A quick post with some sights on our second day in Thimpu. We had to wait for Thinley to arrange our travel permits to Bumthang. We also had to do some major money exchanging as well. After that we went to a local shop and bought a Kira for Nancy and a Gho for me. The Kira and Gho are traditional Bhutanese dress which you must wear to any official buildings or occasions.
We traveled from Paro to Thimpu where we stayed for two days while our travel permits were arranged. The trip took about two hours and traversed some amazing river valleys and mountain ranges. We stayed at the Zey Zang hotel. Thimpu is the capital of Bhutan and the home of the current king. It’s the “big city” baby! Thinley took us around the city showing us the vegetable market and some other sites and at the same time taking care of business regarding visa extension and travel permits. It was a strange mix of tradition and modernization, ranging from construction to fashion. From Thimpu we again got on the institute bus and started our ten hour bus journey to Bumthang.
We flew from Phuket to Bangkok and arrived in the afternoon. We did a brutal overnight camping stop in Bangkok airport and then flew out at 5:40am in the morning. We did a fueling stop in Calcutta for about thirty minutes and then took to the air for our final flight into Paro, Bhutan. As we approached Bhutan you could see mountains piercing the sky and behind those were even bigger bright white monolithic Himalayan mountains forming a wall across the sky. It was incredible. We dropped down through the clouds and we were skimming through the valleys of immense mountains on both sides. You could see Bhutanese monasteries on the peaks as we flew by. Our altitude must have been around 500 feet or less for several minutes as we approached the landing strip. Then we touched down smoothly… We had arrived.
I think the Paro airport is the most interesting and beautiful airport I have ever seen. We made it through immigration and met our friends from the institute Thinley and Jigme. They drove along winding switchbacks up the valley into the city of Paro. We had some refreshingly cool mango drinks and then they helped us check in at our hotel. After we had a shower and a quick rest we travelled up the valley again to an ancient Dzong (a fortress structure). The Dzong we visited is now a ruin because of a fire there. But it is the site of the last great war in Bhutan against the Tibetans, where the Tibetans were finally defeated and Bhutan found it’s first unifying leader for the country. We travelled back down the valley a bit and stopped to hike up to the top of a ridge line where we were to meet Thinley’s sister-in-law. Her husband is a Buddhist Rinpoche. So her home is next to a temple. We went inside and saw pictures of her father, a very famous Rinpoche that actually built the temple many years ago. Sadly I don’t have pictures of the temple, it is mostly forbidden. After that we had some tea with her and then came back down the ridge to the transport. We headed back into town and crashed at the hotel for like 12 hours. Welcome to Bhutan, fantastic! More images for this post to come! I have to go!
We flew out of Incheon Airport from Seoul to Bangkok. From there we flew down to Phuket to spend a few days on the beach before our departure for Bhutan. Phuket has incredible beaches and the weather was in the 80’s and hot, hot, hot! We tried to snorkel but the visibility was like 2 inches, we had a good kick out and back anyway. We stayed in a little hostel/hotel in Kata. It was clean and great. I only have a few pictures because most of the time was spent at the beach and Thailand probably wasn’t the place to just let it hang while I went off swimming! I did see my first elephant though which was a thrill. After I took the shot it stuck it’s trunk out at me and touched my head and face and I scratched the bottom of it’s trunk! Totally cool.
I have been in Seoul for more than a week now. I’m squatting at my friend TJ’s apartment. It’s an overwhelming city. The scale is hard to comprehend compared to the US. New York or LA doesn’t even come close. The smog here is atrocious. It’s a little claustrophobic having so many people around you all the time. But I’ve been pretty fascinated by it all. I wish I had more time to hunker down and photograph here.
I will probably leave Seoul sometime this week and start my travels to Bhutan. So far it looks like I may go through Bangkok and Calcutta on my way to Bhutan. I’m a bit nervous about all the political turmoil in Thailand though. Hopefully they won’t shut down the airport or anything and I can slide through safely. Once I arrive in Bhutan it will be over a 200 mile journey by truck to get to the forestry institute in Bhumtang. I will have to travel from the airport at Paro in the West of the country to Thimpu in the West central part of the country. There I will have to spend a day or two getting travel permits for my final destination in Bhumtang, which is more in the East side of the country.
Bhutan has some interesting laws. You can’t travel on the roads freely without a travel permit. If you are Bhutanese you can’t be in public without wearing the national dress, a Gho for men or a Kira for women. Plastic bags and tobacco are illegal there. It will be an interesting change I think. Korea for me has been almost a carbon copy of the US for the most part. The model is just about the same, except I think they are actually more rampant consumers than Americans, if you can believe it. I’m looking forward to more of a true culture shock. I will miss Korea, the relaxed atmosphere of the beaches and environment on Jeju-do and the frenetic chaos and scale of Seoul. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back someday to teach again. You never know.