Punakha, a former capital of Bhutan, is located in the west of the country.
Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until the 1960's, and still retains the serene atmosphere of a place with a regal past. The dzong is the main attraction, but there are also other sites of interest in and around this pleasant little town. Along with Paro and Jakar, Punakha completes the triangle of most popular tourist destinations.
Buses and taxis available from Thimphu. Shared taxis terminate at (and depart from) Kuruthang, which is a few kilometers from Punakha. A shared taxi costs around 150nu for the 90 minute to two hour journey to/from the capital.
All attractions in the town (including the dzong) can be reached on foot. There is a taxi rank near the dzong, where taxis can be hired for visiting sites of interest outside the town, but within the valley.
- Punakha Dzong. Majestically standing on an island between the confluence of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers, the city's dzong is one of the most photogenic of all Bhutan's ancient fortresses, and you will see pictures of it hanging in hotels and restaurants throughout the country. The dzong is joined to the mainland by an arched wooden bridge, and contains many precious relics from the days when successive kings reigned the kingdom from this valley. The dzong serves as the winter home of the monastic body.
- Pedestrian suspension bridge behind the dzong. An almost 250m long suspension bridge across one of the Mochu/Phochu rivers. It has a very beautiful and serene location, very good to sit and just watch the flow of the river. Many people do not visit this, but those who have would consider it as a must go.
- Chimi Lhakhang. Located in between very beautiful paddy fields, it is one of the most scenically located monasteries in eastern Bhutan and takes about half and hour to trek/walk till the monastery from the road. Best time of day to visit: early morning. It was established by Drukpa Kunley, who also is credited with introducing to the country the practice of phallus paintings and placing statues of phalluses on rooftops to drive away evil spirits.
- Trekking. Go for trekking anywhere and everywhere from Punakha. Crime has got no possibilites here. One can walk for long hours.
The Guru Rinpoche Caves (Geon Tsephu) and Koma Hot Springs (Koma Tsachu) are a twelve kilometer drive from Punakha followed by a two hour hike.
- Guru Rinpoche Caves (Geon Tsephu). A steep two hour walk from the small community of Mitesgang. There is a small temple at the caves where pilgrims can lay their bedding. Otherwise the pasture just below provides space for camping (though leaches are common in the summer). It is said that Guru Rinpoche visited these caves after his retreat at Maratika in Nepal, and it was here that he was able to fully see the form of Amitayus, the Buddha of Long Life. As is common at many Bhutanese sacred sites, there are self risen characters in rock and places to scramble through while making dedications for the benefit of other beings and to remove one's own defilements. Ponies for carrying baggage can be rented for a small fee from the house across from the suspension bridge in Mitesgang. While the walk is not overly arduous, paths are not easy to follow, and so the pony handler also acts as a guide. Mitesgang is around 12km from Phunakha.
- Hot springs (tsachu). Koma Tsachu is a vigorous two hour walk from the small community of Mitesgang. There are three bathing pools covered by simple rooves, and a four roomed building with solar lighting where sleeping bags and mats can be laid (there is no charge for staying in the building). Outside, there is ample room to pitch tents and rock overhangs to camp under. See information for Guru Rinpoche caves (above) regarding hiring of ponies.