BE LIKE THE COOL KIDS
Head to Chiang Mai and get in on the urbane, hipster vibe, then take to the wilder side of Chiang Rai
If you’re Bangkok-batty but fancy a break from rumbling in the jumble you’ll discover trip gold with this tri-point itinerary. Exercise your shopping demons in Bangkok, head north to restful Chiang Mai then venture deep into Chiang Rai where the things that dreams are made of provide unexpected highs.
THE NORTH STAR
Within two hours from Bangkok airport you’ll be lounging by your hotel pool in charming Chiang Mai city, the capital of the northern province of the same name, formerly the “Kingdom of Lanna” (a million rice fields). Modern urbanity grows around the atmospheric old town still partially encircled by Tha Phae fortress ruins. Although generally more humid than Bangkok, the region is much cooler and drier from November to February.
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME
Slightly bohemian in attitude, the 13th-century city or “Rose of the north” has earned favour with expat creatives in film and advertising. Relaxed, attractive streets which beg to be wandered and a “holiday-town” ambience has tempted fans to describe Chiang Mai as the Noosa of Thailand – only there’s less white linen and pewter-coloured sandals.
WAT TO SEE
In a city boasting more than 300 ornate temples (wats) you’ll no doubt note several fine specimens while languidly exploring, but don’t miss magnificent Wat Chedi Luang, famous for its enormous stupa guarded by proud elephant and dragon sculptures.
Housed in a handsome historic building, Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre displays handicrafts and artifacts from the region including incredibly detailed embroidery depicting tribal scenes. Score high-grade handwoven textiles and trinkets from the gift shop.
Anusarn Market Night Bazaar is less crowded than neighbouring markets which helps maintain the festive mood. Hydrate with chilled coconut juice and feast for a few baht on seafood plucked live from the tank. Shop for inexpensive accessories and homewares including indigo print bedcovers, decorative handbags, silk scarfs, Thai beer logo T-shirts and silver jewellery.
“Lady-boys”, so glamorous they make all onlookers feel like wrungout rags, strut their stuff gathering an audience for their nightly cabaret, though you might prefer to rest tired tootsies in a pool of flesh-eating fishlings or people-watch from a seated two-hour massage costing less than a glossy magazine at home.
Hip Nimmanhaemin’s laid-back streets, just west of the old town, are perfect for retail therapy. Hidden in laneways loosely framed in tangled greenery, sweet boutiques feature locally designed fashions including Chabaa, ChiangmaiCotton, Woo Cafe and Kit-Bit-S. Short on poolside reads? Head to The Booksmith.
Take advantage of Nimmanhaemin’s strong coffee game. Beans grown in surrounding mountains produce a brew fine enough to write home about. Drink in the scene at super cute Ristr8to or Dolcetto. For a top taste of northern Thai nosh don’t miss the Lanna nam prik at popular restaurant Tong Tem Toh – spicy Chiang Mai sausage and rich, porky naem khao guarantee sensory peaks.
TAKE ME TO THE RIVER
Anantara Chiang Mai Resort is a breathtaking property basking on the centrally located Ping River. Hotel and apartment accommodation has been elegantly designed and appointed, with consideration given to the land’s history. On-site restaurants, located in a beautifully, and at times eccentrically, furnished 1920s British Consul building, are famous for high calibre cuisine, service and cocktails.
The resort’s informative tuktuk city tour is highly recommended but its private, twilight picnic cruise under the river’s many bridges is essential – as is HD mozzie spray. Take a yoga class with a view then flop into an inviting day bed, never more than a few steps away. Two swimming pools and sprawling shallow water features add to the tranquillity.
Take a bus or hire a car for the picturesque three-hour journey northeast to Chiang Rai. Make a pitstop at doily-white Wat Phra Kaew, and adjacent eateries, before continuing through lushly covered hillsides interjected with crops, water buffalo and roadside stalls selling just-picked fruit and homemade fish sauce. Once you hit the colourful river park marking the Golden Triangle’s intersection, take the steep drive skywards to a hilltop ridge, past the Hall of Opium museum (a fascinating insight into a once prolific industry)
THERE’S AN INEXPLICABLE SENSE OF DRAMA – IT’S PERHAPS THE FEELING YOU’RE ON SET IN A SAFARI FILM NOIR
to reach Anantara’s Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort.
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
Entering the luxury resort’s lofty and exotic foyer is a bucket-list moment. Panoramic views of Myanmar and Laos surround the regally carved dark-teak treehouse, accented with tones of putty and copper and dripping in old-school glamour. There’s an inexplicable sense of drama; nothing to do with the anaconda found in the infinity pool some years back, the same pool from which you could probably touch international boundaries if you stretched a midge – it’s perhaps the feeling you’re on set in a safari film noir. Incredibly, the accommodation is not the highlight and nor is the wet market visit and Spice Spoons cooking class in a terraced field …
WALKING WITH GIANTS
This experience is really all about elephants. When logging in the region was banned, many mahout villagers and their mammalian excavating machines were instantly unemployed and forced into abusive situations in order to keep breathing.
Anantara’s philanthropic owner developed a program for ethically adopting elephants and now more than 20 elephants and their mahout families live in a traditionally constructed village in the resort’s tropical surrounds. Only a few of the more sociable creatures are available to interact with resort guests. Walking alongside these intelligent beasts through a nature track, handfeeding them sugar cane and sunflower seeds, witnessing their river-play before washing them down with cool water is surreal and humbling in a way this not-so-jungle Jane could have dreamt possible. The price of a “cup-pooccino” brewed from elephant dungextracted coffee beans could seem a bit on the nose but the flavour, theatre and colossal charity it supports make it absolutely worthwhile.
You’ll need to loop back to Bangkok en route to reality but you’ll forever treasure the triangle.
THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF ANANTARA HOTELS AND QANTAS
Don’t just dream it ... Anantara Chiang Mai Resort, coffee at Ristr8to Lab Cafe, and Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp lobby.