A pre-arranged and prepaid tour package, which includes a traditional style Bhutanese 3 star hotel is mandatory to visit Bhutan. But what are the other options available?
Firstly let’s talk about a typical 3* hotel in Bhutan. What’s it really like? Well, many are family owned & operated; most have quite good sized rooms and all have private bathrooms. They can be quite quirky and some have bathrooms almost as big as the bedroom! The plumbing & electrical is not always to the standards we are used to in the west but the rooms are generally clean and comfortable. Don’t think luxury and you won’t be disappointed. And yes ladies, you’ll usually get a hair dryer!
So what’s next. At the same cost of a 3* hotel you can opt for a traditional farmhouse stay with a local family. Best undertaken between mid- April and late OCT as the Bhutanese seem content to shiver through winter and their homes are not well-heated. This option is easy to factor in for a night or two. We’ve had some travellers wanting to only stay in farmhouses however that is probalby a bit too rustic for most. They generally have a western style toilet but no shower or bathing facilities aside from a bowl of warm water.
On to 4-star hotels. Don’t be fooled, despite what some operators & hoteliers say, there are still only a few genuine 4* hotels in Bhutan and most are in the capital Thimphu.. A few are definitely worth paying a surcharge for if you want that little bit of extra comfort and facilities. By far the best in the Kingdom, right now, would be the 2 year old Zhiwa Ling Ascent hotel beautifully located in a pine forest above the Thimphu city. It also seems to consistenly offer a standard of cuisine that rivals the luxury properties.
5-star hotels are as much renowned for a wide range of pricing as for the extra comforts they offer. One or two are extremely expensive to the point we believe they are very poor value for money. Others are the opposite and of these the Zhiwa Ling Heritage in Paro valley (a great spot to treat yourself to an upgraded hotel for your last 2-3 nights in Bhutan); the Le Meridien in Thimphu and the Dhensa Resort in Punakha fit this category.
And then there’s luxury! And even luxury comes in a couple of standards. It is expensive so be prepared but some of it is truly exceptional. The top of the list is Amankora luxury lodges. Best to combine all 5 of their lodges for the ultimate Bhutan adventure. An Amankora Journey is one of life’s great experiences. Not far off is the delightful Gangtey Lodge in the remote Phobjikha valley. COMO Uma Resorts fit that nice sweet spot between top-priced luxury and 5+ star facilties and their two resorts in Paro & Punakha are well located and offer very good views and cuisine.
The luxury newcomer, Six Senses, has started opening its doors this year in its 5 resorts and attempting to rival Amankora. It’s early days yet and only time will tell. However, one very important point to note about luxury in Bhutan is that it all comes down to quality of training and staff ability. Building a luxury resort is only part of the game. Finding the right staff to run it is all the difference and new properties can often struggle in that area for a while.
We would love to work an itinerary for you utilising the very best mix of hotels to suit your budget. That is our mission!!
Article by James Irving – Bhutan Travel Expert
James Irving – Bhutan Travel Expert.
James has worked in the travel industry for over 40 years & has been involved in the leisure, corporate, group, sport, incentive & wholesale Travel genres.
James loves rugby union, and keenly supports the Queensland Reds and the Australian Wallabies.