Why Is This Place so Great?
Chiang Mai has a considerably smaller population in comparison to Thailand’s capital, housing approximately 150,000 residents within the region, providing visitors with the opportunity to experience the city’s history, culture, and natural beauty in a much quieter and more personal environment. Previously regarded as the center of the Lanna Kingdom that spanned most of northern Thailand, the city contains over 300 temples – some of which have programs where visitors can arrange to speak to monks to learn more about their religion and way of life.
Lifestylers will particularly love the city. Not only is the city extremely vegetarian and vegan-friendly, but it has tons of natural wonders that are worth planning day trips to in neighboring areas. From cliff jumping up to 50 feet distances at the Chiang Mai Canyon, climbing the natural wonder of Bua Thong’s “Sticky Falls” barefoot, to hiking Pilgrim’s Trail up to the quiet Wat Pha Lat temple, there is something for every lifestyle traveler.
Luxury Chiang Mai
Luxury Hotel: Four Seasons Chiang Mai
Located in the serene Mae Rim Valley, the Four Seasons Chiang Mai is typically a 40-minute car ride north from the city center and in walking distance from an elephant sanctuary, Wat Pa Daraphirom Temple, as well as an orchid and butterfly farm. Nestled within 32 acres of land, the resort provides its guests an oasis amongst landscaped gardens, rice terraces, lily ponds, waterfalls, and two small lakes all overlooking the Doi Suthep mountain range.
The resort’s 98 rooms spread across pavilions (suites), villas, and residences that are sprinkled throughout the resort to provide guests with a minimum of 750 square feet of space to unwind in. Designed with the Lanna Kingdom aesthetics in mind, the resort has blended Burmese, Indian, and Chinese cultures with a contemporary twist throughout its space. This is reflected in its silk, cotton, and rich wood furnishings, and Siamese artifacts and paintings throughout the rooms. The rooms are luxuriously fitted with double vanities, deep soaking tub, separate shower stall, Wireless Bluetooth speakers, and high-vaulted ceilings.
Villas are a lot larger spanning a total of 4,336 square feet of space and are all located on the eastern side of the resort amongst lush gardens to provide ample privacy whilst guests enjoy their own private plunge pools, outdoor and indoor shower, dining pavilion, whirlpool, Thai verandah complete with a swing sofa, and ample garden and pond spaces.
Although the villas already sound too perfect to be true, guests looking for the ultimate experience should book the resort’s private residences. Ranging from one to four bedrooms guests staying in these rooms will receive a minimum of 2,626 square feet of space. Each of these residences is unique with their different layouts, amenities, and decor, most with its own kitchen, living area, entertainment area, and plunge pools. This being said, the biggest perks are having a live-in butler, complimentary round-trip airport transfers, evening canapés, daily breakfast, amongst many other exclusive amenities.
People looking to book a large group holiday will also appreciate that the resort can combine up to 5 private residences together with bamboo-lined pathways to create a 20 bedroom (15 king and 5 twin rooms) estate complete with five private swimming pools, five live-in private attendants, round-trip transfers by luxury vans, daily breakfast served in the villa, daily private yoga lessons on the pool deck, fresh fruit smoothies and/or juice throughout the day, as well as complimentary one-time experiences to enjoy afternoon tea at the Orchid Nursery, dinner at Rim Tai Kitchen, private barbecue dinner in the residence, and wine-tasting at the Residence’s wine cellar.
While guests can venture into Chiang Mai’s city center by using the Four Season’s complimentary shuttle service that departs every 90 minutes, the resort has tons of unique activities to keep occupied as well. Since the resort grounds are nestled amongst some working rice fields, guests can go on a tour of the rice terraces, try a complimentary session of rice planting, or join a daily group session to meet resident buffalos and have the opportunity to bathe and feed them bananas.
Early mornings are treasured at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai. While many guests prefer to sleep during these hours, early birds are treated to a number of complimentary resort activities where they can participate in a short encounter with local monks who visit the hotel’s lobby entrance in the early morning to learn how to offer respect to Buddha in the local Thai tradition. Follow this off by participating in a complimentary group yoga session in the Rice Barn led by their resident yogi, Dheeraj Singh Patwal, who mastered the art of yoga, pilates, and meditation amongst Grand Masters in the Himalayas. The early hours are also when the beautiful flower arrangements throughout the hotel are made, where guests who meet the kind florist may even be given the chance to contribute to the daily creations.
The resort also features its own Rim Tai Kitchen Cooking Academy, where guests have the option to start the day by visiting the local markets and cooking stores with a chef to discover the ingredients that create northern’s Thailand’s rich flavors and the traditional tools used to make such dishes (they may even help you find specific ingredients for you to purchase and take home if asked). Following this, guests will partake in a personalized cooking lesson with their culinary team in their semi-outdoor Lanai to make some of their specialties such as Curries, Tom Yum Goong, Pad Thai, amongst other dishes.
Guests who prefer to be more active can use the hotel’s complimentary mountain bikes to explore the resort grounds or the neighborhood around the resort, take an outdoor Muay Thai boxing class, reserve time to play on their two grass tennis courts that are floodlit for night play, explore the resort’s nature paths, swim in their 22-yard infinity-edge swimming pool, or use their state of the art fitness center.
The resort also features The Gecko kid’s club, where children between the ages of 4 and 12 have a dedicated space to meet and participate in complimentary games and activities including arts and crafts, group Muay Thai boxing classes, rice planting, and family activities throughout the day.
Most of these activities need to be booked ahead of time, so speak to the concierge to make sure you get the most of your stay!
Luxury Activity: Visit Happy Elephants in Their Natural Habitats
Chiang Mai is a popular destination to visit in part for the temples dating back to the Lanna Kingdom, but also for the mass number of elephant sanctuaries in the area. Although there are many places that call themselves sanctuaries for saving elephants from the likes of circuses and Howdah riding (using basket seats or carriages on the elephant’s back) amongst other tourist activities, many of these establishments are not always ethical since they still chain or rope elephants up to ensure they don’t stray or use abusive means to make them do tricks for tourist’s pictures and entertainment, both of which causes the elephants to sway side to side as a means to signal distress. Consequently, we have done some research to find the most ethical elephant sanctuaries in the area and have deduced them to be Karen Tribe Native Elephants and Chiangmai Elephant Land.
Karen Tribe Native Elephants is a village that owns their elephants. Since elephants have stopped being used for farming and logging, many villages could no longer afford their upkeep and had to sell their elephants to tourist camps where they were overworked and abused. The Karen Tribe wanted to keep their elephants and invented their own ecotourism project to introduce visitors to their unique family.
This establishment is considerably more expensive in comparison to the other sanctuaries in Chiang Mai, where day trips cost 3,500 THB per person if you share one elephant amongst two people or 5,500 THB per person for your own elephant. Overnight trips in either a tent or home costs 8,000THB per person. This being said, all visitors are paired with their own elephant which makes the experience well worth the extra cost.
Located in the Samoeng district, the sanctuary is approximately a 2-hour car journey from the city center; consequently, all trips start off at around 7.30 in the morning, when visitors will be met at their respective hotels and be driven to the sanctuary through the most scenic routes of Chiang Mai. Once there, visitors will be given a clean set of clothes and be trained on how to introduce themselves to their elephant followed by a comprehensive hands-on program that educates visitors on elephant behaviors, their physical and mental health, feeding, amongst other topics. Guests will definitely have a lot of fun bonding with their elephants and even teaching them tricks with the help of treats for positive reinforcements, and preparing the elephant’s daily healthcare regimens. After guests have been well acquainted with their elephant, they will then be trained on how to safely approach and mount the elephants bareback so that the elephants are not hurt during the process before exercising the elephant in the jungle (with only one person riding them at a time if you happen to be sharing your elephant with others). Once everyone has arrived at the lake, humans and elephants alike will enjoy a hearty lunch before helping the elephants with a bath.
The day trip ends once visitors have returned to the training grounds. However, those participating in the overnight journey will venture on from the lake to have a cultural experience with the Karen Tribe where guests will be guided to their host’s home where they will participate in activities that may include meal preparations, creating traditional Karen crafts such as baskets or weaving, and speaking with your hosts (most people in the tribe speak English pretty well, so there won’t be that much of a language barrier). Overnight accommodation will either be with your host in their traditional home, or in a tree tent that sleeps up to three depending on what you initially book.
We have no qualms of the ethical treatment here since the elephants that were born here or adopted at a young age are only trained using positive reinforcement from the age of three, much like how we would train our own house pets, and are given continuous free time to play and interact with other elephants or humans if they so desire. Travelers wanting to visit Karen Tribe Native Elephants should book well in advance since they only have seven elephants available.
If you are against the thought of riding elephants bareback, or prefer a cheaper excursion, then we recommend visiting Chiangmai Elephant Land instead. This sanctuary also provides a one or two-day excursion, starting at the price of 2,300 THB per person for the day trip and 4,000 THB per person for the overnight journey. While the two sanctuaries provide similar experiences, the major difference lies in not being paired with your own elephant, walking through the jungle with the elephants instead of riding them bareback, and not experiencing tribal life activities if you choose to stay overnight.
While both sanctuaries provide its guests with many amenities including bottled water, accident insurance, meals, complimentary photos of your experience, and a change of clothes, we recommend visitors to bring or wear the following on the excursion: sunscreen, camera, shorts, t-shirt, swimwear (worn underneath your clothes), a change of clothes just to be safe, good walking shoes for times when you’ll be walking behind your elephant, a hat, and small towel.
Luxury Dining: The Service 1921 Restaurant & Bar
The Service 1921 Restaurant and Bar is amongst one of the best dining establishments in the city. Located in the Anantara resort’s Heritage House, the restaurant provides its patrons the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the building that was once the British Consulate, which once housed a courtroom, offices, servants’ quarters, and stables for elephants since the building was adapted for British government use in 1921. Embracing the British colonial era, the restaurant has taken onboard a slight secret intelligence service theme throughout the restaurant where patrons can order James Bond’s coveted Vesper Martini, browse menus that are “for your eyes only”, and enjoy the secluded environment of their private dining room that is hidden behind a secret bookshelf door.
Continuing the restaurant’s British theme, the restaurant is mostly decorated using teak furniture since the majority of British citizens living in Chiang Mai back in 1921 were working in teak trade. Alongside the impressive teak tables and Thai style wooden screens in its semi-outdoor dining areas, patrons will find an Asian inspired menu featuring delicacies from Thailand, China, and Vietnam. Some of the best dishes here include Yum Ped Yang (duck breast salad), Poo Nim Klug Nga (soft shell crab), Gaeng Nue, and their curries – especially the Yang Bai Chaplu (braised beef shank in yellow curry).
Lifestyle Chiang Mai
Lifestyle Hotel: 137 Pillars House
The grounds of 137 Pillars House were originally built in the 1880s and was once home to Anna’s son, Louis Leonowens, from the infamous tale “The King and I” as well as the headquarters for the Borneo Trading Company. The complex has since been restored to reflect its 19th Century origins with rich teak structures when the resort opened in December 2011. Located next to the Ping River, across from the Old City, the resort is tucked away in a quiet oasis and is within walking distance from Wat Gate Temple, Warorot Market which many locals frequent, as well as many stores, restaurants, and art galleries.
137 Pillars House has implemented many different eco-friendly initiatives that started in its concentration on reducing the majority of waste by transforming almost all of their generated organic waste has been repurposed for compost or turned into biochar, nourishing charcoal that makes the soil richer and enhances plant growth, used in the resort’s lush landscaped gardens and their privately-owned vegetable and herb garden used to source some of the freshest ingredients for the resort’s two restaurants and bar. Recyclable goods such as glass, paper, and cardboard, have also been sold to vendors for sustainable recycling.
While recycling, composting, and limiting the use of single-use plastics have become a more common practice at many luxury hotels, the resort has gone a step further by hiring an internationally acclaimed mosquito expert to assist with sustainably eliminating mosquito breeding areas without the use of chemicals. Consequently, guests staying here won’t have to be worried about getting bitten.
The resort’s 30 suites are split amongst four categories: Rajah Brooke Suites, East Borneo Suites, David Fleming Macfie Suites, William Bain Terrace Suites, and Louis Leonowens Pool Suites. Rajah Brooke Suites are the resort’s entry-level room providing guests with 753 square feet one-bedroom accommodation fully equipped with its own airy verandah, walk-in closet, dual vanities, free-standing Victorian bathtub, as well as separate indoor and outdoor showers. All suites are provided with personal butler service for any requests such as dining reservations or excursions during your stay, a smart airconditioning unit that will automatically turn off when the patio doors are open, an extensive pillow menu, complimentary glass bottled water, reusable woven trash bags, wooden pens, natural toothpaste, and toiletries (such as shower caps, razors, cotton buds, and toothbrushes) made out of cornstarch. Within the next year, the hotel is also planning on implementing in-room shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion dispensers to further reduce the amount of waste generated per stay.
While all room types at 137 Pillar House are quite spectacular, families of four should look to book the David Fleming Macfie Suites or any category above due to its larger living space and additional larger sofa beds. Conversely, guests who are looking for the height of luxury at this resort should stay in one of their two Louis Leonowens Pool Suites. Located on the ground floor, each suite spans to approximately 1,453 square feet of space and features a sunken bathtub and its own 6-yard private swimming pool.
In terms of wellness, the resort has its own in-house Nitra Spa that offers contemporary facials and body treatments. Those who are interested in keeping up with their fitness levels can swim laps in the resort’s infamous 27-yard pool while taking in the tranquil setting up the resort’s living wall or use their state-of-the-art gym. Guests can also relax with their family by playing a round of croquet on their 6-wicket course or request their private butlers to arrange private yoga or Muay Thai boxing classes at the resort as well.
Lifestyle Activity: Reach New Levels of Awareness on a Silent Meditation Retreat
Vipassana is one of two types of meditation in Buddhism culture. The more widely used meditation type, Samatha, promotes concentration and tranquility so that the mind can fully rest. Vipassana, on the other hand, is a Pali word that means to clearly see through introspection to gain insight into the true nature of reality – that life is selfless and should be led selflessy and can at times be dissatisfactory. The process normally takes years for a meditator to reach liberation from its self-created illusions by using the gentle techniques of heightening senses through cultivating the act of attentive listening, mindful sight, careful touch, perceptive taste, and acute smelling.
Vipassana meditation originates from India, but since its Buddhist culture has slowly diminished over time, Thailand is now known as the most popular place to practice it. Chiang Mai, in particular, has a wide number of Vipassana meditation retreats led by monks (often in silence to truly liberate the psyche). These retreats often have English speaking instructors and operated on a pay-what-you-want donation fee, but some are known to charge a price for accommodation and food (note that meals normally consist of breakfast and lunch. Practitioners are encouraged to fast for the rest of the day).
Those who have never practiced Vipassana before should visit Monkchat Meditation Retreat at Wat Suan Dok temple. Located a little outside of the Old City, Monkchat offers visitors the opportunity to participate in one, two, or four-day retreats to learn the basics of Vipassana meditation. One-day courses are offered every Monday and Friday, two-day retreats (24-hours) are overnight offered weekly from Tuesdays to Wednesdays, and four-day retreats happen on the last week of every month from Tuesday to Friday. Alongside meditation, this temple also has a Monk Chat program where visitors who are interested in learning about Buddhism or the monk’s lifestyle are paired with one of their disciples who has the ability to speak the same language.
More seasoned Vipassana practitioners may want to visit Wat Phradat Sri Chom Tong. Located close to 40 miles southwest from Chiang Mai’s city center and next to the infamous Doi Inthanon National Park, this is one of the oldest temples in Chiang Mai. As a temple that has become the center of the Northern Insight School of Meditation, Wat Phradat Sri Chom Tong has become one of the most popular places to complete a meditation retreat in the area. Western and Thai visitors normally stay here for 21 days, many saying that wouldn’t mind staying longer, but there are occasions when people stay for a week instead. Course dates vary, and those interested should get in touch by calling the meditation center.
Those looking for a different scenery may want to visit Wat Pa Tam Wua Monastery instead. Situated amongst papaya and banana trees, the monastery is located approximately 35km away from the city. Practitioners here can choose whether or not they want to be in silence throughout their stay. The monastery doesn’t have a set schedule. Visitors can choose the duration of their meditation retreat (typically between two to twenty-one days), turn up, and join the monks for their daily meditation practices. The ability to personalize your own meditation retreat is a positive aspect to many who come here to practice; however, this may be negative for anyone who is looking for serious meditation programs since there will be disruptions from people speaking and your dorm will have people constantly joining or leaving the retreat at different times.
Lifestyle Dining: Pun Pun Vegetarian Restaurant
Pun Pun serves in two locations – Pun Pun Market, located near the Airport on Hang Dong Road, and the more infamous Pun Pun Organic Farm, which is a little over an hour’s drive from the city center in the Suan Dok Temple area.
Serving a wide variety of vegetarian dishes, with a couple meat dishes and many vegan options, patrons here will have the ability to enjoy some classic Thai favorites ranging from Curries, Fried Rice, Kao Soi, and Pad Thai that have mostly been sustainably sourced by their own organic farm. The Hang Dong Road location offers a wider range of Western dishes in comparison to its Farm location and offers choices such as Larb Burritos, Pancakes, and Smoothie Bowls.
Both locations offer additional English courses or workshops where visitors can learn to cook, create homemade soaps, make fermented drinks (such as kombucha) and foods, amongst other things. Their website tends to post their workshop schedule months in advance, so definitely keep an eye out to see if there’s anything interesting during the dates you’re visiting.
The farm also takes overnight visitors for travelers who are willing to commit two weeks to two months of their time towards cultivating the organic farm. Most of the work will include weeding, planting, harvesting, and preparing new garden beds, but there will be staff who will guide visitors through all the ropes. A small fee is required on these overnight trips for food and accommodation.
Boutique Chiang Mai
Boutique Hotel: Raya Heritage Hotel
Located at the edge of the Mae Rim Valley, Raya Heritage Hotel is a gorgeous property tucked away in a quiet oasis that can be considered secluded since even the nearest convenience store is approximately a 20-minute walk away. Although the hotel is a little far from the city center, they do offer a 15 to 20-minute complimentary shuttle bus to and from its sister property, Tamarind Village, situated within the Old City four times a day, providing guests the opportunity to easily see Chiang Mai’s major attractions.
Raya Heritage’s 33 spacious suites are spread across three room types located: Rin Terrace Suites, Huen Bon Suites, and Kraam Pool Suites each located on its own floor. All room types are filled with a contemporary white and cream representation of the traditional Lanna era designs using one-of-a-kind sustainably made furniture and décor. This includes handwoven naturally dyed textiles, pottery, and hand-carved teak mirrors all sourced from local craftsmen in small neighboring towns and villages.
Rin Terrace Suites are the entry-level room types offering 807 square feet of space with the resort’s cream and white décor offset by black accents. All of these suites are located on the second floor, providing guests with large bathrooms with twin vanities, a large soaking tub, and a separate shower unit as well as an outdoor terrace overlooking the Ping River.
Huen Bon Suites are the same size as the resort’s Rin Terrace Suites with similar layouts but are all situated on the top floor. This consequently provides guests with rooms designed in traditional Lanna style architecture with high-pitched ceilings. Aside from this, the only other change is the accented natural brown décor.
Kramm Pool Suites are the largest rooms at 1,076 square feet and are typically sold at the same price point as Huen Bon Suites. All located on the ground floor, these suites offer both indoor and outdoor living spaces and a private 7-yard plunge pool. Instead of black or brown, the décor in this suite is offset by indigo tones.
In terms of facilities, the hotel offers a fitness center, a spa that offers both traditional and unique treatments such as their signature bamboo massage, a steam room with scented with rare local herbs providing natural healing properties, and a 21-yard lap pool. Raya Heritage also assists guests in booking half or full-day excursions or tours through temples, markets, villages, national parks, or more active experiences such as elephant encounters, rock climbing, or rafting.
Raya Heritage has three dining establishments to enjoy on property that all use fresh, sustainably grown, and locally sourced ingredients. Khu Khao is the hotel’s main restaurant serving made-to-order breakfasts featuring cold-pressed juices, smoothies, an assortment of freshly baked bread, as well as Western or Asian style mains. During lunch and dinner hours, the restaurant serves an all Thai menu. Aside from the afternoon tea set served at the hotel’s Laan Cha Tea Terrace, the all-day menu served at the Terrace and Baan Ta Lounge & Lawn are the same featuring light dishes including sandwiches, soups, salads, and local specialties. Since the hotel is a little secluded, the price for food and beverages here are on the more expensive side, especially in comparison to local prices.
If you’re looking for a stay-in resort vacation filled with activities, then this is probably not the hotel for you, but this would be the perfect stay for boutique travelers looking for upscale contemporary style accommodation at more affordable prices.
Boutique Activity: Learn the Culture of the Kayan Long Neck Hill Tribe
The Kayan Long Neck Tribe are a subgroup of the Karenni people who originated from Tibetan ethnicity and previously lived in Myanmar before becoming refugees in the late 1980s and fled the country due to escalated conflict during the civil war between the Karenni National Liberation Army and the former Burmese military army. Since then, the Kayan Hill Tribe sought sanctuary and has been granted conflict refugee status from the Thai government. In present, approximately 500 Kayans live in guarded villages on the northern Thai border and in the Chiang Mai Province.
Ancient folklore states the Kayan women originally wore rings on their necks to protect themselves from Indochinese tigers who often attacked tribe members by their throats whilst roaming the jungles. As opposed to elongating their necks, the rings had the opposite effect where its heavyweight ended up shortening their torsos. For added protection, the women would continue adding rings onto their necks causing the neck to grow further. While people don’t know if this legend is true, wild tiger sightings have become few and the Kayan women consider the neck rings as beautiful jewelry and are often seen wearing similar rings on their wrists and shins as a sense of identity with their culture.
Contrary to popular belief, the tribe women aren’t forced to wear neck rings. Whilst walking around the villages, visitors may notice that some of the women choose not to wear the rings whether their necks have elongated or not. Removing the rings after wearing them for some time may feel odd and uncomfortable (much like removing braces), but it will not cause them bodily harm.
Since the Kayans do not hold Thai citizenship, they have limited access to basic infrastructures including electricity, roads, health care, and education. Consequently, they rely on tourists to earn additional income to help with their standard of living. There are many tour companies that turn Kayan Long Neck Tribes into a cash cow by taking the majority of profits, so it’s important to find a socially responsible company on this excursion.
One that we recommend is the Thailand Hill Tribe Holidays Private Tours company because they tend to use local villagers as guides. This gives villagers the opportunity to practice their English while earning a fair wage and provides visitors with the opportunity to learn from the villagers first hand. Thailand Hill Tribe Holidays provides different tours ranging from a day tour to 8 night stays with the option to stay with different host families from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai so that visitors can learn the cultural differences between each region while enjoying scenic drives and boat rides through the country. Although many villages require a fee to enter so that they can maintain the village, make sure to buy some souvenirs, such as hand-woven handicrafts, to further support them.
Boutique Dining: Visit Huay Tung Tao Lake and Dine on a Floating Hut
Although Huay Tung Tao Lake is approximately 20 to 30-minutes away from the Old City by car, the area is often frequented by locals for its beautiful lakeside views of the Doi Pui mountain range. The lake is surrounded by restaurants that all serve similar local Thai cuisine including whole fried fish, papaya salads, sticky rice, fried rice, and noodles. Each restaurant has a few floating huts which are complimentary to dine in as long as you place an order. After dining, enjoy a stroll, run, or cycle around the 2.5-mile track across the lake to discover more activities including ziplining, paddling in swan-shaped boats, riding ATVs, or visiting the straw constructed King Kong sculpture during your visit. Since Huay Tung Tao Lake is considered a national park, be prepared to pay an entrance fee for anyone over the age of 5.
** Extra Boutique Dining: Ugo Restaurant**
Those who are searching for a restaurant to satisfy both Western and Thai cravings, or are simply looking to try some great Thai food, should visit Ugo. Normally, restaurants that have huge menus serve questionable food, but this restaurant is possibly one of the few restaurants that prove the contrary. In terms of Western dishes, expect to find a variety of bruschettas, pasta, pizzas, classic meat mains, sandwiches, and some of the best burgers in Chiang Mai. On the Thai side of the menu, patrons can enjoy a great Khao Soi, Pad Thai, Massaman Curry, Spring Rolls, and Laab. The drinks menu here is also vast ranging from non-alcoholic specialties, over 300 Thai and imported craft beers, cocktails, and spirits.