Monday, July 15, 2013

A Week in Thimphu - With Kids


I am writing this from the comfort of home – and it really feels like coming home to our place in Chumey. The last day in Thimphu Remy asked “Can we go home to Chumey?”-  he wasn’t the only one getting tired of living out of a suitcase (ironically we do that in Chumey too!) and even gorging on delicious western food had started to feel overly gluttonous and I found myself yearning for simple home cooked meals of rice and veg.

Bob did such a good job of tackling the 11 hour return drive in the mini-van he negotiated to rent off a local man. We did the trip to Thimphu in one shot, accompanied by our Australian friends Matt and Lucy whose company made the trip go faster. The roads are good in parts and diabolical in others – a narrow slippery stretch of mud and rocks just wide enough for the car to pass and a view over the edge to a gorge below not worth contemplating. We were blessed with good weather for our whole two week holiday – just a couple of showers breaking up sunny warm days – perfect for enjoying our holiday and for safe driving. We encountered none of the prophesised landslides that are common at this time of year, and even the boys tolerated the travel really well. It helped to often have another BCF friend in the passenger seat to make things interesting.

I have quite a few stories to tell, so over the next couple of weeks (internet permitting) I will post a few blogs of the highlights of our trip, starting with the highlights of our time in the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu.

 

At the start of the year, we spent two weeks in Thimphu, but actually saw very little of the capital. We were consumed with assimilating to our new home, attending workshops and dinners and enormous daily shopping expeditions to buy every household item we’d need for the year ahead. The weather was freezing cold and we weren’t confident in getting around the city.

How things have changed in six months! This time we arrived in the city under our own steam and we were so thankful to have our own wheels to get around and about as we pleased. This time we had friends to visit and stay with, we knew which shops to go to to buy supplies, had favourite restaurants to return to and a motivation to see the sights that put this city on the map.
 
Having an impromptu dance party at our friend Mark's luxurious home.
 

After the 11 hour trip we were welcomed to stay at Matt and Lucy’s place about a half hour drive from Thimphu in the village of Chamgang. They have the best of both worlds in a way – a small village feel, but being just a stone’s throw from the big city, all the comforts and excitement of the capital are within easy reach. Their home was simple, but they have made it comfortable with nice furniture and decorations and have made the best of a strange floor plan with a kitchen the size of a cupboard! Matt made us pancakes for breakfast with Lucy’s homemade plum jam, and then we headed in to meet the rest of the gang at the Hotel Tandin right on Norzin Lam, the main street.

If you have a week in Thimphu (and you have kids to entertain) here are my tips:

 

Places to Go

Semtokha Dzong  Matt showed us into the main temple featuring a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha which had a very reverent feel. A monk was busy inside and was keen for us to move on. Meanwhile monks were studying and chanting in the other chapels.
Semtokha Dzong features on the 1 ngultrum note.
 

Buddha Viewpoint on the hill that overlooks the whole Thimphu valley. It is still under construction so we mainly enjoyed the view from up high, and I wonder if we visit at the end of the year how much further along the complex will be. We drove up the switchback road, however early in the year our friends did the long walk from town in the dark to see the sunrise, if you want to try it make sure to know the way!
 
Xavier was a bit chilly in the hill-top breeze, so he wrapped up in mummy's pink scarf!

View from the top down to Thimphu.
 

Trashi Chhoe Dzong – we visited with our friend Heather who noted that from the inner courtyard, you can see just the green hills surrounding the Dzong, and although it is close to the city, it feels like it could be anywhere else. Visiting is restricted to after 5pm, and at this time it is quiet and deserted except for other tourists. It is situated by the river and overlooks the Houses of Parliament.




Riverfront Park – a nice place for a walk down by the river and to see the large Buddha statue.

National Memorial Chorten – one of the busiest places in Thimphu – older Bhutanese in particular circumambulate the chorten day and night. I found myself in the unusual position of pushing Remy who was asleep in a borrowed pram while chasing our friend’s toddler son around the chorten. I had to laugh as he wove in between elderly Bhutanese and grabbed at their prayer beads and took little notice of my ‘Come here’s’ in English!
 
We were honoured to walk to the Memorial Chorten with the now former Foreign Minister.
 

Archery ground and Changlimithang Stadium – particularly on weekends it is interesting to stop and watch a game of archery, soccer or tennis and see locals at play.

Places to Play

After six months in the village the boys were in need of letting off some steam and Bob took them to play while I got on with my shopping and other jobs.

Thailand –Bhutan Friendship Park Playground – centrally located, we came here a couple of times. Bob couldn’t endorse the safety of this playground, but local kids were having a lot of fun anyway.

 
 
 
 
 
Playground by the River – down by the river is a modern playground that is lots of fun.

Swimming Pool – we checked out the local public swimming pool and the kids had a ball. They didn’t notice that the water was greenish and how the complex had a neglected feel. At 200nu ($4) for adults and 75nu ($1.50) for children it was much cheaper than the 700nu ($14) per person to swim at the Taj Tashi Hotel pool – would have been more than $60 for us all to have a dip!
 
 
Note the blue plastic bowls around the pool are for spitting in?!
 

Mothithang Playground – we went for a drive around Mothithang suburb and noticed a leafy playground here too, but the kids were asleep in the car so we didn’t wake them. It was pretty simple with a slide and a tunnel.

 

Places to Eat

Ambient Cafe – the favourite hangout of BCFers through the day – from breakfast of homemade granola and yoghurt with banana to lunch of toasted sandwiches and fries and delicious cakes and real coffee – this place hit the spot after months in our villages. Free wifi was an extra incentive!

 
 
 
Seasons Restaurant – extensive menu of pizza and pasta and salads, fresh wholemeal bread to take away and cakes like blueberry cheesecake – a favourite place for group dinners.
 
 

Palden Roastery – we found this place while looking for another cafe – established by a Korean/Bhutanese couple – the food was awesome – authentically Korean – a flavour I love and crave. I had vegetarian Bibimbap and Bob tried Bulgogi. They made a special dish for the boys that they loved and ate like I haven’t seen them eat in Bhutan! They also serve some interesting teas – Bob tried a sweet potato latte and I had a green tea frappe – yummo – so good we had to go back the next day!!
 
 

The Zone – This was where Xavier needed to go as soon as we arrived in Thimphu – he remembered their burgers and it lived up to his memory – so good to see him enjoying food. We ended up here again to watch the Wimbledon final on the big screen, and enjoyed a great pizza and shared a birthday cake from another table that was far and away the best cake I have eaten in a very long time – chocolate praline layer on the bottom with a hit of alcohol and topped with chocolate cake and cream  - decadent and delicious!

 
 
Willy’s Icecream Parlour – Bob took the boys for ice-cream here – another favourite place of the boys – with ice-cream in a cup that you can top with treats like crushed oreos or sprinkles.

Swiss Bakery – I bought takeaway burgers here for the boys to eat early on the nights we were having late dinners with our friends.

 
 
 


Places to Shop

As chillips (foreigners)  in Bhutan, we have adapted well to local tastes and flavours – I crave chillies and Bhutanese food like kewa-datsi and red rice. But as Australians we enjoy a wide range of flavours and so it is lucky for us that there are quite a few supermarkets around Thimphu that cater to that need – selling international products so we can make Thai (coconut milk, rice noodles, curry pastes, fish sauce), Japanese (nori, sesame paste, instant miso soup), Italian (polenta, tomato paste, olives, pasta)  foods at home, foreign cereals for breakfast, dried fruit and nuts for snacks and chocolate for special treats.

8 Eleven – centrally located – you can buy most things here you would need to head out to the east of Bhutan! Since January the range of products available has expanded further.

Mini Mart at City Mall – I hadn’t been able to find this shop in January but when we discovered it this time it lived up to the hype – a modern style supermarket filled with lots of goodies to take out east.

Mothithang – We drove up here to find another supermarket and I think this one is the cream of the Thimphu crop with all sorts of food items that will make our diet our in Chumey so much more varied and interesting.
 

Weekend Markets -  It is worth visiting this market just to browse and look around even if you aren’t in the market to buy produce. On the top floor doma (betel nut) and incense are sold and all sorts of fruit was available. We bought some delicious apricots to rival those we ate in Tasmania last year, and a bag of jackfruit all chopped up to try.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Over the river is the handicraft market where I got stuck in to Christmas/souvenir shopping as we won’t have much time at the end of the year. A market selling mainly imported clothes is also there and Remy spotted a very cool new shirt that only cost about $2.

Junction Bookshop – this bookshop is the type of bookshop I’d love to have around the corner – it sells novels of the best western writers as well as stocking a great range of Buddhist literature, Bhutanese fiction and non-fiction and a large section filled with children’s books and toys.

DSB Books – a huge and well stocked bookshop where I headed to spent hundreds of dollars that had been entrusted to me by generous friends to purchase books for my school and a village library near Chumey. They have a great selection of children’s books upstairs as well as toys and gifts and downstairs there are novels, coffee table books and stationery.

Toys – Remy loves his superheroes, and it seems that Bhutanese kids do too – there are so many toy shops around town dangling with cheap plastic toys that kids like Remy can’t resist. Once I bought him a cool set of Ben Ten figurines and watch he was content and didn’t pester me every time we went walking. I also spent about $150 on sporting equipment for my school – hula hoops, balls, skipping ropes, badminton and plastic tennis sets – again with funds donated from home.

 
 

So, a big week in Thimphu – at first it was a bit overwhelming after village life (and I can’t imagine how we’ll feel when we touch down in Bangkok on the way home!). By the end I felt sated with all the food, shopping and fun we’d had. Quiet village life certainly appeals after all that stimulation!

In my next instalment I’ll write about our days in Paro and the mammoth climb to Taktsang, Tiger’s Nest.

 

 

 

 

8 comments:

  1. Wow, indeed a big week in Thimphu strating from the shopping to every other sight seeing and eatery places. Looks like you have devoured every must-visit place in Thimphu in a week. Glad that you had fun :)

    Looking forward to your days in Paro and Taktshang.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Rekha! It does look like we've overindulged, but after a pretty simple life and diet in Chumey we were ready to eat all our favourite foods and catch up with friends in Thimphu. Thank you for reading. Are you in THimphu?

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    2. Yes I work and live in Thimphu only and love it here...:)

      I wish you a happy stay in Bhutan.

      http://irelatetothat.blogspot.com

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  2. Great tips and I will have to check out some that are new to me when we hit town again

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  3. Great Tips and it seems you happy with Bhutan Country and Bhutanese People and places.
    Welcome again

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  4. thanks Thinley! we have loved three opportunity to live in Bhutan this year!

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  5. Thanks for sharing your flash back thoughts having made to this land of thunder dragon- Bhutan. Through the readings of your beautiful expressing skills articulating the kind of pleasure you had during your stay in Bhutan, had made me feel excited for many reasons and being a Bhutense Citizen. I would look forward to see more of this kind of thought reduced to beautiful lines in your next update of experience in Bhutan.

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