The Kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalayas, well-known as the country with the highest happiness index, eludes a sense of mystery and our longing to understand it.
Landlocked by China, Tibet, and India, the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan is nestled on the eastern edge of the Himalayas. Known for its varying and dramatic landscapes ranging from massive forests, sweeping valleys, and snowy mountains — spanning an area of almost 40,000 square kilometers.
Ancient dzongs (fortresses) and ornamental monasteries, including that of the cliff-hanging Tiger’s Nest, are also stunning and well-known fixtures of the country. Culture, sustainability, and deeply-rooted consciousness are prominent values that cling to every aspect of the country and day-to-day life here.
Facts about Bhutan:
As one of the last countries in the world to open up to the internet and television, the mobile penetration rate is only 30% in Bhutan.
The government has a minimum consumption standard for foreign tourists, and most of this income is used for education and medical services. As such, education and medical services for Bhutanese citizens is almost free (it’s no wonder the happiness index is high!)
To ensure sustainable tourism in Bhutan, all international tourists (except citizens of India) are required to pay a minimum fee of US$200 per night during low season and US$250 during high season. This fee however, covers almost everything you will need during your trip, such as meals, accommodation, internal transport, and a licensed Bhutanese tour guide.
How to get to Bhutan:
Druk Air is the only Bhutanese airline that flies to and from Singapore to Bhutan, and flights are about 5.5 hr per way, with a 45 minutes lay-over at Gauhati, India.
From Singapore to Bhutan: Every Thursdays and Sunday (Flight No. KB 541) Departs Singapore at 12:55 Arrival in Paro, Bhutan at 17:55
From Bhutan to Singapore: Every Wednesdays & Saturdays (Flight No. KB 540) Departs Paro at 08:05 Arrival in Singapore at 16:10
Other than Singapore, you can also get to Bhutan via the following departure points: Bangkok (Thailand), Kathmandu (Nepal), New Delhi and Kolkata (India), Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Yangoon (Myanmar).
The whole of Bhutan is divided into five regions: Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Gangtey, and Bumthang.
Bhutan's capital & political and cultural center. Up till today, it is the only national capital in the world without traffic lights. Instead, policemen in Thimphu stand at major intersections and direct traffic. Here, you can explore those ancient temples and temples, as well as rich attractions such as the National Textile Museum, the National Heritage Museum, and the National Library.
The residence and office of the King of Bhutan are also located in Thimphu.
This is where Bhutan’s Paro International Airport and the Tiger Nest Temple, one of the most famous attractions, are located. The Paro Valley is 2,250 meters above sea level, with small villages and spectacular terraces, mainly grown rice, oats, and wheat. The Paro River flows through the valley, and life in the Bhutanese countryside is revealed here.
The tiny airport, nestled among the tall mountains is touted as the most dangerous airport in the world – planes have to maneuver with finesse, and be subjected to strong turbulence from the winds coming from the deep valleys. However, don’t let this deter you from visiting Bhutan. The exhilarating ride is surely one of the highlights of your experience in Bhutan!
The old capital of Bhutan. The most outstanding spot is the Punakha Suspension Bridge, one of the oldest suspension bridge in the world standing at 160m in length. The strong drafts from the Mo Chhu river underneath make crossing this bridge a thrilling experience. Draped with beautiful prayer flags, this swaying bridge makes it the perfect spot to glance out and beyond the beautiful scenery.
Enter the ancient and agrarian village of Gangtey and explore the famed Gantey Valley, a must-see for all nature lovers with its lush, green valley rich in faunal biodiversity.
The highly protected Gantey Valley is home to the highly endangered black-necked cranes along with other highly endangered species; thus is a highly protected and conserved area with about 800 households living without electricity in their bid to preserve and protect the black-necked-crane.
The Bumthang region is the major richly-endowed district in terms of historical and spiritual legacy. Some of Bhutan’s oldest and most venerated temples are found in Bumthang, including Jambey Lhakhang.
Bumthang consists of four main valleys, Ura, Chumey, Tang and Choekhor. Known as the Bumthang Valley, Choekhor is the largest of the four with its valleys carved by the ancient glaciers. The wide and scenic valleys are highly fertile and covered in fields of rice, potatoes, and buckwheat. Apple orchards and dairy farms are also a common sight here, thus drawing a large number of tourists each year.
The best way to experience Bhutan is to skip the inconvenience of planning your own trip. Not only can you immediately integrate into the local atmosphere, but you can also follow the hotel guide to start a humanistic journey to heal your soul in this calming land. The following section showcases the various luxury lodges you can consider for your stay in Bhutan from the famous Aman and Six Senses brand.
Amankora in Bhutan is the most unique of all Aman resorts; intentionally designed for their resort to be split into 5 Lodges (each has only 8-24 suites and each suite with an area of more than 50 square meters), located in Thimphu, Paro, and Punakha, Gangtey, and Bumthang, it allows travelers to tour around Bhutan and enjoy a luxurious stay. Your entire itinerary and trip will be planned for - think an English-speaking guide, transportation, meals and more.
The architectural design of each lodge is different but retains Bhutan's famous, distinctive Dzong architectural style. The rooms amongst the 5 lodges are configured similarly as much as possible, allowing travelers to retain the sense of returning to the same abode every night to relax and thereby, reduce the sense of unfamiliarity.
The largest of all 5 Aman’s lodges with close proximity (30 min drive) to the airport - it is usually the starting and endpoint for many travellers.
At an elevation of 2,250 meters, Amankora’s Paro is concealed and hidden in a quiet pine forest. The 24-suites are scattered in six forest cottages, with walls clad in wood and black steel paneling, contrast rustic elements with contemporary design.
Amenities include king-size beds, traditional wood-burning stoves, and banquette window-seats, while bathrooms featured terrazzo-clad bathtubs, twin vanities, a separate shower and toilet.
Best for: Proximity to airport, Majestic views from the Dining Room extend to snow-covered Jhomolhari, take a 4-hour hike to Tiger's Nest, the iconic 7th century monastery
Set in the style of the traditional dzong fortress with an excellent location serving as a middle ground for travelers seeking to explore both the rugged Himalayan landscape and all that the City has to offer.
There are 16 suites in Thimphu, each with a living room and bedroom design, equipped with an extra-large double bed. The beautiful courtyard nearby provides an unobstructed view of the nearby creek and pine forest.
Best for: Those seeking to explore both the wilderness, and the hustle and bustle of the City.
Located in the Gangtey Valley that has the least tourist traffic, the eight-Suite Amankora Gangtey is set on a forested knoll with scenic views of the valley floor and the 16th-century Gangtey Goemba monastery.
Suite interiors are identical to those of Amankora Thimphu, the open-concept bedroom and bath area allows you to take in the majestic view of the Gangtey Valley right from the comfort of your lodge.
Take in the beautiful scenery and sight surround the lodge – pine forests littered around the valleys, Apple Orchids and farms.
Best for: Plethora of treks you can take in the Gangtey Valley, Black-Necked Crane Visitors' Centre & wildlife viewing
Up north and located in a subtropical valley that produces most of the nation’s vegetables, there is Amankoa’s Punakha, surrounded by rice fields and fruit plantations.
To reach the lodge, one must cross the famed suspension bridge over the Mo Chhu River in which the main facilities occupy a former traditional Bhutanese farmhouse.
The eight suites in Amankora’s Punakha enjoys views overlooking the orange orchard with rice fields nearby and far overlooking the Punakha Valley.
Best for: Viewing of the 17th-century Punakha Dzong, infinity pool with views over rice terraces
Located in the oldest and most sacred part of Bhutan, with rich historical and spiritual legacy. The 16 Suite rests adjacent to the Wandichholing Palace, within the town of Jakar in the Choekhor Valley.
From here, guests can embark on a multitude of cultural and spiritual experiences, including the unforgettable experience of the 108 butter lamp offering at Taktsang Monastery.
Home to 29 temples and monasteries, Bumthang is a treasure-trove of traditional art.
Best for: Cultural and spiritual experiences such as visits to monasteries, astrology readings and evening prayers with the monks
Positioned at key locations around the mountain kingdom, Amankora’s Lodges act as gateways to the beauty and culture of the Himalayas. Start your sacred journey to the land of Bhutan and leave all the planning to us! Contact us now to plan your stay in Amankora, ranging from three-day mountain excursions to multi-stage two-week adventures taking in all five of Aman’s destinations in Bhutan.
Stay tuned to read our part 2 on Six Senses Bhutan.