Chiang Mai’s Hidden History

Chiang Mai Hidden HistoryThe Overview

Chiang Mai’s day as an idyllic, sleepy town are long past.  Nowadays, Thailand’s second largest city lays claim to the same charms and ills as Bangkok.  One area where Chiang Mai has a definite edge: a sense of history.  The former capital of the Lanna kingdom, the town has proudly held onto its roots, from its gleaming temples to its lively night markets.   Restoration, meanwhile, has breathed new life into old houses.  At the heart of 137 Pillars House, a 30-suite property that opened in January, stands a teakwood house that was once the home of the manager of the East Bornco Company’s local outpost.  Its graceful presence lends an air of authenticity a rarity in Thailand


The Location

In light traffic, the hotel is just a 15 minute drive from the airport and a 10 minute tuk tuk ride from the area within the ancient moat.  Located near the Ping River, the property is tucked away on a quiet street in the laid back.  Wat Gate neighbourhood.  Unlike at more secluded resorts, good dining option around.  Pop into Hinley Curry House, a nerby local institution, for mustard seed-spiked pumpkin curry and freshly made roti.


The Pedigree

The owners, the Wongphanlert family, originally envisioned converting the 19th Century house into a holiday home.  Deciding the parcel of land was too large, they turned to Silver Needle Hospitality, headed by Bill Black of Bed Supperclub and Hotel De La Pais renown.  More recently, the company also guided the opening of the Hansar Bangkok and Hansar Samui.


The Design

Bangkok based P49 design consulted with historians and preservation architects in the restoration of the original building.  Constructed in 1889 the building, which once rested on 137 pillars, is a hybrid of colonial and traditional Thai style: carved eaves, slatted shutters and peaked tiled roofs.  Slate steps lead up to the house.  The new buildings that house the guestrooms, restaurant, and open air reception echo the colonial look.  Wisely, none of the buildings exceed two stories so the teakwood manse isn’t overshadowed, and the designers sought to preserve the trees, including a magnificent old banyan near the pool.


The Service

For the newly opened property, the service was remarkably polished – a reflection perhaps of the deep talent pool in Chiang Mai thanks to the plethora of luxury hotels.  Requests of breakfast – hot water with lemon, multiple cappuccinos – were immediately granted.  The front desk staff was adept the flagging down tuk-tuks, making reservation and suggesting place to visit.


Rajah Brooke suite

Don’t have the funds for the 135 square meter Louis Leonowens Pool Suite?  This room category is your best option.  Located on the second floor of the six new buildings that cluster around the original house, the 75 square meter, blue and white suite is kitted up in grand colonial style: four poster beds, clawed foot bathtubs and cane armchairs covered in toile de jouy courtesy of Jim Thompson.  The bathroom is nearly as spacious as the bedroom, with separate outdoor and indoor showers, a walk in closet, and de rigueur double vanities.  Period décor doesn’t exclude 21st century technology: leave the sliding doors ajar and the air conditioning turns off.  Slightly jarring details such as elephant print curtains and framed blurry copies of vintage photos didn’t detract from the overall feeling of supreme comport.  Our favourite feature?  The spacious private terrace with a massive daybed, shielded by foliage.


The Amenities

The hotel has free Wi-Fi, but expect slow speeds.   An organic garden on the grounds ensures fresh ingredients, while coffee is fair trade, sourced from hill tribe farmers.  You won’t go wrong with the eggs Florentine at breakfast.  A spa with three treatment rooms offers a focused range of services.  For sportier types, a pocket sized gym is below the original house, through the slender lap pool with a 15 meter high vertical garden might be a more appealing option in the sultry climate.

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