Set back off the main stretch on the east bank of the Ping River, 137 Pillars House in Chiang Mai is a magical world from a romantic golden age. Built by Louis T. Leonowens (who many folk will remember from stage and screen as the son of famous schoolmistress Anna) in 1889, the house is a colonial-style structure in dark teak, lovingly restored through a painstaking conservation, as detailed in the museum on the lower level.
Guest residences are a collection of low buildings set around the house, spaced between stately banyans and flower-fringed courtyards. There is a sense of total privacy in this urban resort, set back off the main river street through a quiet neighbourhood and walled off from any signs of the outside – a high building intruding over the pool area is entirely hidden behind a living wall of trailing foliage, the green hues reflected in the waters.
The interiors of the rooms reflect all the heritage splendour promised by the surrounds, from the dark wooden furniture (including the opulent four poster bed and rocking chairs), to the profusion of charming 19th Century teak logging photographs, and rich fabrics in classic European stripes and charming elephant prints.
The bathroom is its own tale, an expansive sprawl with an oversized bathtub to make guests gasp, and not one, but two rain showers, indoors and out; enjoy an indulgent soak with their salts, lotions and potions scented in Thai jasmine and mint. The space is framed in vintage ceramic tiles, a theme repeated in the spacious balcony, a perfect morning lounge spot – see in the day sipping a fresh brew from your personal espresso machine, while reading your complimentary newspaper on the local style sofa. Every aspect of the design is elegant and cohesive, down to the jazz standards and club lounge playlist on the in-room iPod.
The heart and soul of the property is the breathtaking main house. Innovative construction techniques were used to reinforce the original building and rework the styling into a modern luxurious take on the European Lanna home. Wood panelling is worked into a lace-like pattern, creating a border for the lovely Parlour and Library. These spaces are filled with colonial style furniture, upholstered in a palette of jade and teal, with two sofas majestically draped in silver grey, and a background tinkling provided by a live pianist. Stepping out on a side terrace, guests can really see the contrast of old and new: look left to an old fashioned veranda enclosed in wooden shutters, then turn the other way to a state-of-the-art temperature controlled wine vault.
Meals are served in the decidedly contemporary Dining Room, a high ceilinged space centred around four glamorously draped tables set in a diamond below a lighting installation of blue lanterns. Otherwise, take your meal al fresco in the elevated courtyard. Menus are a carefully edited offering of international favourites and authentically spiced Thai dishes presented with a sophisticated flair.
The spa is set in its own building near the main entrance, a small white version of the main house, with a dramatic reception under a soaring ceiling. Rooms are thoughtfully designed affording a seamless experience during your Aromatherapy Associates treatment.
The Wat Gate area surrounding the resort is lined with gallery shops and boutiques, both high end and quirky – Quintessentially love the stunning fabrics at Vila Cini, the handcrafted jewellery at Craffiti, the artsy pachyderms at Elephant Parade (with profits going towards Asian elephants) and the eco-friendly products at Paper Gallery. Sundry cafes and restaurants round out the collection, while nights are lit up with a bustling bar scene. The old city centre is a short tuk tuk ride away, and a pleasantly laid back ride for visitors used to the heaving metropolitan streets of Bangkok. Chiang Mai is a far more relaxed city of low rises and street life, including a nightly bazaar and the Sunday walking street filled with a riot of stalls, food hawkers and musicians.
137 Pillars House, 2 Soi 1, Nawatgate Road, Tambon Watgate, Muang Chiang Mai, 50000 Thailand, Thailand, +66 (0) 53 247788
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