Aman Resorts has five lodges across the country positioned in the best locations in Bhutan and can offer journeys of any duration with emphasis on 8, 10 and 12 days. Amankora, as the Bhutan lodges of the famed and uber-luxury chain are called, are located in Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Gangtey and Bhumthang and with the company’s history in the country spanning over 15 years, you are sure to get the best connections and insights into Bhutanese life and traditions.
The common areas of Amankora lodges
The lodges are decorated with light wood in warm hay and earthy colours, large windows with beautiful views, fire places and white linen. From the outside, the buildings blend in with the environment and follow Bhutanese architecture with white washed irregular facades and traditional carved wooden roofs. All with the exception of the Punakha lodge, are new buildings, specifically designed by the brand to provide the hideout feel one has come to expect from Aman. In Punakha, the lodge is located in a heritage old farmhouse that used to be the home of the royal family.
The locations are all spectacular, be it because of the views over the valley in the case of Punakha and Gangtey, or because they are hidden in forests and mountains like in Thimphu and Paro. Access to the lodges is on foot and cars never get anywhere near the rooms of main buildings ensuring total peace and silence. Arrival can often be dramatic and fairy tale like. In Paro, after climbing up the hill, we parked the car at the beginning of a thick forest then walked through a path until the lodge appeared in sight. Gangtey’s Amankora has breathtaking views from all the rooms and the main lounge, with early morning mist rolling in and dissipating as the sun comes up. In Punakha, the lodge can only be reached by a private suspension bridge over the river then driving up a narrow snaking path through the forest and rice paddies on a golf buggy. Amankora knows how to ensure guests make an entrance, because first impressions count and has kept with the brand’s philosophy of understated private luxury.
Amankora’s rooms review
Although the lodges are spread across several hours drive from each other their interior design is very similar and the rooms are practically a copycat making it very easy to feel at home despite the constant packing and unpacking. The rooms all have marble top bathrooms, sliding doors, wooden floors and stand alone bathtubs. Fireplaces are available and always ready to be lit by the staff. Luxury well thought out details are everywhere. From the evening turn down service offering a local gift every night, to the cookies that are replenished every day or the thick blankets to wrap yourself around with. The bathroom amenities are of high quality and help nourish the hair and body and protect it from the dry high altitude, cold weather. Almond oil and sea salt bath scrub is placed by the bathtub to relax after a day’s trek. Bathrobes and sleepers are fluffy, plush and warm and wrap around your body effortlessly.
Amankora’s dining review
Aman resorts all over the world offer outstanding dining options that showcase local flavours without pretentious or well-known chefs. Aman does not emphasise on well known personalities, it does not partner with famous chefs, but it always provides with fantastic food.
In Bhutan, because the journeys are all inclusive, all the food and beverages are prepared by the resort. I will start by saying that, after nine days, I had put on over three kilos thanks to the hearty breakfasts, the irresistible food, the many snacks, the tea, cakes and cookies and the amazing desserts I could never say no to. All of Amankora’s lodges shared a similar style and menu with some variations to account for local differences in produce and recipes. Because Bhutan is rather small, most of the country eats the same type of dishes including lots of chilli, curry, vegetables and meat. Except for Thimphu, all lodges had communal tables where all guests would sit down whenever they wanted for dinner. Meals are served whenever you want. There are no set times for breakfast, lunch or dinner, the kitchen can whip up a meal or a snack anytime you want it. You are on holidays after all, you should not keep time.
Breakfast always started with a bread and pastry warm basket and a hot dish made to order from an extensive menu with local, regional pan-Asian and international alternatives. Amankora paid tribute to Bhutanese food with some local favourites like chai tea, masala oats, traditional buckwheat pancakes and meat dishes. International options like pancakes, eggs any style, oats and fruits were always available too. I found breakfast to be amazing. The pastries were flaky and buttery, just like you would find anywhere in Europe, and the drinks options, particularly the chai and masala teas, were spiced and flavourful, a great way to start the day. I tried all of the local dishes and, although I am a sweet breakfast kind of person, they were delicious too. The masala oats, the granola and all the other dishes on offer were all exquisite. Amankora certainly gave you a reason to rise and shine.
Lunch could be taken on the road, if you were en route to the next lodge, or at the lodge. At the lodge, the same great quality and fresh produce of breakfast was provided. Lunch included starters, mains and desserts chosen from a set menu with a few international alternatives. If you did not feel like any of those, the chef and staff were always happy to prepare something else. I asked for all my meals to be Bhutanese, rather than enjoying international dishes for lunch,a dn the lodges all obliged and provided Bhutanese dishes for me.
Pre-lunch drinks like pomegranate and mint soda, in season, were a fantastic way to await the meal under the warm sun and the fantastic views of all the lodges. The food was excellent. In Punakha, I conversed with the Malay chef who used to cook at one of Singapore’s best known meat restaurants, Burnt Ends, and who replaced a Peruvian chef, hence the strong South American influences on the menu. Lunch offered more of an international array of dishes than any other meal and, although I always went for the local options, I welcomed the lighter easier lunch dishes instead of the heavier and delicious curry-based Bhutanese dishes which were more suited to cool evenings.
Dinner was a relatively more formal affair with a menu filled with several options and a set Bhutanese menu with the traditional sharing plates with curries, cheese and chilli, green beans and cheese, salads and vegetables served with red rice. I had the local menu option at every dinner and very much enjoyed the flavourful recipes whose heat had, no doubt, been adapted to my palate.
Amankora’s facilities and activities
As the sun sets early in the winter and in the mountains, the lodge had activities organise for every evening. Each lodge had a rooster of options on rotation which meant that, if you were spending 3 nights at each, you would enjoy them all. Traditional dances were shown in Thimphu and Punakha. In Paro I watched a movie screening of The Tibetan Book of Death, giving insight into the way death and reincarnation is perceived in Buddhism across Tibet, north India and Bhutan, and I made prayer flags. There was also a talk about Gross National Happiness which I missed. In Thimphu I had an astrologer reading. Each lodge had a library stocked with books on Bhutan to read further.
Things that you will not have but will not miss are TVs in the room, I only noticed on the last day that there wasn’t any. For me, the entertainment was provided in the form of looking at the vies through the window, I did not need or miss a TV. The lodges have no gyms, but you are well catered if you want an active holiday and can ask the lodge to gear the itinerary towards more trekking and less cultural activities.
Each of the lodges did however have a spa team, even the smaller one in Gangtey, so you can end every day with a relaxation treatment, an oil massage drawing from Ayurveda or a traditional Hot Stone massage. As a mountainous and relatively cool destination, the hotel had laid out fire places everywhere and would light camp fires outside in the evenings to observe the blankets of stars only visible in carbon negative Bhutan. As soon as you would sit down, the staff will come to take drink orders and provide a blanket.
Although your itinerary can be pre planned in its entirety including every single activity and massage, you can also decide everyday what you want to do based on what is on offer at every lodge. Each lodge in the itinerary will provide a list of activities available at the next one so you can plan ahead. The activities included treks and hiking at every lodge, for the more adventurous ones, visits to local temples and places of interest, cultural or food related activities and plenty of spiritual journeys from lighting butter lamps to making offerings to monasteries or being blessed by monks.
The service at Amankora
The star element of any Aman stay is always the service. Familiar, friendly, unpretentious and almost invisible until you need it, the staff at every Amankora lodge was just perfect. I am always amazed at their mind-reading abilities and at the incredible attention to detail that cannot be compared to any other hotel I have ever stayed at, and I estimate I have probably stayed at over 500. It is this otherworldly ability to know what you want before you do that makes any stay so relaxed, so seamless and so spoiled.
All of the lodges are organised to ensure that you never have to worry about anything. You don’t have to have breakfast before an arbitrary time, you don’t need to wait for dinner if you are hungry, you don’t have to follow a pre-arranged plan if you changed your mind, you don’t even have to worry about your shoes being covered in mud, someone will clean them while you are away without you having to ask. Your luggage will be unpacked and repacked if you wish so and you only have to say yes or no once about anything.
If you like food less spicy, you just need to say it once. There are never any bills to pay, you never need to tell any staff who you are or what your room number is and if you get lost, they will know perfectly where you are headed because every member of the staff knows who you are and what your schedule looks like. Your guide will never come to get you if you are late, and they will never come into the lodge either. Cars are to stay outside, far from the lodge’s grounds so noise and pollution are not interfering with the peace of the surroundings.
As soon as you sit down at a common area, someone will come to see if you need anything, whatever it is at whatever time. The suites have everything you can possibly need. There are candles and matches to light them. There are bath salts and scrubs next to the bath tub. The towels are right by the shower. Nobody will ever knock at your door while you re inside, unless strictly necessary, because they know you are there and do not want to bother you. But as soon as you leave your room, it will be made up and re-tidied several times a day, after every time you are in it, silently and without you ever seeing one member of the housekeeping team. Your clothes laying around will be folded, your dry cleaning will be returned in just a few hours. You can change your mind anytime and plans will be adapted accordingly. There is no need to plan ahead, no need to book before a certain hour, your wish is their command. Amankora, like all the rest of Aman properties, turns anyone into an Aman Junkie because this level of service makes you feel, truly, like a Queen (or King).
Review of Amankora, Aman resorts in Bhutan – The verdict
I have no doubt that traveling across Bhutan with Aman is the best way to see the country. The personalised and uniquely local experiences available, the feeling of being the only one and the level of service and comfort that Amankora provides has no equal. However, the price is also unmatched. Whereas Bhutan’s minimum package fee is set at $250 per day per person, Amankora charges upwards of $1,500 per room making it the choice for the elite. If you can afford it, do not see Bhutan any other way. A journey with Amankora will leave you speechless and will bring you the peace and spiritual enlightenment that only a brand named after that knows how to channel. This was and I am sure will remain throughout my life, one of the most beautiful journeys I have ever been on.