“You told me we won’t be getting wet!!!”
.. I half-screamed, half-cried out at our guide who was seated at the back of our raft, while laughing heartily with the rest of my family.
It was our third day in Bhutan – the second being in Punakha, and..
We’re rafting in Bhutan today.
Earlier in the morning, we had hiked to a pretty spot up on a hill, to visit Khamsum Yuley Temple. I was taking in the breathtaking scenery at the top, when my brother decided to plant the idea of rafting as our next activity in Bhutan. Later as in, after lunch. This definitely isn’t part of our Bhutan itinerary.
Rafting?? Serious?!? We have elderly parents with us. What are they going to do while we raft for a few hours? Those had been my immediate thoughts.
Of course my brother isn’t thinking to abandon anyone. He asked our tour guide for more information, to determine if rafting in Bhutan will be a safe activity for our parents (and his none-swimmer sister). The answer is positive, as winter in Bhutan wasn’t monsoon season.
To my parents, as they don’t speak English too well, I translated the activity as “坐船” (loosely re-translated to “sitting on a boat”) or “划船” (“rowing a boat”) hahaha! They had no clear idea of what they were in for, but if their son says good to go, they’re good to go! Honestly, neither did I knew what we were in for. I’d only done white-water rafting once in Bali and it was actually pretty scary, as their rapids were rough and there was also a 2m free drop at one part. I hope the white-water rafting in Bhutan will not be like that.
One of the fun things to do in Punakha –
Try a rafting experience down the rivers
After lunch, we drove back to the same spot where we had set off for the morning hike earlier. The rafting company arrived and prepared the equipment, pumping our boat up. We were each given a windbreaker jacket to wear, a life-jacket, and rubber shoes to change to.
We left our belongings in the car which our driver will take care of. A dry bag was given to us to put our valuables into and carry it with us. (I regretted not putting my professional camera in.)
Ready to start our white-water rafting in Punakha
Positioning my brother and I at the front row, my parents in the middle, while the rafting guide and our tour guide took the back row. The rafting guide briefed us simple cues that he’ll give out during our journey. Actually, it’s just 2 cues – to paddle or to stop rowing. The funniest part was when he ended the briefing by saying, there’ll be no safety procedures to know of because it’s completely safe. !!!! I laughed nervously and entrusted my family’s lives in his hands.
He was right.
Rafting down Punakha’s rivers turned out to be a great idea that afternoon.
(Thankfully my brother had bravely stuffed his mobile phone into his jeans’ pocket, or else I’ll have no photos to show you on this post.)
It was a really beautiful, peaceful ride most of the journey.
.. With plenty of time to admire the breathtaking sceneries of Bhutan.
We passed by rare fowl (birds and ducks) frolicking next to the river, tall pine forests on the mountains, Bhutanese kids playing beside the river, or random tourists simply appreciating the quiet scenes. I happily waved at strangers as if they were people I know. Btw, I must have been in someone’s camera photos – if you’re the lady that took photos of us on 12 Dec 2017, maybe you could email me, hehe.
Halfway into the journey, my Mum asked if it’s ending soon. We thought she was bored already – but it was the opposite. She was enjoying it so much that she didn’t want the rafting activity to end.
Rafting past the most famous dzong in Bhutan – Punakha Dzong
The highlight of this rafting activity was passing by Punakha Dzong and its bridge. A day before that, I was crossing that bridge, watching people drop fish food into the river for the schools of fish. Right now, I’m travelling down the river in a rubber raft. This time, we waved cheerfully to tourists on the bridge who were watching us in glee (please don’t dump fish food on my head), hehe.
Did you wonder why it’s my back towards Punakha Dzong when we were, in fact, rowing towards it? It’s because the guide was so skillful that he could maneuver the raft around, so that I could get a photo like that! *applauds* He also had to time everything carefully because the waters in this area were actually getting more rapid.
Yet that’s not the worse. There was one spot where we had to quickly row past quickly exactly between two rocks. Only after we had passed it did he tell us that we had to be fast as it was a whirlpool underneath. Whoa! I guess you could say that was the most ‘dangerous’ part of the whole ride.
Even though they had told us the rafting will take about an hour, in the end, we only finished two hours later. By that time, we were more than satisfied with what we’ve experienced.
Everything to know about white-water rafting in Bhutan
- Rafting experiences will differ by season. In summer, the glacial lakes will melt and feed lots of water into the rivers. Tides will, therefore, be higher, currents faster, and the water will look muddy instead of being the clear water we saw in winter. Therefore, if you have young children or elderly people, I’ll advise that you exercise due caution and common sense before making a decision to do this activity or not.
- In winter, the water is more calm than chaotic. However, don’t underestimate the depth of the water as it can get very deep at some areas, such as the water under Punakha Dzong’s bridge.
- Punakha is very likely one of the places in Bhutan you’ll spend 1-2 nights at, when you visit Bhutan for the first time. There’s a Male river (Pho Chu) & Female river (Mo Chu), and they merge to form Punakha River – something like that ;p
- You don’t have to worry about wearing wrong shoes. I was in Skechers trainers and Adidas sports tights. The rafting company provided rubber slippers for us to change to, and also life-jackets.
- Despite what the guide says that you’ll remain dry, your bottoms will likely get a little wet somehow when the water splashes in during the ‘rougher rapids’. By the end of the rafting activity, my sports leggings were already dried.
- If you have elderly people with you who aren’t too fit, they don’t really need to row with their paddles. My parents were simply enjoying the ride most of the time, while the rest of us rowed. Even so, we weren’t paddling all the time – sometimes the currents will just carry our boat downstream.
- The rafting activity will take between 1-2 hours. We finished it in two hours instead.
- We were charged per boat (USD$150) instead of per pax. The boat only consisted of my family and I (total 4), the rafting guide and our tour guide from Druk Asia – 6 in a boat.
- To arrange for rafting, simply tell your Bhutanese tour guide and he should be able to do the arrangement for you.
Still curious about what else to expect for a Bhutan trip? Read my post answering the usual first-world concerns about Bhutan!
• Hiking Tiger’s Nest – Bhutan’s Most Famous Monastery
• All Your First-World Questions About Visiting Bhutan, Answered!
• Bhutan in December – A Different Kind of Winter