What is it? Having soft opened in October, the launch festivities for the 42-room North Hill City Resort, aimed at golfers, other golfers and the families of golfers, were put on hold following the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand. Set on former rice paddies about 30 minutes south of town by speedy tuk-tuk (the driver of which will probably have to be shown the way), the hotel has a fantastic view of Doi Suthep (the revered mountain Chiang Mai sits at the foot of). The surroundings are tranquil and it is a pleasant enough retreat, but the five-star online billing is a little flattering.
How so? Well, many of the elements are in place – personal tablets, bathroom amenities by wonderful smelling Thai brand Panpuri, overly complicated rain showers, free (but alcohol-free) minibars and Wi-fi – but the luxe runs no more than skin deep. The many staff are very friendly but not yet fully competent and the rooms are a poky 38 square metres, which seems less than generous given the absence of space constraints in the area. Quirky artwork and door-knob hangers that advise housekeeping, “Shhh ... I’m producing my growth hormone” go some way towards making amends.
Are you not completely won over because you’re not a golfer? Possibly. Across the road (less than a 50-metre stroll if you insist on not taking a proffered buggy) from the North Hill Golf Club and on the edge of a series of huge housing estates, the hotel’s raison d’être is given away in the names of its two 77-square-metre suites; Albatross and Fairway. The idea, I guess, is for the well-off from across Asia and further afield to buy a second home here, play a few rounds while in town and have visitors stay at the hotel.
And what do those visitors eat? Zest (above), the hotel restaurant, serves reasonable Italian fare (spaghetti sautéed with French sea crab, for example, or tagliolini sautéed with porcini mushroom and truffle cream sauce) but the wine list leaves a lot to be desired. Menus come in tablet form – which ol’-fashioned folk like me find a bit too fussy, although Google Translate comes in handy when trying to talk specifics with the waiting staff. If you fancy something more geographically appropriate, you’ll have to wander over to the clubhouse, and Mix, a branch of a Thai-owned Southeast Asian chain that serves up a stupifying range of local favourites. Tom yam on the terrace overlooking the tee of the 10th hole: terrific (below).
Ah, yes; tell us about the golf club. I know not of what I speak, I’m afraid, but I’m told it’s the third best course in Chiang Mai, which is perhaps pretty good considering it only got its second nine holes last year. Furthermore, unlike the two that are “better”, North Hill is just 20 minutes or so from the airport, which means that, with night games (up until 10pm) offered, it’s possible to get a last round in ahead of an evening flight. Perhaps there’ll be time to squeeze in a rub down at the Gayaranda (meaning “outstanding body”) Spa and a snifter at the Cheval Blanc Lounge, too. Hotel guests who are not already members of the club receive a 20 per cent discount.
What else is there to do? Cooking lessons (above) in the organic vegetable garden – known as The Veggie; a swim in the pool – known, for some reason, as The Rock; or early morning (boot camp) yoga on the hotel roof – known, errrr, as the roof. And for those who just cannot get golf out of their system, there’s the driving range across the road and a mini golf course is due to open in the new year.
Ok, how much? Rooms cost from 8,500 baht (HK$1,850) a night – suites from 14,600 baht – including breakfast, although the hotel is currently offering a 40 per cent off early-bird promotion.