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Thimphu

The District of Thimphu

Thimphu is the capital city of Bhutan and it is home to approximately 100,000 residents including the Royal family. This bustling little city is the main centre of commerce, religion and government in the country. The juxtaposition of ancient tradition and modernity make Thimphu the ideal location for visitors to break away from their tour itinerary to immerse themselves in the contemporary Bhutanese lifestyle.

Thimphu is the most modern city in Bhutan with an abundance of restaurants, internet cafes, nightclubs and shopping centres. However, it still retains its’ cultural identity and values amidst the signs of modernization. Thimphu is one of the few towns in Bhutan that have been equipped with ATM banking facilities and is a good place to stock up on some currency.

There are several attractions in Thimphu such as the National Post Office, the Clock Tower Square, the Motithang Takin Preserve, Tango and Chari Monasteries, Buddha Dordenma, National Memorial Chorten, Centenary Farmer’s Market, Semtokha Dzong to name a few. These form the most important tourist attractions in the capital city.

The culture of Bhutan is fully reflected in Thimphu in respect of religion, customs, national dress code, the monastic practices of the monasteries, music, dance, literature and the media. Tshechu is an important festival where mask dances, popularly known as Chams, are performed in the courtyards of the Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu. It is a four-day festival held every year during autumn (September/October), on dates corresponding to the Bhutanese calendar. One of the most curious features of Thimphu is that it is the only capital city in the world that does not use traffic lights. Instead, a few major intersections have policemen standing in elaborately decorated booths (small pavilions), directing traffic with exaggerated hand motions.

Things to do in Thimphu

Places of interests in and around Thimphu, Bhutan
Folk Heritage Museum in Thimphu
Folk Heritage Museum in Thimphu.
The Folk Heritage Museum

Located in the capital city of Thimphu, this museum was established in 2001 and provides visitors and tourists with fascinating insights into the Bhutanese material culture and way of life. The Folk Heritage Museum is set inside a three storied, 19th century traditional house.

The museum gives you a glimpse of the traditional Bhutanese lifestyle, in addition to artifacts from rural households, it also displays an impressive collection of typical household objects, tools and equipment. In an effort to maintain our knowledge of indigenous natural resources, native trees and plants that had domestic uses in a rural Bhutanese household is grown at the front yard of the museum, creating an oasis of greenery, right in the heart of the capital city of Thimphu.

The museum also has a restaurant with traditional setting and ambience where a buffet lunch or dinner consisting of traditional dishes are offered. However, lunch and dinner arrangement is only available for a group of five or more people.

Note: The Folk Heritage Museum is closed on government holidays. Hours of operation are from 10am to 4:30pm on weekdays; from 10:30am to 1pm on Saturdays and 11:30am to 3:30pm on Sundays.


National Institute of Zorig Chusum

The National Institute of Zorig Chusum (Zorig Chusum means 13 Traditional Arts & Crafts) is located nearby the Folk Heritage Museum. The National Institute of Zorig Chuzum was established to promote and preserve the thirteen traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan and to facilitate increased access in learning Zorig skills by Bhutanese youths. Many of these traditional arts and crafts are declining with the advent of modern technologies and therefore, the government is putting in lot of effort to train youths to keep the traditions alive.

The thirteen arts and crafts are categorized as:

Students lined up for morning assembly at Thimphu Institute for Zorig Chusum
Students gathered for morning assembly at The National Institute for Zorig Chumsum – The Institute where 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan are taught.
  1. Shing Zo (woodwork)
  2. Dho Zo (stonework)
  3. Par Zo (carving)
  4. Lha Zo (painting)
  5. Jim Zo (sculpting)
  6. Lug Zo (casting)
  7. Shag Zo (wood turning)
  8. Gar Zo (blacksmith)
  9. Troe Zo (ornament making)
  10. Tsa Zo (bamboo work)
  11. De Zo (paper making)
  12. Tsem Zo (tailoring, embroidery and applique)
  13. Thag Zo (weaving)

These thirteen arts and crafts are an essential part of Bhutan’s cultural heritage that have been practiced from time immemorial. These arts were formally categorized during the reign of Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay, the fourth temporal ruler of Bhutan in the 17th century.


The National Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, Bhutan
The National Memorial Chorten in Thimphu.
The National Memorial Choeten

The National Memorial Choeten is the most frequented religious site and obviously an important landmark in Thimphu. The National Memorial Choeten is a Buddhist Stupa built in 1974 in memory of the Late Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck who passed away in 1972. People from all walks of life come here to pray and circumambulate and it is a good opportunity for you to observe how Bhutanese people devote themselves to daily prayers and take refuge in the teachings of the Lord Buddha.


Buddha Point - The 169 ft tall Buddha Statue in Thimphu, Bhutan
Statue of Buddha Dhordenma in Thimphu.
Buddha Point – Buddha Dordhenma Statue

The marvelous 169 feet tall bronze statue of Lord Buddha is located on a hilltop, Kuensel Phodrang, overlooking the Thimphu valley. From here you can see a nice view of Thimphu city. It was built to celebrate the 60th birth anniversary of the Fourth King His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck and also for the purpose of bringing peace in the world . The giant Buddha statue houses more than 100,000 8-inch tall Buddha statues of same type. The construction began in 2006 and was completed in 2015 after almost 10 years. The total cost of the entire project is well over US$100 million.


Stamp Album of Bhutan, Bhutan Post, Thimphu
Stamp Album on display at Bhutan Post.
Bhutan Postal Museum

Bhutan Post Office is located in the heart of the city in the same building as Bhutan National Bank. The Postal Service in Bhutan was first launched in 1962 with the opening of a post office in Phuentsholing, a town in the south bordering with India. If you are interested in philatelic products and stamp collection, they have a rich assortments of stamps, First Day Covers and stamp albums.

The Postal Museum was opened in 2015. The museum has been set up to celebrate the 60th Birth Anniversary of fourth Hereditary King of Bhutan, His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The main objective of the museum is to exhibit the story of Bhutan’s progress and development through the lens of the evolution of communications and postal system in the country. The story is exhibited through anecdotes, artifacts and the rich assortment of stamps the country has produced.

The Museum showcases: the progress of postal services and to a certain extent communications system in Bhutan, Bhutan’s rare and unique stamps issued over the years and, capture the modes of communication pre-postal system and tell stories of legendary messengers.  Artifacts of direct relevance to postal and those that help to tell the stories effectively and communications are displayed.

The Bhutan Postal Museum hosts 5 galleries:

  • Gallery I is the changing exhibition gallery. This gallery will change according to special occasion in the country and stamp releases.
  • Gallery II showcases the pre-postal era and tells stories of how communications happened between the Kings and its subjects, between officialdom and how communities from one region communicated with those from other regions.
  • Gallery III focuses on the advent of postal system in the country and how it changed over time. It simultaneously exhibits on telegraphy, wireless and telephones and their evolution to modern times of Internet and smart phones.
  • Gallery IV exhibits Bhutan’s rich assortment of stamps and help promote Bhutan’s rich culture, tradition and heritage. It will also help educate Bhutanese society on philately.
  • Gallery V is the interactive area where activities and programmes will be designed to educate school children and visitors.

In October of 2017, His Majesty the King graciously granted a rare and valuable collection of philatelic and communications products giving new insights into the history of the philatelic and communications systems in Bhutan.


Royal Textile Museum Thimphu RTA
Royal Textile Academy and Museum Building in the heart of Thimphu.
Royal Textile Academy and Museum

Weaving is an integral component of the culture and tradition of Bhutan. With rapid development and exposure to the western culture, the art of weaving and production of its own handwoven textile is declining fast. To preserve and promote this living art, Her Majesty Grand Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wanchuck established the Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan in 2005 as a non-profit organization. Given the important role it plays in preserving and promoting our unique culture and tradition, The Royal Textile Academy was registered as a Civil Society Organization in 2011.

The Textile Museum showcases collection of artifacts to impart understanding of Bhutan’s rich textile traditions and way of life. The Museum consists of two galleries – The upper gallery which has a permanent display of the various types of textile weaves in the country and the lower gallery that displays temporary exhibitions on special themes.


View of Tashichho Dzong with National Assembly Hall and National Council building in the background - The capital city of Bhutan
Tashichho Dzong “The Fortress of the Glorious Religion”.
Tashichho Dzong (The Fortress of the Glorious Religion)

Tashichho Dzong, which means “Fortress of the Glorious Religion” is opened to visitors only after 5PM during working days and from 9AM to 5PM on weekends. The original Dzong, known as Dho Ngon Dzong was built in 1216 A.D. by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa on a location where Dechen Phodrang monastery stands today. It was acquired by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1641 and renamed it as Tashichho Dzong. The original Dzong was destroyed by fire in 1771 and then relocated to the present location. The Dzong suffered several earthquakes and fires and was subsequently renovated and new structures added by successive rulers.

It was late His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck who renovated and enlarged the entire Dzong to its present form in 1962 over the period of six years. The magnificent architectural feat was achieved using traditional method without any blueprint plans or nails. It houses the Secretariat and offices of the King, the Throne Room, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, Ministry of Finance and Central Monastic Body. It is also the summer residence of the Chief Abbot (Je Khenpo) of the Central Monastic Body of Bhutan.


Built in 1631, Simtokha Dzong is the oldest Dzong in built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
Built in 1631 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Simtokha Dzong is the oldest Dzong in Bhutan.
Simtokha Dzong

Built strategically on a ridge overlooking the Thimphu valley, the Simtokha Dzong is significant not only because it was the first Dzong built by Zhangdrung Ngawang Namgyel but also stands on the borders of three major regions: Thimphu, Paro and Wangdue Phodrang. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel built this Dzong in 1631 to consolidate his rule over the western Bhutan. Simtokha Dzong is considered as the oldest Dzong in Bhutan. One of the main statues inside the Simtokha Dzong is the statue of Buddha of Compassion. Legend has it that fortunate visitors are able to see a light shining forth from the chest of the Buddha. The Dzong has more than three hundred slate carvings from the 17th century. Recently, His Majesty the 5th King donated statue of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel which wasn’t there initially.

Changangkha Lhakhang

Changangkha Lhakhang is located on a hilltop above the main town overlooking the valley below. It was built in 13th century by Lama Drugom Zhigpo who played an important role in early spread of the Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism to Bhutan. His son, Nyima, extended and built many of the statues inside the temple which are invaluable national treasures of Bhutan. Apart from the magnificent statues and other holy scriptures, the temple also has Bum Gye Dring Due Sum (sixteen volumes of Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita) which is the original copy handwritten by Nyima himself.


The Jungshi Traditional Paper Factory

The Jungshi handmade paper factory uses traditional methods to produce the authentic Bhutanese paper known as Deh-sho.
It is located approximately 1 km from Thimphu City.  The factory uses the bark of two tree species, the Daphne tree and Dhekap tree in the manufacture of traditional paper. Visitors can observe the entire process of producing handmade paper using ancient traditional methods that have been practiced for generations. You can even try your hand at this ancient craft and make some paper of your very own as a souvenir. Deh-sho paper was originally used by monasteries for woodblock and manuscript books and also for writing prayer books.
The Jungshi paper factory continues to preserve and promote this age-old Bhutanese tradition. It also produces various other products, such as stationery and greeting cards.


Thangtong Dewachen Nunnery – The only Nunnery in the capital

Thangtong Dewachen Nunnery is a Buddhist nunnery popularly known as Anim Dratsang which is located in Zilukha overlooking Tashichho Dzong and is just a few minutes drive from the National Institute of Zorig Chusum. It was built in 1976.

The main statue inside the nunnery is of Dupthop Thangtong Gyalpo, a Tibetan saint who came to Bhutan in 1433. He was widely known as Chakzampa Thangtong Gyalpo (Chakzampa means “iron bridge builder”) and was famous for building many Iron Chain Bridges in Tibet and Bhutan.

With a small monetary donation, if you wish, you can request nuns to perform prayer ceremony for your spiritual well-being and to clear obstacles on your path. The nunnery sustains on voluntary donations made by the visitors.


Handicraft Emporium

Handicraft Emporium is located in the main town which is run by the National Women’s Association of Bhutan. It is a one-stop souvenir shop where you will find wide range of Bhutanese Handicrafts and handwoven Bhutanese attires. This souvenir emporium is one of the few shops accepting major credit cards.


Pangri Zampa monastery in Thimphu,Bhutan
Pangri Zampa monastery complex in Thimphu, Bhutan. It houses the Buddhist School of Astrology.
School of Astrology at Pangrizampa

The School of Astrology at Pangrizampa is located inside a beautiful monastery complex about 8km away from main Thimphu town. The monastery was founded in the 16th century and was used by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel when he arrived from Tibet in 1616. Monks are trained in Buddhist astrology and upon graduation they are sent to different parts of the country to serve as astrologers. If interested and depending on the group size, you can consult and have your astrological reading done but you need to let us know in advance so that we can arrange consultation appointment.


Centenary Farmers Market, Thimphu, Bhutan.
Centenary Farmers Market in Thimphu is the largest open market in Bhutan.
Centenary Farmers Market

Located below the main town, near the Thimchu River, Thimphu’s weekend market which is by far the largest domestic market for the farmers in Bhutan. Farmers come from all over the country to sell their farm products in the market. With its wide assortment of fresh organic produce, the Farmer’s Market has become a favourite spot for tourists and a recreational place for people from all walks of life.

Visiting this market and seeing various agricultural produce on display, you will learn food preference and culture in Bhutanese society.