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Discovering deep cultural traditions while floating in an infinity pool or savoring a four-course lunch — with an afternoon agenda of gazing at the Himalaya Mountains — most definitely is one way to explore Bhutan. This tiny country in Asia is experiencing lots of buzz. If you’re curious, but leery of unknown adventure, consider booking a week at Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary in the Neyphu Valley. The town name to know is Shaba Paro.
I only did one night, but learned enough in the days on either side of that oh-so-comfortable night to understand why longer stays are wise. (I think seven nights should be the goal.)
The five-star rating matters, of course, but almost felt incidental – overpowered by kindness, gentleness and the consistent happiness of Bhutanese people.
Happiness Defines Everything
Happy is a big theme everywhere in this nation the size of Switzerland, next door to India.
All the staff at Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary are Bhutanese. The two traditional Bhutanese medicine doctors are too, so the spa and wellness center is like no other. Anywhere. And wellness extends to mind and spirit as well as body.
Perhaps people travel 25 hours like I did from Atlanta to Bangkok to Paro International Airport just to stay one place. If you’d rather explore local culture and delve in Buddhism too, rest assured. Day trips can be as abundant as desired, including to the iconic Tiger’s Nest Monastery..
Seriously consider timing your trip for a festival in Thimphu or Paro.
Arriving On Site is an Event All By Itself
But first things first: the beginning hour or two at Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary will not remind you of other hotel or resort arrivals. Transformation is available here and the entry spaces show the way.
Your driver will take you to the first front door where staff invite guests into a spacious square courtyard — a wide open space lined with pathways toward the main building and glimpses of the skies and Himalayas.
Prayer wheels fill courtyard walls so the potential for thousands and thousands of prayers being released to the winds is powerful. Right there.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Linger, and breathe. Feel this space. Yes, you can return any time but set the tone with curiosity and openness, physical and emotional. Each arrival layer is unique.
The Second Entry
The next front door is a double set, wooden and enormous. Enter the rectangular Transformation Room, longer than it is wide. A gentle-voiced Bhutanese woman, dressed in the native dress called a kira, will draw your attention to two large paintings: the Four Friends fable and a Wheel of Life, and a table with candles.
Each person in your group can participate in a candle lighting.
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Expect symbols, not windows, in the Transformation Room.
Completing the Transformation
The third entry is an astonishing aha moment, an invitation to be transformed in space and time.
A two-story wall of windows pulls every gaze to the mountains and the skies. A glance down shows wide-open dining spaces and abundant seating areas.
Since the focus of Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary is welcome and wellness, check-in is a minor detail—just a podium-sized bit of furniture.
The concierge materialized out of thin air, I thought, guiding me toward lunch and also to the selection table for my choice of organic, herbal soaps for my bathroom sink and shower and powders for my soaking tub.
Plastics-free, this lovely place, is devoted to sustainability. Every such policy ties to the Gross National Happiness throughout Bhutan, instituted by the fourth king in 1974.
Dining at Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary
Every day anticipate a 6-course dinner. Lunch is a four-course affair. Portion management is the chef’s consideration, and my tablemates and I felt perfect satiety with each meal.
Soups are poured with a flourish, plates of varying sizes and colors are decorated with foods and just the right amount of time is provided between courses to savor, to chat and to gaze out those walls of windows.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Plan to drink some tea. Belly up to the Tea Bar in the grand open dining and living area and study the menu of 20 teas, describing their specific herbal healing powers.
Cooking classes happen in-house, or on the outdoor terrace. Pottery making is possible too, in the art studio.
Archery, a very popular sport in Bhutan, is offered too.
Restful Spaces Outside The Spa
When I explored the number of Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary places — in addition to my room with a balcony — to simply be in the moment, I wondered when I’d meet the traditional Bhutanese medicine doctors to start spa treatments.
With a heated infinity pool and an herbal-infused hot-stone bath in the Himalayas, why need anything else?
With a steam room and sauna, private changing spaces, plush robes and showers, why need anything else?
But the opportunity to experience traditional medicine was why I went in the first place!
I engaged with the doctors five times—-enough to experience new healings but not enough to satisfy my desire for more.
A Few Treatment Details
First was my consultation.
This happened in a private room with a painting of Medicine Buddha over the shoulder of Dr. Kelzang Dorji. His kindness and caring nature permeated everything, including the many minutes he felt my wrist pulses, analyzing my needs.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Be ready to listen carefully. Soft voices, dim light and unfamiliar accents can challenge focus so just be ready to absorb what you hear, and maybe sense.
Second was my massage.
Ku Nye is the name of this style, sometimes spelled kunye. Dr. Kelzang referred me to a Bhutanese staff member for this ancient art.
Oil is a dominant feature, generously applied. Her strokes and touches involved more head, hand and foot time than my normal massage, a pleasure to my always aching arches. I’m no acupuncture or acupressure expert, but do believe specific pressure points are a significant focus.
Third was my moxibustion treatment.
New vocabulary word for me. Heat and ancient herbs work together to stimulate the flow of energy. My yoga teacher calls that “Qi” pronounced “chee.”
Dr. Kelzang applied the heat gently and slowly, each time asking if I was comfortable and was the heat too much. His moxibustion device looked sort of like a candle in a small footed box.
Actually, he heats the candle-shaped stick with the herbs and presses on the body places in need of blood circulation attention. In my case, that seemed to be all around my hairline. Yours might be different.
Fourth was my healing with three singing bowls.
Their tones had wafted through my morning meditation class, gazing toward the Himalayas. Seems their vibrational sounds weren’t enough for my needs——feeling the vibrations through my chakra points as the medicine doctor played the bowls was better.
Fifth was a hot oil compression.
I arrived with a troubled and swollen left knee and mentioned it in my consultation under the watchful eye of the Medicine Buddha painting. Turmeric infused oil was the prescription, applied abundantly with deep, comforting massage just to the knee and a little above and below.
How did such comfort and healing emerge in a country that only built its first road in 1969? A land often described as recently medieval?
Founder Louk Lennaerts credits Bhutanese culture and deep connections to the many monasteries.
“This is a country of monasteries,” he says, “and a land of people with many stories. Their stories make this place so different.”
He delights in telling the story of the local farmer willing to sell the land for Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary mostly because he could then share his profit with the monastery.
Plan to gaze at Eutok Samdrupcholing monastery from your private patio or the outdoor terrace extending from the dining room. Take a hike to meet the monks. That is a frequent and welcomed local culture activity.
Easier way to remember the name of the monastery: local folks say Eutok Goenpa Monastery.
How Much Does it Cost to Stay at the Bhutan Spirit Sancutary?
This is a all-inclusive experience unlike any other, beyond the fact that your room rate includes everything:
- All wellness treatments and conversations with the traditional Bhutanese medicine doctors.
- Daily yoga or meditation classes on alternating mornings.
- All meals and tea bar pourings.
- Infinity swimming pool, steam room, sauna, hot stone bath too.
Room rates begin at $551 per night for a balcony room, and go to $801; a Terrace Room starts at $701.
Shuttle from the Paro International Airport 3.7 miles away is free.
The only additional required cost is the Bhutan Sustainable Development Fee of $200 per visitor per day. This charge was instituted when the country emerged from the Covid 19 shutdown in late 2022.
Take a shuttle 3.7 miles from Paro International Airport to Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary. But linger at the airport which is a very interest art gallery too. Photo credit: Christine Tibbetts