137 PILLARS HOUSE
Since it opened in 2012, the 137 Pillars House – named after the number of wooden pillars gracing the hotel's centrepiece, an opulent teak house once owned by British wood merchants Borneo Company – has raised the bar in Chiang Mai hospitality, presenting itself as the first truly five-star boutique hotel in the city. Located in a quiet back lane on the eastern side of the Ping River, this oriental-style compound features 30 spacious suites, each with a vintage-tiled verandah with daybed, indoor and outdoor showers, claw-foot tubs, king beds and antique furniture. Relax by the 25-metre lap pool flanked by an ivy-clad wall, indulge in high tea in the fan-cooled darkness of the library, or enjoy a superior massage in the white-shuttered two-storey spa. An experience to be savoured. See www.snhcollection.com/137pillarshouse/.
ANANTARA CHIANG MAI
With 84 rooms, this aesthetically pleasing, contemporary zen retreat scrapes into the "boutique"' category, with a rarefied ambience belying its scale. Formerly The Chedi, recent rebranding under the burgeoning Anantara banner has resulted in revamped dining and the addition of experiences such as sunset cruises, blissful spa treatments, cooking school and a high tea served in the historic former British consulate. The 34-metre pool overlooking the mesmerising Ping River is beyond divine, while its proximity to the night market makes it an unbeatable location. See www.chiang-mai.anantara.com .
This oasis is located steps from Rachadamnoen Road, renowned for its vibrant "Walking Street" Sunday market. Follow an avenue of lantern-lit bamboo to a cluster of low-rise whitewashed buildings, built to resemble a traditional Lanna village centred around a 200-year-old tamarind tree. There are 42 rooms in this intimate maze; although small, they are enticingly decorated with antique furnishings embellished with luscious, locally sourced textiles. The hotel also serves as a gallery space, with the current photography exhibition, Ancient Roots, featuring images of northern Thai cuisine and the cultural roots that have shaped cooking techniques of the region. See www.tamarindvillage.com.
Built to resemble a grand "gingerbread" mansion from the colonial teak era of the early 20th century, this intimate, 19-room hotel is a study in elegance. The beauty is in the detail: hand-carved fretwork, formulated fragrance wafting through the lobby, mosaic verandah tiles, comfortable rattan armchairs and the languid swish of a ceiling fan. Bas-relief stucco works illustrating the timber industry are featured in corridors overlooking the pretty pool, while each guest room has individually handcrafted furniture and decorated with wall paintings of Thai flowers. For further indulgence, make a booking at the highly regarded Nakara Spa for holistic ayurvedic treatments. See www.pingnakara.com.
Don't be fooled by the hokey name – Howie's abode is a veritable palace, a luxury private resort designed by the flamboyant architect and landscape designer Bill Bensley. Using Richard Branson's Necker Island as a model, expat Bostonian Howard Feldman and his wife, Jerri, have opened their private home (featured in Architectural Digest) to discerning guests, accepting only one booking at a time to ensure exclusivity. The all-inclusive rate of 32,000 baht per night per double ($A1200) includes accommodation in either a one-bedroom villa or three-bedroom guesthouse, home-cooked meals, all beverages, laundry and transfers from the airport. There are several antique-filled open-air Lanna-style pavilions surrounding an infinity pool, or discover hidden nooks in the 2.2-hectare tropical gardens. The perfect location for a honeymoon, family reunion or a special occasion. See www.howieshomestay.com.
Rachamankha is part exquisite home, reminiscent of ancient Chinese courtyard dwellings, and part temple, a reflection of the neighbouring shrine, Wat Phra Singh. Designed by architect Ong-ard Satrabhandhu, this lovely, low-key property in the old city is testament to fine taste, with each of the 25 guest rooms revealing details about the owner and his personal life. The library, with more than 2000 books on Thai art and culture, is a place to linger and learn; while the hotel (which is part of the Secret Retreats portfolio) actively supports the local community, with frequent art exhibitions, puppetry and theatre performances and produce sourced from local suppliers. See www.secret-retreats.com or www.rachamankha.com.
The writer was a guest of 137 Pillars House and Anantara Chiang Mai.