Trashi Chho Dzong
This splendid "dzong" (a distinctive type of fortress architecture found mainly in Bhutan and Tibet), north of the city on the west bank of the Wang Chhu, seems to fit seamlessly into the valley, lending the city both regal splendour and monastic weight. The dzong was the site of the lavish formal coronation of the fifth king in 2008 and hosts the city's biggest annual bash, the colourful tsechu (annual religious Bhutanese festivals).
This popular temple, perched like a fortress on a ridge above central Thimphu, hums with pilgrim activity. It was established in the 12th century on a site chosen by Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo, who came from Ralung in Tibet. Parents traditionally come here to get auspicious names for their newborns or blessings for their young children from the protector deity Tamdrin. Children are blessed by a phurba (ritual dagger) and given a sacred thread.
Thimphu's 'Weekend Market' occupies the west bank of the Wang Chhu, just north of Changlimithang Stadium. Vendors from throughout the region start arriving on Thursday and remain until Sunday night. Most people combine a visit here with some souvenir shopping in the nearby Handicrafts Market. The incense area is one of the more interesting sections, full of deliciously aromatic raw ingredients and pink cubes of camphor and saffron that are used to flavour the holy water given to pilgrims in lhakhangs (religious structures found throughout the Himalayas).
National Memorial Chorten
This large Tibetan-style chorten is one of the most visible religious structures in Thimphu, and for many Bhutanese it is the focus of their daily worship. It was built in 1974 as a memorial to the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1928–72). Early morning is especially tranquil as elderly people shuffle in, and spruced-up kids on their way to school whiz in and out to pay homage.
National Textile Museum
Thimphu's best museum is part of the Royal Textile Academy and is the place to learn about Bhutan's living national art of thagzo (weaving). The ground floor focuses on royal ghos (traditional and national dress for men in Bhutan), including the wedding clothes worn by the fourth king and his four wives. The upper floor introduces the major weaving techniques, styles of local dress and type of textiles made by women and men. The museum shop offers some interesting books and fine textiles. No photography.
National Institute for Zorig Chusum
This institute, commonly known as 'the painting school', operates four to six-year courses that provide instruction in Bhutan's 13 traditional arts. Students specialise in painting (furniture, thangkas – painted religious pictures, usually on canvas), woodcarving (masks, statues, bowls), embroidery (hangings, boots, clothes) or statue-making (clay). The craft demonstrations are a photographers' dream and it's hard not to be impressed with the skill and discipline of the young students. The showroom sells good-value pieces made by students.
About 5km south of Thimphu, atmospheric Simtokha Dzong was built in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The site is said to guard a demon that had vanished into the rock nearby, hence the name Simtokha, from simmo (demoness) and do (stone). The site was also a vitally strategic location from which to protect the Thimphu valley and entryway to the Dochu La and eastern Bhutan.
The original site of Tango was founded in the 12th century but it was the 'divine madman', Lama Drukpa Kunley, who built the present building in the 15th century. Today Tango functions as a university of Buddhist studies and is the residence of Gyalse Rinpoche, an important trulku (reincarnated lama) who is recognised as the seventh reincarnation of the fourth desi (secular ruler), Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye (the founder of Taktshang Goemba). The goemba underwent a complete renovation in 2016.