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Chiang Mai is the second-largest city in Thailand, and offers all of the big-city amenities a traveler could want, but with a distinct local flavor and deep traditional identity. Temples are found at every turn, ranging from tiny shrines to massive complexes, and food vendors and bustling markets make the streets lively and pleasant. Outside of town, the landscape quickly turns to terraced rice paddies and stretches of gorgeous jungle, and it’s worth getting out to these rural areas at least once during your trip. Lodging options are diverse and range from world-class five-star luxury hotels to quirky little hostels and everything in between.
Best Overall: Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel and Spa
This small, elegant boutique hotel offers 19 graceful rooms decorated with a clean, modern take on the turn-of-the-century colonial style. Handcrafted furniture, warm teak floors, thick-pile Persian carpets, rainfall showers and deep bathtubs, and Sealy PosturePedic beds with luxe bedding are found in every room, and Grand Deluxe Rooms also offer balconies overlooking the landscaped courtyard pool. Regular Deluxe Rooms can be made to adjoin Grand Deluxe Rooms; a great arrangement for those traveling with children.
In-room toiletries are provided by the on-site Nakara Spa, a full-service spa that specializes in Ayurvedic treatments. Adjacent to the hotel, right on the banks of the Ping River, is the Nakara Jardin restaurant, a patisserie and bistro serving French-style food prepared with Thai ingredients. Coffee, tea and wine are available in the hotel lobby, as is a well-stocked library, complete with travel guidebooks and tons of Asian history books. The location of the hotel is very good — walking distance from the East wall of the old city, and close to the river for river tours, but just a bit outside of the heavily touristed areas in a quieter residential zone, allowing for a nice respite from the hustle-bustle.
Best Budget: 99 The Gallery Hotel
You can’t beat the location (or the price) of this affordable boutique hotel that sits right in the center of Chiang Mai’s old walled city. It’s located just steps from the Phra Singh Temple and literally dozens of others, as well as museums, shopping and food galore. Rooms are tiny but tidy and well-appointed with dark woods and pale linens for a minimalist but elegant feel. Breakfast, including Continental and Thai-style hot dishes, as well as a variety of breads, cereals and fresh fruits, are included with your stay and served in a comfortable common area.
Best Boutique: Akyra Manor Chiang Mai
Enjoy all-suite luxury at this ultra-modern boutique hotel on the trendy Nimmanda Haeminda Street (also called “Coffee Street”) to the immediate West of the walled old city. The location puts it in striking distance of the attractions of the old city and downtown, on the right side for an easy visit to the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, the city’s most iconic temple complex.
Suites are appointed in striking black, white and chrome, while hard modern lines are softened by touches of traditional red printed Thai fabrics. Bathrooms are equally modern, with a huge oval soaking bathtub as a centerpiece and separate rain-style shower. All suites have furnished balconies. A rooftop pool and bar provide great sunset views, and the on-site Italics restaurant is excellent.
Best for Families: Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai
Families will love this five-star luxury resort, set among the rice fields outside of the city of Chiang Mai proper. It’s close enough to zip into the city to visit attractions, eat or shop, but the vibe is distinctly bucolic. Kids can swim in the family pool, take long walks on the resort’s lush grounds, visit the resort’s resident water buffalo, take a family cooking class and learn about traditional Thai food and culture or even go into the fields and plant rice. The resort offers babysitting so parents can enjoy time at the full-service spa, peaceful late dinners at one of the many on-site restaurants, yoga classes, tennis or even a round of golf at the nearby Summit Green Valley Country Club.
A variety of rooms, suites and villas are available, but many are designed with families in mind, complete with bedrooms for both kids and adults, comfortable family rooms furnished with bespoke traditional-inspired luxury furniture and fabrics, and complete with a live-in housekeeper to take care of your every need. The whole family can truly relax in luxury at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai.
Best Romance: Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai
Honeymooners and other romantic vacationers love the secluded feel and stunning style of the villas at this resort that’s built and designed to resemble a traditional Thai temple. Consider booking a Grand Deluxe Villa with its own pool for the ultimate in privacy and luxury. These villas are converted traditional two-story Thai houses, complete with wooden floors and beautiful vaulted ceilings, a King-sized bed draped with muslin, Jacuzzi tubs and a combination of contemporary luxury and traditional decor. It’s so comfortable, you’ll never want to leave, and with 24-hour room service, you really don’t have to.
If you choose to, though, Dhara Dhevi is home to a number of fine and casual dining restaurants, several bars, a full-service spa, an Ayurveda center, a fitness center, event facilities, an on-site culinary school, daily traditional art and craft demonstrations, several boutiques arranged as a traditional shopping village, as well as extensive landscaped grounds, some of which are working rice fields. It’s also just ten minutes from the center of Chiang Mai, so all of the city’s amenities are just a quick drive away.
Best Luxury: 137 Pillars House
This stunning property was once the local homestead of a manager for the British East Borneo Company and was built out into an urban all-suite resort, with the original estate house at the center. Each of the 30 suites is impeccably appointed with massively carved teakwood four-poster beds and other carefully-selected colonial furniture, linen and silk accents and pillows, deep bathtubs (big enough for two), indoor and outdoor showers, outdoor terraces with daybeds for lounging, ample lighting, as well as unobtrusive but fully modern in-room technology.
An old-fashioned East-meets-West afternoon tea service and a decadent breakfast spread are particular highlights. An on-site spa, lap pool and fitness center allow guests to stay healthy and refreshed during their visit.
Although this resort feels like an oasis, it’s actually quite close to the heart of the city, just across the Ping River from the old walled city. The immediate neighborhood is lively and charming, with many shopping and dining options, as well as some of Chiang Mai’s ubiquitous temples.
Best Nightlife: Dusit D2 Chiang Mai
Nightlife-loving young travelers will love this trendy hotel located literally across the street from the city’s largest night bazaar, where locals and tourists mix for shopping, live entertainment and copious food and drink. The Dusit D2 itself is also home to a trendy hotspot, Mix Bar, which serves up craft cocktails and an extensive wine list nightly.
Rooms are stylish and spacious, with simple modern designs that feature bright orange wall art accents and low, comfy beds. Bathrooms feature either a tub-shower combo or, as with Deluxe Rooms and Suites, a separate bathtub and shower. A fresh buffet breakfast with hot and cold options is included each morning, and an on-site restaurant offers lunches and dinners, as well as room service, the rest of the day. An on-site spa offers an extensive menu of massages and body treatments, and if you’d just like to cool down and float, the mezzanine pool is a beautiful place to do it.
Best Business: Le Méridien Chiang Mai
For the ultimate in business-friendly comfort, do yourself a favor and book yourself into a Club-Level Room at Le Méridien Chiang Mai. You’ll get exclusive access to the 21st-story Club Lounge, complete with daily breakfasts, all-day snacks, evening canapés, a personal concierge and one of the best views of the city you’ll find anywhere. A business center is available to all guests and offers printing, copying, packing, mailing and even secretarial assistance. Several event rooms provide space for everything from small meetings to large banquets.
Club-level guestrooms are beautifully decorated nearly all in white, beige and gray, and include exceptionally comfortable beds with high-quality linens, as well as bathrooms with separate bathtubs and walk-in showers. A spa, fitness center and large rooftop pool are all great places to take some time off work, and multiple on-site restaurants provide a range of local and international cuisine. Even if your business trip leaves you with minimal free time, Le Méridien’s close proximity to the night bazaar will allow you to experience a delightful taste of the city.
Best Hostel: D-Well Hostel
Like most Southeast Asian cities, Chiang Mai is hugely popular with backpackers and therefore is home to plenty of backpacker hostels. The D-Well is a particularly excellent one, though, with spotless, comfy beds, complete with privacy curtains and an in-bunk outlet, a free daily continental breakfast and a comfortable lounge area with a separate TV room with Netflix streaming services. The location of the hostel is perfect: it’s smack in the middle of the action just blocks from the walls of the old city and less than five minutes from the huge Warorot Market. And this isn’t a hands-off hostel. Staff is engaged and ready to help visitors meet each other, plan excursions and simply have the best possible time in their beautiful home city.