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A broad perspective on where in the world you find Chiang Mai

First let me say how very fortunate I am to be doing something that I love. The hotel bug bit me over ten years ago, and the travel bug wasn’t too far behind. One of my favorite things to do when traveling is check out gorgeous hotels across the world, the ones with unique character, and stories to tell, the hotels that evoke a sense of place. Chiang Mai is a whole city that oozes just this evocative character, the entire place sensually enlivened with an easygoing spirit and quiet charm you don’t often find. The north of Thailand is so distinct from Bangkok or the beach areas to the south. The hustle and bustle of the big city is not present, despite Chiang Mai being the second largest city in the country. In Luxury or Economy “Part One” I visited and shared some thoughts about hotels in Siem Reap, Cambodia. During my time in Chiang Mai, I had the opportunity to do the same. I cannot pick a favorite (or at least I can’t say!), so let’s take a peek at a few of the best.


Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai

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A beautiful welcome, Four Seasons Chiang Mai lobby

If your desires lead you to nature, being truly removed from the city life and to the feel of a posh reserve, head for the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai. This resort is actually in Mae Rim, about a 30-45 minute drive outside of the city. The 2 restaurants and 98 rooms are situated on 32 acres, and you can choose from a number of room options. Pavilion rooms offer garden or rice field views (yes, there are rice fields on the property, tended to by the resort’s gardening staff of 50 people, and 7 water buffalo), and residences offer multi-room options for friends or families traveling together. But the true jewels are the newer pool villas, built five years ago.

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Pool Villa at Four Seasons Chiang Mai
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View from the bed in a Pool Villa at Four Seasons Chiang Mai

The open floor plan in these villas is airy and sexy, especially the stunning view from the bed through floor-to-ceiling glass doors out to your private plunge pool. A private gazebo off the pool is the perfect place to enjoy breakfast with a view, a massage, or morning yoga. If you dare to tear yourself away from your gorgeous villa, the resort can facilitate a number of activities. Thai cooking classes are offered Monday-Saturday in the expansive cooking demonstration kitchen (you can also do a nine course dinner at the chef’s table here in the evenings). Elephant camps, hiking excursions and more “extreme” activities like zip lining and atv riding can also be arranged. If you want to get away from it all in a Northern Thai natural paradise, the Four Seasons is where you want to be. Room rates from approximately $750/nt.

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Main Swimming pool with rice field view at Four Seasons Chiang Mai

Dhara Dhevi

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Main building, Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai

If art and culture resonate with you most, then get yourself over to the Dhara Dhevi. Truly, when I arrived on property I thought my song-taew driver had made a mistake; it looked like we were at a temple, not a hotel. “Dhara Dhevi” means “beautiful princess” and this resort could not be more aptly named. The owner is a Thai artist and art collector, which is immediately evident in the delicate care for every aspect of the property, from the finest details in the jaw-dropping wood carvings at the Dheva Spa {aside: spa wellness retreats and Ayurvedic treatments are on offer and I could not imagine a more serene, tranquil and otherworldly locale for such a purpose}, to the architecture of the numerous buildings. He wanted to reflect the history of Chiang Mai and the former Lanna Kingdom, so all of the buildings were constructed with a keen eye for the traditional style of the north. Even the wing of Colonial Suites reflects the impact of the British colonizers of Myanmar, part of which used to overlap the Lanna Kingdom. This resort is in the city (about a 15 minute ride to the airport or Old City) but if you want to forget that, it’s easy to do. All Deluxe Villas are two stories and have either a hot tub, plunge pool, or private full pool. Oh, and stunning views of the rice fields on the property. These rice fields are put to good use at Dhara Dhevi. If guests are interested, they can learn about rice agriculture by participating in planting and harvesting the two large fields. The resort then uses that rice to offer to the local monks at morning alms giving (another chance to participate in this if you don’t mind getting up early – a perfect jet lag activity). The owner and staff are passionately committed to their community. Older ladies from the neighborhood come to the resort every day to teach traditional crafts and a couple of nights a week a mini “market” is held on the grounds. Staffed and supplied by neighborhood cooks, guests can try authentic local foods for free.

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Interactive Craft Village at Dhara Dhevi

The activity options are packed here, with meditation, yoga, free bike rentals, crafts and ceremonies: you will not suffer a lack of things to do. Or if you just want to hang by one of the resort’s two luxurious pools, you can do that, too.

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One of Dhara Dhevi’s two resort swimming pools

The attentive staff (with a ratio of 4 staff members per room) is there to take care of you at every step, especially your personal butler. Even though this is a larger resort in terms of the number of rooms at 123, it feels undeniably like a distinguished boutique property. A former Mandarin Oriental, now independent, the Dhara Dhevi distinguishes itself with not only the uniqueness of the design and detail, but with their commitment to service and community and culture. Room rates from approximately $500/nt.

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Ayurvedic treats at the Dheva Spa
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Unique sculpture around the grounds at Dhara Dhevi
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View of rice fields from 2nd story of Deluxe Villa, Dhara Dhevi
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Local honey at breakfast buffet, Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai

Baan Huen Phen

Newly opened Baan Huen Phen
Newly opened Baan Huen Phen

“What about the “economy” part of this post?” you may be asking yourself. Thanks for your patience, and be assured, it’s well worth it. Baan Huen Phen is a recently opened boutique inn in the heart of Chiang Mai’s “Old City.” Owned and operated by the proprietors of favorite local restaurant (and namesake) Huen Phen, this little spot is a delightful charm at a reasonable price in a prime location. The exteriors are reminiscent of the Lanna style one sees throughout the north of Thailand, but the room interiors are sleek, modern and clean. Nothing gaudy here, and the standard and superior room types are both quite spacious. A small but inviting pool offers a respite from the strong South East Asian sun, and the walled in nature of the property leaves you with tranquility and quiet one cannot normally find in a bustling city center. The staff here is warm and friendly, and being hooked up with one of the best restaurants in town is never a bad thing (the coffee is to die for, as is the spicy chicken in northern Thai style!). Room rates from approximately $95/nt.

Tranquil pool area at Baan Huen Phen
Tranquil pool area at Baan Huen Phen

There are a number of lovely guest houses and even more moderately priced accommodations throughout Thailand’s second largest city. These were a few of the very best I visited. Do yourself a favor and visit this amazing place. Need a travel professional to help plan your trip? Always happy to help. Email me at anna@elitetravelinternational.com.

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