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Before I even begin to tell you about the best luxury hotel in Chiang Mai, let me show you a short video of the property, I promise you, after the video, you will want to know where to find this palace of dreams.
The search for the best luxury hotel in Chiang Mai ends at The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai. This heritage and wellness hotel in the outskirts of the city is not only the most opulent and fabulous resort in town but also in the entire province. It is the elegance of the rooms and the intricate heritage design of the buildings which makes it even more special. One can’t help but be mesmerised by the obsessive thoughtfulness that went into hand crafting each and every single one of the Lanna inspired rooftops and sourcing every unique piece of antique that decorates the rooms and the various pavilions. If you are looking for luxury in Chiang Mai, you ought to look no further.
If I died and went to Lanna Haven, I assume it would look like The Dhara Dhevi
The Lanna Kingdom, “The land of a million rice fields”, covered most of Northern Thailand including areas of present day Myanmar, China and Laos but Chiang Mai only became its capital in the 13th century. Today, 700 years later, it continues to stand tall, as the country’s third largest city and the most important urban center North of Bangkok.
Its richness in flowing rivers, teak tree forests and fertile lands made it a prized possession for various empires. The Kingdom was invaded and incorporated into Myanmar in the 16th century. For the two centuries after, Chiang Mai was disputed between Siam, today’s Thailand, and Myanmar until 1892, when the Lanna King managed to push the Burmese out with the help of the Siam King Rama V and the area annexed to Thailand.
The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai is a lesson in understated luxury, culture and history. Wandering around the private paddy fields and the 60 acres of land, I was transported back to the times of Kings and Princesses. The resort acts as a real life replica of how the Kingdom used to be during ancient times. Main thoroughfares could be cycled or strolled and one could jump on a horse drawn carriage back to the villa. There were temples, large communal areas where the King used to address the People and motes to protect from invaders. Every time we crossed the entry bridge the wooden pieces at our feet made a loud noise that alerted the army of any enemy troops.
Owner Suchet Suwanmongkol wanted to build a luxury hotel in Chiang Mai that preserved and shared the beauty of Lanna culture and continued its traditions. There are nods to age old practices everywhere. From the rice house, holding the rice crop for the year and serving as a symbol of the family’s wealth, to the painfully detailed and exquisite roof carvings of the wellness center which took three and a half years a team of 150 craftsmen to build, Lanna heritage is present in every corner of the hotel. The Kingdom’s melting pot of influences and borrowed architectural elements from the various invaders are also reflected across the property. The wall of the Ballroom replicates the Tree of life in Luang Prabang, Laos. Suwanmongkol surrounded himself with passionate architects and designers with an inherent obsession with recovering lost traditions. The result is a museum-like 5-star luxury hotel in Chiang Mai.
Like a real village, The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai was built over the course of several years. Starting as a smaller property and progressively adding new clusters, the hotel follows the ebb and flow of evolution of a Lanna village. When I first visited in 2006, when the hotel was still part of the Mandarin Oriental Group, the main lobby area and colonial building was yet to be built. There are fortified walls, motes protecting the city, lakes and temple houses. Putting together a review of The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai is like trying to explain the feeling of waking up in a fairy tale: no words can perfectly describe its mightiness and sense of place. Luxury in Chiang Mai has a name and address.
Arrival and check in
The hotel is only twenty minutes from the international airport and ten minutes from downtown Chiang Mai. I was picked up by the most comfortable minivan I have ever been on, it even had a footrest. As soon as I entered the property I knew I was in a different world and I had no doubt this was the most luxurious hotel in Chiang Mai, and in the top end for the entire country. The main reception was in a royal building of steep pointy rooftops reaching for the ski and hand carved pieces. It felt like in a fairytale. I relaxed on a large lounge to complete the check in formalities and then was shown to my villa.
The villas and rooms
There are 123 rooms spread around the large property. Two distinct types of accommodation prevail: colonial suites, located in a rectangular building behind the reception, and villas dotting the rest of the property. At 60 sq meters, the smallest villas are larger than most city dwelling apartments. At the top end, the celebrity-frequented six-bedroom Royal Villa is almost 650 sq meters and features three pools and a water garden. It is a stunning house inspired by “the mythical Himmaphan Forest of Buddhist legend, a heavenly realm of lush flowers and foliage inhabited by celestial beings and otherworldly animals”. One has to see for herself to understand the opulence of such place. For the rest of the Earthly human beings, the “regular” villas are still stunning.
Each villa is different and unique, for its artworks and artefacts have been individually sourced. “Guests like to come back to a different room every time”, explains the Sirikanya, the PR Executive. The interiors seamlessly blend age old traditions, Thai silk, local fabrics and modern-day indulgence. Our two storey Deluxe Villa, the third category in the range or five, had two jacuzzi, one indoors, in the bathroom, with views over the paddy fields, and one outdoors, at the edge of the deck, just above the neon green rice paddies, and under a Thai sala or pavilion for extra privacy. They were both romantic and secluded.
The villa was designed to replicate an old Lanna house of the 13th century. The ground floor had a small pantry and a large living room and the upper floor had the sleeping quarters, a luxuriously appointed bathroom and a large relaxation balcony. The Yamaha piano and the sauna were a first in any hotel I have stayed at. The teak wood construction and beautiful decoration was only improved by the jungle feeling and the surrounding tropical gardens. Rain trees, beautiful fragrant frangipanis surrounded the watering bamboo pipes that kept the rice paddies wet while ponds, lakes and lush trees did the rest.
It was hard to find any reason to leave the villa and only the impressive but deeply peaceful property and the fabulous spa and wellness center were of the required stature.
For those looking for Asia’s 19th century grandeur, the colonial building offered just that. The rooms opened to either the gardens and olympic sized swimming pool or onto a verandah and boasted 5m high ceilings and the same finishings and artwork found in the villas. The architecture and design resembled the colonial cities of Galle in Sri Lanka or Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and looked similar to The Siam Hotel in Bangkok.
Facilities and activities
There were many things to do at The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai. The hotel’s 60 acre property allowed for remarkable facilities, the most impressive of which was the enormous swimming pool between the reception and the colonial building. My preference went for the cozier multi-level pool by the Health Club which was flanked by horizontal palm trees hanging above the water and a golden tiled outdoor Jacuzzi and had views over the rice fields.
Although the resort is only accessible to in-house guests, there was a large area by the entrance bridge that was open to the general public and a Chiang Mai luxury tourist attraction in itself. There was a craft market, a true old rice barn on display, two of the restaurants, the all-you-can-eat dessert brunch at the delicatessen shop, a temple, an amphitheater, various meeting rooms and a grand Ballroom.
Other activities at The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai included rice planting, in one of the many private paddies in the property and with proper Thai peasant clothing. Thai cooking classes were a good way to learn how to reproduce Lanna dishes back home. Children were well entertained by a few local ladies ready to teach them Lanna handicrafts and traditions. There were also an alpaca and a pony for the kids.
The Dhara Dhevi Spa and Wellness Center
Perhaps the most awestruck I was during the whole stay was when I visited the 3,100 sq meter The Dhara Dhevi Spa and Wellness Center. The magnificent structure was built to look like the Mandalay Palace in Myanmar. It took 150 artisans three and a half years to build. Needless to say, the design and level of detail in the motifs were another level of intricate.
But the elegance and luxury did not stop at the exterior, the treatment rooms and the center were equally hedonistic in the inside. There were soothing Vichy showers, a sensual Watsu Pool and giant hammams beautifully appointed among the spa’s dark wood panelled chambers.
The Spa offered both European, North African as well as Asian treatments and had an in-house Ayurveda Specialist to share the “science of Life” with guests and an Ayurveda-dedicated pavilion. The treatment rooms were palatial and extravagant. Gold and white marble combined with bras flower apliques provided a sense of serenity and royalty. My treatment suite had three different types of massage beds, some heated, some for Ayurveda, and a large round whirlpool bathtub. There were three rooms and a reception area just for me.
A visit to the Dhara Dhevi Spa and Wellness Center is self-indulgent and re-energising. The resort’s Wellness Retreat is possibly the best there is in Asia and, two weeks after I returned, I could still feel the benefits and was still applying the recommendations and tips provided by the Ayurveda Doctor, Sunita, and continuing to enjoy the calmness the retreat provided me.
Although Chiang Mai has a wealth of food options and yummy Thai restaurants, one could almost not leave the resort and be able to sample them all.
There was a Cantonese restaurant, Fujian, which served fine dining Chinese delectables and dim sum over lunch. Le Grand Lanna showcased local cuisine in a beautiful historical building and with evening live performances. The restaurant had a separate ancient Thai style house called Le Diana in honor of Princess Diana.
Breakfast was served at Akaligo, by the main reception area. It was a feast of abundance with all sorts of Asian dishes from China to Thailand and Western favourites. An egg station could cook up any, your style, and the fresh fruit juice stall was ready to prepare any mix on the spot with tropical fruits that would put any international supermarket to shame. Fresh coconuts were also on offer as were all sorts of pastries and breads. It was hard to choose and we ate so much that an early dinner and a light salad for lunch by the pool was enough.
On the international front there was also a French fine dining restaurant and a Japanese. Afternoon tea had its own location at the Dhara Dhevi Cake Shop where the famous macarons were being made. The dessert buffet was available at the Kasalong Cake Shop next door. I struggled not to jump on it.
The hotel is a great example of what an understated luxury hotel in Chiang Mai should be like. Opulence was a given but it was effortless, as if the staff had forgotten what an incredible place they were working at and provided the service they would have given to friends and family. Lanna culture trickled down to the interactions with the staff. Everyone had a smile and a welcoming word every time we walked passed. Even in the cases where language was a barrier, like when we were chatting with the ladies at the Kids craft area or with the water buffalo carer, the smile and gestures went a long way to make us feel at home. Service was friendly and efficient and you could tell the hotel had mastered the art of professional hospitality service with a heart.
Despite being the most important urban center in the North of the country, Chiang Mai is remarkably relaxed and peaceful. When I first visited, ten years prior, the streets were empty, there were few Western hotels and signs of massage courses filled most of the streets. Fast forward to today and the city is one of two key centers for digital nomads and entrepreneurs in Asia. It is peaceful, it has fast internet and it is affordable.
The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai continues to wow guests as much as it did when I first came for dinner in 2006. I had blurred memories of a legendary building, fairytale decoration and ancient Lanna traditions. I remembered the feeling of walking along mystical paths and dark alleys with carved naga (snake) heads and crystal mosaics. In 2016, The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai had perfected that recipe to become one of the most elegant and lavish resorts in Thailand and Asia. I was sure it would become the luxury hotel in Chiang Mai par excellence. And I was not wrong.
Do not miss the resort’s Wellness Retreat Packages. You can read more about my review here.
The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai has 1,057 reviews on TripAdvisor and only 12 are Poor or Bar. It ranks no.1 in Chiang Mai. For the latest rates and availability check here.
Once in a Lifetime Journey was a guest of The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai. All opinions in all my posts are always my own. This was a stay to remember.