Chiang Mai Hotels
37 Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 9
Tel: 66 53 224 949
After overseeing the sprawling, $75 million Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, architect Rachen "Taam'' Intawong went for up close and personal with this eight-room "conceptual home.'' Located one mile west of the old city, the hotel appeals to budget-minded bohemians of all stripes with decor that reflects Chiang Mai's cultural bond with India and the Himalayas. The lower floors are heavy on Indian, Nepalese, and Tibetan trappings, such as hand-carved teak door jambs and lintels, while sleeker, Lanna-style accessories like bud-shaped lamps enliven the top tier. No two rooms are identical, though all are larger than 1,000 square feet and have the requisite modern comforts: Wi-Fi, mini-bar, candles, and aromatherapy products. Downstairs, there's a small library, a swimming pool, and a restaurant, the whimsically named Le Muang de Cuisine Snob. One of the city's best shopping areas, Nimmanhaemin Road, is just a five-minute walk away; a free shuttle connects to the Night Bazaar.
123 Charoenprathet Road
Tel: 66 53 253 333
An instant classic since its 2005 opening, the four-story Chedi occupies the former grounds of the British Consulate, a 1920s building retained as the hotel's centerpiece restaurant and bar. Nothing else is old-school about the hotel, where the 84 teak-paneled minimalist rooms have low platform beds and modern wicker furniture. Club suite rooms at the end of each north-wing floor have the best river views; the higher-priced rooms also include a free mini-bar, laundry and butler service, and evening cocktails. A spa, swimming pool, and gym are on-site, of course, and breakfast comes with the best cappuccino in town. In the evenings, glowing candles are set on lily pads in the reflecting pool fronting the lobby.
100 Chang Klan Road
Tel: 66 53 999 999
D2, the precocious new brand of the Dusit hotel chain, is more Soho than Southeast Asia. The staff—make that "agents''—are younger than you, thinner than you, and even dance better than you, if the chorus line in the lobby (standard D2 procedure for the 2 p.m. personnel shift) is any indication. They're also better-looking, too, unless you happen to be Catherine Deneuve, one of the hotel's illustrious guests. Global urban minimalism is the prevailing taste, and the only hints of Asia in the 131 rooms are the raw silk pillows and "Siam Soul'' lounge music especially produced by David Coker of Futon, one of Thailand's top bands. If you want local color, however, just step outside the ten-story hotel: The Night Bazaar is right out front. When retail overload sets in, retreat to the kidney-shaped swimming pool or the on-site Devarana Spa for a ginger compress and back massage. Club Deluxe–level guests get the run of the seventh-floor lounge, which has private check-in, free Internet, and a complimentary happy hour. There's also a trendy fusion restaurant, Moxie.
Mae Rim-Samoeng Old Road
Tel: 66 53 298 181
After more than a decade, this ornate gem still sparkles as Chiang Mai's most elegant resort. The serene villas, set amid 20 acres of teak forest and rice fields, make the Four Seasons feel more like a self-contained village than a hotel. The 64 spacious pavilion rooms (750 square feet) and 16 residences (starting at 3,767 square feet) are cloaked in teakwood and adorned with Thai art. Each pavilion has its own outdoor sala (a Thai-style gazebo); the most distant, no. 16, has the best views, especially from the two top-floor units. A free shuttle makes five daily runs to the Night Bazaar, but there's plenty to do on-site or in the surrounding countryside. Classes at the Cooking School, set in an open-air pavilion, include early-morning market excursions; fruit- and vegetable-carving instruction; and tutorials in spicy salads, soups and noodles, and Thai curries. Or greet the sunrise at a yoga barn overlooking a checkerboard of rice paddies, then soak in a flower-filled alfresco tub at the spa. The staff can also arrange private tours of an elephant camp or a leisurely bamboo-raft trip. The more ambitious can grab a mountain bike for a spin through the back roads to nearby Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, known for its numerous cascades. Or simply stake out a lounge chair beside the pair of shimmering infinity pools, breaking only for a meal at Sala Mae Rim, the on-site restaurant.
51/4 Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng Road Moo 1 T. Tasala A. Muang
Tel: 66 53 888 888
A successful truck dealer with a taste for art, Suchet Suwanmongkol underwrote the $75 million dream of a young, unknown architect to build an ancient Asian city within the confines of Chiang Mai. The resulting 60-acre confection of the now-famous Rachen Intawong quotes some of the most iconic structures in Southeast Asia, including Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang, Laos. The 123 suites nod to colonial mansion style, and the individual villas encompass various Thai vernaculars. At the heart of the resort is the sumptuous Dheva Spa, a glowing, multi-tiered Xanadu with 18 treatment rooms and five residences. Throughout, the bedrooms are huge: 16-foot ceilings are the norm in the colonial wing, as are private verandas and adjoining living rooms, all lavishly fitted with silk-covered chaise longues and hill-tribe textiles. Superlatives extend to the two pools (enormous) and library (more than 5,000 books and 1,500 DVDs). Kids can learn muay Thai boxing, plant rice, and even care for an elephant. As for service: Not only does the staff know the name of the flowering trees outside the Akaligo restaurant (raintrees), they also quickly produce the Thai name (jamjuree) and Latin genus and species (Albizia lebbeck). Now that's precision.
104/1 Charoen Muang Road, Soi 2
Tel: 66 53 302 898
Just a little over a year old, this 30-room hotel lies on a narrow, winding soi in Wat Gate, a heritage neighborhood just east of the Ping River. Thai-style overlapping roofs crown the hotel's three-story wings, which are oriented around a pool and pavilion redolent of frangipani. The boutiques, restaurants, and bars of Charoenrat Road are only a five-minute walk away; the Night Bazaar is twice that distance across Nawarat Bridge, but the hotel's funky stretch tuk-tuk will spare you the hike. The heavily draped, softly lit deluxe rooms and suites with king-size beds and walk-in rain showers appeal to many Thai honeymooners, who don't seem to mind the garish Chinese-style mirrors or the groaning plumbing. Despite the property's youth, housekeeping, laundry, and turn-down service are expertly executed.
6 Rachamankha 9, T. Phra Singh
Tel: 66 53 904 111
Fancy a night at an Asian museum? Sweet-smelling frangipani trees and a classic form inspired by a Lanna-style temple give this 23-room boutique hotel a timeless appeal. Architect Ongard Satrabhandu and interior designer Rooj Changtrakul have laid out the buildings in Chinese style with multiple courtyards—a nod to Sino-Thai culture—then decorated them with top-shelf antiques, including 19th-century Lanna manuscript boxes and Chinese porcelain, as well as Henry Moore and Robert Motherwell lithographs. The duo's impeccable taste extends to the rooms, which feature massive old wooden doors, four-poster beds, bamboo jalousies, and woven-reed mats. The style complements its quiet, old-city location just inside the western moat near Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai's most important temple.
50/1 Rajadamnoen Road
Tel: 66 53 418 896
This 45-room hideaway pioneered the boutique-hotel trend in Chiang Mai when it opened in 2002. Set back from Rajadamnoen Road, a major east-west artery, and entered through a virtual tunnel of bamboo, the hotel draws a predominately European crowd, including families, attracted by its central location, swimming pool, spa, and sylvan setting around a 200-year-old tamarind tree. The arrival of stylish new competitors (particularly Rachamankha) has spurred recent refurbishments, including bathroom sinks made to look like antique brass washtubs, but Tamarind's rooms remain cramped and the furniture a bit cheap. Still, the location is good: Several of Chiang Mai's most important temples are nearby, and the monks' tahk baht, or daily morning alms round, passes the hotel entrance. The mindful staff will provide small packages to guests who also want to make merit with a food donation.
192 Moo 2
Tel: 66 53 365 007
This breathtaking compound of timber and concrete structures scattered across a valley dense with rice paddies, wildflowers, and tropical greenery is a 30-minute drive from Chiang Mai's frenetic night bazaar. A tunnel of polished concrete cooled by falling water creates a dramatic entrance into the resort's inner courtyard, which contains charcoal-gray-tiled pools, an open-air Thai restaurant with tables in stilted rice barns, and three low-slung buildings housing 69 guest rooms, all with balconies or patios and several with plunge pools. Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a neon-blue lemongrass welcome drinkone of the few colors in the hotel's palette that is not derived from nature. Interiors are sparsely decorated but comfortable and come with a roomy daybed, a generous changing area, and a terrazzo bathroom, and turndown service includes homemade cookies delivered by the quiet but smiling staff. The activities building has a valley-facing gym, a daytime eatery, a kid's club offering traditional crafts classes, and a four-suite spa that should factor into every guest's schedule (except during the sublime sunsets). While the rooftop infinity pool may seem contrived given the lovely natural surroundings, the elevation adds drama to the panorama.
41/1 Moo 2
Tel: 66 85 033 2174
At the Villa Water Orchid, the intimate B&B-style experience goes considerably upmarket, thanks to an Irish owner who has filled this four-suite inn with stylish treasures from her travels in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Frangipani, heliconia, and mango trees dot the property's 1.2 manicured acres, located 25 minutes from downtown Chiang Mai and near a national park known for its hot springs and nature trails. There's no TV or in-room Internet in the golden silk-clad guest rooms, but tinkling cowbells and the sound of chanting monks all provide a relaxing accompaniment to days spent lying on plush chaise longues around the infinity pool and lotus pond, or in front of the fireplace in the main building. A hearty breakfast is included in the room rate (along with airport transfers), but the real culinary treat takes place around the outdoor barbecue pit, where local prawns and seafood are grilled nightly.