A short plane journey took us to our next destination, Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand after Bangkok. It is also one of the most culturally significant, playing host to many Thai festivals and incorporating many museums and temples. Our hotel here was the Four Seasons in the Mae Rim Valley, outside the main city of Chiang Mai, it is uniquely placed in a working rice field. For me, this hotel was the highlight of the trip, the bright green rice fields and a magical charm of the landscape were a wonderful sight and one I had never experienced before. The hotel is even home to a pink water buffalo! The villa was perhaps the best hotel accommodation that I had ever had. Here’s some pics of the hotel:
And the magnificent room:
Our beautiful room had a huge private pool and its own water garden. Also rather fabulous, was the dining pavilion that over looked a sparkling, natural fountain. But my favourite thing? The swing chair!!
In terms of dining we experienced everything that the hotel had to offer. Our first night saw us experiencing thetraditional khantoke dinner which took place in the cookery school. Mr Silver and I sat on cushions at a low table and enjoyed a delicious Thai banquet served family style. Thoughtful as ever, the reception had checked our dietary requirements and I received no red meat. As we ate the delicious and abundant food we enjoyed some performances of Traditional Thai dance:
The hotel has two main restaurants: Sala Mai Rim which served breakfast, lunch and dinner with Northern Thai specialties. We enjoyed snacks and drinks there, as well as dining one night at their barbecue buffet. I usually avoid buffets but this one was excellent as many dishes were freshly made theatre style in front of us and the chef was happy to remake any dishes if the diner wanted to substitute ingredients or less spice. We also enjoyed some traditional Thai dancing along with this buffet.
Terraces is the other main restaurant located by the pool where enjoyed lunch one day. The restaurant has a beautiful view and is great if your palate needs a break from Thai spice.
The final meal that we enjoyed in the hotel was dinner at the private reserve at the Rice Barn. Again, this was an overall highlight of the trip for me. When we arrived back in our room a beautiful trail of rose petals had been laid throughout the room and a bunch of roses was left as a promise for the romantic night to come.
The Rice Barn is a private place in the hotel located in the rice paddies on the lake. We were able to choose our own menu, a choice of Western or Thai, and then tailor it to our tastes and incorporate champagnes and matching wines. We were led down to the Rice Barn and greeted by our own private waiter who had laid a beautifully decorated table. Before heading back to our villa we released a Krathong (a banana leaf lantern) into the lake whilst making a wish. I won’t reveal all the secrets as you may want to try it for yourself but here are a few pics:
Food aside, another fantastic feature of hotel is the spa which offers Thai inspired treatments and rituals using local methods. It’s a must visit for any fans of Thai massage. There is also a spa school where you can learn techniques to recreate at home.
Of course, we did venture out of the hotel too. One night we spent exploring the city of Chiang Mai following tips from our concierge. We dined at The House which is a restored colonial villa encompassing a restaurant and stylish fashion and interiors shop. I found thefood enjoyable and authentic but the restaurant slightly lacking in atmosphere as it overlooked the road and car park and I would have preferred to over look the river. Here’s a photo of our Thai starter:
Concierge recommended visiting the night bazaar, but while I was expecting antiques and local handicrafts it wasactually full of tacky souvenirs:
I would give this one a miss! Always keen to try out the night life Mr Silver and I explored some of the bars along theriver, unfortunately most were crowded and smoky but we enjoyed a drink in Riverside bar which also played live music. A caveat: avoid the wine here!
As we were keen to see the local culture our hotel organized a day trip for us. A very lovely local guide with excellent English was ours for half a day and she gave us a well-informed history of Northern Thailand. One of our stop-offs was Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep temple on top of the Doi Suthep hill. It is a Buddhist place of worship dating back to 1383. From the temple there are absolutely spectacular views of Chiang Mai, making this an unmissable landmark of the ancient city.
Our next stop was a visit to four different hill
tribe villages. Each tribe in the area has its own unique culture and tradition, dress and language. For many the ‘highlight’ of the visit to the hill tribe
village is to see the Long Neck Tribe or Kayan tribes who are refugees from Myanmar. They are well known for the brass rings worn around their necks which give the appearance of an elongated neck. There are several theories behind the use of the coils including for appearance purposes and the creation of a more slender and, therefore, more feminine neck. The other suggestion is for protection from tiger bites and other such dangers. Either way, the neck rings give the Kayan people a distinct cultural identity which they associate with beauty. Whilst it was interesting to see the way the local tribes lived and to admire some of their handicrafts, the village felt rather the touristy and a little like a human zoo.
Having said that we were assured the villagers were very happy with their way of life and we could see that they were well taken care of by the government who deliver fresh water everyday. Our time in Chiang Mai ended here and we were very sad to leave our new friends, the water buffalo, but it was on to Chiang Rai and what promised to be a once in a life time experience…