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There are certainly reasons why the mystical city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand made Travel + Leisure’s Top Cities list. It’s the perfect yin to Bangkok’s harried yang, a walled, ancient enclave surrounded by mist-draped mountains, flush with soothing riverscapes, Zen gardens and more than 300 Buddhist temples. Conversely, Chiang Mai exhibits all the trappings of a cosmopolitan crossroads: international cuisine, contemporary galleries and museums, a healthy dose of foreign investment and a young, mobile-phone-toting, educated population.
A guestroom at Le Meridien Chiang Mai // © 2009 Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc.
But the standout appeal of Chiang Mai, for my money, is the dozen or so unique hotels dotting a few square blocks around the lively market center. The ideal Chiang Mai vacation might be to simply spend one night in each of the destination’s delightful hotels.
Overlooking Chiang Mai’s famous night market, Le Meridien Chiang Mai (www.starwoodhotels.com) is the newest hotel on the block, having opened about a year ago. Weighing in at 24 floors and 384 rooms, the pristine Le Meridien stacks up as one of the tallest buildings in the city. All guestrooms have floor-to-ceiling windows offering spectacular views of busy Chiang Mai and the surrounding mountains. Rooms are replete with signature Le Meridien beds, sleek glass and marble bathrooms with massaging rain showers, high-definition televisions and high-speed Internet access.
Another recent edition to the local skyline is the 281-room Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai (www.shangri-la.com). If working on vacation is a must, the Shangri-La would be my first choice of accommodation. The hotel’s Horizon Club offers convenient services such as complimentary suit-pressing and shoe-shining, a private lounge with free wireless Internet access and a full-service business center. The Shangri-La also boasts some of the finest meeting facilities in town. The 99-seat state-of-the-art auditorium knows no equal in Chiang Mai.
The hippest hotel is undoubtedly the DusitD2 (www.dusit.com). Stroll through the space-age, orange-and-brown appointed lobby lounge, and it’s easy to imagine yourself sashaying through a Sunset Strip hotel as it is bellying up to the D2’s Mix Bar. The mod appeal of the lobby extends to the hotel’s swimming pool, the Devarana Spa, the Moxie restaurant and the stylish yet smallish guestrooms. The hotel’s most popular activity goes down at 2 p.m. every afternoon, when staff members donning titles, such as “assistant desk whiz,” gather in the lobby to dance and strut their stuff to Thai-inspired techno.
Topping the scale of colonial chic is The Chedi Chiang Mai (www.ghmhotels.com), a throwback to the days when northern Thailand was awash in gorgeous teak wood and British ambassadors were awash in gin and tonic. The 84-room hotel, spa and restaurant on the banks of the Mae Ping River is a tranquil respite from the city’s popular night market. A highlight is the old British consulate building, dutifully fashioned into a restaurant, bar and cigar lounge.
The RatiLanna Riverside Spa Resort Chiang Mai (www.ratilannachiangmai.com) is another fabulous study in northern Thailand’s traditional teak wood construction. The large, 650-square-foot rooms are showstoppers, fashionably appointed in dark woods, warm tones and the works of regional artisans, including the hammered-tin naturescapes
for which northern Thailand is famous. The 75-room, five-star boutique property boasts two restaurants and a jumbo infinity pool with river views, but its bucolic river tours onboard a traditional Thai scorpion boat earn the most kudos.
The RarinJinda Wellness Spa Resort (www.rarinjinda.com) has only 35 guestrooms, but any more would take away from the expansive size of the hotel’s spa. One could get lost looking for one’s chi (energy) among the three floors and countless treatment rooms. Designed around a 140-year-old home that once served as a hospital, the sprawling spa is not for the uninitiated. Treatments (some leaning toward the New Age realm) range from hydrotherapy and Vichy massage, to aural biofeedback, Tibetan sound therapy and even a supercharged colonic.
Any shortlist of reasons to introduce your clients to Chiang Mai should include these six definitive properties — rarely is a destination so superbly represented by a handful of unique hotels. www.tourismthailand.org