137 Pillars House
A magnificent time warp, this 30-room hotel, across the Ping River from Chiang Mai’s bustling downtown, centers around the story from which it takes its name. In 1896, the son of Anna Leonowens’s (of The King & I fame) established the Northern Thai headquarters of the East Borneo Company in this area, which had been designated by the Thai king for foreigners to live. He brought four sprawling teak houses up from Bangkok and settled in one of them. More than two hundred years later, a Harvard-trained Thai architect bought part of this compound and worked closely with her team of historians and conservationists to meticulously reinforce the integrity of the original 1889 structure in which Louis Leonowens lived.
Amidst a verdant enclave of lady palms, mimosa trees and tropical flowers, this elegant, colonial-themed hotel takes its name from the profusion of pillars that support that building’s upper floor. Louis’ old house now hosts the property’s lounge, library, and gym, while the spa and 30 roomy accommodations occupy adjacent colonial-inspired buildings. Rooms and suites are thoughtfully appointed with large verandas, claw-foot Victorian tubs, and outdoor garden showers, then finished with woven rattan interior details, black-and-white photos of Old Siam and plenty of elephants. Even the entry level Rajah Brooks Suite is spacious, starting at around 600 square feet. Louis Leonowens Pool Suites work best for privacy-seeking couples who can play colonial dream house thanks to two levels, plus a swimmable pool and an outdoor dining and relaxation pavilion, all surrounded by flopping palms.
The spa’s Thai, Ayurveda and aromatherapy treatments suffice, although they are not Thailand’s finest. The real restorative draws here include the tropical gardens, where you can walk under elephant ear palm fronds and along the original elephant path, then cool down in the elongated swimming pool with plenty of cushy sun loungers. Switched on staff will arrive with cool towels and afternoon sweets.
While under the radar, the surrounding neighborhood of Wat Gate is one of this hotel’s strategic advantages, easily explored on foot or by borrowing the hotel’s bicycles. 137PH occupies a prime address along the Ping River and adjacent to the Wat Gate Khar Rham Temple with its multiple pagodas, monks’ living quarters and the charming Wat Gate Khar Rham Museum filled with quirky memorabilia of old Chiang Mai. To the north sits the teakwood house of a former Thai Prime Minister and to the south, you can peek into another teak residence with fine, slatted shutters affording both shade and air. A pedestrian footbridge, known as Sapan Khaek, crosses to Warorot Market just at the spot where the Lanna Kings boarded their royal boats.
Anantara Chiang Mai
While best known for designing Amanresorts, Australian architect Kerry Hill did some of his most dramatic work here on the banks of the Ping River. Behind an imposing bamboo clad wall, facing Chiang Mai town, are 84 ultra-sleek rooms, protected from city noise by two sets of thick oversized doors. Beds are comfortably plump, Wi-Fi is complimentary and speedy, and in the bathrooms, powerful rain showers wash away equatorial swelter. Suites 223, 323 and 423 look straight on the river.
Guests have the indulgent choice to unwind on outdoor and indoor daybeds in every room, or to head down to the well-padded teak sun loungers by the riverfront pool. More loungers above the adjacent spa allow for sunning after shadows fall down below. A destination in its own right, the spa offers some of Thailand’s top treatments. Here and throughout the hotel, staff delivers attentive service with sincere Thai smiles.
At the center of the U-shaped hotel sits the open-air restaurant (the colonial-era building once housed the British consulate), where chefs deliver a reliably delicious East-West menu blending Thai and Indian fare. Think tiger prawn curry and chili naan. The original wrought-iron staircase twists up to the rooftop bar where lemongrass adds flavor to traditional sundowners. Burn off vacation calories in the gym, where the latest equipment is positioned for unobstructed water views. Yogis, too, benefit from the meditative flowing river at a small yoga platform at the far side of the pool. For those who wish a closer look, the hotel can arrange boat rides on the waterway. Back on land, proximity to the colorful if touristy Chiang Mai night market is a convenience. Nature lovers can set out by Land Rover on hill tribe treks and elephant tours.
Slightly over-the-top, the property has micro-mirrors on Thai-style facades and the gilded finishes throughout. Villas are worth the upgrade for space and outdoor terraces along the waterways that flow through this imaginary village. As you roam around on foot or bicycle, keep an eye out for dancing apsara and angelic kinnaree among the intricate, hand-chiseled woodcarvings for which Northern Thailand is rightly famous.
Four restaurants here span the culinary globe, including Farang Ses where the French chef prepares duck ballottine, oysters and escargot as you would eat in Paris, followed by a selection of equally authentic soufflé. Le Grand Lanna (Thai food) and Fujian (Chinese food) also rate high among hotel guests and outside gourmands seeking Chiang Mai’s finest dishes.
Rebalance with complimentary classes offered here, including yoga, Muay Thai boxing and even rice planting. Or indulge inside Dheva Spa’s eighteen treatment rooms and five residences where stand-out treatments include the traditional Chinese medicinal foot massage, innovative bio feedback, and relaxing water therapy in the dedicated pool with the hotel’s Watsu guru. One recent addition deserves special attention: proceeds from the hotel’s weekly organic market support a nearby Buddhist temple school.
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai
This peaceful retreat has Thai-style pavilions, villas and private residences built among the rice fields outside the city of Chiang Mai.
A gilded temple rises above the dense emerald foliage in the distance, plainly visible from the massive, black-bottom infinity pool, plush sun loungers and pillow-strewn opium beds placed around this compound. Housing seven-pavilions, with Thai winged rooftops, the property is surrounded by two dozen, distinct tropical gardens. A museum’s worth of mostly Asian artifacts and valuable antiques get displayed throughout Howie’s HomeStay, which is all yours for the duration of your reservation.
Hosting guests was not in Howard Feldman’s original Chiang Mai plans. The longtime expatriate and his Thai wife, Jerri, built a multi-million-dollar export business out of Bangkok. This allowed them to hire Bill Bensley, the Harvard-trained ‘starchitect’ behind several trophy hotels across Asia. Over several years, Bensley built their Thai dream house on five acres. It’s located down the road from Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, but with superior views of the undulating jungle landscape.
After six years in residence, Feldman got the itch to build again, on a larger piece of land they own just down the road. To attract prospective buyers for a test-drive of this one-of-a-kind designer residence, Feldman opened his mother-in-law’s favorite suite in December 2011. It was immediately embraced as a retreat that works for families who want to take full advantage of Howie’s unsurpassed local intel, as well as for couples seeking indulgent tranquility among tropical splendor. After all, you are the only guests in residence and Howie’s goal is to treat his guests just as he and his wife like to be treated on their own global gallivanting.
The accommodations now extend to include the three-bedroom Family Pavilion (so altogether Howie’s can comfortably accommodate around a dozen guests. Under vaulted, 25-foot gilded teak ceilings, pillow top beds are made with Howie’s preferred 500-thread count sheets and floor-to-ceiling windows confer views of Bensley’s signature water gardens, with fish ponds and whimsical fountains. At night, hand-sewn linen blackout curtains cosset the bedrooms in sleep, inducing darkness while crickets and frogs performed their nocturnal opera.
A bountiful lunch chez Feldman might be som tam Thai papaya salad and rice noodle pad Thai, a specialty of the house. Jerri regularly cooks these family recipes for guests, and she also offers Thai cooking lessons in the enviable show kitchen surrounded by Burmese Buddhas, Thai woodcarvings and British colonial water jars. “We love to eat and we love guests who do as well. Everyone ends up feeling personally connected here at the dining table,” Feldman observes between bites.
Depending on guests’ preferences, the couple indefatigably shares “the real Thailand through our insider’s perspective” which may include Buddhist temple tours, nature treks, and Chinese herb market visits. Guests access these cherry-picked activities with Feldman’s carefully selected guide, car and driver, all built into the nightly rate. Also included are all meals, laundry, a generously stocked mini-bar and some of Thailand’s tastiest chocolate chip cookies, homemade by Howie himself.