The 7 most stylish places to stay and eat in Chiang Mai, Thailand
From DIY salads in a greenhouse to dining in the old British Consulate building, discover a new design-focused and health-conscious side to the northern Thai city
You probably already know the best temples to visit, where to haggle for your very own tuk-tuk souvenir made from a Chang beer can or how to find the best female ex-convict masseuses in Chiang Mai. But there is a flip side to this city’s touristic parlour tricks. Local hotels, properties and brands are catering for design-sensitive, health-conscious and sophisticated consumers.
With a great cuisine, and organic fruit and vegetables, Chiang Mai has become a haven for those looking to up their antioxidant game. And although Thailand’s love affair with all things retro stylish still rears its head, there’s a new breed of Asiatic minimalism cutting through the cobwebs, leaving nothing but bare concrete, solid oak and brass fittings in its wake.
X2 Nimman Villa
X2, or Cross To as it’s pronounced, knows its stuff. Having stayed at its amazing River Kwai resort on a previous trip, expectations were high. X2 Nimman Villa is five floors and seven rooms of immaculate ’50s and ’60s styling. Everything is hand-picked by X2’s founder, Anthony MacDonald.
X2 treads the line between hotel and home. It feels more like a place to hang your hat, than somewhere you’d look for a complimentary chocolate on your pillow. Despite its homely demeanour the villa comes complete with meeting room, games room, a rooftop jacuzzi and breakfast. Prices depend on the season, but at time of writing (low season), the four-bedroom option costs HK$4,100 a night.
36/6-7 Soi 11; x2resorts.com
Bodhissara Private Estate
As we pull up to the main entrance, after a short drive along the tree-lined gravel road passing undulating green hills and ponds, attentive staff emerge from an archway. “Welcome to Bodhissara Estate!” they greet us, conveying a genuine warmth rarely witnessed even at the best five-star hotels. Amenities include a pool, pool table, fully equipped gym, tennis court, karaoke and a skateboard ramp.
The architectural style is best described as British countryside townhouse mixed with a traditional Lanna cottage. The reason Bodhissara makes my top three is the staff. It is truly a five-star estate with a six-star team. It costs US$3,300 for a four-day, three-night package for four people.
107 Mae Faek; bodhissara.com
Stepping inside Anantara is like getting into a flotation chamber. Architecture is courtesy of Kerry Hill, with oversized geometrics, exquisite lighting and natural woodwork. The entire compound is striking no matter which way you turn. At the centre stands the old British Consulate, which was built in 1921. Within its walls lies The Service 1921, a Thai restaurant serving superb local dishes and carefully concocted cocktails. The menu deserves a mention for its creative cloak-and-dagger spy lingo.
Anantara takes its wellness seriously with upscale options such as private Thai boxing, holistic detox plans and alternative healing techniques from Doctor John Rogerson. Try an hour of his Ajna light treatment. A deluxe room costs HK$2,200.
123 Charoen Prathet Road; chiang-mai.anantara.com
Four Seasons breakfast in the rice fields
Four Seasons Chiang Mai strikes the perfect balance between creature comforts and the raw beauty of Thailand. This world-class resort tends its own rice paddies and organic herb garden and employs a beautiful 13-year-old albino water buffalo named Mr. Tong (who pays tax and shares the tips).
After learning about rice planting from their own master of the grain, and planting a few ourselves, we sat down to a private “Breakfast in the Rice Fields” with an astounding array of pastries, home-made jams, fruit salad and fresh juice served in absolute tranquillity. Perfection leaves no room for disappointment. HK$550 per person.
502 Moo 1, Mae Rim-Samoeng Old Road; fourseasons.com/chiangmai
Achingly stylish café-restaurant within the old city’s crumbling walls. White paint, oiled wood and plenty of greenery vie for space with naked Edison bulbs. It serves a great selection of Cold and Nitro brew coffee and a range of tasty salads, pizzas, pastas and desserts.
Moonmuang Soi 6, Old City; facebook.com/graphtable
Khai Long Tong
My new favourite Thai restaurant is a short drive from Bodhissara. Completely self sustained – the rice came from the field to our left, the fish raised in the moat surrounding us, and the galangal used in our Larb Pla (spicy fish) comes from their garden. This is country fare at its best. HK$130 filled three people. Highly recommended, but not for the faint-hearted.
San Sai District; facebook.com/Kailhongtong/NongHan
A strong greenhouse theme with more plants than chairs to sit on, this cafe is famous for enormous jug-sized Thai milk teas, Chiang Mai celebrity spotting, and an IKEA-style DIY Thai rice salad that is an absolute treat. With an arts and crafts shop in the back this is a good place to spend the whole day.
80 Charoenrat Road; facebook.com/Woochiangmai