We chose to stay at the Amankora in Thimphu and Paro. Aman hotels tend to be in remote places or away from cities. Since our trip was in June, we benefited from some low season pricing but it was still expensive. Everything is included, transportation to and from the airport and all meals. We also booked a guide for every day which also included a driver.
The Amankora experience began at the airport in Bangkok. One of their representatives met us at the check in queue which wasn't open yet when we arrived. He had personalized luggage tags for us and took our passports so that he could check us in. He invited us to have a seat until they opened the line. He did everything for us and showed us where the Air France lounge was which is the one that Drukair uses for business class passengers. He escorted us to security and bid us a farewell.
|Check in for our flight from Bangkok to Paro|
|Our Drukair A319 parked at the end of the terminal|
|Special titles on the plane to commemorate the past King|
Our flight was scheduled for 12:30p and about 40 minutes prior we headed over to the gate from the lounge. There were only 2 other people there when we arrived. They called the flight about 20 minutes before departure. There were less than 15 people at the gate. It turned out there were 12 passengers on the plane, 9 in business and 3 in coach. I found out later that a member of the royal family was on our plane and sitting in front of us in row 1.
|Bhutan Airlines A319|
|our A319 with the ominous sky behind it|
|Another Drukair A319|
|View of the driveway|
|One of the resident dogs|
|Only 2 buildings of suites|
|Lobby and restaurant|
Everything about the Amankora is relaxing. The decor is very simple, yet elegant. The lodge blended into the natural setting and if you didn't know any better, you would think you were in the Rocky Mountains. We were escorted to our room and it was huge. Everything was spread out and open with a large sitting area, bathroom, bathtub, and closet. There was wifi throughout the hotel, but there was no TV anywhere. We ended up going to the spa for their signature massage. After that we went to the restaurant for dinner where they had set up a table especially for us. It was very strange having a full restaurant only make dinner for us. Dinner was great and there was even a local musician who played live music on two different Bhutanese instruments and he even sang. It was so nice.
The next morning we had a great breakfast and we were out with our guide. We saw the Giant Buddha and a stupa, which is sort of like a temple but it has a unique steeple shape to it. We also went to a traditional house where women were weaving traditional fabrics. We bought some scarves and items there. We went to a Bhutanese paper making facility, which was in a house and was fascinating to see how they make paper from natural fibers. Our guide took us to a local market where we saw all kinds of grains and items for sale. We visited an archery contest, which was very impressive because they shoot from a distance of 100m away from the target. We took a stroll through the main drag in Thimphu and it is probably the only capital city in the world that doesn't have any traffic lights. We were brought back to the Amankora for lunch and a break. Then we headed out again to see the main temple or Dzong in Thimphu. It is also the location of the Royal Palace next door and some of the political offices are housed there too. We just saw the temple part and it was really nice and really old.
|Big buddha above Thimphu|
|Stupa and temple grounds|
|Archery contest in the middle of Thimphu|
|Farmer's market in Thimphu|
After that we were taken to a nunnery and another temple where our driver noticed that there was a VIP car in the parking lot. We walked up to the temple and our guide found out that the Queen Mother was visiting the temple and there was some kind of ceremony going on. We were allowed to walk in and watch. There was a lot of chanting going on by at least 30 monks and there were a few people coming in to get a blessing. The Queen Mother was in a different temple chamber and we didn't see her until she came out and she said hi to us. It was very cool. That was about the end of our day out and we spent the rest of the evening at the hotel.
The next day we had a great breakfast again and packed up to leave the hotel. We didn't really have to check out because we were just changing locations to the lodge in Paro back towards the airport. When we were leaving, the hotel had a buddhist monk give us a blessing for our onward journey and he gave us the blessed threads to wear around our necks. It was really special and there were several staff members there to see us off. The drive was about 1.5 hours long but we stopped at two different places after about an hour once we passed the airport. We first went up the hill to the National Museum of Bhutan in Paro that overlooks the beautiful valley. It was filled with all kinds of artifacts and history about the country. Then just below the museum is the Paro Rinpung Dzong. It was similar to the one we saw in Thimpu but a little smaller. It had a great view of the valley too and we ended up walking all the way down the hill from the Dzong and across the river where our driver picked us up once again. We took a little walk through a local market where we saw all different types of vegetables and spices. We walked along the main street for a few blocks where we were picked up again by our driver. He always seemed to magically appear right when we needed him.
|Farmer's market in Paro|
|Paro's main thoroughfare|
|Inside the Paro Dzong|
|Private jet landing at Paro|
|Cluster of bees|
After that it was about lunch time and we were taken to a local farmhouse in Paro where a traditional Bhutanese family meal was prepared for us. It was so amazing. All of the traditional homes are built so that they keep their animals on the ground floor and they live above them on the second and third floors. Our host was a really nice young lady who made at least 7 different dishes for us. All of them were good and they even served us some butter tea, which is a Bhutanese specialty. It tastes like tea with salted butter in it. It was not to my liking. We sat on the floor with Tenzin and Pema, who both ate way more than we did. I am not used to eating a huge meal at lunch and we had a feast. It was really special and something I will always remember.
|Homemade Bhutanese meal|
|Shrine inside the Bhutanese home|
|Outside view of the home|
After lunch we were taken to the Drukgyel Dzong, which was just past our hotel. It was a monastery and is now in ruins. It overlooks our hotel, rice fields, and farm land. After walking around the ruins we went to the Paro lodge where the entrance is right off the road, but you cannot see anything from the road except a sign. You have to walk at least 100 yards through the forest and you arrive at the main building. We were greeted with cold towels and taken to the main room for tea. This lodge was much bigger than the Thimphu location. There were over 8 small buildings, 6 of them had 4 suites each, the spa, and the main building that had the lobby and restaurant. The decor in the room was very similar to Thimphu with a few changes, but the suite was huge. That evening we were invited to a cultural dance performance and it was a real nice touch. After that we went to the spa for a massage followed by dinner.
|Amankora Paro behind the trees|
|The only Amankora sign out of all 6 locations across Bhutan|
|Walkway to Amankora Paro|
|Creek running through the property|
|View of our building|
|Bhutanese dance performance|
The next day we woke up early to eat breakfast before our hike up the mountain to the Tiger's Nest temple called Paro Taktsang. It is literally built on the side of the mountain and is quite famous. It is also the most holy temple in Bhutan. It was about a 20 minute drive to the base of the trail. You can take a horse halfway up and then walk the rest, but we decided to walk the whole way. Our guide, Pema, was with us the whole time and he had water and snacks in his backpack. He also gave us walking sticks and we certainly needed them. The trail was really challenging and the worst part was the altitude. We ended up hiking over 2000ft up to around 9000ft. It was tough but so worth it. The views of the valley and even of the temple itself were incredible. Once you are up at the same level as the temple there are stairs that take you down along the mountain and back up since the trail is actually to the west of the temple. Pictures aren't allowed inside which was disappointing, but it had many of the same elements as the other temples we saw. There were several rooms and temples inside the complex.
|Tiger's Nest temple|
|View of the temple from the trail|
On the way back down we stopped about half way where there is a cafe. We only used it to use the restroom and we went down to a large prayer wheel and ate our snacks. There were at least 6 dogs there and we ended up giving them some of our food. In total our journey up and down the mountain took about 4 hours. It was so amazing and it is a must for anyone going to Bhutan.
|Friendly dogs near the cafe|
We went back to the lodge, cleaned up, and had lunch. After a rest and nap, I decided to try my hand at the national sport, archery. They set up a little place for me near the road. It was very difficult and I didn't do too well, but I did hit the board once.
|That's the closest I got|
We relaxed for the rest of the day and starting packing since we were leaving the next day. We were invited to a talk in the lobby in the evening by a professor about Bhutan's Gross National Happiness, which was a movement created by the current king's father who is very highly regarded. Once again we were the only ones in attendance just like with the previous night's dance performance. There were only 4 of the 24 suites occupied while we were there. After the talk we had dinner and called it a night.
The next day we had to leave the lodge around 9:30 to catch our flight. We wanted to stop in town in Paro to do a little bit of souvenir shopping since we never really had an opportunity to do that. After that we were soon dropped off at the airport and said goodbye to our driver and guide who were so incredibly gracious and wonderful to us.
|Tiny boarding area|
|Drukair ATR to Kathmandu|
|Really empty plane|
|Himalayas in the distance|
The airport is tiny and when we checked in they told us that they were thinking of canceling our flight to Kathmandu because there were only 6 passengers booked on it. I told them that we had onward flights from Kathmandu and we had to travel. Apparently this is a common practice, but our flight ended up going with all 6 of us. The highlight was that we were able to catch pictures of Mount Everest. I'm sure I will never see it up close and personal but it was certainly a treat since it was a beautiful clear day.