The big six: west Bhutan lodgings
|The richly decorated Zhiwa Ling Resort, Paro |
Note that the government of Bhutan requires Australians and other foreign visitors to pay a daily tourist tariff which varies on the group size, and covers meals and 3-star accommodation. Pay extra for luxury hotels. The tariff, based on two people travelling, costs $US277 a person a night, through Bhutan & Beyond, bhutan.com.au.
ZHIWA LING RESORT, PARO
The country’s first Bhutanese-owned five-star hotel is built in the traditional style from local stone. It’s a wildly colourful showcase of Bhutanese artwork, spectacular knotted rugs and handmade furnishings. The views from its 45 suites are of blue pine forests and layers of mountain ranges. It’s located near the trek to the iconic Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery, and a lookout to the sacred Jomohari mountain. From US$184 a person a night plus the daily tariff of US$277 a person, including all meals. See zhiwaling.com.
Walk across a chain-metal bridge over a glacial river and you’ll come to a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse that is the centrepiece of Amankora’s eight-room luxury lodge. The rooms are classic Kerry Hill designs: warm timbers, hero baths and big picture windows overlooking the orchards and rice terraces of Bhutan’s royal family. This is the smallest of Aman’s five Bhutanese lodges, 10 minutes from the Punakha Dzong, one of the country’s most photogenic fort-monasteries. From US$900 ($1006) a person a night, plus the daily tariff of US$277, including all meals, beverages and laundry. See amanresorts.com.
Bhutan’s newest luxury lodge is perched above the 16th-century goempa (monastery) from which it takes its name. The Gangtey valley spills out through the picture windows, a rich curve of farmland hemmed in by the Himalayas. The 12-room lodge had its soft opening in June and is a short walk to the important Gangtey monastery and its beautiful village. The monastery holds a large tsechu (religious festival) each September/October. The Gangtey Nature Trail (1½ hours) is an easy amble through spectacular countryside. From US$273 a person a night, plus the daily tariff of US$277 a person, including breakfast, easternsafaris.com.
Potato farmers Nangay Pem and her husband Phob Gaytshey got electricity only 18 months ago in their two-storey traditional farmhouse. There are four guest bedrooms and an altar room upstairs, while the family lives on the ground floor. Join the family for dinner in the kitchen, seated on the floor around the bukhari (wood stove). The couple’s daughter, Sonam Wangmo, speaks good English, but you don’t need a guide to translate how to play archery or to watch Phob Gaytshey, a lay monk, performing his morning prayers. It’s polite to bring a small gift: perhaps kids’ books or a bag of groceries. Included in the daily tariff of US$277 a person.
Set off the main street of Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, it seems like everyone in town is staying at this well-run, three-star hotel. Snag a corner room for warm sun and views up to the hills behind the city. There’s a great little salon at the entrance, good for soothing pedicures using local herbs, and a Thai restaurant is coming, thanks to an influx of Thai tourists. Meals are buffet-style Bhutanese food and its Turkish spa soothes weary hikers’ bones. Nearby, Cousins restaurant specialises in excellent momos (steamed dumplings). Included in the daily tariff of US$277 a person.
With raked ceilings and more timber than a pine forest, this three-star hotel serves good local food, including the classic red rice and ema datse (sliced chili with white cheese). Set in front of its flashier sister, Dewachen Hotel, it overlooks the valley which is a haven for endangered black necked cranes, which winter here October to March. Out of season, the nearby Crane Information Centre will get you up to speed on the revered birds, which are celebrated with and a festival every November. Included in the daily tariff of US$277 a person.
The writer was a guest of Bhutan & Beyond, bhutan.com.au