Bhutan, ‘The Last Shangri-La', was largely isolated from the rest of the planet up until around the middle of the 20th century, and for those looking for the best hotels to stay in Bhutan, it means its rich traditions and culture have remained largely intact and untouched by outside influences. Although high costs and perceived inaccessibility have previously caused the Kingdom to lose out to its more accessible and ‘on the beaten path’ neighbours, reforms and changes in the system mean a trip to Bhutan is more achievable than ever with travelers from around the globe drawn to this jewel in the Himalayas looking for something unique to put on their Asian itinerary. And a trip to Bhutan is an unbeatable Asia travel experience.

Since 2022 and the reopening of Bhutan’s borders, visitors have been given unprecedented freedom to explore the nation, not only as part of an organized tour group but as independent adventurers. This means the freedom to book Bhutan hotels and resorts, obtain the services of a guide (a prerequisite for visiting Paro and Thimphu), and even hire and drive a private vehicle for the first time ever. Engaging the services of a tour operator may still be necessary, or indeed preferable, for booking specialized activities including trekking, festivals, and in some cases securing the best deals on the best places to stay in Bhutan.

The Kingdom of Bhutan is sandwiched between China to the north and India to the south. Its topography ranges from mountain peaks in the north and subtropical lowlands further south. But what really hits you when stepping out into the last Buddhist kingdom on earth is the architecture which is heavily influenced by Tibetan tradition, with traditional homes looking like large and colourful Alpine chalets, with construction largely utilizing locally sourced natural materials. Dzong architecture dates back centuries and still influences the designs of many of the best hotels to stay in Bhutan. The Dzong hit its heyday in the 17th century where they acted as fortresses and religious centers with courtyards and stone-built curtain walls. These were transformed into imposing secular residences of the ruling class in the more peaceful 19th century. Dzong design traditionally did not rely on plans, did not allow the use of iron nails, bolts, bars, or screws in the construction of the wooden frames and whitewashed earthen walls, featured sloping roofs and small arched windows, and were commonly brightly painted with phallic symbols and Buddhist symbols.

Hotels in Bhutan:

Hotels in Paro

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Hotels in Paro

Hotels in Thimpu

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Hotels in Thimpu

The Best Hotels to Stay in Bhutan – Historic Paro

Situated on the banks of the Paro Chhu, the historic town is famous for its stunning architecture, sacred sites, and some of the best hotels to stay in Bhutan. The area has grown rich because of the fertile valley and is also the only place in the kingdom where it is wide and flat enough to land a plane and is thus the home of Bhutan’s Paro International Airport. The historic town is also home to some of the best boutique hotels in Bhutan including the Zhiwa Ling Hotel Bhutan: Overlooking the Tiger’s Nest Monastery and surrounded by rocky cliffs in the Paro Valley, the ‘Land of Peace’ as the hotel’s name translates, is a large typically Bhutanese style residence transformed by local artisans who have skillfully handcrafted the ornate stone and woodwork of the interior and exterior to create one of the best places to stay in Bhutan. Shining a light on sustainability, Zhiwa Ling Hotel, Paro has been awarded a prestigious position on the National Geographic’s list of Unique Lodges of the World. This is partly because the ‘Driglam Namzha’, a set of guidelines to define Bhutanese identity, has some strict rules when it comes to the country’s architecture. This means the best places to stay in Bhutan must be constructed to blend in with the surrounding natural world and be built from locally sourced timber, stone, and earth. Local masons and carpenters work together to create the best places to stay in Bhutan using knowledge handed down through the generations, and traditionally the artisans worked without blueprints or plans, building everything from the ground up by hand and from only the plans in their heads, quite incredible.

The Best Places to Stay in Bhutan – Thimphu, the Kingdom’s Capital

Bhutan’s capital city is also the Kingdom’s largest. This city without a single traffic light, or even an airport, is packed with Dzongs, monasteries, royal palaces, sacred places, and a selection of the best places to stay in Bhutan. Thimphu is where the traditional fuses with the modern and is home to some of the best hotels to stay in Bhutan. While retaining traditional elements such as prayer wheels, mani walls, and prayer flags, the architecture of Thimphu has changed since its inception as the nation’s capital in 1962 with the addition of buildings such as the Telecom Tower, National Library, and National Assembly, as well as an adaptation of residential construction methods that mean houses here have been compared to Swiss chalets. The Thimphu Structure Plan, 2002-2027, ensures the authorities will continue to protect the valley and its precious ecology with any future urban development making the capital a stronghold of the nation's culture, art, and architecture. High on the list of the best hotels in Bhutan is Zhiwa Ling Ascent Thimphu, a delightful property where hand-carved wooden interiors and hand-painted walls and ceilings abound. The elegant and minimalist arrangement is a fusion of traditional Bhutanese Dzong and farmhouse architecture and is perfectly positioned to enjoy panoramic mountain views from its location on the outskirts of the city. Zhiwa Ling Hotel Paro includes several buildings, within gardens, all decorated in a style that is in keeping with the Kingdom’s rich traditions.

In a country where heritage is considered a sacred treasure more precious than nearly all others, the multiple windows, wooden frames, lintels, and cornices, the flying roofs, and gently tapering walls of the best resorts in Bhutan will leave any traveler with a truly unique sense of time and place in this last bastion of untouched Himalayan wonder.
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