Steve Thompson – AT Tailored Sales Manager travelled to Bhutan with Singapore Airlines and Druk Air to Bhutan and journeyed with our tour specialist Pierce & Leslie – a preferred Virtuoso Onsite. If you would like any further information or to discuss AT Tailored creating your own private tour please get in touch with our team on 1300 130 464 or email us at email@example.com.
Having checked the weather forecasts for Bhutan in February I was a little nervous about the prospect of -11C and various other subzero temperatures during the day across the country. This feeling still wasn’t helped as we were on approach to land in to Paro when you start to sight snowcapped mountain ranges all around you, Including a brief siting of Everest from the left-hand side of the plane in the distance.
However once on the ground and walking across the tarmac to the terminal it didn’t feel so cold, then to be greeted in the arrivals area by a couple of traditionally well dressed and smiling gentlemen to transfer us to our hotel the cool morning air wasn’t a concern. Especially after a chat with them and being advised that all the weather stations tend to be located atop mountain ranges surrounding the cities and populated areas meaning they are pretty much never accurate and the weather of late had been beautiful, sunny and in the low teens during the day.
Our first locations to experience this relatively unknown and traditional country was Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan and possibly the only capital city in the world to have no traffic lights. Thimpu being the capital offers a number of sites and options for explorations including the Trashi Chhoe Dzong,the seat of Bhutan’s Government and Royal offices. The very large a beautifully located Buddhu point (Kuensel Phodrang) for not only viewing but also to admire the amazing views back through the Thimpu Valley.
From Thimpu we set off on what is to be the longest drive of our journey across the countryside, 5 hours of bends, switchbacks and mountain range after mountain range, offering some amazing sites and photo opportunities on the way we reach our 2nd Amankora property in Gangtey to be greeted again by some amazing staff and jaw dropping views from the property.
Having only 8 suites this property very much felt homely and secluded away from the rest of the world, surround only by an imposing Monastery on the hill in front and farm houses this really felt like another world. This valley is the winter home of the Black-necked Crane standing at almost a human adults height they are a site to see, along with the views from everywhere you look while walking one of the hiking trails or visiting the village nearby. The evenings here can be well spent watching the sunset from a traditional Hot Stone Bath or dinner in a traditional Potato shed with music and lit with candles, tasting the flavours of Bhutanese cuisine.
On the road for a shorter drive heading back towards the western side of the country we come to the third stop on our Aman Journey in Punakha, one of the lowest lying valley’s this area is the ‘market garden’ of Bhutan with produce growing year round and offering some great photo opportunities as you drive along the riverside. On arrival to the property we are welcomed by a suspension bridge as our only access point to the hotel giving a unique entrance and seclusion that can really only be felt in Bhutan. Walking in to the property this is probably the most unique of the 5 Aman lodges across Bhutan, as this one is built around a traditional farm house, used today as the restaurant and communal rooms, offering both a large dining room and courtyard area but also smaller private rooms for more intimate dining and relaxing. The other highlight here is the swimming pool offering a great outlook over the river below and to both side views through the valley.
Excursions from here include a short but challenging trek to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten, a stunning mountain side monument built by the Bhutanese Queen mother in 1999. Then a visit to the Punakha Dzong, driving past this imposing Monastery on the way to the hotel on arrival to the area leaves a lasting image and a wanting to see inside. Still very actively in use and the winter residence to the Monastic order’s leader and his entourage of monks this is a must see.
Our last drive through this dramatic country side brings us to Paro, the final stop on our Aman Journey. The arrival to what is the signature property of these amazing Aman lodges starts from the walk through a pine forest in to a minimalist, with a mix of modern and traditional communal area housing the living space, restaurant, library and a spectacular view. Entering the suite again offers that feeling of homeliness, being designed the same across all of these luxury lodges (modern styled, clean linear strokes & minimalist simplicity) moving every couple of days doesn’t feel much like a chore due to the continuity of your suite and seamless knowledge and comfort of the same private space.
Paro is a great destination to wrap up the trip, offering a hike to the highlight of the journey, Taktsang Goemba (Tiger’s Nest). This dramatic monument was built in to sheer cliff face approximately 3000 meters above sea level. Taking approx. 2-2.5 hours to get up to the monastery is well worth the efforts once you’re there and standing face to face with this spectacular monastery, with guide in toe it’s amazing to hear of the history and efforts in construction that went in to building this photogenic monastery.
Travelling to the Himalayas in February was a daunting proposition at first, under the pretenses of weather forecasts but in the end, I found it to be actually almost ideal. The days were warm when the sun was shining (most days), cool in the evenings but with Aman providing such an amazing accommodation package throughout the country, with fires burning and heating in suites it makes them feel even more homely and relaxing. I think anytime would be great to see this country, but for me looking at the winter months offers both a different perspective but also less tourists (mostly from India).
Peak season here is October while the temperatures are warm, skies clear and rain has ended from the summer months. Spring throughout Bhutan offers another great time to visit, the rhododendron flowers are blooming adding a vivid burst of colour to several regions and treks through the mountains and valleys, however this time of year tends to be quite busy also.
While most of Bhutan is hilly or mountainous, there are big differences in altitude across the country and the location of most of the Aman properties sit around the 2.5KM mark above sea level which is easily adjusted too by simply taking it slowly for the first couple of days. Or maybe starting the trip in the low-lying area of Punakha, but in all cases this very photogenic country offers, numerous sites, happy and traditional people and should be very much a destination worth adding to the bucket list (if it isn’t already there).