TOUR OPERATORS & LODGING

Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia - - DEALS -

Independent travel is all but impossible in Bhutan. You must go through a government-licensed tour operator (they obtain your US$40 visa) and pay the minimum daily tariff of US$250 in high season (September–November and March–May) or US$200 in other months. Most itineraries are about nine days, and can be booked through seasoned, highend companies such as Remote Lands (remotelands.com) and Absolute Travel (absolutetravel. com). Carole Cambata (ccambata@greavestvl.com), a member of T+L's A-List, our network of editor-approved travel agents, also specializes in Bhutan.

I stayed at Amankora (aman. com; doubles from US$1,550, allinclusive), a series of five luxury lodges in valleys around the country. You don't have to stay at all five—but many visitors make the circuit to get the full experience. One of my favorites was Amankora Gangtey Lodge, an opulent eight-suite hotel on a hilltop in the remote Phobjikha Valley. It is within hiking distance of the vibrant Gangtey village and its ancient monastery, and each suite has its own wood-fired stove. Ask for a hot-stone bath to unwind at dusk. Another standout, Amankora Punakha Lodge, can be reached only by walking over a suspension bridge swaying above a roaring river. Hiking trails from its doorway lead across an orange orchard to small farms that seem lost in the Middle Ages, with prayer wheels placed at strategic points.

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