Bhutan is often heralded as the “last Shangri-la” (an idyllic utopia where perfection has been achieved) and one of the happiest countries on Earth. Fascinated by the culture, I decided to travel to this mysterious kingdom, to see if it truly was as ethereal, enchanting and spiritually enlightening as marketing campaigns would have you believe. Entering Bhutan is like being transported to a classic period drama from the 1900s, infused with sophisticated modern innovations. The architecture is reminiscent of temples from an ancient fairy tale, and the scenery is so pristine every corner looks like an airbrushed desktop display picture. However, I noticed that it wasn’t just the surroundings that were stunning, I was in awe at the beauty of the people in the country – their dewy skin, silky locks and naturally pretty makeup had me mesmerised! Being the ever-curious person I am, I asked local people to divulge their tried-and-trusted beauty tips. Read on to discover the tried-and-trusted beauty secrets, and also discover some interesting facts about this landlocked Himalayan country.

  1. The unique secret to naturally defined eyes

My partner commented that people in Bhutan “didn’t wear that much makeup”. And it’s true – I saw masterful “no-makeup-makeup” looks on so many people. Their makeup beautifully enhanced their appearance but was so subtle that I had to do a double take to discern if the rosy cheeks were blush, or a natural flush. Even where makeup was visible, it looked effortless, elegant and refined.

I noticed that the hotel receptionist’s (Karma) eyeliner was slightly smoky, defined her eyes beautifully and yet still appeared ‘barely there’. When I complimented her and enquired about her routine, she happily divulged her three-step secret to her bright, Bambi eyes!

Directions:

1) First, use a black-brown eyebrow pencil to line your upper lashline. Karma opts for eyebrow pencils over eyeliners because they produce a softer and more subtle aesthetic, whilst still crisply defining the eyes. Then, starting from the middle of your eyes, draw a very thin line slightly above your lash line and extend it ever so slightly past the outer corners of your eyelid.

2) Then, using a very fine eyeliner brush – apply a light layer of warm berry-brown eye shadow over the first line. Karma says layering this specific shade over a darker brown colour is the key secret to giving her eyes more depth and dimension – whereas using a one-tone eyeliner makes her eyes appear flat and dull.  The colour combination also has a beautiful brightening effect – creating a more luminous and fresh appearance!

2. The tried-and-trusted DIY facemask for smoothing and clarifying the skin

International mainstream brands that are easily accessible in most countries are often not available or difficult to obtain in Bhutan. There were no luxury stop beauty counters such as Chanel or Dior, and in pharmacies brands such as Garnier or L’oreal aren’t readily stocked. Given there were also not many advanced skin/injectable clinics in sight – I knew there had to be unique local secrets that lifted some serious glow-boosting weight.

I asked the owner of a painting store (Ugyen) what she did to maintain her dewy skin and she said a favourite DIY remedy she swore by was  a lentil and tofu face mask. She told me this recipe was apparently a tried-and-trusted traditional technique passed down through generations! Lentils (packed with vitamin e, vitamin k, zinc, B vitamins, potassium and magnesium) help nourish and soften the skin, whilst the tofu (rich in vitamin a and lactic acid) helps clarify the complexion and combat congestion.

Directions:

1. Ground the lentils and tofu together until the solid ingredients form a smooth paste.

2. Mix the concoction together to ensure the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

3. Apply the mixture on cleansed skin for approximately 15 minutes and wash the remainder off.

3) The simple recipe for luminous locks + hair style that’s all the rage

In Bhutan, I did not see many people with bleached or dyed locks. Most people had silky, jet-black hair that looked too glossy to be true. I entered a local farmers market looking to buy organic produce and instead became enamoured with this shop keeper’s cascading glass hair. I asked the lady (Pema) what her trick was to maintain frizz-free hair, and she was more than happy to share that it was rice water that helped her maintain shiny locks with no split ends!

Directions:

1. Soak rice grains overnight in warm water.

2. In the morning, drain the water from the rice and pour it into a bottle.

3. She then mixes the rice water with her shampoo and conditioner, to increase shine and reduce split ends.

Curls reign supreme in Bhutan – a completely different hair aesthetic from my usual straight locks. However, a Bhutanese hairstylist encouraged me to try the more subtle ‘c curl’ style – she said it was universally flattering and perfect for those who want to experience the voluminous effect of curls, but are not prepared for a full head of curls. Essentially, you only curl the very end of your hair in the form of an inward ‘c’ (see this tutorial for very handy tips and instructions). I loved the effect – it was more subtle, made my hair look more bouncy/airy and instantly softened my face!

My personal recommendation: Having recently trialled a few curling irons for this look, I always go back to the Silver Bullet Platinum Curling Iron for its ability to create long-lasting curls that always look soft and lush – think natural/subtle ‘c curls’ that produce a bouncy and airy aesthetic (never stuck together or fried in appearance). But the greatest draw for me was the fact that the curling iron featured a ceramic barrel infused with tourmaline – this gemstone emits negative ions which help reduce frizz and increase luminosity.

4) The plant-based acne fighter

To combat pimples, the local pharmacist recommended I mixed sandalwood powder, with neem powder. Neem and sandalwood have strong anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. It’s therefore great a reducing redness and bringing down inflammation.

Directions:

  1. Mix neem and sandalwood powder in equal portions (half a teaspoon each).
  2. Add a few drops of water to the concoction, until it forms a thick paste.
  3. Apply a pea sized amount to any pimples overnight.

5) The easy exercise for a trimmer waist + the most versatile gym gear

Exercise

I noticed that Bhutanese people were generally fitter, as exercise was often naturally integrated into their everyday lives because of environmental, cultural and infrastructure factors. There is not a lot of public transport in Bhutan. For example: there are no trains, only buses! There are also many steep hills people must climb in order to travel to essential places, and given the vast number of scenic trekking routes – hiking is an activity favoured by many.  Despite this natural predisposition to activities that would boost fitness levels, I also wanted to know fi there were any additional exercises people favoured to stay fit!

Beyond walking and hiking, a lovely Bhutanese fly attendant told me she swore by this one simple exercise to keep her waist and legs in shape!

Directions:

1. Lay on one side of your body.

2. Keep the inner leg (the leg you’re laying on) straight on the ground.  For the outer leg (keep the foot on the ground) but raise it upwards so it creates a triangular shape with the other leg

3. Then lower the leg again.

4. Repeat the instructions above for the other side of your body.

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Style

When walking the streets of Bhutan, there was an unexpected clothing item I saw many people wear: I often saw people entering gyms casually with a bodysuit and a puffer jacket, and leaving the gym pairing the bodysuit with a leather skirt and heels – ready for a night out. After seeing how bodysuits seemed to mix and match effortlessly with all kinds of clothing items, I was inspired to style bodysuits with different pieces to create completely different looks.

When I got back to Sydney, I immediately searched for my Estroni bodysuits (which I had shamefully left to collect dust..), because I had mistakenly relegated it to ‘exclusively gym wear’, and I rarely work out!  Nowadays, I not only wear the bodysuit for light exercises, but also for work, formal events and casual brunches. For the office, I pair the Estroni Tank Bodysuit with black trousers and a white blazer; for casual outings, I combine the Estroni Olive Princess Bodysuit with jeans and ballet flats; and for formal events, I wear a white tweed skirt, with the Estroni Off-White Bodysuit and a white tweed jacket on top. As a side note: I am personally fond of my Estroni bodysuits because they look sleek under clothes and also hide my lumps and bumps – making me appear more toned.

6) Bhutan Travel Tips

Bhutan is a kingdom shrouded in mystery and it is not as straightforward and simple to plan a trip to this isolated kingdom. There are certain government regulations and laws you need to adhere to, alongside some operational/logistic factors:

  • There is a daily $200 USD tourist tax charged for every single day that you are in Bhutan. However, the government recently implemented a new policy, where you only have to pay the tax for a certain number of days and then it is waived for a specified number of days. For example: if you stay for 4 days, you will only need to pay 4 days worth of taxes and can stay an additional 4 days without paying the tax. See here for more details.
  • You need to engage the services of a tour agency or guide to obtain a tourist visa, unless you have family members in Bhutan.  You are unable to enter Bhutan as a tourist, without a tour guide! I went with the travel agency, Druk Asia, and I highly recommend them; they made my trip heavenly – everything was so smooth and efficient! Druk Asia provided licensed tour guide and personal driver, book your flights, create an itinerary, find the perfect accommodation and pre-plan your meals. You can read a more detailed review of my experience with Druk Asia here
  • There are only 5 countries that have direct flights to Bhutan – Thailand, Singapore, Nepal, India and Bangladesh. So you will have to fly into one of these countries first.
  • The country only allows two national airlines to enter the country: Bhutan Air and Druk Airlines.

Bhutan have implemented these policies as part of a “high value, low impact” tourism strategy. By charging a premium daily rate, they seek to reduce tourist overflow – which can damage the environment and also cause uncomfortable overcrowding. In limiting the tourist volume the government can better protect Bhutan’s pristine natural beauty, preserve their unique age-old traditions, and ensure the environment is clean and serene. Therefore, tourists who enter Bhutan will have a far more superior experience, as they can immerse themselves in famous sites without bearing the brunt of rowdy crowds, extreme pollution or over-commercialisation.

7) What is the gross national happiness index?

Bhutan is the only nation on earth that utilises a “gross national happiness index” – a quantitative measurement of its citizen’s happiness. An annual survey is sent to Bhutanese citizens asking them to state (from a scale of 1-10) how happy they are, and what areas the government could improve upon to increase their emotional wellbeing. Government policy is then drafted to target and reform perceived areas of weakness. Some fascinating policies and law to boost happiness include:

  • If you are poverty-stricken and homeless, you can request a plot of land and basic amenities from the king for free. The government will also provide  training and education, so you can up skill and attain better employment. If it is difficult to find employment, the government may sometimes create a job for you that is best aligned with your skillset. For example: during COVID-19 when the tourism sector came to a halt, the king implemented national projects to create new employment opportunities for them, and on top of that, provided a monthly spending allowance to further cover basic necessities.
  • If you are elderly and don’t have anyone to take care of you, the government will provide a care-taker and house to live in.
  • There is free education and healthcare. The government also provides full financial aid for international medical treatment and overseas study opportunities.
  • The constitution mandates that 60% of the country must be maintained as forest! Bhutan is the only carbon-neutral country in the world – absorbing more carbon than they emit.

I can say with certainty that the people I met radiated a special kind of peace and joy that truly glowed from within. Above all, there was a strong sense of community and camaraderie  – with people genuinely eager to help out anyone (even complete strangers like myself!) in need, and locals would often strike up engaging conversations, even if you weren’t acquainted previously. My tour guide would often speak to people as they they were his long lost friends, but often, they had only met on the day!

One of the greatest pearls of wisdom my Druk Air tour guide (Sonam Lhendup B) and driver (Karpola) imparted on me was this: 

“Everyone is going through something difficult, so let’s try and uplift one another. True beauty comes from loving yourself and making this world a kinder and more compassionate place. When you stumble, hold your head high and keep going – never give up. The hardest climbs usually produce the most gratifying results, so push through. Obstacles will always be present, but rising from these hurdles is the mission life presents us. Everything is temporary, so relax and smile, know that this too should pass.” 

Story by Kristina Zhou. Holding shot: Bhutan’s Queen Jetsun Pema, via @queenjetsunpema

Comment (1)

  1. January 25, 2024
    Irich photography

    Good post