The Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan is an isolated and remote location at the eastern edge of the Himalayas, with dramatic landscapes and steep mountain ranges. It has a population of approximately 800,000 people and is home to five Aman lodges, under the umbrella of Amankora. For those who are not familiar with Aman properties, it is a multinational hospitality company that embodies tranquility and serenity. They operate 34 properties in 20 countries, offering some of the world’s best resort locations.
Each Aman typically has a small number of rooms, allowing them to offer incomparable guest service. Many of the properties have a staff count of six staff to one guest. You barely see them, but they always seem to know when you do need them. They are usually situated outside an urban setting (although they have lately been opening a few city locations of late), with accommodations provided in individual villas, pavilions, or tents. They mandate a concern for cultural preservation and many properties have a historical background and importance.
In Bhutan, the five Amankora lodges typically range from 8 to 16 rooms with the largest in Paro having 24 rooms. They are some of Aman’s oldest properties and have been part of the Buddhist kingdom for almost 20 years. These five lodges are located across the country and positioned in the best locations in Bhutan. They are all dedicated to providing an unparalleled experience, a unique setting, and some of the best service you will ever experience, I’m not kidding. You have an option of visiting some or all of the lodges in the 8, 10, or 12 days. In Bhutan, you are required to have a personal guide and must pay a tax of $250 per person per day. Instead of going through a tour company (ie, “middleman”), I went directly to Aman to arrange my entire trip for me including internal transportation, flights to and from the kingdom, any meals while on the road etc.
Amankora’s five different resorts are located in Thimphu, Bumthang, Gangtey, Punakha, and Paro. I would suggest saving Paro for last to acclimatize yourself to the high altitude. Paro has the most difficult climb from 7,000 to 10,000 feet if you want to try to climb to Tiger’s Nest, the famous monastery clinging to the side of a cliff.
The lodges are what I would call, “understated luxury”. They are lacking gym access, coffee makers, TVs, ample cupboards, or a fridge in your room, and instead is very Zen. The rooms are spacious, and decorated in warm neutral earthy colors, with large picture windows overlooking magnificent blissful landscape views, and features like white linens, terrazzo top bathrooms, plush towels, robes, and slippers. Each room is complete with fireplaces and fireplace stoves that can be lit upon request.
Each lodge has a similar interior which makes it easier when packing and unpacking. The buildings blend into their environment and follow strict Bhutanese architecture, on the order of the King. All are newly built buildings with the exception of Punakha, which is a heritage farmhouse that was once home to the royal family, and reached by a suspension bridge over a fast-moving river. Some lodges are located in the valley, others are hidden in the forest, or with mountain views, or views of the beautiful rice paddies. Access to the lodges is on foot as cars cannot be near the main building. Each place offers a stunning first impression.
A hot water bottle is placed beneath your blanket at night and a small local gift is left on your pillow at turndown. A stand-alone tub as well as a shower, with almond oil and sea salt bath scrub to help you relax after a vigorous day. Each and every time you leave your room they go in and straighten it out. All laundry services are included which is a nice touch. Leave your muddy hiking boots outside your door and they are cleaned. How do they know when you leave? The service is so discreet.
The food is adequate and plentiful. Considering you are in the middle of nowhere, at high altitudes, the dining options are pretty amazing. All the foods and beverages are also included in the price (except for top-shelf options) and you can order as much as you want. You can also dine at whatever time you wish as well. Some of the resorts have communal tables but we chose to dine alone the majority of the time. They offer Bhutanese or Western style food. You better like spicy food if you go for the Bhutanese options. If you don’t like what is offered you can request an alternative, and they are happy to prepare it for you.
You have a sense of being a privileged guest here. Amankora has the most thoughtful, kind, and welcoming staff. Yes, there may be a newer property with more amenities like the Six Senses, but their properties are extremely isolated, and the service is where Aman shines. The service is seamless and unobtrusive. No one comes to your room when you are inside. They will pack and unpack for you if you wish. If you planned dinner at a certain time but aren’t hungry yet, no problem. You can customize your meals, and your tour types and times.
Our guide, Yonten was with us for our entire stay, even flying with us from Thimphu to Bumthang. He prepared and served our lunches when on the road. He insisted on carrying my backpack and water. He even did up my seatbelt every time I got in our private vehicle, driven by our trusty and sweet driver Seychu, who always buckled up my husband too. They accompanied us on our hikes as well, and Yonten walked Tiger’s Nest with David, encouraging him the whole way in the rain (I chickened out). They were a dream team.
If I had any constructive feedback for Amankora, I would say the rooms were way too dark, especially the closets. I couldn’t see my clothes at night, so I ended up leaving a lot of them on the couch at the window. The Wi-Fi was awful at each lodge and a small refrigerator would also be welcome in each room. But if you want anything, a cocktail, or a snack, you just call and it will be delivered to your room immediately. All are included in the stay.
Travelling across Bhutan to all the lodges was the best way to see the country. Amankora offered many personalized experiences, like dinner in a potato shed, a hot stone bath, or a fabulous spa treatment. They took care of every detail. If you had dinner for two by the river, the fire pit, or in the field, they escorted you back by flashlight when it became dark. This was an unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience. Amankora was our own private Eden and will remain one of the most memorable and extraordinary journeys of our lifetime.
Highly recommended! Happy travels.