Getting to—and traveling within—Bhutan is no simple matter. Unless you are entering from India or Nepal, you have to connect to the national airline, Druk Air (www.drukair.com.bt), in Bangkok via Eva Air (www
.evaair.com) or other international carriers. Once in Bhutan, in addition to paying $200 per day in fees, you are required to utilize the services of one of the country’s 80 registered tour operators. Los Angeles–based Destinations & Adventures International (800.659.4599, www.daitravel.com) works with a well-connected local guide (a relative of the royal family and brother of a high lama) to offer custom trips that can include mountain biking in the Haa Valley, front-row seats at teschus, visits to the often-closed-to-tourists Tiger’s Nest Monastery, and private meetings with Bhutanese royalty.
Paro, in western Bhutan, serves as the base camp for most visitors to the country. The city’s two new luxury hotels, Amankora and Uma Paro, lie at opposite ends of the Paro River Valley. Both hotels have sister properties in Thailand (Amanpuri and Metropolitan) and offer pre- or post-Bhutan packages.
With its rammed-earth walls and expansive stone courtyards, this 24-suite property from Singapore-based hotel chain Amanresorts blends well with the wide-open spaces of Paro. The resort, which became the first foreign-run hotel in Bhutan when it opened in June 2004, features wood-paneled, two-room guest accommodations designed in Aman’s typical sleek, Asia-modern style. Bhutan-influenced amenities include traditional bukhari wood stoves, prayer flags placed on the pillows at night, and gho-style bathrobes designed to resemble the traditional outfits worn by Bhutanese men. Amankora has a fleet of four-wheel-drive vehicles and guides to escort you around the region. By mid-2005, five additional Amankoras will open to create a network throughout Bhutan. (From $1,000 per night) www.amanresorts.com
Set high on a hill overlooking the Paro River Valley, the 20-room, nine-villa Uma Paro resort melds traditional Bhutanese architecture with the contemporary style of other Como Hotels and Resorts properties. Como, which is owned by Singaporean fashion magnate Christina Ong, designed Uma Paro as a destination spa featuring Asian therapies and organic Indian cuisine (the best food in Bhutan), but the resort also serves as a fine jumping-off point for hiking, mountain biking, and festival excursions with private drivers and guides. Next year, Como will open an Uma property in the Haa Valley and will offer three-day treks from one hotel to the other. (From $250 per night) www.uma.como.bz