You would think that after two trips to Bhutan, I would know everything about her. But this majestic, multifaceted, and last standing Buddhist kingdom in the world continues to inspire and create new experiences that leave visitors such as myself yearning for more.
This latest trip was planned exclusively for taking the pre-wedding portraits of actors Jesseca Liu and Jeremy Chan for Her World Brides Luxe and Icon Weddings magazines. The priority: an album of romantic images that not only captured the stunning landscapes, but their joyful love and affection for each other as well.
Actress Jesseca Liu with husband and TV host Jeremy Chan shot their pre-wedding photos with Her World Brides.
The team and I travelled to new destinations in Paro, the gateway for visitors passing through the international airport, and Bumthang in central Bhutan. Our Druk Asia Bhutan Travel Specialists planned a busy itinerary that included visits to locations where centuries-old monasteries and temples towered magnificently against crystal blue skies, and mountain trails opened up onto spectacular views.
To make our trip truly unique, we stayed at the ultra-luxurious and beautiful Amankora Paro and Amankora Bumthang Lodges, each with its own dramatic natural backdrop. Here are tips to note if, like Jesseca and Jeremy, you’re planning your pre-wedding shoot in Bhutan.
Before the uber-luxury chain of Aman Resorts introduced boutique hotel chic to the amazing Himalayan landscape of Bhutan, lavish hotels were few and further between. Its Amankora quintet of mountain lodges is everything but ordinary as they welcome guests to experience the wonders of this country and relish their stay.
Located in Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Gangtey and Bhumthang, and with a total of 72 suites between them, each is set against a picture-perfect backdrop of valleys, offers beautiful views of the surrounding gardens, forests, and snow-capped mountain peaks, and marries contemporary design with Bhutanese architecture inspired by dzongs – the centuries-old fortresses that stand magnificently across the rugged landscape.
A DIFFERENT WORLD
The exterior of Amankora Paro Lodge.
My first introduction to the Aman experience was at the Amankora Paro Lodge, the closest to the airport and the largest of its hideaways with whitewashed stone buildings and traditional carved wooden roofs hidden by a thick pine forest.
To ensure peace and silence, cars aren’t allowed near the main buildings, so access to all the lodges is on foot. The Her World Brides Luxe team and I were dropped off at the start of the forest and had to trek along a path carpeted with pine needles and cones, and lined with blue pine trees reaching skyward.
The further we walked, the quieter it got, and we could feel all negative energy – fatigue from the daily grind and other stressors – slowly dissipating into the scented air around us. When the path finally opened up onto the Amankora Paro’s grounds and reception area, it was like we’d entered an entirely different world.
The view from Amankora Paro's living room.
The entrance to the suite at Amankora Paro.
At first glance, the stone walls and buildings seemed forbidding. Then, after we’d climbed several flights of stairs to get to the large, cobbled space at the lodge’s entrance, we were transfixed by the lush surroundings, the clear blue skies, and the cloud-wreathed Mount Jomolhari that dominated the whole landscape.
To reach our suites (there are no single rooms), we passed green slopes, pine-tree groves, and trailing paths and more stairways.
Once indoors, we noted that our suites contrasted rustic elements with contemporary design, and were luxury well thought out. All the rooms had large windows with beautiful views, wooden floors, sliding doors, marble top bathrooms, stand alone bathtubs, and fireplaces!
A large stone pavilion housed the main dining and living rooms, as well as a library, which all had open fireplaces, too. Clad in polished warm woods, the living room, from which we could hear the distant rush of a river, and the trickling music of a tiny stream flowing by the alfresco dining patio, had sturdy modern furnishings, and large floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out to the forest of pine tress, the magnificent 17th century Drukgyal Dzong and Mount Jhomolhari.
MARVELLOUS JOLT TO THE SENSES
Although spread across several hours’ drive from each other, the interiors of the five Amankora lodges are almost identical in design and furnishing to ensure guests who travel between them retain the familiarity and warmth of their first experience.
I also stayed at the 16-suite Amankora Bumthang Lodge, the newest that was nestled near the grounds of one of Bhutan’s royal palaces, and an apple orchard where wild horses roamed free.
Bonfire night at the Amankora Bumthang Courtyard.
The iconic stone corridor at Amankora Bumthang is representative of Amankora's modern and elegant architecture.
One of Amankora Bumthang's suites. We noticed there weren't any TVs, but we didn't miss them. Our entertainment came from looking at the views through the windows.
Coupled with gardens and green fields bordering a river, as well as great views of a monastery and the palace, it was just a marvellous jolt to my senses that left me immediately rejuvenated from my journey to reach it. The other difference was that Bumthang was quieter – a refreshingly soothing change for my mind, body and senses that made me more contemplative than usual.
While my nights were focused on relaxation, the days here were busy as the lodge had arranged a series of activities during my stay. I lunched with my team in a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse, toured a palace that is now on its way to being restored to its former majesty, and even visited a monastery, where I joined the maroon-robed monks in their evening prayers.
These eye-openers revealed that while Bhutan may be one of the smallest countries in the world, its cultural diversity and richness are profound.
OUTSTANDING, UNPRETENTIOUS DINING OPTIONS
Food always matters, and Aman resorts all over the world are known for their outstanding dining options that emphasise fantastic food instead of famous chefs. So, of course, the Amankora lodges are also known for their exquisite, beautifully presented Bhutanese, Asian and Western dishes featuring their own organically grown, garden-fresh vegetables and fruits.
I must confess that, thanks to the hearty breakfasts, the other irresistible meals, the snacks, the tea, and the amazing desserts served at communal as well as individual tables, I arrived home a couple of kilos heavier.
I was always the first to the breakfast table, and my favourites were the masala oats and traditional buckwheat pancakes washed down with spiced and flavourful chai or masala tea. Lunch, eaten at the lodges or taken on the road, came from a set menu, while dinner was more formal, and included a set Bhutanese menu with the traditional sharing plates of curries, cheese and chilli, green beans and cheese, salads and vegetables served with red rice that has been grown for thousands of years at 2,438m in the fertile soil of the Paro Valley, and is said to improve health and longevity.
Of course, the Amankora lodges’ combination of intimate spaces, impeccable, discreet and warm service, and unique experiences, are absolutely perfect for couples and honeymooners. In fact, one can create treasured memories of love and romance in a magical place quite effortlessly.
One can also indulge to the max at the Amankora Spa. Every lodge has one, and all are famous for their own unique, tailored treatments – from facials to body scrubs and massages, as well as hot stone baths – that draw on both 7th-century Tibetan traditional medicine and Indian ayurveda.
The spa treatment at Amankora Paro.
I couldn’t get enough of the Amankora Paro’s hot stone bath treatment that used the herb called khempa, a natural analgesic and muscle relaxant, and took place in a room with cedar panels that opened onto a private garden. Mineral-rich stones from the riverbeds were heated on a fire for four to five hours before they were immersed in natural spring water where they cracked and released minerals.
The experience of being in the bath and soaking in the gorgeous scenery was absolutely dreamy! Then, do as I did, and complete your entire wellness journey with a Bhutanese oil massage to relieve tension and muscle ache – and let you sleep like a baby!
Last but not least, besides spoiling me rotten when I was in, the Amankora lodges also introduced the culture, lifestyles and traditions of Bhutan with planned excursions, trips and experiences for their guests. Aside from the earlier mentioned options, there were visits to heritage and religious sites, an overnight trek across spectacular terrain, and even lessons on a traditional craft. Without a doubt, staying in one of these while in Bhutan is the best way to go. The personalised experiences, and the level of service and comfort are incomparable.
Her World Brides Luxe flew to Bhutan with Drukair and stayed at the Amankora Paro and Bumthang Lodges. Special thanks to the Druk Asia Bhutan Travel Specialists who looked after us during our visit.
This story was originally published in Her World Brides LUXE Oct 2017.