Looking to head up north for cooler climes and cultural days out? From Lanna-style living and colonial retreats to intimate boutique hotels and adventure-packed getaways, we’ve got northern Thailand’s very best luxury hotels covered in this selection.
By Gaby Doman
Thailand’s north has always beckoned the traveller with its smorgasbord of cultural, exotic and adventurous offerings. The discerning traveller however, was always left askance at how little the northern hoteliers had to offer. No longer though, a new breed of brave hoteliers have upped the ante offering lodgings that would please even the most demanding; the product as creative as it is differentiated.
The Dhara Devi
If your idea of a five star hotel stay involves spectacular architecture worthy of a royal, Dhara Dhevi ticks all the boxes. There’s no denying this hotel, set in 60 acres of tropical gardens, is utterly spectacular and its Lanna-style architecture could easily fool you into thinking this hotel is a relic from another era — and perhaps a museum to a bygone time. As well as an incredible exterior, the hotel is packed with colonial style furniture and exquisite local arts.
The Dheva Spa is not to be missed. The 3,100sqm complex is reminiscent of a Mandalay Palace, with a seven-tier lobby of carved teakwood and 18 treatment suites offering holistic treatments and Ayurvedic treatments.
Four Seasons Chiang Mai
Few resorts have the instant wow factor Four Seasons Chiang Mai does. A little way out of the city (although easily accessed thanks to its regular shuttle buses), this resort is in the thick of the lush green paddy fields of Mae Rim. The resort offers a slice of traditional Thai, with elegant architecture, locally-inspired spa treatments and fine Thai cuisine, as well as activities including Muay Thai kickboxing, Thai cooking classes, elephant rides and an opportunity to farm rice – with the help of the site’s very own water buffalos.
The rooms are some of the most luxurious and private you’ll find. Tucked away amidst the tropical gardens are the spacious rooms, decked out in dark wood furnishings and Thai silk textiles.
Anantara Chiang Mai Resort & Spa
If you came to Chiang Mai for a spot of shopping, temple hopping and lounging in cafes, Anantara, on the banks of the Mae Ping River, has the perfect location in the heart of the city. This contemporary hotel is a landmark in the city and, behind its cool, contemporary walls, you’ll find an oasis in the city. The pool and ponds throughout the property make the gardens truly spectacular both day and night, when the water reflects lights across the resort. The rooms are airy and beautiful, offering views over the courtyard gardens from balcony daybeds.
This being Anantara, the spa is another star of this show and, as well as lengthy spa rituals to help you unwind after a day’s temple-hopping, the spa offers massage lessons to help you pick up a few local skills. We also recommend indulging in a sunset river cruise or, if you’re feeling more active, the hotel’s prestigious cooking classes. Read more
137 Pillars House
With just 30 rooms, you’ll have to book up fairly far in advance to be guaranteed a stay at one of Chiang Mai’s most charming properties. The former East Borneo Company headquarters was built in 1880 and has both traditional teak wood charm and all the mod cons you’d expect from a five star property.
The large suites – which range from 70 to 135 sqm — each feature a veranda and patio that overlooks the properties exotic gardens. As is the way in Chiang Mai, relaxation is key here, and the architecture, spa, pool and gardens are some of the key features of this spectacular property.
No detail is overlooked, with small touches, like 400-thread count linen, balcony daybeds and roll-top baths and vintage tiled verandas making this the perfect lazy Chiang Mai retreat. Pro tip: take advantage of the resort’s signature picnic baskets with champagne to take on day trips.
For a more low-key, ‘authentic’ experience, Ratchamankha is an utterly charming option in the heart of the historic old city. The boutique hotel has just 25 rooms and is close to some of the city’s best-known temples, such as Wat Phra Singh. The Simple, stylish courtyards, gardens and forecourt, created by architect Ong-ard Satrabhandhu, were based on 11th century Chinese homes and offer a character-packed alternative to some of the area’s larger hotels.
The hotel lends itself to lingering and, The Library, with its 2,000 or so books on Thai art, design and culture, the understated pool and the al fresco (or indoor, depending on the weather of your preference) restaurant on the patio which serves Lanna, Burmese and Shan cuisine, all lend themselves to a lengthy visit.
Ping Nakara harks back to the 1900s when Chiang Mai was at the heart of a thriving teak industry. Colonial-inspired architecture, and an elegant décor to match. The very private and serene 19-room boutique hotel is not only beautiful, but surpasses expectations when it comes to service, too. In fact, the entire resort has the air that you’re staying at a wealthy aunt’s fabulous country home.
If architectural elegance and service to write home about haven’t won you over, yet, perhaps the idea of a poolside verandah, a book-filled library and beautifully-made cocktails in the rotunda will seal the deal.
Puri Punn Baby Grand Boutique Hotel
Small, intimate and oozing charm, Puri Punn combines Lanna style architecture with colonial elegance. Refined, elegant and comfortable, Puri Punn soon stops feeling like a hotel and quickly feels like a home away from home.
The hotel has just 30 rooms and the emphasis is heavily on personalised service, with the pretty boutique hotel promising a memorable stay for each and every guest. It’s this bespoke treatment that makes Puri Punn a popular spot for people to return to again and again.
Rooms have high ceilings, spacious living areas and dark wooden floors. Each one has its own balcony with ceiling fan and a bench overlooking the pool. In fact, they’re so comfortable you may find that you’d rather spend your days in the comfort of the hotel than in the city itself. This is truly a home away from home.
Rati Lanna Riverside Spa Resort
The pace of life is slow in Chiang Mai but, somehow, seems even slower when you’re riverside. The 240 sqm Riverside Garden Suites in Rati Lanna are our pick of the rooms at this pretty resort. Not only are they spacious, but they offer spectacular views of the city’s Ping River.
The dining options are exceptional: Marlin Pavilion offering intimate riverside drinks and live music; Mira Terrace Restaurant offers oriental fusion and international cuisine with a stunning garden backdrop; and the hotel’s star dining spot, Rio Restaurant & Bar, which offers a Churrascaria Brazilian BBQ and all-you-can eat meat and seafood, accompanied by live piano music.
Four Seasons Tented Camp takes glamping to another level. Despite the tents, there’ll be no slumming it here and, instead, the jungle-surrounded resort offers one of the most memorable and adventure-packed – not the mention photogenic – hotel experiences you’ll ever have.
The package is an all-inclusive one because, let’s face it, you won’t be dining outside of the camp on your stay. The package includes round-trip airport transfers, meals, house wines and spirits, elephant trekking and a spa treatment.
The camp’s tents are a more than adequate 54sqm, with beautifully furnished living areas and a wooden hot tub on each of the tent’s 37sqm outdoor decks. To add to the ‘adventure’ aspect of the novel resort, there are outdoor rain showers, hand-hammered copper bath tubs big enough for two and, of course both air-con and heating – this is chilly northern Thailand, after all.
Le Meridien Chiang Rai
Set on 26 rai of land next to the Kok River, and amid tropical landscapes and mountain backdrops, Le Meridien is a great spot to explore both the area’s picturesque countryside and its rich culture – and the Lanna style hotel offers numerous opportunities to discover the culture, with hill tribe visits, elephant treks and river tours.
After a long, active day exploring, it’s wise to take advantage of the hotel’s dining facilities, which include Latest Recipe, an all-day dining spot, Favola for traditional Italian fare, Latitude, which offers incredible cocktails, fine wines and a great cup of coffee and, for those lazier days, Chill Bar, for poolside snacks and drinks.