With images of cliff-side Tiger’s Nest Monastery and government policies promoting Gross National Happiness, Bhutan captures international headlines. But is this remote Himalayan kingdom in South Asia a suitable family-friendly destination? During a vacation with my kids, I discovered that Bhutan is a fascinating destination for families with tweens, teens, and college-aged children. Here are a few fun and exciting activities we enjoyed during our time in Bhutan.
Crossing One of Bhutan’s Longest Suspension Bridges
Walk high above the Po Chhu River on one of the longest suspension bridges in Bhutan. Draped in fluttering prayer flags and spanning about 160 metres, Bhutan’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge connects villages on the other side of the Po Chhu River with the town of Punakha and the Punakha Dzong. The bridge is sturdy but sways with the wind (and a bouncing teenager).
Use a camera strap and cell-phone leash so you can comfortably take photos of the swift Pho Chhu River and Punakha Valley as you wobble across the bridge.
Visiting Chimmi Lhakhang (the Temple of the Divine Madman)
In the lush Punakha Valley, walk through a tiny village (Sopsokha) with colorful wooden penises in shop windows and large phallic murals on the way to Chimmi Lhakhang (also known as the Temple of the Divine Madman and the Fertility Temple.) This eye-popping cluster of houses and shops was the only place in Bhutan that my kids refused to pose for a photo! Continue walking for about 20 minutes through rice paddies up to the 15th-century fertility temple dedicated to Drukpa Kunley, known as the Divine Madman, because of his outrageous behavior and crazy wisdom. This site is popular with newlyweds and childless couples hoping to start a family.
Trying Your Hand at Archery
Bhutan’s number one sport is a serious business, with raucous competitions held at local archery grounds throughout the year. It’s not unusual for local competitors to hit tiny targets from almost 150 metres away. Fortunately, the Bhutanese we encountered were kind and patient teachers. After learning how to hold the bow and arrow, our kids spent hours practicing Bhutan’s national sport.
Trekking to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery
Bhutan’s fabled Tiger’s Nest Monastery clings to a cliff hundreds of metres above the valley floor. At over 3000 metres above sea level, reaching Tiger’s Nest requires a steady two-hour climb before crossing a bridge and ascending stone steps to the ancient monastery. First constructed in 1692 to commemorate a series of events that brought Buddhism to Bhutan, Tiger’s Nest is considered to be Bhutan’s holiest site. It’s a place that most Bhutanese hope to visit at least once in their lifetime.
Our family trek to Tiger’s Nest was literally and figuratively one of the highlights of our trip to Bhutan. Hiking to the monastery at high elevation with a small day pack was tiring, but so inspiring. Near the top, our youngest was struggling to hold a spirited pace when an elderly monk reached out and commended him on his achievement.
Article by Nancy Besharah, award-winning writer who covers family, adventure, and luxury travel as well as food and cocktails. You can read more from Nancy on the Luxe Travel Family blog.