At a Glance
A cicada chorus commences as a light breeze stirs the tall grasses amid lush rice fields. Intermittent birdsong is interrupted by the muffled clanging of a cowbell in the distance, as a dragonfly flits by. At Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai, these simple sights and sounds inform and reset your daily rhythms. Just 30 minutes from northern Thailand’s largest urban center, the Bill Bensley—designed resort, with its 64 Thai-style pavilions, 12 pool villas and 23 private residences, is laid out like a village across 32 acres with two large pools and three restaurants; the regional cultures of Burma, India and China are reflected in its teakwood floors, vaulted ceilings, original Thai art and exquisite flower arrangements. The 9,000-square-foot spa’s the thing here: it exudes calm, with therapists administering Thai massage treatments that use local herbs and oils plus specific offerings including relaxation and meditation, Kundalini yoga, Pilates and life-journey counseling. Guests can visit nearby markets and bazaars, crafts centers and temples, and partake in cooking classes, hiking, biking and Muay Thai. For a retreat centered around mindfulness, spirituality, fitness and self-care healing (or all of the above), this is the place.
**The Standout: **Beginning your day with sunrise yoga and ending with seasonal sundowners at Ratree Bar while watching the lively Farmer's Parade **Don't Miss: **The exceptional spa treatments and therapies; the resort also has visiting healers, who offer private sessions when they are on-site
- The private suites with views of rice paddies that come with pool pavilions and porch swings
- Mastering the art of pad thai and khao soi at the renowned cooking school after a Chef 's Garden tour
- A morning bicycle ride to explore local temples and the countryside, with a soundtrack of prayer flags flapping in the breeze
The Four Seasons Chiang Mai is located in Mae Rim, 30 minutes from the city of Chiang Mai, where the urban center recedes to rice fields and country paths wind up into the Himalayan foothills. The property is very lush, with 32 acres of landscaped rice paddies in all directions, along with pavilions that have been designed to feel like a Thai village. Each evening around sunset, the staff spends three hours lighting 150 torches scattered among the terraced rice fields. across the property, accompanied by an early evening chorus of cicadas and croaking bullfrogs. On clear nights, you can also see the palm and floral lanterns released by guests floating across the pond on the property. The traditional 700-year-old lantern ceremony ensures that any negativity will drift away and bring fortune, good luck and happiness during your stay.
The resort features charming, if unexpected, daily sightings of local life. Your visit will include an encounter with a few beasts of burden: Two large water buffaloes, known as P'Tae and his Stepbrother, P'Tone, roam the property with their shepherds, grazing their fill and curiously interacting with passersby. (They serve as a peaceful replacement for the rowdy engines of tractors and weed-wackers that typically provide background noise at sprawling resorts). The floral arrangements all across the property are dazzling. Daily offerings are also presented to area monks for presentations at nearby temples in the early morning hours.
The property has 64 pavilions, 12 pool villas, 17 residences and 5 residence villas—all with ample private outdoor space. A blend of regional cultures of Burma, India and China are reflected in the décor throughout the property, including the calming color scheme with brown and gold accents, teak wood floors, vaulted ceilings, and original Thai art. Many of the villas and residences have sizable private pools, which guests can enjoy, in addition to the two main pools built into the rice fields. There are also outdoor showers and small gardens in each villa; there is a view of the garden from the bathtub.
Both on- and off-property, you’ll find plenty of activities to fill your days. Start with a bike ride around the country roads, stopping off at small, nearby temples with colorful flags flying and sample the local brew at one of the many coffee shops along the way. Spend the afternoon relaxing by the pool, taking in the otherworldy scene around you. A memorable way to spend a morning includes a trip to Thanin market with one of the resort's chefs to sample local flavors: khoi soi and glass noodles, taro custard and sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf, Thai-style donuts and stall after stall of colorful fruits: green papayas, spiny magenta dragonfruit and hairy rambutans, green tangerines and sweet longans. Then put your learning into practice in an expert cooking class and try out recipes for Pad Thai and spicy papaya salad. Or explore the region further on day trips to an elephant camp, hiking to hill tribe stations, touring the larger temples of Chiang Mai such as Doi Suthep, at the top of the mountain or those further afield in the north. Visit Prempracha, a family-run local ceramics factory and showroom, and paint a piece to bring home (or shop for exquisite and well-priced platters and hand-made china sets). Shopping among the hip boutiques and concept shops of Nimmanhaemin Road in Chiang Mai is also an option.
Guests can build in time every day doing yoga or pilates, playing golf, trying a Muay Thai workout or learning about rice planting and the horticulture and history of the property and its local fauna and flora. Or they can work with the spa director to build an entire experience designed around self-care and mindfulness throughout their stay. The calm, 9,000 square foot space has seven treatment rooms with excellent, experienced therapists and has introduced a program centered around balancing a healthy lifestyle. An extensive array of Thai massage treatments feature heated silk poultices filled with soothing medicinal herbs and using such local products as lemongrass, ginger and coconut oil. Guest healers are also invited to the property for special sessions four times during the year around specific therapies, including relaxation and meditation techniques, Kundalini yoga, numerology and life-journey counseling.
Before dinner, end your day with sunset cocktails (try a Chiang Mai Mule: vodka with a chile, ginger and lime kick) at the Ratree Bar and Lounge. There are three dining options on-property: Khao, which serves an incredible array of Northern Thai specialties such as catfish salad, chicken or lobster larb, spicy soup with river prawns and dream-worthy noodle and rice options; Rim Thai Kitchen, which offers brunch on weekends and is the location of the hotel's wonderful cooking school; and Char, which showcases farm-to-table ingredients and a delicious menu of grilled and wood-fired dishes cooked on the enormous open fire pit. The outdoor stove is the centerpiece of the restaurant, topped by a massive steel crown, all supported by enormous steel beams.
As one comes to expect in Thailand, the service is impeccable and the staff is warm and attentive. The concierge handled a request for a digital camera charger with ease, dispatching a taxi to pick it up within an hour. Four Seasons takes it the extra mile, providing their staff with regular English classes to improve their language skills. Guests will see the same familiar faces assisting in the Cooking School as they do at breakfast, and there always seems to be a warm greeting, even if you’re staying only for a short time. There is also a Kids' Club and a Jim Thompson boutique on the property, with pretty scarves and accessories from the region.
Who Should Stay
Couples, friends or solo travelers looking for a true retreat for mind, body and spirit
Written by Jen Barr