Wednesday newsletters always feature a hotel or flight review.
I recently traveled to the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. You can read my trip reports here:
- Review: landing at the world’s most dangerous airport
- Review: Six Senses Thimpu, Bhutan
- Review: Six Senses Punakha, Bhutan (today)
- Review: Six Senses Paro, Bhutan
- Review: Bhutan Airlines A319 Business Class from Paro to Delhi
Review of Six Senses Bhutan, Punakha Lodge
- Location: Google maps
- Hotel website: Six Senses Bhutan, Punakha Lodge
- Tip: get complimentary VIP perks when booking via Virtuoso
- Tip: book your Bhutan holiday with Druk Asia
Six Senses manages five individual lodges in five separate valleys in the colorful Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, which are all operated under the umbrella of one all-encompassing name: Six Senses Bhutan. Each location has been thoughtfully designed to fully immerse travelers into the local culture. The lodges, which vary in style, showcase the diversity and special character of each valley. From sunrise meditations and holistic spa treatments to private astrology readings and butter lamp lighting ceremonies to incredible hikes and treks through pristine forests, the aim is to leave enriched and reconnected. This is a review of the Six Senses lodge in Bhutan’s magnificent Punakha valley.
Six Senses Bhutan features in my top 10 list of the best hotels in Bhutan.
Have you ever stayed at Six Senses Bhutan? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
In this review (more info and photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Pros & things I like
- Cons & things to know
- My verdict
- Tips for future guests & save money
- Best time to visit
- How to get there
PROS & THINGS I LIKE
- Perched on a steep mountainside, Six Senses Punakha enjoys a gorgeous location with spectacular views of the Himalayas. Owing to its lower altitude (4265 ft or 1300 m), Punakha offers a warmer climate and is the preferred winter destination for many Bhutanese, who love to soak up the serene beauty of this gorgeous valley filled with rice paddy fields and dotted with traditional farm houses. The road from Bhutan’s capital Thimphu to Punakha takes around 3 hours and winds and climbs through stunning scenery, rising to Dochu La Pass with its striking cloud-capped valley views and 108 hillside chortens (Buddhist shrines).
- The lodge identifies itself as a ‘flying farmhouse’ amidst the rice fields that unfurl down into Punakha Valley below. The intimate central area comprises three pavilions, arranged around a square and the outdoor heated swimming pool, all three of them offering lovely views of the surrounding mountains. The most stunning pavilion is a cantilevered wooden structure that floats over the infinity pool and serves as a lounge. The smallest pavilion houses a game room, while the largest, light-filled pavilion is home to the lodge’s only dining room, Ari (more on that below).
- Six Senses Punakha features 16 spacious suites and private pool villas, each designed to take advantage of spectacular valley views. During my visit, I stayed in a Lodge Suite located up the hill. The gorgeous suite featured an open-plan layout with a sunken sitting area, a bedroom with twin beds (per my request), and a bathroom equipped with double vanity, deep soaking bathtub, and separate shower and toilet cubicles. The large floor-to-ceiling windows and balcony offered beautiful views of the valley and its lush flora. The suite’s neutral, relaxing tones were complemented by natural timber furniture and local features.
- The lodge’s stylish and minimalist interior is a testimony to the region’s rich agricultural heritage. The rustic decor fuses rural touches with Six Senses’ signature eco-chic design with abundant use of wood paneling, whitewashing and natural stone, resulting in a chic mountain chalet feel. Extra depth has been added to the lovely decor with the addition of mud brick features in the bathrooms, light fittings crafted from mason jars as the community would once have used, woven bamboo feature walls, and the clever use of bamboo and rattan items of interest.
- Despite its small scale, Six Senses Punakha offers excellent leisure and wellness facilities. At the heart of the lodge is a beautiful infinity pool with majestic views of the surrounding Himalayan peaks. The pool’s crescent shape mimics the terraced rice fields below in order to emphasize the beauty of this unspoiled landscape. Below the pool area is an intimate spa center, with three treatment rooms, two meditation areas and yoga facilities for relaxation, and a modern gym. Spa treatments make use of nurturing essential oils from the Alchemy Bar.
- Food at Six Senses Punakha is excellent and created by the lodge’s chefs from organic local produce with wellness at its core. Guests start the day with an excellent à la carte breakfast on the terrace overlooking the rice paddies as the mist clears through the valley, order a poolside barbecue for lunch, and sample delicious Bhutanese cuisine with a Western twist at Ari for dinner. Ari is the signature all-day dining restaurant that lies at the heart of the property, above the infinity pool; it has a rustic farmhouse-themed setting incorporating traditional bamboo woven picnic baskets suspended from the ceiling.
- The lodge offers a wide range of activities. I highly recommend bicycling in the valley, white water rafting on the river, and the hike to Chorten Ningpo, a monastery which dates to the 17th century. The valley’s highlight is the magnificent Punakha Dzong, known as the “The Palace of Great Happiness.” Located at the junction of the Pho Chuu (father) and Mo Chuu (mother) rivers, this majestic structure stands six stories high. Being Bhutan’s second oldest dzong, it served as the seat of the Kingdom’s government until the time of the second King and today is the winter home of the Je Khempo, head abbot of Bhutan, along with a retinue of about 1,000 monks.
- Sustainability lives at the foundation of Six Senses Bhutan and is reflected through active management of energy, water, waste, purchasing and chemical usage. Bhutan keeps 60 percent of its land under forest cover, as mandated by its constitution. The four pillars of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy are: Sustainable Development, Environmental Protection, Cultural Preservation, and Good Governance, all of which are carefully woven into the operation of Six Senses Bhutan. From the use of glass bottles everywhere to focusing on seasonal, locally sourced produce from the kitchen gardens, the sustainability efforts do not go unnoticed.
- The lodge is operated by Six Senses, one of my favorite hotel brands in the world. After its launch in 1995 by Soneva CEO Sonu Shivdasani, Six Senses quickly became recognized as the hospitality industry’s pioneer of sustainable practices, demonstrating that eco-responsibility can be successfully wedded to uncompromised luxury. Six Senses resorts & spas are always located in some of the world’s most unique and beautiful places. Whether it be a Six Senses resort on a remote private island or a Six Senses Spa in an exciting urban setting, the touch-points are always decidedly the same. I have previously reviewed the following Six Senses properties:
- Six Senses Zighy Bay (Oman)
- Six Senses Ninh Van Bay (Vietnam)
- Six Senses Con Dao (Vietnam)
- Six Senses Zil Pasyon (Seychelles)
- Six Senses Yao Noi (Phuket, Thailand)
- As you may expect from the Six Senses brand, the lodge provides impeccable, world-class service. As with every Six Senses resort, everyone is also introduced to a Guest Experience Maker (GEM) at check-in, which is Six Senses’ smart terminology for a butler. The GEM looks after you during your entire Bhutan holiday (even as you move from one lodge to another one) and coordinates your needs and requirements with other Six Senses lodges, to ensure all your queries are handled to maximum satisfaction and that your experience is memorable.
- Six Senses Punakha will be a on the itinerary of most Six Senses guests who book a holiday through the remote Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Druk Yul, Bhutan’s official name, is known as the Land of the Dragon People. It is a stunningly beautiful country with a rich cultural heritage that has largely remained hidden until its recent emergence onto the world stage. Bhutan is a mystic land of fluttering prayer flags lining high ridges, beautiful monasteries perched precariously on sheer cliffs, and chanting red robed monks, all combining to give the aura of a long forgotten time.
- Six Senses Punakha is just one of five intimate Six Senses lodges in Bhutan, and I highly recommend to combine a stay here with a stay at some of the other Six Senses lodges to immerse yourself in Bhutan’s spirituality, heritage and hospitality. As you journey through the vertiginous scenery of the western and central valleys, you will find meaningful and uplifting experiences at every turn. Each has a unique character and all embrace the Six Senses guiding principles, which include a spa and wellness center, mindful eating, sleep and self-discovery.
CONS & THINGS TO KNOW
Six Senses Punakha is a wonderful property, focusing on wellness, sightseeing and outdoor activities. With its gorgeous pool, spacious suites, and delicious food, the lodge is a highlight on any Six Senses Bhutan journey. There’s not a lot to say against the property, except for the following:
- The property is quite small and easy to navigate, but the hilly terrain can be a challenge for some guests, as the suites are located on the upper hillside (above the main area) while the spa facilities are set on the lower hillside (below the main area). If you don’t want to walk, the lodge also provides complimentary golf cart service between the suites, villas and main facilities. However, the lodge’s main entrance is only reachable via a steep staircase from the parking lot and some suites do feature steps, which can still be a problem for guests that have difficulties with walking.
- Payments for accommodations at Six Senses Bhutan can be pre-paid by credit card. However, visa fees and taxes need to be paid by wire as required by Bhutan government authorities. Once you have made the payment for visa and taxes, you must send the lodge a copy of the bank remittance slip, as it is required by the local banks in Bhutan to confirm a transaction. In my case, I had to transfer the payment to an account with a standard charted bank in New York and the entire verification process took 7 days (the lodge provides all the information you need for the wire transfer).
- Lunch is served à la carte, with a choice of several delicious starters, main courses, and desserts. Unfortunately, lunch is charged at a fixed price, so even if you order just a salad or burger, you will be charged for a full-three course lunch (this is the policy at all Six Senses Bhutan lodges). IMHO, it would be necessary that the restaurant staff mentions this policy upfront before guests order their first lunch (which was not the case during my visit) and it would be much better if the lodge charges per ordered dish (since not every one feels like having a three course meal at lunch).
- Bhutan is one of the world’s most expensive countries for travelers. Bhutanese government mandates that tourists spend a minimum of $200 USD (in low season) or $250 USD (in high season) per person per day. This amount includes accommodations, meals, transportation, and other activities, but excludes visa costs ($40 USD per person), a sustainable development fee ($65 USD per person per day) and FIT (foreign independent travelers) surcharge (US$ 40 per day for one person and US$ 30 per person per day for a group of two people). The reason behind this strictly controlled and expensive tourism policy is that Bhutan wants to protect its natural resources and authentic culture, and ensure that travelers don’t overwhelm the country.
- Location: 9/10
- Design: 9/10
- Pool: 9/10
- Rooms: 9/10
- Food: 9/10
- Breakfast: 9/10
- Spa: 9/10
- Service: 9/10
- Value for money: 9/10
- Overall score: 9/10 – exceptional
TIPS FOR FUTURE GUESTS & SAVE MONEY
- Save money: get complimentary VIP perks at Six Senses Bhutan when booking via Virtuoso (e.g. room upgrade, daily breakfast, early check-in, late check-out, and one complimentary 60 min massage for two).
- Tip: book your Bhutan holiday with Druk Asia. Druk Asia is an inbound Bhutan Travel Specialist based in the kingdom of Bhutan and managed by a committed and dedicated team of professionals. Druk Asia is also the official sales agency for Royal Bhutan Airlines (Drukair).
- Read my tips for preparing your trip in time.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
October to December is the ideal time to visit Bhutan as the air is clear and fresh with sunny skies. January and February are colder, but from then until April the climate remains dry and pleasant (although often cloudy) and in late spring the famous rhododendrons bloom spectacularly, flooding Bhutan’s valleys with color. Heat and humidity increase from May, and from June to September the monsoon rains cover the mountains and travel to Bhutan is best avoided during that time.
HOW TO GET THERE
Six Senses Punakha is a three hour scenic drive from Bhutan’s capital Thimphu, where Six Senses operates another lodge. An early departure from Thimphu is recommended on a clear sunny day to capture dramatic views of the Himalayan peaks from the Dochula Mountain Pass. At a height of 10,000 ft (3,050 m), there are striking cloud-capped valley views and 108 hillside chortens (Buddhist shrines), while colorful prayer flags add a special dimension to the vicinity.
The lodge is a 4 hour drive from Paro Airport, Bhutan’s only international airport. Only two airlines – Drukair and Bhutan Airlines – fly into Paro, and tickets can be reserved online, with flights usually routing via Bangkok, New Delhi, Singapore, and Kathmandu. Weather can delay flights for days at a time, so it’s important to have your itinerary designed with a few days in your stopover city and (if possible) to fly on an unrestricted ticket.
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This place looks incredible!