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Chiang Mai, Thailand – the perfect introduction to South East Asia

There was a lot of pressure riding on this trip. Not only was my friend from America travelling all the way to Hong Kong just to see little old me, but she had also never been to Asia before – so our Chiang Mai adventure had to set the standard!

Chiang Mai has a distinct heritage from the rest of Thailand due to its Lanna roots, giving a unique twist on typical Thai food, culture and Buddhist temples, whilst still being urban enough to showcase Asian cities on a real scale. The only problem was how to get there – you can only fly direct from HK in summer months. Luckily, I spied a direct flight with Air Asia from Macau and decided an hour’s ferry journey was preferable to a transfer in Bangkok.

Having stayed at The Chedi Club in Ubud before, my hopes were high for The Chedi Chiang Mai. The hotel stands out from its surroundings with its beautifully lit modern exterior, whilst inside has a more atmospheric feel, with the lobby’s low-set lounging seats looking onto candlelit interior ponds. The central focus of the hotel is the main restaurant, which was actually the home of the British consulate and has a wonderfully colonial feel. Having not realised quite how big a city Chiang Mai was (Thailand’s second biggest apparently), I was worried the trip would be too urban. I needn’t have worried; The Chedi has a prime spot along the River Ping, meaning you can swim laps in the serene pool or linger over your meals whilst gazing over the water, making you feel like you’re in a resort, not city, hotel.

Our room was no less impressive. A sprawling Club Suite perfectly merged Thai influences with modern design flair. We loved the balcony overlooking the river, the giant bathroom with his and hers sinks and the walk-in wardrobe. If you have the chance to upgrade, I implore you to do so as access to the club lounge really enhances your stay. It’s a great spot to have a quieter breakfast but most importantly, they have happy hour from 6-8pm every day with free canapés, wine and cocktails; trust me, there is no better way to start the evening! Just be sure to ask for a Club Room set back from the main road as traffic noises did seep through.

With only two full days to spare we crammed in the sights. We spent the first morning whizzing around local Buddhist temples, exploring the sprawling food market before taking tuk tuks to a river cruise which floated us downstream to a more rural farm. We got a real feel for the city, enhanced by our incredibly knowledgeable and sweet tour guide, Suree. One of the joys of Northern Thailand is that it is extremely affordable, so even arranging hotel excursions was not overpriced. We got dropped off at a famous local restaurant Huen Phen for lunch, for a feast of Northern Thai delicacies, influenced by Burmese and Indian cuisines.

As keen as we were to sightsee, it was hard to leave the hotel for too long so we spent the afternoon testing the pool and sampling happy hour drinks. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, opting for their Thai cuisine – it was all delightful, perfectly flavoured and not significantly more expensive than local restaurants. The location on the river, the service and the fact they had gluten free bread for me further enhanced the night. We decided to flee early though and catch a real slice of Thailand with some Muay Thai boxing – slightly touristy but an unmissable slice of Thai culture.

On our second full day, we set off an hour north to an elephant farm. Suree explained that elephants are holy within the Buddhist religion and it is an honour for them to work. However, as the logging industry has been shut down the work has dried up and thus, tourism plays an essential role in maintaining their survival. Our hour-long ride on an elephant ambling through the countryside with just our mahout (elephant carer) and elephant for company was incredibly peaceful. We skipped the elephant show and instead headed to our bamboo raft to sail us down the river. Finally, we drove to the famous temple Doi Suthep, perched up on the hillside above Chiang Mai.

Satisfied but exhausted upon our return to the hotel, we gorged on a delicious (if somewhat un-Thai!) afternoon tea, before indulging in a heavenly massage at the spa. That evening, we followed the hotel’s recommendation and dined at a local restaurant set beautifully on the river; the food was so cheap, we ordered nine dishes between the two of us, much to the waiter’s amazement!

And so ended our magical two days in Chiang Mai. The Chedi itself was the perfect backdrop for our Asian sightseeing and amazingly affordable given its calibre. Chiang Mai itself has a plethora of sightseeing trips on offer and is the perfect introduction to South East Asian life… and conveniently, Bangkok Airways fly direct from there to Koh Samui if you feel a white sand beach is the only place to end an Asian jaunt!

The Chedi Chiang Mai, 123-123/1 Charoen Prathet Road, T. Changklan, A. Muang, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand, +66 53 253 333

www.ghmhotels.com

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