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Tucked into a hushed side street in Chiang Mai, Thailand — though only a short walk from the heart of town and the Ping River that divides it — is 137 Pillars House.
The 30-suite boutique property, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, is covered in a tangle of foliage. Old-growth mimosa trees, lady palms and other greenery beautify the grounds; a large Indian rubber tree, decorated with white lanterns, serves as an imposing anchor. Even the 82-foot lap pool — which glitters when sunlit — receives a healthy dose of chlorophyll: A dramatic living wall consists of sky-high money plants that tumble down to the heated water below.
When my partner and I stayed here for three balmy nights in November, I was overcome with nostalgia — and not because I had been there before. (It was my first introduction to the family-owned 137 Pillars Hotels & Resorts brand, which operates a location in Bangkok, as well.) Rather, my sudden sentimentality was exactly what 137 Pillars House hopes to evoke in both new and returning guests.
The colonial-style hotel, built 125 years ago, is an ode to the grounds’ former life as the northern headquarters of the East Borneo Trading Company. Today, 137 Pillars House uses the original 1800s teak homestead as the main communal space, which also encompasses two restaurants, Palette and The Dining Room; Jack Bain’s Bar; and a gym.
This structure previously sat on 137 pillars, too, hence the hotel’s name (allegedly, the higher the number, the bigger the homeowner’s wealth). The remaining pillars have since been reinforced with steel, and hotel guests can wander the open-air space below the elevated homestead. There, they’ll find a fascinating exhibition that displays artifacts discovered during the restoration.
Further recognition of 137 Pillars House’s colonial past is found in the accommodations, which are charmingly appointed with high ceilings and well-curated decor. In our one-bedroom Rajah Brooke suite, I admired the contrast of different fabrics — including a floral daybed placed at the foot of a four-poster bed, and khaki-colored curtains with tidy rows of marching elephants — as well as black-and-white vintage photos depicting places frozen in time, such a quiet Chiang Mai landscape. Rattan furniture and a brass bar cart fit right into the scene, as did the Victorian clawfoot tub of my dreams, which was set in an expansive bathroom adjacent to a walk-in closet and a dual sink. Additionally, the bathroom contained a separate marble and tiled rain shower and access to a spacious outdoor shower; a second outdoor area was an attractive veranda equipped with a daybed.
All suites include butler service, which complements the ambiance of old-school opulence. Pui, our butler, was happy to hail tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorized rickshaw vehicles) for us, which would be ready and waiting to transport us to local spots that she had recommended. She also booked us a dinner reservation at The Dining Room, the hotel’s Thai restaurant.
At The Dining Room, we wrapped jumbo-size grilled river prawns, puffed rice and crispy garlic in peppery betel leaves, before dipping them into a tangy sauce. Another favorite dish was the Wagyu Pad Ka-Prao, which features double-cooked wagyu beef cheeks immersed in a thick paste of basil and chili. Dishes here are elaborate, and generous in size and depth of flavor — particularly the spicy heat that builds over time, for which Thailand is well-known. Having a cocktail on hand to cool things down is essential; I recommend the chrysanthemum-infused Old House cocktail, which incorporates gin with honey and lime.
Another culinary highlight is 137 Pillar House’s breakfast buffet, which puts continental fare to shame. Expect fresh-squeezed juices made to order with tropical fruit, dim-sum-style bites, stir-fry noodles, scallion pancakes, an omelet station and more.
137 Pillars House opened in March 2012, but renovations completed in February this year have resulted in a new suite category (three 915-square-foot David Fleming Macfie suites), updated gym equipment, spa enhancements and a new gift boutique featuring local goods.
The Details 137 Pillars Housewww.137pillarschiangmai.com