The Chiang Mai Guide
Picture a place that makes you feel better than you have in years. Possibly ever. Maybe you were stressed or overwhelmed back home. Maybe you needed a recharge or a change of scenery. That’s all here, of course. But then you find more. You find world-class incredible spas at every turn; healthy, spicy, vibrant food at every meal; natural sites so awe-inspiring, they can only be described as epic; and a list of superlatives that never seems to end. Gradually, you become an entirely new version of yourself. A more alive, more relaxed version. This is a dream, right? It can’t be real? Of course not. Then again, if this Utopia actually exists, we have a hunch it’s called Chiang Mai.
This ancient city has wellness steeped in its history. Take Thai massage. It originated more than 2,500 years ago, developed by a confidant of the Buddha. The wavelike, rhythmic technique inspired by Ayurvedic and Chinese principles has changed the lives (and postures) of countless people in Chiang Mai and across the world. And that’s just one part of the wellness treatments here. As the Tourism Board of Thailand showed us, you can work with a meditation guru to gain mental clarity, follow the lead of a yoga master, or trust the expert hands of a massage therapist to help you release tension. Or you can simply work on being present: Sip tea on the bank of the Ping River or walk through the colorful alleyways lined with brightly painted storefronts and greenery.
Once the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom, the Chiang Mai of today is a vibrant, modern city that holds close to its spiritual and natural roots. The surrounding farms supply the farm-to-table restaurants. The ancient health practices inform the spas’ clinicians. And the people are as friendly, kind, and insightful as any we have ever met. Chiang Mai is a beautiful, diverse, ancient metropolis that will give you an entirely new perspective on wellness and self-care—all while embracing your body and mind.
Tao Garden Health Spa and Resort274/1 Moo 7, Chiang Mai-Chiang Rai Road, Luang Nuea | +66.53.921.200
Tao Garden Health Spa and Resort, a healing center in the foothills of the Himalayas, is a forty-five-minute drive northeast of Chiang Mai, but it seems worlds away. When you arrive, the first thing you’ll notice is the utter quiet, thanks in part to the fact that there are no televisions or electronics here. Then you’ll see green—fifty acres of lush gardens and bonsai trees interwoven with impeccably manicured walking paths and huge brick guesthouses. The rooms are austere—a simple queen-size bed, desk, bath—but you don’t come here for luxury. Tao’s draw is its clinic’s massive list of ancient integrative treatments. And they are not for the wary. There’s a live blood analysis where a doctor screens your blood for plaque buildup and other ailments. We followed this with the Chi Nei Tsang abdominal detox massage. Heads up: This is not a relaxing treatment. It’s actually quite uncomfortable. The technician rolls and rubs your belly to break up blockages. But it’s worth it for how you feel afterward: lighter than air.
Chiida Spa163/2 Cholpratarn Rd., Suthep
The name means "the inner power of the Lanna." This is a place for anyone who is very serious about massage. In fact, it's not overstating to say that this is one of the world's most renowned massage centers (it’s trained massage therapists around the world). The treatments are extensive, reviving, and invigorating—and will leave you in a state that feels pleasantly between sleep and consciousness. Maybe that's total bliss. The luxurious, ornate dark-teakwood architecture makes a visit here even more special.
The Oasis Spa9/6 Soi 1, Wualai Road, Haiya, Muang
If you want serious relaxation, go for the Oasis Four Hands. Two massage therapists work together, intertwining their hands to cover a greater body mass, resulting in a more intense massage. It's unique and a little odd, but it feels incredible. If you want more restoration and rejuvenation, ask for a Tok Sen, a treatment native to northern Thailand. A clinician taps your energy meridian lines with a special wooden hammer to help circulate energy and release any blockages. Then they rub your muscles with balm and give you a really good stretch. You'll feel looser, lighter, energized. And if you had a stiff neck or clenched jaw, it will probably—miraculously—be gone when you leave.
Wat Umong Meditation CenterSu Thep, Mueang Chiang Mai District
Located in the foothills about forty-five minutes northwest of the city, Wat Umong is a Buddhist meditation center based on the ancient Vipassana practice—silent, self-observing mental training. Come here prepared for a deep dive into the practice, which will last a minimum of ten days. The goal of the practice is to hone the mind-body connection, clear the conscience, and assuage inner turmoil. (Much like a trip to Chiang Mai in general.) This isn't a luxury retreat, but you will be well taken care of. Guests are asked to wear only white (particularly comfortable cotton shirts and pants), bring only essential belongings (medication, toiletries, etc.), and refrain from using any smartphones or electronic devices. What you sacrifice for your stay—TV, small talk, a connection to the outer world—you'll gain in peace, perspective, and mindfulness.