Ampersand on location: Mark gets a refreshing lungful of Bhutan
The best way to get to Bhutan is via Phuket, Bangkok or Delhi – these are currently the easiest flight connections available from the UK. I'd recommend spending a few days in one of these destinations before or after Bhutan. On a recent research trip I spent some time in Phuket first. Many clients request to have three or four days by the beach at the end of their holiday, but I really enjoyed the reverse. It meant I could flop and relax initially, which is sometimes exactly what you need when you’ve escaped the office! Plus it was great to have Bhutan as a fresh and exciting memory at the forefront of my mind when I came back to England.
If you’ve never been to Bhutan, it is a land of beautiful valleys and passes, warm locals and plenty of soft adventure activities – softened further by a scattering of luxury lodges full of authentic character. People may think trekking and cycling are a bit strenuous – which they can be if you want them to be – but you can take it completely at your own pace. Our guide knew that my girlfriend and I are both very active so whenever we were doing a long drive we would stop for an hour’s walk through the valley and then continue on driving, which was perfect for us. When I put together an itinerary for Bhutan I tailor my clients' day-to-day activities to suit their interests, but what’s nice is you can always chat to your guide in the evening and decide what you feel like doing the following day.
There are certain spots, like the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Paro, where there’s no way round the hefty hike (unless you get a donkey up, which is an option!), but you can still climb to the top in an hour and a half and it is one of those experiences I would say is 100% worth it. You’re not just trekking for the sake of getting fit or for the panoramic views; you’re doing it to visit one of the coolest and most iconic monasteries in the entire world.
The great thing about Bhutan is the combination of the complete escapism, the fresh air – like being in the Alps maybe 80 years ago – and the resorts. All the Aman lodges here are relatively small, ranging from eight to 24 rooms, and they are set in secluded, pristine spots, yet still walking or cycling distance from the nearest town. The bedrooms all have roughly the same layout and feel to them, following the Aman’s concept of “the journey”, so you feel like you know what to expect when you get to your next resort. And all the rooms are just perfect: they’ve got a stand alone bath tub and a wood-fire stove that you can either light yourself or ask to be lit for you, and staff turn down the rooms frequently and leave little gifts.
The lodges are all gorgeous but it’s the staff that make everything amazing. You never feel like they’re smiling to get a tip; they genuinely become your friends. And this applies to the whole country – whether you’re in the capital city or wandering through a remote village, the local people are equally warm and engaging. Anyone who’s been to Bhutan will tell you it is the people that made their trip. They all dress in the colourful national costume (ghos for the men and kiras for the women) as standard workwear, which adds to the feeling that you are experiencing a living, breathing culture – one which is authentic and not "put on" for the tourists.
If you’d like to learn more about my Bhutan experience or plan your own, please feel free to give me a call or drop me an email at email@example.com – as you might have gathered, it is one of my favourite subjects!