Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Aman divided by five in Bhutan



Amankora is an interesting concept.  Typically one associate Aman with one single resort but in Bhutan, Amankora actually spans five different lodges in five different locations.  You have a choice to go to all five or just stay in one depending on the length of your trip.

Regrettably I only had time for four nights five days trip.  This means two lodges; one at Thimphu and the other one at Paro.  On Aman's website, there are options of 3,4,7,8,9,11,12 night journey.  Everything is planned out to the T although I'm sure you can stay for 5,6,10 days easily if you want to.  From my personal experience, I would say four nights is really the minimum you should do if you decide to go to Amankora.

The international airport is at Paro so your guide for your whole stay will come to pick you up.  My first night was at Thimphu lodge.  It's about an hour and a half away from Paro airport.  I would say the lodge feels minimalist as most Amans do.  The lodge was built to look like a Dzong which is fortress like architecture that's prevalent in this part of the world.  As luck would have it, I had a choice of first or second floor room.  I decided first floor was better as I didn't want to bother with stairs daily.  The rooms are adequately good sized.  In lieu of a couch, a built in window banquet is there for gazing out the window.  There is a large double vanity area where they pump heat throughout the day which makes washing hands nice and toasty every time.  One thing to note is that the bathroom is wide open to rest of the room thus if you are shy, you can request folding screens to gain privacy.  There is one large tub for soaking as well as in room fireplace to fragrant the room when you burn wood at night for warmth.  With that said, there is central air to warm the room thus fireplace is really more for atmosphere.

There is a central courtyard at this lodge.  This is the place where you can watch traditional Bhutanese dance.  I have to say the dance numbers are absolutely mesmerizing.  Again, Aman excels at bringing cultural experience to your front door.  It was nice to enjoy the dance with staff serving you hot drinks and cookies.  Another bonus is I had the front row seat as the dance viewing was only available to staying guests and I think there were maybe 6 people total watching a whole troupe of dancers.                

The food at this Aman lodge was very good.  I would say the pastry was definitely the highlight.  There is only one central restaurant for this lodge and it's actually quite grand.  The ceiling is double height which means the space feels very large.  Amankora had someone playing a Bhutanese traditional instrument while I ate (similar to the time when Amanbagh had someone playing flute when I was eating).  The instrument he played was called Chiwang which is a type of fiddle.  As you can see, Aman is excellent at creating mood and giving you a sense of place through sight, sound, taste, and smell.

The gift shop here is quite nice.  There is a large selection of high quality items you can buy for remembrance of your trip.  The decision at these Aman shops always come down to what can I fit in my luggage!  Of course Aman is also happy to send anything that don't fit in your luggage.

The spa is probably the weakest point in this lodge.  It is in the basement of the lodge and feels a bit like an after thought in terms of space and decor.

After spending two nights at Thimphu, I moved to Paro lodge.  Paro lodge is most likely the largest lodge compare to other ones as this is the place that typically where Aman guests end their Bhutan trip.  This is because typically you have adjusted to the altitude in Bhutan in order to climb the iconic Tiger's Nest which also happen to located at Paro.

The room set up is different in Paro.  The bathroom while still open to rest of the room, once you put a screen in front of the bathtub, it feels quite enclosed.  Again, there is no stand alone sofa but there is a large window banquet for gazing out the window.  My room had a lovely view of a 17th century Dzong in a distance.  

The dining area is much smaller compare to the one at Thimphu.  It almost feel like you are in a student cafeteria as there is no individual tables but several large long tables with chairs.  I have to say this eating space feels like a left over space where architect have to squeeze in a place for people to dine.  Sure you can eat outside with individual table and chairs but that's only doable depending on the weather.  The food is on par with what was provided at Thimphu but pastry was not as good.

The gift shop here is tiny.  Again, it feels like they figure they need to put a gift shop in so they squeeze it into this tiny space.  Given how much open space is available at this property, surely they can build a separate gift shop?  But then again, maybe they can't due to zoning law.

The spa is where this lodge shine.  Unlike the Thimphu lodge, Paro lodge has a separate large spa building.  There are two floors in this building.  The upper floor is locker rooms and reception.  The lower floors are treatment rooms.  If you come here don't forget to sign up for a hot-stone bath.  Your feet will thank you especially if you just went on the Tiger's Nest hike!

While I don't regret that I only signed up for four night stay at Amankora as I have another Aman to go to, this short five days had given me a good taste of this beautiful country.  My suggestion is come to Amankora but spend more than four nights if your wallet and time allow.

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