is a very pleasant town and we could easily have spent a much longer time there. Even with the sometimes winter-like cold weather, so we have hardly visited any of the famous surf beaches!. Here is a pictorial report Sydney 2003. The captions of each picture link to separate sub-reports.

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Beijing, June 2004

When my three-months visa expired, we decided to visit China this time. Beijing was our destination, but we also visited the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs etc. Here is a report with the Highlights of our trip. Detailed reports can be found in Beijing 2004.

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Cambodia, January 2005

Of course Angkor Wat was the main destination of our Cambodia trip. But we started in Phnom Penh and visited the Killing Fields. By boat to Siem Reap and after three days of Angkor Wat, we continued to Battambang. I created a kind of travelogue this time: A Pictorial Travel Report of a Trip to Cambodia.

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Sabah, May 2007

An adventurous trip, well organised by a friend of Aric. First we went snorkeling on Manukan island, next there was wild water rafting on the Padas river and the culmination was climbing Mount Kianabalu. I stopped at Laban Ratah, Aric made it to the top. After a relaxing time at the Poring Hot Springs we went back to KL. Here is the travelogue: Sabah Trip.

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Vietnam, July 2007

Air Asia had a promotion with free tickets to Hanoi, we could not resist the temptation and went to Vietnam. First we stayed a few days in Hanoi, a very pleasant town, although it was very hot. We made a trip to Halong Bay, very worthwhile. Instead of visiting Hue (too hot), we took the train to Sapa in the mountains. Finally a few more days in Hanoi. Here is the travelogue Vietnam, July 12-21, 2007.

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Sarawak, December 2007

A short trip to Sarawak to attend the wedding of a Dutch friend with a Bidayu lady. Of course we managed to include a few waterfalls and also an Orang Hutan rehabilitation center. More details in Sarawak, (14-17)-12-2007.

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Thailand, November 2008

A friend of ours, Dick Sandler, has a resort near the Khao Sok National Park in Thailand and Marcia, another friend, has a house at Railay Beach, near Krabi. We took a flight to Krabi, spent some time there, then took a boat to Railay , where we celebrated Loy Krathong on the beach. In Khao Sok we stayed in a romantic tree house and visited a waterfall. More pictures in Thailand (Krabi & Khao Sok) 2008

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China, July 2009

In July 2009 we went back to China for a very special reason, to see for the first time in our lives a solar eclipse! Solar eclipses are only visible from narrow regions on Earth, in this case a part of China. We decided to start our trip in Hangzhou and watch the eclipse there. Then to continue our trip to Suzhou and finally Tong Li. All three places famous tourist attractions. Our trip resulted in three albums, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Tong Li.

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Melbourne, October 2009

A few months later we visited our friends Pat and Roger in Melbourne. I had visited them before, so I could guide Aric around in Melbourne. Our hosts took us on a very nice trip along the Great Ocean Road. We also saw kangaroos and had delicious food. Here is the travelogue Melbourne, October 2009.

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Sarawak , March 2010

Our friend Keong invited us to join him on a trip to Semban. This village in the Bungo range south of Kuching, is famous for its “ring ladies”. High up in the hills, it is called the “Village above the Clouds”. We stayed a few days in the village, enjoying the hospitality of the Bidayu people and hiking to impressive waterfalls. Here is the report, Village above the clouds, February 2010.

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China, family visit, May 2010

For our third trip to China we visited the Teochew region, where Aric’s family originally came from. For a long time already it had been Aric’s wish to organise a trip for his parents and his favourite uncle and auntie to their roots. It was a very successful and rewarding trip, resulting in three albums, Shantou, Chaozhou and Chenghai

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Thailand, August 2011

We were invited to attend the wedding of my former student Raoul with his Thai boyfriend Aunn and decided to combine this event with a visit to some world heritage sites and waterfalls. We took a flight to Bangkok and rented a car there. We visited Ayutthaya, Kamphaeng Phet and the Khlong Lan waterfall. After the wedding party we drove back to Bangkok where we stayed a few more days. Here is the travelogue Thailand (16-24)-8-2011

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Greece, September 2011

If I had to make a list of our most fascinating holidays, our trip to Greece would probably be number 1. We did a lot during 16 days, starting with Athens, followed by Delphi, Meteora, the Sporadic Islands and Santorini. I compiled four albums, one about Athens, one about Delphi & Meteora, the third one about the islands Skopelos & Skiathos and the last one about Santorini. A magical world.

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Singapore, November 2011

The reason that we visited Singapore again was to attend a concert of the MozART GROUP, classical music with a humorous twist. The concert took place in the concert hall, nicknamed the Durian, We stayed in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and of course enjoyed the infinity swimming pool. We also visited the Haw Par gardens. Report is here: Singapore, November 2011.

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Europe, September 2013

Our second Europe holiday, two weeks this time. Again a full program, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein (!), Switzerland and France. Many highlights, the most spectacular one was the Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe. Four albums about this trip, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France.

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Barcelona, September 2013

Back in Amsterdam we still had some time before Aric went back to Malaysia. So we booked a flight to Barcelona , one of my favourite towns. The town of Gaudi, for me it was the first time to visit the Sagrada Familia cathedral, still unfinished. We liked the tapas, the paella and the sangria. But, like Amsterdam, overcrowded with tourists (like ourselves, I know).

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Taiwan, March 2014

For quite some time Taiwan has been on our list of countries to visit and this year we finally booked an Air Asia flight to Taipei for a 12-day trip. One reason was to try the Taiwanese food, but of course there was also the culture and the nature. We got addicted to onsen, the hot baths. Below pictures of the iconic 101 tower, the Chang Kai-shek memorial, the Shifen waterfall and the Yehliu Geopark. Many more pictures in the album Taiwan Trip.

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Norway, June 2014

Several times we have chosen a holiday destination because of a specific tourist attraction. We had never considered Norway until we saw a picture of the Pulpit Rock, rising 600 meter above the water of the Lysefjord. We discovered that it was a doable hike, access from Stavanger. We booked a 10-day trip combining it with Bergen and Oslo. A very nice holiday, more pictures in the album Norway June 2014.

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Japan, October 2014

For many years we have been thinking about a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. Would there be a language problem? We booked a 9-day trip, booked a flight to Osaka, where we stayed a few days. Then Kyoto and finally Wakayama. Osaka and Kyoto are well known, Wakayama not really, we went there especially because of our addiction to onsen, the Japanes hot baths. Three reports: Osaka, Kyoto and Wakayama. A country to visit again.

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Melbourne, January 2015

Another visit to our friends Pat and Roger in Melbourne We explored the town and enjoyed their hospitality. They took us on a trip to Bendigo (goldmines) and Echuca (paddle boats). Two albums, one about our stay with them, Melbourne, and a separate album about our trip, Victoria

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China, September 2015

Our fourth trip to China, this time with our friends Pat and Roger. For them it was their first visit, Aric had organised the trip and was also our guide and translator. We started in Xi’an with its famous terracotta army. Next we went to Suzhou, where Aric and I had been before and after that to the water village of Zhouzhuang. Then they returned to Australia and we stayed a few more days in Shanghai. I created four albums about these holidays, Xi’an, Suzhou, Zhouzhuang and Shanghai.

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Laos, November 2015

A few months later we made a short trip to Laos. Writing this report I discovered that I had written several albums about details of our trip, but never a comprehensive report. Here is a summary with links to the detailed reports. We took a flight to Vientiane and from there a bus to Luang Prabang, where we stayed a few days. We attended the (touristic) Alms Giving ceremony and visited many temples. We made two trips, one to the Pak Ou caves and one to the impressive Kuang Si waterfalls. On our way back to Vientiane we stayed two nights in Vang Vieng, where we visited another cave, the Tham CHang caves and made an interesting excursion in a Hot Air Balloon. Back in Vientiane we visited the Buddha Park.

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Portugal, September 2016

When Aric and I visit the Netherlands , we try to include a short trip to another part of Europe. This time we decided to visit Portugal. I had visited Lisbon in the past, now we also visited Porto and a few other towns. A very pleasant and friendly country. Two albums, Part 1 about Lisbon, Sintra , Obidos and Porto. Part 2 about Aveiro, Monsanto and Evora

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Taiwan, August 2017

Our second visit to Taiwan (for Aric even his third). This time we wanted to explore the whole island, so we rented a car. But first we visited the Penghu islands, off Taiwan’s West Coast,. to see the Twin Hearts. A beautiful country, full of nature, culture, food and onsen. Better read the report for the details Taiwan, August 2017. .

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Singapore, January 2018

A short trip to Singapore, to visit our friend ST Lee, explore the Gardens by the Bay, visit the Botanical Gardens and the National Museum. Here is a report Singapore 2018. I was so impressed by the museum that I created a separate album about it: National Museum, Singapore.

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Japan, March 2018

We timed our second Japan visit so that we could attend the famous HŇćnensai fertility festival on 15 March. We were hoping to see the Fuji mountain, expecting lots of sakura blossom and planning to visit as many onsen as we could find. We were very fortunate to achieve all these goals. I wrote a report about the highlights, Japan 2018, in which I announced more detailed albums, but that never materialised.

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Bhutan, April 2018

One reason that I didn’t write detailed reports about our Japan trip was that one month later we visited Bhutan. You can not travel on your own in this isolated country, we booked a tour for the two of us and were very lucky with our guides, who became friends almost immediately. There were many highlights on this 10-day trip, culminating in our climb to the Tiger’s Nest. Here is a travelogue with many more photos: Bhutan 2018.

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France, August 2018

My former principal is living in Southern France, we are friends and he invited us to visit him. We took a flight to Montpellier and rented a car. There are many historical places in that part of France, we visited quite a few of them. We enjoyed a few days the hospitality of my friend and his wife. Two reports about these holidays. France 2018, part I about N√ģmes, Arles, Avignon and Pont du Gard. Part 2 about Robiac, Millau, Albi, Carcassonne and Cap d’Agde.

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Guilin , March 2019

There is so much to see in China. This time we visited Guilin in Southern China, famous for its limestone karst hills. We explored the town and its surroundings. the weather was not very favourable, cold and grey. We stayed two nights in Longji with its terraced rice fields. Next we visited Yangshuo, the main tourist center of the Guilin region. In my report Guilin, March 2019 I announced three more albums, another promise I never kept.

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Paris, April 2019

When Aric’s sister visited us in Amsterdam, we still found time to spend a few days in Paris. We managed to see quite a few of the Paris highlights, one of then, the Notre Dame, sadly destroyed by fire just one week before we arrived. More photos in Paris, 2019 .

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Italy, May 2019

During our stay in the Netherlands, after visiting Paris with Aric’s sister, we made a short trip to the Cinque Terre in Italy. We stayed in La Spezia and made daytrips to the various fishing villages, sometimes walking from one village to another. Here is the travelogue: Cinque Terre, May 2019

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Singapore, December 2019

A social Singapore visit to meet friends and to see the Christmas decorations. In Orchard Road they were disappointing, but in the Gardens by the Bay quite spectacular. We also visited the new airport at Changi and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. And our friend ST Lee invited us for a ballet performance of the Swan Lake. Here is the report: Singapore 2019

That was our last traveling trip abroad. Of course we had plans for 2020, another China trip with Aric’s family and in summer a visit to Iceland with its waterfalls, glaciers and hot springs. But then came Covid-19, the borders were closed in March 2020 and still are.

We have been very fortunate that we were able to visit so many beautiful places. Those times may never come back..

Bhutan 2018

Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas, landlocked between India and China. The country is slightly smaller than the Netherlands, with  a population in 2016 of about 800.000, roughly the same as the city of Amsterdam!

It was only in 1974 that the isolated country opened its borders to foreigners. In that year 287 tourists visited Bhutan, a number that increased to almost 180.000 in 2016. Compare that with the 15.5 million tourists visiting the Netherlands in 2016!

The Bhutanese government wants to preserve the traditional culture and has decided to limit the tourism, by making it expensive. Tourists have to spend 200-250 USD daily, depending on the season.

Friends who have visited Bhutan, told us not to wait too long with a visit, so we decided to go and started looking for a suitable travel agency, because you can not travel on your own in Bhutan, you need to book a guide and a driver. For us that would be a new experience. Finally we chose Book Bhutan Tour ,and booked a 10D9N tour with them.¬† With only the two of us as passengers, it made the trip even more expensive¬† ūüôā

But it was worth it! Before I start my travelogue, here is a Google Map of Bhutan in which I have indicated the places where we have stayed overnight (A – H) and some of the highlights of the trip (red markers). When you click on a marker, you will see a picture. The map can be enlarged and you can zoom in and out.

There are no direct flights from Kuala Lumpur  to Bhutan, first we took a MAS flight to Bangkok, stayed overnight near the airport and early the next morning we departed with Druk Air for Paro, the international airport of Bhutan.

The descent to the airport was quite spectacular. Because the terrain is so mountainous, the plane can not approach in a straight line. Aric took pictures during the descent and nowadays smartphones can record GPS data, even inside the plane! The GE screenshot shows the altitude of the plane and the surrounding mountains.

 Here are the corresponding pictures

At the airport we were welcomed by Ram, the owner of Book Bhutan Tour, and Tenzin, our guide. We received as welcome gift a khata, a silk shawl, decorated  with the  Ashtamangala , the Eight Auspicious Signs. Tenzin, our guide, is wearing the traditional Bhutanese dress for men, the gho.

After a cup of coffee we drove to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, where we had our first Bhutanese food.

On the way to our hotel we passed a sports meet, where students were competing in various activities. Fascinating to see how the spectators  were all dressed in traditional garb, the boys in their gho with black knee stockings and the girls in their kira.

Our room in the Jumolhari Hotel   was comfortable. As we had got up at 4am, we took a short rest.

But not for long, we were going to visit our first Dzong! A Dzong is a fortress, often built on a hill top, dominating a town. Half of a dzong houses administrative offices, the other half is occupied by the monastic body, monks quarters, chapels etc. Many of them have their origins in the 17th century, when Zhabdrung Rinpoche  unified Bhutan as a nation-state. These spectacular fortresses are  one of the main reasons to visit Bhutan.

Here is the¬†Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu. Built in 1641, it has been the seat of Bhutan’s government since 1968.

Because government offices are housed in the dzong, access is only allowed after working hours and there is a dress code. Bhutanese men have to wear a ceremonial white scarf, and tourists should not wear t-shirts, shorts or sandals.

When we arrived, it was raining, they were just lowering the flag.

After a while the rain stopped and we could enter the courtyard. It was our first dzong, so we took numerous pictures. Bhutanese architecture is beautiful, very traditional and decorative.

Here are a few more pictures

Because it had been raining, there were some pools on the pavement. Aric knows how to make spectacular pictures, using the reflection in the water. Tenzin was interested and Aric was eager to explain how to do it…:-)

Before calling it a day, we drove to a spot where we had a good view of the illuminated dzong. A nice first day in Bhutan


DAY 2

We spent this day in Thimphu. First we visited the Memorial Chorten  , built in 1974  in memory of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the 3rd Dragon King, who died in 1972.

There is a lot of respect and love for the royal family in Bhutan, which may explain that daily hundreds of locals visit the memorial for praying. They walk many times around the chorten (stupa), always in clockwise direction. Or they go to the prayer wheels and turn them around and around. Old ladies sit down near those wheels and keep turning them. Fascinating.

Next we went to the¬†Great Buddha ¬†statue,¬†one of the largest Buddha statues in the world, 52 m high. Construction started in 2006 and was completed in 2015, only a few years ago. It is quite impressive, although there has been criticism that it is megalomaniac and doesn’t fit in the Bhutanese culture.

The Buddha is overlooking Thimphu and can be seen from far away. Inside the statue are temples and halls, containing ten thousands of small bronze Buddha statues.

After our lunch we visited a vocational education center, where young (and older) Bhutanese were trained in traditional arts and crafts. We were allowed to just walk around and take pictures. I was impressed by the concentration of the students, even without the presence of their teachers .. ūüôā

Wood carving, painting, embroidery, drawing. Notice how concentrated everybody is

It was my birthday and I had decided not to tell Ram and Tenzin. When Ram suggested that we could have a cup of tea at his house, I was not suspicious and accepted his invitation. Only when his wife came in with a cake, and everybody started singing Happy Birthday,¬† it became clear that there had been a complot between Aric and Ram. Really a surprise, I even became a bit emotional…:-)

Back in our hotel, we had dinner. We had several nice meals, but in general Bhutanese cuisine is not a reason to visit the country. The red rice is tasty, many dishes are prepared with local cheese and can be very spicy. Not much variety.


DAY 3

Our destination this day was Trongsa, less than 90 km from Thimphu, as the crow flies. But the connecting “highway” is winding, resulting in a driving distance of almost 200 km, traversing mountain passes up to 3400 m high. We left Thimphu at 8 am and reached Trongsa around 4 pm, just in time to visit the dzong. But the landscape is beautiful. Ram had prepared a picnic basket with coffee and cookies and we had lunch in a restaurant halfway. I could not resist the temptation to have my picture taken as a big boss…:-)

After lunch we continued and visited an interesting stupa with eyes (Nepali style) . The “highway” is the only east-west connection,¬† being widened, some parts were in bad condition. We passed a waterfall and finally saw the imposing Trongsa Dzong, but it still took almost an hour to reach it. Have a look at the map above to find out why…:-)

The Trongsa Dzong is the largest dzong of Bhutan, built in 1647. For centuries it was the seat of the Wangchuck dynasty who ruled over much of eastern and central Bhutan, and from 1907 have been Kings of Bhutan

Also here a division in a governmental and a monastic half. A very impressive fortress.

The dzong is a paradise for photographers. Here a small selection from the many pictures we took during our visit.

We stayed overnight in the nice Yangkhil resort,  celebrating a long, tiring day with a bottle of Bhutanese wine.


DAY 4

Our room had a balcony with a view of the Trongsa Dzong.

After breakfast we continued our trip . Also here they were working on the¬† “highway”, widening it. We stopped for a while at the Yutong La pass, marked by a chorten and a sea of prayer flags. At an altitude of 3425 m, you feel out of breath easily!

After the pass we descended into the Bumthang Valley , the  religious heartland of Bhutan. First we visited the Jakar Dzong, founded as a monastery by the great-grandfather of the Zhabdrung and in 1667 extended as a dzong. Impressive, large building.

Interesting were the many monks in this dzong. Notice that one of them is carrying a smartphone…:-)

Walking back to our car we met a group of young schoolboys going home, dressed in their gho uniform. They were friendly and could speak English quite well. It is educational policy in Bhutan to teach English already in primary school.

After lunch we visited two holy places, each with an interesting history.

The first one is  the Jambay Lhakhang. According to legend, it is one of the 108 temples, built by a Tibetan King in 659 on a single day, to pin down a female demon. The temples were constructed on her body parts that spread across Tibet and Bhutan. In Bhutan two of the temples still exist, the other one is in Paro (see later). Of course they have been repaired and rebuilt  several times. Looking at the many devotees visiting the temple, it is still a very holy place.

The second holy place is the Kurjey Lhakhang , a complex of three temples. The oldest one was built in 1652, it was locked when we were there, inside there should be a meditation cave where the Guru Rimpoche left his body print. The Guru Rimpoche lived in the 8th century and is one of the most venerated Buddhist masters in Bhutan. The second temple was built by the first king of Bhutan in 1900. The third one is very recent, built in 1984 by the grandmother of the present king. Interesting is that the architectural style of all temples is very similar

On the temple grounds we noticed this large collection of miniature stupas. They are placed here by devotees who hope that it will add to their karma. And near the temples there was a hanging bridge decorated with numerous prayer flags. Bhutan is a deeply religious country.

We were getting tired, it was time to go to our guesthouse. The Swiss Guesthouse to be precise and indeed, it felt a bit like Switzerland..:-) . With an apple orchard, a wood stove in our (spacious) room and a more or less Western style dinner.


DAY 5

Another picture of the Swiss Guesthouse. Left in the background the Jakar Dzong. Lots of apple blossom

This day no dzongs, monasteries or temples, we started our trip back to Thimphu, using the same so-called Lateral Road. Here one more stretch (to be fair to Bhutan, large parts of the road were already finished and in good condition)

At  high altitudes, there are no longer cows but yaks. And of course there were  rhododendrons.

Destination for the day was the Dewachen  hotel in the Gangteng Valley, a vast U-shaped glacial valley at an altitude of ~ 3000 m. During the winter months the globally threatened Black-necked Cranes roost here. It is a beautiful valley and our guide Tenzin suggested that we should hike a 4 km nature trail to the hotel. It was a pleasant walk.

The last few days we had been often the only guests in the restaurants and guesthouses. Here in the Dewachen Hotel there was quite a crowd.

We had a beautiful room with a view of the valley. After our dinner Ram and Tenzing joined us for a while, dressed this time in “western” outfit…:-). Both are nice guys and became our friends easily.

 


DAY 6

From our hotel it was an easy walk to the Black Necked Crane Visitor center. We knew that the cranes had already left to their breeding places in Tibet, crossing the Himalaysa at 6 km altitude! One juvenile bird got injured and broken-winged in 2016 and is now kept in the center. Read here more about Karma

We walked through the valley, as the car had a problem. Quite a long walk, but a good exercise. The landscape is dotted with farms, the region is fertile, potatoes and other vegetables are grown. The farmhouses look attractive in their traditional Bhutanese style. Look carefully at the house in the top row, second from right, next to the stairs. It is a penis! Later more about this interesting Bhutanese tradition. We bought  a drink in a local grocery shop

We passed a school and of course I had to take a look. There was a sports meet going on, so we could have a look inside.

The Gangtey Monastery is one of the most important centers of Bhutanese Buddhism.  Established in 1613, but of course several times rebuilt and restored, last in 2002-2008.

This is a monastery, not a dzong. There are prayer halls, the monks have their rooms, no government offices here.

The car had been repaired and from the monastery we continued to Punakha, our destination for the day. One of the famous views in Bhutan are the snow-capped giant Himalaya mountains. But you need clear skies to see them The best view we had was today, at least there was snow. Our altitude 3330 m

In the late afternoon we reached the Punakha Dzong. Altitude 1230 m, 2100 m lower! Constructed by the Zhabdrung Rinpoche in 1637‚Äď38, it is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures. Quite accessible, compared with Trongsa and Bumthang, not surprisingly there were relatively many tourists here.

Punakha was the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government until 1955 and in 2011 the wedding of the present king took place in the dzong


The dzong closes at 5pm, we could not really visit in detail. Before going to our hotel we visited the longest suspension bridge of Bhutan. Modern design, traditionally decorated with prayer flags.

Another interesting day.


DAY 7

After breakfast we visited¬†Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery near Punakha, with an interesting history. Built in 1499, it was the monastery where the “Divine Madman” lived. From the Wikipedia link:¬† “Some of his most famous performances include urinating on sacred, thankhas, stripping down naked or offering his testicles to a famous Lama.”¬†It is a nice walk through the padi fields to the modest monastery.

The tradition to decorate houses with paintings of erect penises originates from the Divine Madman. Nowadays the government discourages this tradition, but in the countryside we had still seen several (see picture above). They are not fertility symbols but serve to protect against evil spirits and demons.

In the nearby village of Sopsokha it has become the main tourist attraction. Shops, restaurants, they are all decorated with modernised phallus images. A bit too much…:-)

But of course I joined the crowd in taking pictures. Here is a collage.

Leaving the village we had a nice view of the beautiful landscape. If you look carefully, you can just see the monastery on the hill top, left from the village

Next stop was at the Royal Botanical Park, where that day the yearly Rhododendron festival took place. Quite a few visitors, mostly locals.

The rhododendron season was almost over, we had to search for nice specimens.

Our last stop was at the Dochula mountain pass at 3100m.  With clear skies you can see from here the big Himalaya mountains, but, although the weather was nice, the view was not clear.

The 108 memorial chortens have been constructed in 2004, in honour of the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in the December 2003 battle against Assamese insurgents from India.

We stayed overnight in Thimphu, in the same hotel as the first two nights.

 


DAY 8

Before we left Thimphu for Paro, we went to the Main Post Office. Why? Because you can buy regular stamps there with your own picture on it.

At the Dochula pass we had already taken a picture , especially for these stamps.

Here is the result. We have used them to send postcards to family and friends.

In Paro we first visited the National Museum, high above the Paro Dzong. A watchtower (left) protects the dzong, which you can see downhill (right).

Seen from above it looks rather small, but actually it is a large fortress. Notice the watchtower in the top right of the picture

This was the fifth and last Dzong we visited during our trip. Fed up with dzongs? Not at all. Although the basic architecture is the same, all of them have their own character. And they are live monuments. Here too the dzong houses both government offices and the monastic body.

Everything so colorful. A delight for photographers

During our stay in Bumthang we had visited Jambay Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples, supposedly built on one day in 659 AD to pin down a demoness. The other one in Bhutan is located in Paro, the Kyichu Lhakhang .

It is believed that the two orange trees in the courtyard of the monastery bear fruit throughout the year.


DAY 9

Probably the most famous landmark in Bhutan is the¬†Paro Taktsang, better known as the Tiger’s Nest, a monastery located in the cliffside of the mountains near Paro, at an altitude of 3100 m. The shrine was first built in 1692 around a cave where according to legend the Guru Rimpoche had meditated in the 8th century.

It is considered the cultural icon of Bhutan , so of course we wanted to visit it. It is a strenuous hike, starting at an altitude of 2600 m, and we were not sure if we could make it…:-)

Of course we were not the only visitors. The first part of the hike you can rent a donkey, I just bought a walking stick. We started early before 8am. In both pictures the Tiger’s Nest is visible, try to spot it ..:-)

Even though we were reasonably fit, it was a tough hike, we were often out of breath because of the altitude. The pictures give the altitude and the time. Notice that we had to climb higher than the monastery, then go down steps about 100 meter and finally steep up again to the entrance.

Here is the reward for our efforts…:-)

The interior of the monastery is beautiful, but photography inside is not allowed and the checking was strict, cameras and smartphones had to be put into lockers. We stayed inside for about one hour, then walked back in  2 hours

Tired but happy that we had made it!. In the right picture you can see the Tiger’s Nest above me

I wrote earlier that Bhutanese food is not that special, but the lunch we had was delicious

Ram and Tenzin had ordered it especially for us, probably because they knew that we are interested in food..:-)

Aric had also asked them if they could arrange a Hot Stone Bath, a Bhutanese speciality. So, after lunch we went to a bathhouse. As they had to prepare the baths , we had some time to try archery.

The water in the bathtub is heated by stones, that have been roasted in a fire. When they are dumped in the tub, they not only heat the water, but also give off minerals, supposedly good for your¬† health. It was a fun experience, when the water cooled down, you just called the helper outside “one more stone, please”.

After we had taken some rest in our hotel, Ram and Tenzin took us to a restaurant for a farewell dinner. Again really nice food

 


DAY 10

Ram and Tenzin took us to the airport, where we said goodbye to what had become our friends..

A very rewarding trip, although we still prefer to organise our own travels, if possible