As one of the first places to shut off travel to the outside world and with the fewest COVID-19 related deaths on the Indian subcontinent, the Land of the Thunder Dragon is waiting to open to the world. Bhutan’s Six Senses properties comprise some of the finest accommodations in the Kingdom, and Six Senses Bhutan General Manager Sally Baughen took time to answer a few questions from Travelogues from Remote Lands on the future of travel in the happiest place on the planet.
Bhutan was one of the first countries to shut off international travel completely due to COVID-19. How do you think this will affect Bhutan opening up?
We expect Bhutan to be slow in reopening borders. Having shut down so early and effectively minimizing COVID-19; the continued health and wellbeing of the Kingdom’s population will continue to take precedence over reopening borders too soon.
Have you seen signs of the easing of restrictions in Bhutan and do you think travel in the future will change within the country?
Part of the success of tourism in Bhutan is due to these restrictions. Low volume and high value has been the Kingdom’s tourism mantra since it first opened its doors to travellers in 1974. We hope and don’t expect this direction to change. The desire to escape to pristine, safe, and unpopulated countries will continue to position Bhutan at the top of travel destinations when borders reopen.
Six Senses is relatively new to Bhutan — beginning with Thimphu, Paro, and Punakha in 2018. What have been your initial impressions of luxury travel in Bhutan?
My first time to Bhutan was in 2006 for two weeks when I traveled between Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, and Phobjikha (Gangtey) Valleys. I was living and working in Rajasthan at the time. What an incredible contrast. The peace and quiet, endless mountain views, and gentle pace of Bhutanese life were the impressions that struck me most, and of course prayer flags at every turn. And for me little has changed, except for the roads […]. To find a country, from a traveler’s perspective, almost unchanged in more than a decade is very special.
You’ve spent time in Cambodia, Indonesia, and Myanmar among others. How does luxury travel in Bhutan differ with that of Southeast Asia?
The definition of luxury travel is such a personal perspective. Development is much slower in Bhutan than Southeast Asia with less infrastructure. Travel logistics are more challenging here than in previous countries I’ve worked, including the restrictions that make a last minute visit unavailable. But these differences make Bhutan all the more appealing for travelers that are looking for somewhere less known, less visited and more aspirational. Fantastic Bhutanese employees with excellent English, access to phenomenal fresh produce for delicious food allows Bhutan to deliver in spades for service and food, always the cornerstones for great travel anywhere.
Only a few months ago, Six Senses unveiled Six Senses Bumthang. Can you tell us a little more about this particular “Forest Within a Forest”?
Six Senses Bumthang has been the last lodge of five to open in the Kingdom and completes our circuit. It is our cosiest and most intimate lodge with just eight suites and one two-bedroom villa. Nestled amongst a forest of pine trees (Forest within a Forest) above a bubbling trout-filled river it gently calms and surrounds you with the beauty of nature. The interior walls of the restaurant and living room feature collages of cross-cut pine branches, a simple yet intricate pattern of endless wooden circles. Bumthang is the spiritual heartland of Bhutan with Buddhist temples and monasteries dotted throughout the valley. My favourite morning is to jump on one of our mountain bikes and cycle from the lodge in a loop downriver and then back up the other side, stopping at Jampa, Kurje and Tamzhing Lhakhangs along the way. A pilgrimage by pedal with a fresh camphor hot stone bath back at the lodge