You and your fiancé are experienced, adventurous travelers who would have—if not for Grandma—attempted to host your wedding somewhere obscure and far-flung. Instead, you’ve done the “right” thing and kept the destination accessible for all; however, you’re now hoping to escape for a honeymoon somewhere off-the-beaten path, with nary an umbrella-adorned cocktail or sunburnt American in sight. Somewhere like Bhutan.
An ideal destination for those who tire of seeing the same sights, e.g. Starbucks, in every city, this small Buddhist country—nestled in the Eastern Himalayas between India and Tibet—has only been open to tourism since 1974. These days, those who wish to visit the country which coined the term “Gross National Happiness” must pay a daily rate in order to do so, and trips can only be booked through tour companies.
This strategy for limiting the influx of foreigners—coupled with the fact that TV and internet have only just been allowed in the country since 1999—has slowed the effects of globalization, insulating the Bhutanese and preserving the local culture as it has been for generations. “[Bhutan] kind of blew my mind in terms of how different it was from every single other place I've been around the world,” says Jack Mace, team leader of India, Arabia, and Asia for luxury travel company Scott Dunn, which offers bespoke tours of the country.
“The lack of tourists makes it a place that's just so special.”
Travel here also provides an antithesis to the traditional lay-on-the-beach honeymoon trope, as it involves near-constant activity. Worth-seeing sites are spread throughout the country, and typical visits will include stays in multiple areas. In fact, luxury resorts like Amankora and Six Senses Bhutan, which plans to launch later this year, offer separate properties located in each of Bhutan's five main valleys: Paro, Gangtey, Thimphu, Punakha, and Bumthang. Guests are expected to bounce between them.
Within each valley, you’ll not get a reprieve, either. Quite a bit of trekking is required in to visit the innumerable richly-historic temples, monasteries, fortresses and other such often-remote attractions for which Bhutan is known. To reach the country’s most famous destination, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, for example, requires four hours of hiking up (and down) a mountain. Some points of interest may also be reached by bicycle or horseback. Additionally, active pastimes such as white-water rafting and archery, the national sport of Bhutan, are encouraged for tourists.
Still, your stay won’t be all sweat. Much of your time will be spent quietly perusing the aforementioned spiritual and historical sites—not all of which take such considerable effort as the Tiger's Nest to reach—as well as visiting hyper-specialized museums like the National Institute of Arts and Crafts or the Institute of Traditional Medicine, indulging in Bhutan’s signature chili-cheese dish, and simply enjoying unspoiled nature. Spa options (and swimming pools) also abound at the country’s various resorts, and traditional Bhutanese healing hot stone baths will help to relieve any aches and pains from the day’s exertions.
Romance will not be in short supply, either. Given Bhutan’s extraordinary landscape, nearly every view you’ll take in will be sweeping. Local resorts take full advantage of these epic settings, too; both Amankora and Six Senses offer (or plan to offer) private picnics and other such exclusive, bespoke events for couples. “At Paro Lodge, honeymoon couples may dine within the ruins of a 12th century fortress adorned with Bhutanese decorations, live musicians and dancers, and a specially-selected Bhutanese menu to suit their tastes,” offers Six Senses Bhutan’s GM Mark Swinton as an example.
What's more, Bhutan’s particular brand of Buddhism has an unexpected bent which may help to kindle certain fires on your honeymoon: fertility. For this reason, you’ll see phallus depictions and sculptures adorning both temples and homes throughout your stay. These tributes are designed to honor a frisky monk known as “The Divine Madman,” who is credited for bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. Chimi Lhakhang, the fertility temple he built in 1449, can be visited by couples looking for baby blessings administered by wooden-phallus-wielding monks.
Thank goodness you let grandma sit this one out, right?