One of the places at the top of my bucket list is Bhutan. In case you're not familiar with Bhutan (officially Kingdom of Bhutan), its a relatively small country located in South East Asia at the eastern end of the Himalayas, bordering China and India. Because it's located near the Himalayas, the terrain features many steep and high mountains which make for some amazing hikes, one of the most famous of which leads to the Tiger's Nest Monastery as shown in the picture above.
The coolest part about Bhutan? In my opinion, it's the fact that instead of measuring their economy by GDP, they prefer to measure Gross National Happiness (GNH) which they believe is a more holistic indicator than GDP, measuring quality of life and social progress. Bhutan even has a GNH Commission that is charged with reviewing policy decisions and allocation or resources. The focus on happiness is one of the big reasons that Bhutan has even earned the name "The Happiest Place on Earth".
Similar to Myanmar, at least prior to the ex-RGN bonanza, until recently Bhutan hadn't been a huge tourist destination due to a variety of historical military and political issues. It's also really expensive to visit, since the only way to fly to Bhutan is with their national airline Druk Air, with flights from Bangkok, Singapore, Bangladesh, and multiple locations in India. As you can imagine, since Druk Air has a monopoly on flights servicing Bhutan, prices are quite high (~$1,000) and obviously no mileage redemptions are available.
In terms of hotels currently there are only two Western chains that have a presence in Bhutan, which are the uber-luxury Como Hotels and Aman Resorts, each of which has multiple properties across the country. Rates at these hotels start around $500 per night, and in addition to that there is a $200-250 (depending on season) per person per day tourism fee tacked on. The silver lining is that for longer stays, the hotel rates for both Como and Aman typically come all-inclusive of meals and guided tours/activities. Most people stay at least a week to visit multiple destinations since travel can be time-consuming, taking up to 4 hours from Paro to Punakha, and 10 hours from Paro to Bumthang.
The good news is that starting January 1, 2015, Starwood will be opening two Le Meridien hotels in Bhutan, located in Paro and Thimphu. It doesn't look like either location is bookable yet, and no information has been provided as to the potential rates or the hotel category. But there are a few graphical renderings on the Thumphu location's website, and at least judging by these the lobby looks pretty darn swanky. I'll keep you updated as soon as I hear more information on the hotels. It's an exciting development since this could be an extremely valuable use of SPG points in Bhutan's expensive hotel market.
Le Meridien Thumphu lobby renderings
It's also worth noting that the luxury hotel chain Six Senses will be opening a series of 82 guest suites spread across 5 separate locations in Thumphu, Paro, Punakha, Gangtey, and Bumthang. These properties aren't scheduled to open until 2016, so only graphical renderings are available, but if the actual property looks anything like the picture below then all I can say is wow.
Six Senses Bhutan renderings
Anyone planning a trip to Bhutan in the near future? And if it's been on your bucket list, will these new hotel openings speed up your decision to go?